OPINION

Silently Calling All Children

September 15, 2007
Uma Ranganathan

I thought I would start this piece by sharing with you the little I know about a dinosaur which lived 95 million years ago. I'm referring to Spinosaurus. According to a recent report, Spinosaurus is the largest meat eating dinosaur in history and lived in the region we now call Africa. It gets its name from a series of large neural spines up to six feet long, coming from out of its vertebrae. Spinosaurus was about 40 to 50 feet long with huge powerful crocodile like jaws which enabled it to gobble up even other dinosaurs.

The largest dinosaur in general though, the Argentinosaurus, a whopping 130 to 140 feet long, happened to be a plant eater. It had a long neck and tail and lived in South America in the Crustacean period over 65 million years ago. Not all dinosaurs were the huge creatures we imagine them to be. The smallest that we know of is the microraptor, a creature the size of a crow, which lived in China and spent most of its life in the trees.

Why have I chosen to talk about dinosaurs, at this point?! Good question. Though dinosaurs in general had always fascinated me on account of their awesome dimensions and strange looks, not to mention the manner of their extinction, it was not until I started to interact with four year old Felix, my friend A's son, that I began to really appreciate the kind of creatures they were and to see them as fellow beings which had once inhabited the earth.

Earlier, a dinosaur had been a dinosaur to me, but today with Feli's help I can differentiate between a number of different dinosaurs, carnivorous and herbivorous. When Felix solemnly reviews all that he has taught me, I am pleased to say that I can tell the difference between the Oviraptor with its short head and massive pair of beak shaped jaws, also known as the "egg thief", and the plant eating Triceratops which (at least to me) remotely resembles the rhino, though much larger with a head measuring as much as three metres in width! Then there is the iguanodon which is sixteen feet high and about thirty feet long, which traveled in large herds through England, Belgium and Germany, and last but not least, Feli's absolute favourite dinosaur which he spends a large part of the day emulating, the famous Tyrannosaurus Rex, a fierce meat eater, which stood almost as tall as a giraffe.

Felix is all set to be a dinosaur researcher when he grows up. He also wants to research Mummies in Egypt and to be an astronaut. "So you want to be a dino researcher, a mummy expert, and an astronaut," you say and Felix after a moment's reflection tells you he has more in mind. He wants to be a pirate as well, no doubt inspired by the swashbuckling, amusing, and somehow likeable Captain Jack Sparrow who dominates the screen in "Pirates of the Caribbean. Last but not least, taking a cue from his mom who happens to be a scriptwriter, Felix has decided that he also wants to be a movie director.

Every day we spend hours rehearsing this particular scene where Felix plays Tyrannosaurus Rex (whom he refers to as "Tee-wex) and I play an ordinary human being who suddenly notices that she is being stalked by a fierce monster with a horrible grimace which then swoops down on her and kidnaps her bosom friend from before her eyes. The bosom friend happens to be a woolly white duck named Aunt Suzanna, with bright yellow webbed feet and a brown bow tie at its neck. The game invariably winds up with the Tee-wex, Aunt Suzanna and me sauntering down to the Café Doodlefoodle with the Tee-wex now playing the role of a churlish waiter cum café owner, whose menu consists of nothing more than thimblefuls of latte macchiato and slices of pizza marguerita.

What amazes me is not only the scope of Feli's professional interests but his memory and powers of observation not to mention the thoroughness of his research. As we sit watching a National Geographic documentary on the wilds of Africa I point out to Felix what seems like a pack of hyenas in an aerial shot. Felix shoots back at me that they are not hyenas at all but wild dogs and it turns out he is right.

Soon Felix will start attending Kindergarten and then go to a regular school. When he graduates from school several years from now he will probably study at the University after which he will take up an appropriate job. Will he retain his imagination and powers of observation? Will he still want to research dinosaurs and mummies when he is thirty? Will Felix still be consumed by a burning passion for information about the things which interest him? Will he continue to be interested in the variety of subjects which attracts him today or will the system gobble him up, dilute his intelligence and his curiosity and tie him up in knots as it does most people?

Playing with Felix I catch a glimpse of my own childhood and the excitement of standing at the edge of a vast magical world which was ours to be discovered and which we expected to explore the rest of our lives. It didn't happen that way of course. In degrees the world seemed to shrink, the palette of bright colours to fade, the magic of discovery to be suffocated by the heavy hand of what we call "reality". The questioning came to an end - the real questions that is, about where we come from, about what makes us happy or sad, about whether elves and angels exist, and a spurious kind of questioning arose to do with careers and how to accumulate wealth or how to make an impression on the world.

Each time I come across a child these days, and whenever I have the good luck to be able to enter its magical world, I wonder what it will be like for the kid, ten or twenty years down the line. I cross my fingers, hoping with all my might that even if the world treads heavily on its toes and the rest of its being, it wont completely destroy its sense of wonder. That it will leave intact at least a bit of the sense of joy and mystery of life with which we start out as kids. So that when the time is right, the adult that the child has become will find a means to share the waters of this invisible spring with a world which desperately needs sustenance.

Having wandered through various fields from special education to environmental conservation, Uma has been working these last fifteen years or so as a psychotherapist, mainly in India. Along with friends and colleagues, she conducts workshops and sessions in self awareness and is looking for people who are interested in creating an environment in which people actually listen to each other. Her book “Bombay to Eternity – memoirs of a laidback Rebel” was published in 2004 by Penguin India.
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#1
temporal
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September 15, 2007
09:35 AM

uma:

'children renew our faith in our beliefs'

'children teach us the hazards of growing up - if only we learn'

'the child in us should not be allowed to die - when the child in us dies - we become a lesser person'

'show me a person with zest for life and i'll show you a child alive in that person'

#2
Anindo
September 15, 2007
11:02 AM

Hmmm!

Elves and angels do not exist! Damn! I never knew that.

Nice post. I liked it very much.

Regards,

#3
Sujatha
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September 15, 2007
11:10 AM

I'm having my son read this. He loves dinos and have a feeling he will connect with Felix.

#4
Aditi Nadkarni
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September 15, 2007
12:26 PM

This is such a beautiful article. It brings attention to the onus that parents and teachers bear of not stepping on the tender foliage of all the little one's big and magnificent dreams. Felix is a great example of how much like a sponge a child's mind is. That sense of awe is an irreplaceable gift. Such a nicely written and endearing little post Uma! :)

#5
uma
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September 16, 2007
04:54 AM

Thanks guys. People like you give me hope that there are maybe many others who feel the same way too.

Temporal, those quotes sound familiar and they sum up the message.

Anindo, are you a closet elf by any chance?! If so let me know, I think there are more of us out here.

Sujatha, if your son loves dinos it is more than likely that he and Felix will love each other! They might start fighting though about who gets to play T-Rex.

Aditi, parents, teachers and adults in general really bear the responsibility of rearing all the young ones. I am not a parent myself but there are times when I feel like I'm everybody's Mum!

#6
annamma
September 16, 2007
06:17 AM

Nice read, Uma. Brought back memories of my kids at that age. I think T rex and stegosaurus still hold a very special place in their minds. Isn't life incredible? I would like to think that they will, in turn, pass on that sense of wonder and beauty to their kids.

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