Does anyone else think the English nursery rhymes we teach in our desi kids in our desi schools in our own des are irrelevant, horribly violent and very disturbing? One of the mildest of the lot is Jack and Jill and it’s still pretty bad.
Chotu sir had a few questions about this. Amma, Amma, why did they need water? Why was the well on top of a hill? Who sent them? Why did they fall? Luckily, my memory saved the day by throwing up a few fragments of “The Land of Nursery Rhyme” from Enid Blyton’s The Faraway Tree book (remember reading that as a kid?). The child seemed to pity me a bit and accept the story. But the conversation continued thus:
Chotu: Amma, what is a well?
Amma: A big hole with a wall around it. Remember how we see water when we dig at the beach? Same-same like that
Chotu: Amma, why water?
Amma: They didn’t have water at home.
Chotu: Amma, why didn’t they call water tanker? (he sees one at school quite regularly)
I gave up. Besides, it turns out a lot of English rhymes have sinister meanings behind them. I did not know this until P told me Ring-a-ring-of-roses was originally about the Bubonic Plague. Cheery association, eh?
What’s wrong with good old Indian rhymes anyway? All the Telugu ones I know are cheerful and very relatable. Birds, gods, animals, weather, the sun and the moon feature in most of them. The Tamiz ones I’ve heard from friends are quite nice too. I especially love “Dosai amma dosai”. Chotu understands and loves dosai. At least a lot more than Plum Pie or some other colonial bullshit.
I’ve stopped reading and reciting English rhymes now. If someone thinks I’m shortchanging Chotu by not teaching him “Ding Dong Bell, Pussy in the well” and “Baa Baa Black Sheep, Have you any wool?” they can do the honours – with their own children. The Goddess household has meanwhile switched to Indian rhymes thanks to Oluguti Toluguti!
The book was meant to be a gift for my two little nieces in the US but Chotu took one look at the green train on the cover and happily appropriated it. (My dad said I should have anticipated this and bought two copies. True, that.)
I’ve read Chotu the originals in Hindi, Telugu, Urdu, Tamiz, Punjabi, Bangla, and Asamiya (with increasingly horrible accents but hey, I did learn a tiny bit of Rabindra sangeet as a kid and that gives me the license to murder a language or two). P-aunty and K-mama have read Tamiz and Kannada with perfect accents. We’re now looking for uncles and aunties who will read us the originals in the other languages. I suppose with this we have won some sort of moral/cultural/self-righteous victory over some unknown enemy. Perhaps I can now join the mahila wing of the Parivaar?
Chotu, for his part, is just happy to find yet another train rhyme to recite.
And I think the child is going to go into politics when he grows up because he’s currently singing:
Train Train go away,
Beech wale station bole ruk ruk ruk ruk
How about you? Have you seen/read/bought this book for your little one(s)? Did you enjoy it? Do you like the idea of teaching kids more Indian rhymes?
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