Nauseated by news reports of murders, rapes, suicides, accidents and scams, I looked for something innocuous and innocent to read. I opened my three-year-old daughter's book of nursery rhymes, hoping to get a breather from the harsh realities of life. I was in for some unpleasant surprises.
One went like this: "Three blind mice. Three blind mice/See how they run. See how they run/They all ran after the farmer's wife/Who cut off their tails with a carving knife". It certainly wasn't feel-good material. Agatha Christie had even gone to the extent of using it as a serial killer's signature tune in The Mousetrap. A character in the classic murder mystery quipped: "I adore nursery rhymes… Always so tragic and macabre. That's why children like them."
Finding Three Blind Mice not so nice, I turned to another rhyme, which was even more gruesome: "Piggy on the railway line/Picking up stones/Down came an engine/And broke Piggy's bones/'Ah!' said Piggy/'That's not fair'/'Oh!' said the engine driver/'I don't care!'"
I fled from the injured pig and the heartless driver, only to land up in a burning nest: "Ladybird, ladybird fly away home/Your house is on fire and your children are gone…"
With things going from bad to worse, I shut the English book and picked up its Hindi counterpart. I was greeted by a curious kid asking a cat: "Billi mausi, Billi mausi,/Kaho kahan se aayi ho/Kitne choohe maare tumne,/Kitne kha kar aayi ho?"
A child eager to know how many mice had been killed and gobbled up! Now this was too much. I wondered how parents and teachers could make kids read and learn such obnoxious stuff. Weren't we exposing these beautiful minds to the big, bad, mad world rather early? Would it be surprising if they grew up to become callous and violent youngsters?
Our failure to distinguish between the nice rhymes and the nasty ones typifies our "chalta hai" attitude. In one way or the other, we are like the engine driver who casually says "I don't care" after knocking down a pig. Rather than helping the unfortunate ones, most of us prefer to look the other way or simply go away. And we have only ourselves to blame if our children follow in our flawed footsteps.
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