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The pleasures and joys of childhood
“One more, mamayya,” the SMS from Dharani, my daughter-in-law read.
Infancy, and childhood, are easily the best periods of one's life. They are filled with innocence, laughter, curiosity and the joys of growing up and learning. The time, the energy, and the enthusiasm that we spend in keeping a child amused, entertained and contented, is an investment well worth making. As the worn out cliché goes, 'the child is the father of the man.' Today's child, after all, is tomorrow's Indian citizen and this is the best time to shape their future through proper upbringing
"One more, mamayya," the SMS from Dharani, my daughter-in-law read. As Chief Secretary to the government of Andhra Pradesh, I was in my office in the Secretariat at Hyderabad. The bulletin was the sixth in the series of status reports Dharani had been sending me about the progress of the delivery of the litter of my Lassie, a lovable, though short tempered, Pomeranian the whole family was intensely fond of.
Despite my anxiety to rush home to greet the new arrivals, it was not till late, that I could return home. I ran straight to the room, set apart for Lassie to deliver, and took a look at the litter. At first sight they appeared to be slightly large sized mice, or somewhat small-sized mongooses.
Closer inspection, however, revealed that the little beauties were, after all, the progeny of lovely Lassie! The first born, and the one after that, were somewhat more robust than the rest, the last one being the weakest of all. The law of survival of the fittest had already kicked in, and the first two had greater access to mother's milk than the others.
One feels like paying a silent tribute to nature, when one sees the gay abandon with which newborn pups, calves, foals and fawns run around, apparently with irrepressible energy, and full of zest for the new gift of life. The energy, and the enthusiasm, have to be seen to be believed.
So is the enchanting, and infinitely cute sight of the members of a litter of kittens or lions playing with each other, closely watched by the mother. Once, during a visit to the Corbett National Park in Uttar Pradesh, I had the pleasure watching a baby elephant, walking with an unsteady sway, holding on to its mother's tail. The cutest of sights!
Infancy, and childhood, are easily the best periods of one's life. They are filled with innocence, laughter, curiosity and the joys of growing up and learning. The time, the energy, and the enthusiasm that we spend in keeping a child amused, entertained and contented, is an investment well worth making. As the worn out cliché goes, 'the child is the father of the man.' Today's child, after all, is tomorrow's Indian citizen and this is the best time to shape their future through proper upbringing.
It is interesting that before they speak, crawl, walk or do many of the other things in the first year of life, babies actually laugh! That simple response to the environment opens up a huge number of communication and learning opportunities for the baby. Charles Darwin, the celebrated biologist, in fact, speculated that laughter is an important communicative function, probably why nature has preserved and prioritised it. An idea strengthened by the known fact that equivalents of laughter also appear in other mammals, particularly in juveniles, while at play.
Addressing now the central point of this article, there are many ways to keep infants and babies amused and entertained. Singing, talking, tickling, making faces, smiling or laughing can keep them interested and happy. Toys, such as rattles and cloth-books, also make for good methods of keeping babies amused.
Altering the surroundings by making the baby move to other parts of the house, taking it outdoors, or introducing it to strangers can also have a stimulating effect. Babies also enjoy being read to. I still recall how I devised my own version of the famous children's story Jack and the Beanstalk for my daughter when she was a baby.
And for my son, I had a totally transformed domestic version of the 'Three Billy Goats Gruff' story. They love being engaged in a conversation, quite accurately recognizing the meaning of our words, and responding in their own way. Thomas Macaulay the most famous historian of his time was a prodigious infant, precocious and soft hearted.
Not interested in things that boys of his age usually should be, he was an avid reader even by the age of three, and spoke as if he was a dictionary. When hot coffee spilled on his feet and a kindly woman asked him if all was well, his reply was, "thank you, madam, the agony is abated!"
Music, and games such as hide and seek, also have a soothing effect on the babies' disposition. An age old practice of making babies calm and peaceful before bedtime is the singing of lullabies.
All this emphasis on keeping a child happy should not be construed as preventing it from crying all together. There is the famous saying in Sanskrit "Balanaam rodanam balam". Crying is a way of demanding what they need, such as food, attention or rest. Rushing with what is required even before it is asked for is not the best way of bringing up the child.
Nature has its own rhythm, and pace, so far as child development is concerned. But parents are often in a in a hurry for the baby to go to the next step of development, such as from lying on its back to turning over, then raising itself on its arms, then crawling, then sitting down and, finally standing up with support, and lastly, walking, first with support, and then, on its own.
Given the sort of ambience in which we all live these days, no child should be made to forego even a small fraction of precious childhood. Precisely the sentiment expressed in a song "Yedagadaniki Endukura Thondara", in the film "Andala Ramudu", another jewel in the crown of Bapu and Ramana asking a child not to be in a hurry to join the bewildering hustle and bustle of life. The pleasures and joys of childhood are also recalled in the number "Bachpan Ke Din Bhi Kya Din the", in the classic Hindi movie "Sujata".
With my own children I found it a great pleasure to be a part of the process of the progression. And, when my children were in their teens quite nostalgically, living the experience again, though with a reversed sense of déjà vu, as it were, when they were in their teens. I was actually doing the opposite, this time around, namely desperately trying to prevent them from going away too fast and in the wrong direction! And, now for my wife Usha, and myself, the time has come for the grandchildren, as their turn, to repay us in the same coin!
(The writer is former Chief Secretary, Government of Andhra Pradesh)
(The opinions expressed in this column are that of the writer. The facts and opinions expressed here do not reflect the views of The Hans India)