Sunday, May 07, 2006

Ram, Shyam and Harry

Many of us have hailed the Harry Potter series and its creator the inimitable Ms Rowling for leading our children, a la Pied Piper, back to books. The hysteria surrounding every new release and the avid interest with which today’s children devour the books would tend to validate this opinion.

However, if one pauses to think, are Harry, Ron and Hermione (and most of the children on the ‘Good’ side) worthy role models for our kids? More than the dangerous tasks they undertake with such deceptive ease, it's their precociousness and audacity that is a matter of concern for parents. The attitude of the born rebel and challenger of rules and courtesies of social existence is tremendously attractive to children (one of the reasons why the books are so popular?)

Think of it. If you were a teacher in Harry’s class, would you have put up with their behaviour? They are pathologically inattentive and spend a lot of time discussing their adventures in class. Harry and Ron need frequent help, sometimes of the unethical kind, to pass their exams. They are disrespectful to most teachers and here I’m not only referring to Snape – think of the trouble they give poor little Flitwick. Breaking school rules is second nature for them and being rude to adults is also part of their ‘charisma’.

So are these the values that we want to inculcate in our children? It’s pointless to say that children today are not that naïve and they don’t imitate fictitious characters so easily. If that's true, then we won’t have all those children jumping off windows thinking they are Superman. Even if you manage to educate the children about the danger of the more physical acts of bravery in Harry Potter, it will be far more difficult to counter the insidious effect that their behaviour in the most sedate of chapters can have.

Having said this, I must also say that I’m not against the HP series. In fact, I’m an avid reader (the 6th book is the only one I have read less than three times!) and enjoy the world of fantasy that Rowling has created so effortlessly. But may be we could do with some Parental Guidance as our Rams and Shyams read and internalise everything in these books – right from the incantations and the quidditch positions to the bravado of rule-breaking and name-calling.


At 2:08 AM, Blogger Mitul said...

MoM, I think you're being a bit paranoid here. We've all had our share of ultra-violent fairy tales... where 'rakkhoshi' (monster) mothers gobble up their young, wasps (repository of 'rakkhosh' lives) are torn apart limb from limb, wrong-doers are beaten up, banished from the country, buried alive with thorns, or pierced atop a sharp pole. Did that make us more violent than we would've been otherwise?

In the stories I read when I was young, princes almost never listened to their parents, children formed secret societies and conspired against adult moves, they always sneaked in stray dogs, cats etc despite their mother warning them against it... in one instance, a kid actually brought in an extra-terrestrial!!!

If Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn were my children, I would have retired to an old age home by now. And Alice actually runs off by herself into the rabbit hole without informing her sister!! One of my favourite Bengali reads was "Bhombol Sardar", a tale of a young boy who runs away from home after being censured by his mother. I simply lapped up his adventures.

I think I have cited enough examples to illustrate my point that childhood adventures are all about disobeying elders and their diktats... children identify with rebels (I still do, in fact!!) because they have much more fun than Obedient Goody-Two Shoes John. You cannot write a story book about how Mary was a good girl and listened to everything her parents said and completed her homework on time and said prayrs before bedtime. I came across such stories only in my much-hated Moral Science classes!!

Children are usually not like Tom Sawyer or Harry Potter. In their everyday lives, they obey, maybe reluctantly, their parents/elders, try to complete their homeworks, even if it's on way to school, and have a subdued pillow-fight before going to bed. But in their fantasy world, they become Potter, Sawyer or the one-legged, pipe-smoking Captain Ahab. Why grudge them that slice of exotica? Why have parents censor reading habits and spoil all the fun?

At 2:37 AM, Blogger Mind over Matter said...

At least the post made you write a commentessay!!!

I agree with you in parts, but just as we were discussing offline, I think we think twice before exposing our kids to ALL that we read in our childhood, precisely because we don't want to expose them to negative concepts like death, treachery etc. Just as we try to gloss over a death in the real world by telling them that the person has become a star. In fact, most of the fairy tales are now considered inappropriate for children because of the concepts they hint at - you must be aware that Red Riding Hood is supposed to be a metaphor for Rape!

I don't know whether this censoring is right - it's probably not, since it takes the child away from reality. But there's a reason why we do it. These days, we are not able to protect our children physically by being around, like our parents could. So we try to protect their psyche from unpleasant concepts.

I do agree that reading about rebels is great fun and I still enjoy such stories. I would not dream of stopping my daughter from reading anything, especially Harry Potter. Nor do I want my daughter to be Miss Goody-two-shoes, because being naughty is part of the fun of childhood. However, the thin line between good values and the lack of them is getting thinner, with very few role models available in our environment. In such a scenario, I think it's important for parents to draw a well defined line between good and bad and make children understand that it's all right to enjoy Harry's antics as long as they don't try to imitate him in the real world. Our enjoyment of Harry Potter is by no means diluted by our knowledge of his fictitious nature. Why should it be different for our children?

At 3:57 AM, Blogger Shan said...

Harry Potter should be banned. Irreligious, satan worshipping, witchcraft-loving little brat. The godless books just inculcates all the wrong values in our children.

Instead we should encourage our children to read the Ramayana and Mahabharata, where they can learn about the happy institution of polyandry (Draupadi), the process of having children out of wedlock Kunti, impotence (Pandu), surrogate fatherhood (Vyasa), the correct status of women as property (Yudhisthira), the greatness of servility (Hanuman), and the importance of being able to give proof of faithfulness (Sita) and of course, the higher status of public opinion over logic and emotions (Rama).

These things our children need to learn...

At 10:24 PM, Blogger Mind over Matter said...

Our children should definitely read the Ramayan, Mahabharata, Upanishads, et al - to learn, in most cases, what not to do.

Same reason they should read Harry Potter?


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