July 25, 2021 6:10:18 am
In the last couple of years, the world has been convulsed in its battle against COVID-19, and environmental issues like climate change have been relegated to the background. So, when a school friend sent me a WhatsApp forward titled, “Australian newscaster makes mincemeat out of brat Greta Thunberg”, dated May 21, 2021, I took a look. First up came the teenager’s seminal “How Dare You” speech. Oh yes, it was highly impassioned and very angry, but when you are a teenager, that’s your natural mien.
In the video clip, the newscaster piled on to her like a bear on a bunny. He accused her and those of her generation of being the first to demand air-conditioned and computerised classrooms, mobile phones, constant upgrades of their phones and trendy games, people who insisted on being driven to and from school in private cars, instead of walking or biking. They spend all their time with their electronic gadgets, never read a book, don’t go outdoors, and buy fast-food lunches from the cafeteria instead of packing a sandwich, he said. He went to the extent of calling them “virtuous little turds” and advised them to “read a book” and finally, and blisteringly, to “wake up, grow up and shut up!”
Well, excuse me, if children are “little turds”, then he and his ilk are the big ones! For who put the air-conditioners in the classrooms in the first place, and why? Was there a mass revolution brewing among school children worldwide demanding air-conditioned classrooms? Yes, air-conditioning makes life so much more comfortable and if a school has it (and staff rooms got them before classrooms), it will surely attract more parents wanting to send their children there. This means more pupils, more fees and benefits for the adults running the show! Then, the gentleman suggests that students tell their teachers to switch off the air-conditioners in their classes! And to dispense with their electronic gadgets: all of which the adult world has worked their butts off to market to children and their parents, so that they can rake it all in. It’s like the old drug-peddling con: the first one is free, and once you’re hooked, we got you sucker!
The newscaster conveniently forgot that it is us adults who rule the world and its economy, not spoilt kids. Even if they throw tantrums, who spoiled them in the first place? And, now, when one child calls a halt to all this, adults are outraged. How dare they make such accusations? Did they know how much their brand new iPhones cost?
As for being driven to school in private cars, clogging up rush-hour traffic (mainly adults rushing to work), well, which car-owning parent these days would allow their five-year-old girl to trundle off to school on foot or bicycle alone, or even take public transport? Yes, in countries such as India, children do this all the time — and barefeet, too — because they have no option. But a lot of them are also just picked up by some lowlife (adult) uncle, who offers them chocolates and are never seen again. Or, else, get run-over by some drunken (adult again) maniac.
And when it comes to the “read a book” spiel, time and again I have met bookshop owners who complain that it’s not the children who don’t want books, it’s the parents who would rather spend the same amount of money on a pizza.
“Wilderness therapy” for troubled teens has become something of a rage in the West, where they have to face up to the ferocious forces of nature and deal with them on their own. One such technique is the “chimney climb” wherein you wedge yourself between the narrow walls of a canyon and sort of hitch yourself up and out of it, using one hand and leg against one wall of the canyon and the other hand and leg jammed against the other wall. It takes practice, good shoes and a cool head. Well, recently a friend of mine sent me a photograph of her untutored five-year-old doing exactly the same thing, barefeet between the narrow walls of a corridor in his house. He was smiling down from right near the ceiling! All that his mom said was that she just told him to put mats on the floor underneath when he did this. And which five-year-old needs to be coached by an adult that the best way down a steep, gravelly slope is on your bottom, using your outstretched heels as a brake?
So, if adults like the aforesaid newscaster want children to “wake up, grow up and shut up”, they first need to hugely course-correct and set the example themselves.
(Ranjit Lal is an author, environmentalist and bird watcher)
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