Monday, February 20, 2012

Our children - The sad state of what they are growing up with


I wanted to start this post with something as interesting as "This weekend was an eye opener for me". But i don't think so. I think i have been seeing these all around me, but i have just been avoiding seeing them. So in my mind, i divide this post into two - What i saw, and what i think i should do about it.

Section 1: What i saw:


My wife's sister and her two kids ( one aged 10, and the other, half his age ) had come to visit us during this weekend. So Along with McDonald's and Domino's, we also planned some "learning" time in our own Birla Planetarium. ( Oh yes, Namma Chennai has a planetarium, located behind CLRI on Gandhi Mandapam Road ). The first thing that hits you, while you walk are the trees, the vegetation and the serenity of the place. The opportunity to re-explore the wonders of science along with my two eager nephews. Imagine my shock, when i turn the corner into a rusting, broken, dilapidated science center. Here are the highlights:

  • A playing park, conceptualized extremely well, holding play things and toys that explain scientific phenomena, rusted, broken, missing parts, overgrown with weeds, corrugated, and obviously not working at all! - More than that, given the condition, they are a hazard to children's health
  • Huge spacious marble tiled halls, filled with scientific exhibits - that show, hold your breath - a cube replica of a "modern day bedroom" - no i am not kidding - what do you expect kids to learn from showing a model of the new age bedroom and bathroom? There are exhibits of plastic pipes and taps ( the common variety ) that you see in every hardware shop. Why? What imagination do we plan to kindle in a young child's mind with plastic pipes?
  • A 3D show that has an entertaining, Alice in wonderland movie and also a instructional, journey through a human body ( done a la the Inner Space Movie ), but executed, once again in a theater with terrible acoustics, and a voice overlay of heavily American accented English. Right, the children who come there know what is Alice in Wonderland, and can understand the American Accented commentary while they show the human body! :(:(:(
  • Finally, the planetarium experience - Not too shabby, and definitely the best of the experience. At least the show was good, was decently executed, and the voice over was conversational. I think for a child, that would be interesting. I have no gripes there, except for a wish list that they could probably maintain the planetarium theatre well - and make the shows a little bit more fun!
The government officials cannot complain that they do not get visitors. Apart from seeing many honeymoon couples (??!!??) we saw that the place was full of school children. There were at least 6 school buses on Saturday and at least one more school trip on Sunday. Which makes it even more sad and outrageous - here we have a potential to engage and get children interested in studies - there is opportunity, there is place, there is time and there are resources, and we are shamelessly letting all of these pass by. I am not saying that all million children will become eminent scientists inspired by this visit ( maybe they will, who am i to underestimate?) but even if there are 100 children who could potentially have been kindled into this thoughts, we are not able to bring that transformation.

Sad. And terribly disappointing.

Section 2: What can i do about this?

There is a disclaimer as seen in the movies. What you read further can shock, as it shocked me when I realized it. Let me start with an anecdote. Sometime back i was driving through the roads of Kerala with my mother in an air conditioned car. Outside, in the sweltering heat, there were people pulling loaded carts, sweating and straining. My mother looked at them, and mentioned to me painfully " Oh my God, every time i see them, i feel pained - I feel sad, and i feel guilty to ride in this comfort."

I nodded in silent agreement. After few seconds she opened up again" I think i am a hypocrite. One one side, i yearn for such comforts - i want them, and while i enjoy it, i look outside this cooled glass and shower sympathies to the other side of the world. That is not fair or good ( for those who know Malayalam, these are the exact phrase she used " Nalla saamarthyam, enikku" - I am not sure if i can translate this directly into English ). I guess more than the sight of those people leading tough lives, what troubled her was that she, as a person, was not doing anything for them.

I find myself in a similar situation. I feel terribly sad about the condition. In fact, this post is the third time i have ranted about in the last one day. And i know i can do something about this, if i pain myself to change my life. But here i am , going ahead with my life, taking the path of least resistance of commenting about this sad story, clicking my tongue, shaking my head, .. and looking on my android phone for further twitter updates. Shameless! :(

In someways, i feel that this dilapidated condition of the planetarium is just a symptom of a larger issue - Solving this symptom wont cure the disease - but then, at the same time, we can't boil the ocean.

I introspect. I don't think i deserve to ask "What can / should i do?" As an educated person, i know what i should be doing. It's not that i do not know, just that I haven't yet taken that step. I am already feeling very guilty and hopefully, i will take a step. Soon.