Thursday, December 20, 2012

How to smash creativity in children?

Growing up in Bangalore, India in a middle class  Hindu family in the 70s and 80s, I have had my share of experiences of having my creative spirits smashed out of me. I have also observed the murder of creativity happening to others around me. I hope people reading this and who happen to be those who  smash the creative and exploring spirit of children or anyone ..... change .
I have listed below how creativity and exploring is cut in various ways by  well-meaning people.

  • When a little baby crawls around the house, the person-in-charge, keeps carrying the baby back to it's cradle or bed and tells the baby to stop crawling. Instead of making the room or home child-friendly and child-safe, they prefer to stop the baby from crawling around. This happens so frequently that the child finally stays put in it's cradle.
  • When a child of three, four or five, draws or colours, well meaning relatives correct it constantly by saying, "roses are red. Not blue. Dont use the blue pencil. Use the red" or "A house is not round. It is square. Draw it properly". This sort of comments, criticism prevernts the child from doing what it wants to. The relatives want the following from the child:(1) What it is drawing should "Look" like the object it is drawing;(2) Many relatives are impatient and want the child to get it 'right' the first time or 'pretty soon.(3)Some relatives are so impatient, they dont let teh child find the solution by itself but demonstrate or teach and rob the child of the process of finding the answer on it's own through trial and error, through thinking and by taking time.
  • Most people are extremely narrow and conservative in their thinking and expect the same of their children. What is 'right' in their opinion is usually what is the norm in Indian society. Anything different is 'wrong' and ergo, actively discouraged. A teenager who wants to grow his hair long is critised by his parents and nagged until he cuts it short. If a child refuses to oil her hair, she is scolded and her hair is oiled by force. If a girl wants to cut her hair, she is not allowed and made to grow her hair and plait it. Though parents have become a bit more flexible about giving freedom to theri children about the way they dress, teens and kids still do not have complete freedom to dress how they like.....especially if the way they want to dress is far out.
  • When children create something such as a drawing, painting, story, poem.....unconditional love is not what they get. Comments which are critical or mildly positive(the belief in India is if you praise children, it will "go to their heads' and so it is better to "not praise them too much"), corrections and suggestions to change or do differently are what they get. The kind of comments they get is enough to dampen the spirits of most children or teens.
  • Also the adults , most of them being conservative, praise only if the creation of the child falls in their own narrow criteria of what is good. For example, if the poen rhymes, it is good, if not, it is not. If the drawing looks realistic it is good , if it is abstract, it may not get much praise.
  • Children also have little exposure to creativity. There are no art galleries in most small towns of India. The museums usually have Indian traditional arts and crafts except the museums in big cities. These city museums sometimes host contemporary art work.  If one looks around in public places in India, one can see only the crass movie posters, photoes of politicians, models advertising various products and the Hindu Gods. While in the west, even in public places, one  sees  all types of  beautiful & creative art work such as sculptures, graffitti-art, great sayings; there are beautifully designed gardens, aesthetically appealing sub-way stations, railway stations in the west. The names of the shops too are funny, creative, whimsical in the west and it is a pleasure, simply to read teh names of the shops one passes by. In the west, one sees creativity all around and it inspires one to be creative. I fail to see creativity in Indian public places...not  to the extent one sees in the west.
  • While lack of money can stimulate creativity, in some instances,  it can also cause thought block and cut down creativity. When one has to always work within a budget...not just a money budget but also work within the constraints of limited things, limited time, it simply restricts creativity.
  • Belief in superstitions and the interference of relegious beliefs is another major hinderence to creativity and explorations in India.  If one wants to design a house, you have the house owner, telling you that the door should not face that direction because it will bring bad luck, the toilet should be here and not there or he will have bad luck and loose money..... How the hell is the architect design an house with all htese instructions. The same goes in all areas of life. There are so many meaningless beliefs and superstitions, that when one tries to wrok within the narrow parameters allowed, one's creativity is almost completely stifled. Certain colours are not auspicious; certain times are not auspicious; certain things are unclean and cannot be used; the list goes on.
  • Acceptance of truth is a must for any creative endevour. And most Indians are , sad to say, completely afraid of the truth. Appearences are a lot more important than truth. The hierarchy system in India makes it impossible for anyone lower in teh hierarchy to speak up about an unplesant truth especially to someone higher up than him in the hierarchy. This fear of the truth, prevents any sensible work from getting done....ergo, creativity is suffocated. For example, the current design of the road is causing a lot of needs to be redesigned; but as the current design was made by a "chief engineer", no one has the guts to critize it and the road remains and teh accidents continue. Another example is of a mediocore artist getting space to exhibit her art work in a major gallery as she happens tobe the wife of a big-shot police officer; the gallery owner dare not refuse... a better artist does not get the space to exhibit as she has no connections;
  • When a person without any sort of prestige comes up with creative solutions to a problem, it is not accepted....especially if the solution is totally out-of-the-box. It is rejected out-right. I have seen this happen to Ph.D scholars who have conservative guides. However even foolish solutions given by big-shots is accepted. fear of authority and the hierarchy is a major killer of not just creativity but so many other things in India.  I dont know if this is true but the late Sanjay Gandhi, son of Indira Gandhi had apparently suggested that forcing people to undergo vasectomy will help control the population of India and his suggestion was accepted! It lead to a lot of people being forcibly operated upon, even those who had not yet married and never had kids.
  • The absence of language growth is another major and in my opinion  the biggest hinderence for development of creativity in India. Creativity is the expression of new ideas in any form be it an object, a new scientific invention, a poem or a story or an idea.  While some types of creativity do not need language for example the creation of a sculpture does not need language, language is vital to communicate about the creation. So many new ideas, inventions, art works have come into existence today that unless language keeps pace with the new things created, discovered and invented, it would be impossible to communicate about the new ideas and things. English keeps pace with the changes and new things and ideas coming into the world. But I cannot say the same for Indian languages. Indian languages are lagging so far behind, that I think we are now about 100 years behind English. When the computer was invented, English devised the new word computer, which is short, easy to pronounce and spell and a word, which conjures up the picture of the computer in one's mind(at least for those who have already seen or know what a computer is) . However in my language, there is no word for computer, if one were to be created, it would be long and difficult to pronounce, which would stop people from saying that word.  People who speak my language i.e. Kannada, now use English words when speaking as there are no words in Kannada for those objects.  Can you imagine the extent of the increasing dependence on English words when speaking in Kannada today!
People useEnglish words not only for  objects but even to convey ideas and nuances as they are unable to find the words in Kannada for them. Let me give an example. In fact, the absence of words in my language, the poor language ability of adults who do not even use the few words existing in Kannada to communicate in a rich nuanced way, makes the children suffer from an even  greater poverty of thought and ideas.
 If you ask an English speaking child about food it may say, "delicious" or "Yummy" or "tasty" or   "scrumptious" . If you ask a Kannada speaking child it will likely say "ru-chi-ya-gi-de" i.e. tasty or "che-nna-gi-de" which means nice. That's it. No other descriptions for good food in the Kannada language. In English, people use a million different adjectives or expressions to describe  a thousand things. The word, Chenna-gi-de i.e. nice is used as a substitute for a million adjectives and expressions in English each of which convey a million different nuances. See how much poorer the Kannada language is by using one word i.e. Chenna-gi-de for a million different naunces!
The dearth of words to express feelings in my language compared to the variety of words to express nuances of one single emotions is another thing which makes me wince with shame. Here is a list of words in Kannada  commonly used to indicate depression...bejaru, dukha, manassu-sari-illa, sankata. In this list, apart from Dukha, the others are words which are not used only for sadness but for other emotions too. Bejaru can mean bored, sankata may mean both sad and feeling physically ill or feeling queasy.  Now see this humungous  list of words for the varied nuances of sadness & depression in English:   unhappy, down, low, blue, depressed, gloomy, grieved, dismal, melancholy, somber, glum, wistful, mournful, dejected, downcast, grief-stricken, tearful, lugubrious, pensive, disconsolate, doleful, heavy-hearted, heart-broken, down in the dumps, cheerless, lachrymose, woebegone, down in the mouth,low-spirited, triste, sick at heart, moping, inconsolable,feeling bad, sorrowful,poignant,rueful and so on.
Another example of the richness of English language  is the paint section in any Home depot or Lowe's in USA or Canada. There are thousands of shades of colours and a name for each shade! I agree that the names make no sense to me but they do have a name for every single shade! and they have like ten thousad shades!!!
The huge poverty of  ideas, thoughts, expressions is made all the more apparent when I watch shows in English especially those on interior decoration in Canada and USA. I am constantly trying to translate from English to Kannada to convey the meaning of  what the decorater is saying in my language. I simply CANT! The Kannada translation is so absurd sounding, and does not convey the meaning or nuance at all. I am unable to translate and convey the appropriate meaning, of even the most simple phrases.  Let me give an example of what I cannot translate
Now imagine the lack of words, lack or expressions in Kannada language for the words in the branches of  medicine, engineering subjects, philosophy, ethics, sociology,  psychology, any field of the humanities or sciences. Translating a simple article in New York Times into Kannada is an impossible feat for a bilingual person, simply because the words or phrases  do not exist in Kannada. Once Proudly Web Only, Shopping Sites Hang Out Real Shingles is a title of an article I randomly picked from today's New York times.. I am simply unable to translate this title into Kannada in a way whichs conveys the right meaning while remaining crisp and elegant as this title in English.
This lack of  development (in Kannada and all other languages which are not growing like English) of  new words and lack of phrases  to contain and convey all the new ideas developed as we progress,  leads to a lack of ideas and this leads to decline and constriction of the thinking process and creativity.
Now imagine the fate of my village relatives who are not exposed to English, who know only Kannada and study in Kannada medium......imagine their fate in today's increasingly sophisticated world. Each day that passes adds new words and ideas in the English-speaking world and this leaves them farther and farther behind until a day comes when they may feel completely clueless and helpless to live in the modern world! I know English ...yet I feel clueless and helpless when I have to use a new computer or a camera or a cell phone. So imagine,  a major population of India who do not speak English---how they are getting left behind, farther and farther back, simply because they do not speak English. Forget creativity. They cannot even get by due to their lack of English.

The reason for writing this article......I have recently borrowed books from the TPL in the 500 series by Lark publications such as the 500 gemstone jewels, 500 ceramic sculptures, etc. I loved seeing the objects in these books and admired the creativity of the artists. I have not seen such unusual jewels or works of art except   on very few  people and in  museums.
 I was  depressed to realize, how unable I am to think out of the box or be creative. Growing up in India has made me think in such narrow conservative ways...To me, An object has to be functional; it has to be beautiful and my definition of beauty is pretty narrow; it has to be inexpensive; it has to be long-lasting. I simply cannot even think or create outside these parameters! Oh and one more narrow criteria of mine....the object has to be symmetrical. When I try to create something, so many things seem taboo in my mind that I end up doing nothing!

What did I learnt from the Lark series books about myself?  I became aware of  the several  blocks   in my brain, preventing me from being creative. I was thrilled to see jewels and objects which were  asymmetrical, yet attractive; things which were made from unusual materials such as a necklace made of  smooth river stones; a granite finger ring; things which were not functional such as a really pokey necklace or a breakable and delicate object; things which were not beautiful but simply unusual and so on.


Tuesday, December 18, 2012

When one looks at the thefts in India and Maslow's hierarchy of needs, one realizes how  most Indians are still  struggling   at the bottom rung of this hierarchy. It is unlikely the majority of Indians  will ever have the time, energy to strive towards the stuff at the top rungs of this hierarchy.

 The air in most cities is pretty polluted and falling sick;
there is a shortage of adequate housing and all the socio-psycho-economic-health-moral/ethical problems associated with crowding;
there is a severe shortage of drinking water in several parts of India and this problem is getting worse with the increase in population, failure of monsoons, depletion of ground water & poor storage of rain water;
Food shortage is severe in those sections of society who are economically deprived i.e. about 30-50% of the population.
Sexual crimes against women and children are horrendeously high in India, though most are  unreported due to the stigma and further victimization of the victims by society.

Sleep seems to be the only basic need which is not a major issue in India!


Friday, December 14, 2012

My life was screwed even before I was born

" My life was screwed even before I was born" .... The daughter of a police officer told this to him in a   crime fiction book by a  Nordic writer. This sentence simply blew my mind as it is so true for so many people in this world.

There are millions of people who can say this truthfully and without exgageration. These millions would include:

Those born as females in male-dominent societies which repress women, those born into societies which suffer from high crime rates, unchecked sexual abuse of children, corrupt governments, poverty, those born  into religions which have little respect for women such as in  Afganisthan, Pakistan, several Arab countries, Bangaladesh, several African countries.

Those born in India into a lower caste family especially in rural areas and small towns of India, especially those born in places such as UP, Bihar, Haryana, Jharkand,MadhyaPradesh. And imagine the incredible three-fold amount of bad luck  one faces if  born as a (1) low-caste (2) female in these (3)wretched states of India!!

Those born with disabilites in these backward nations and societies especially in societies where disabled people are shunned as bringing bad luck to others.  Being born with disabilities in families or societies not only without resources but without even empathy for the disabled.

Those born to mothers who drink heavily during pregnancy or smoke or in some way   damage the fetus growing inside. I work with adults with FASD and I know how damaged these individuals can be.

All the ordinary citizens,  for whom even hoping for a peaceful, simple life is an impossible dream....that is the citizens of North Korea & Burma........I cannot think of any other country where most of the  citizens are extraordinarily unhappy....I suppose I could list Nigeria, Pakistan, Somalia here but I believe that these people are not as miserable as those under North Korean rule.

While critics cite examples of those who overcame odds and did well in life, there are circumstances which are so heavily stacked against some people, that it is impossible for these people to achieve either happiness or other things .  The critics do not realize how disempowering certain situations are and children who grew in such situations cannot feel empowered when they do manage to escape out of those situations. People and children are not like rubber, to spring back easily, once the stress is removed. They can be permanently damaged by the situations they were in, in the past.

Why am I writing such depressive stuff?

I feel like a person who is watching with horror, a preventable accident happening before my eyes...The accident could be prevented at a hundred different spots by making hundreds of tiny changes but the driver is driving on without realizing the hundred mistakes he's making...the things are building up towards a big crash which I can see but cannot prevent. And then the crash happens and the driver cannot figure out why. I can see the mistakes of the driver but cannot stop him.... and the driver cannot see his mistakes; if he could see  would he perhaps change???

 Screwed before birth is what I feel about the children (whom I know)growing in families in India, where the parents have abysmal skills in bringing up their children......And I am witnessing these parents damaging their kids on a daily basis. Millions of children being damaged by a brutal education system and brutal teachers in India is another tragedy happening everyday. I can see but I cant stop them. I cannot correct them. I cannot change them. It makes me sick to see the children change from spontaneous happy spirited bundles of joy to repressed, silent, uncommunicative, uninteresting teenagers. I feel so helpless and frustrated by the change happening before my eyes and I cant do anything to stop it. I am filled with such an amount of  impotent rage, frustration and grief that I feel I am going ot burst or kill someone or kill myself.

Some painful transitions children face in India include

Transition from home to school. In rural areas it is especially painful as the children are exposed to brutal teacherrs who beat them mercilessly. They cannot complain to the parents as parents feel beating is the only way the child will improve in studies.
Beating has subsided in cities to some extent but not much.

Transition from learning the subjects in an indian language to English at some point in time is another painful transition.

What happened recently in Karnataka is leading to a major transition is the lives of lakhs of hapless school going children


Monday, December 10, 2012

How long should a child sleep in it’s parents bed?

How long should a child sleep in it’s parents bed?

This is a question which never bothered me, when I was in India. But I have been thinking about it when a cousin of mine, in USA, told me how bothered his son’s pediatrician was by the fact that his 2 year old son still sleeps with him and his wife. My cousin got fed up about this doctor’s questions and started lying that his son, now sleeps in his own bed in a different room.

The ideal sleeping arrangements in the west seems to be….

·         a bedroom for each adult couple,

·         a bedroom for the boys(or single rooms if they can afford)…

·         and a bed room for the girls or one per room

·         Even tiny tots are expected to sleep alone in their own room, in their cribs, away from their parents.

While, the western people are shocked by Indian practices such as  a 5 year old  sleeping with his parents, Indians are shocked by what they see as ‘cold-hearted parents’, who  put their  baby alone in a separate crib/ room, instead of having him/her in their own bed!

The customs and practices in India especially related to child rearing are varied across religions, regions, socio-economic status, family type (joint or nuclear), rural or urban region; even the geographical location can influence child rearing practices. Factors such as the place one resides in also influences child rearing practices, depending upon the safety levels for children(especially girl children) in a particular area. (the lesser the safety of  the area for  children, greater the over-protectiveness of the parents such as in large cities like Delhi, Lucknow or Patna )

How long a child sleeps with his or her parents is one important aspect of child rearing practices. I am talking only about this issue in this piece of writing.  In India, especially in rural areas and in the less literate families and poorer families, the parents are easy going about the time they let the child sleep separately. The child continues to sleep with the parents for many years for many reasons.

The poorer the family, greater the number of people living under one roof. Ergo, there are joint families where the parents slept with their kids in one room while another sibling and his family slept in another room and so on.  My own husband, who grew up in a lower middleclass family in Bangalore, slept with his three brothers at one end of the bedroom while his parents slept at the other end of the same room . His aunts and grandmother slept in the other rooms.

There are also families where the parents  live apart as they work in different cities. The children, if they are little, sleep with the parent they are living with, usually the mother.  Initially the child sleeps with the parents as he is afraid to sleep alone but this continues as no one bothers to stop this practice. It may be years before the child is made to sleep in a different room than the parents. I myself have a friend whose husband was in a central government job in India and he was away from his wife and children for 10 years! He would visit his wife and kids about three times a year and his children slept in his wife’s bed for the ten years. I have another friend, whose husband works in a Gulf country likes lakhs of other Indian men. She and her son live by themselves and while I do not know about the sleeping arrangements, I do know that she lived in a tiny one bedroom house. This is typical of millions of Indian families.

Another arrangement is when the child sleeps with his or her grandparents either in their bed or their room. Children sharing the bed or the bedroom with the single(i.e. unmarried) aunt or uncle is another arrangement in middle class families with limited space.

There are also several families I know, where the child sleeps alone in his room but casually enters his parents’ bedroom  and snuggles in the bed with the parents at any time of the night. For example  when the child feels cold or feels afraid after having  a nightmare. Many parents in India do not lock the bedroom door. Or, there are no locks/bolts on bedroom doors in several houses in India.

When I visited a village in Gujarat during summer,  I observed that the males of the house all slept on the roof at one side and the females all slept on another part of the roof. I found this sleeping arrangement strange but this was apparently normal. I have seen similar sleeping arrangements at large family gatherings where the men sleep in one large room and the women in another. The same arrangement is sometimes seen in Chennai when one walks on the roads at night. The homeless or the labourers who don’t have homes or those who find the houses too hot to sleep in, sleep on the pavements. The women sleep together in one spot and the men sleep together at another. However, I have also seen husbands and wives sleep together on the pavements of cities.

When I worked in India,  I never spared a thought about  these varied sleeping arrangements for children. It was only when I moved to Canada and  “white” colleagues of mine expressed shock when they came across children sleeping with their parents that I started thinking about this issue. As I work in the mental health field, this issue comes up quite a bit when I am exploring other issues.

Children sleeping with their parents leads to several problems such as the lack of privacy for parents to have intimacy, to talk and so on; children’s premature exposure to sex or the absence of a sexual life for parents forced to live in this crowded way;

The long term effects of the child sleeping with his parents have to be studied but would be difficult to tease out the effects of other factors which influence.

I work with developmentally delayed adults in Toronto. In the course of my work, I come across bizarre cases where adult children with developmental delay are sleeping with a parent, usually the mother. I have come across cases of 18 or 19 year old son or daughter sleeping in the parents’ bed either with the mother or with both parents. I deal with this information by gently exploring and then telling the parent and the adult with developmental delay that they have to sleep in separate rooms. The reasons for the adult son or daughter sleeping with the parent are predictable.  The delayed child was fearful of sleeping alone as a child or needed help in the middle of the night and the habit of sleeping in the same bed was continued and they never realized that the son is now grown up and needs to sleep apart. In some cases, the delayed son or daughter refuses to sleep in his or her own bed and the parents who are tired of arguing, give up and accept the child sleeping in their bed, even as it grows older. There are also a few over-protective or highly anxious parents who are unable to let their child sleep on it’s own in a separate room. The parents think, the only way to ensure that the child is safe is to sleep with them. It may be because the child has seizures at night or has other problems which make the parent worry about the child’s safety.

In short, children sleeping with parents, especially after they turn 6 years old appears strange or even pathological to the Canadians. However, I think that children sleeping with their parents or other adults, is the norm in India and other places where the culture is different and children are allowed to be with their parents until they are much older. Children and adults sharing bedrooms or even beds  is also the norm in overpopulated countries like India with limited space for living for a vast majority of the people.

What strikes me as bizarre are these sleeping arrangements from other cultures which are alien to me….one is of the Muslim men who have more than one wife at a time and in the same household. (Or even Hindu men, who have more than one wife at a time, usually sisters married to one man for some reason) Does the man sleep in one bed with two wives?? Do they fight? Do the wives sleep in separate bedrooms and he sleeps in different rooms on different nights? I ask this as I know of poor Muslim men, with multiple wives but limited bedrooms!

Another bizarre case was of an extremely dominating and controlling mother of a married man who insisted that he sleeps with his bedroom door open….so that he can hear, if she has a heart-attack and could take her to a hospital! I pity his wife but that is the case and this old lady is too difficult for her son to handle!