Two days ago, my chirpy almost-eight year old son came home saying, “Amma, I have a new version of PPAP.” For the uninitiated PPAP is PenPineappleApplePen, an atrocious song that went viral a few months ago. Rendered by a dopey looking Japanese artist, the song makes absolutely no sense, and therefore, of course, is hugely catchy. So when my son came up to me, I mentally rolled my eyes and asked what it was. He goes, “I have a bomb, I have fire. Allahu Akbar.” It would understatement to say everything in me froze, followed by a fire taking over me. I was on the verge of erupting but being in company meant I checked my temper and quietly asked him if he knew what he was talking about.
Being clueless about religions apart from a very basic understanding, he said no. Of course, because we don’t talk communalism at home. Like many households I know. Talk of religion is limited to the rituals they see: because they come from a mixed religious background, my kids understand the rituals that go with Hinduism and Christianity. The other aspect of religion they understand is mythology. Outside of these two things, there’s very little else. I took my son aside and told him I never want to hear this again, ever. And I think the intensity of my reaction made an impact on him. I am not proud of the way I handled it because I was immediately plagued by the question what if I had let it slip without responding, would that have just gone out of his system. But I can’t take that risk with this, see? Because he will repeat it to his best friend in school, who will repeat it to his other friends and soon a bunch of 7 years olds are singing Islamophobic songs without even knowing what they’re singing. It’s a great, unintended way to indoctrinate Children into what I now see as a national malaise.
I sat my son down and told him the import of what he had just said. I am not sure he understood but I think he took my word for it. And it is enough for me, for now. But it rendered me worried and sleepless. How do I protect these kids from the vicious Islamophobia that this country is increasingly wearing proudly on its sleeve. Is this the age when I have to have this conversation? How do I even have this conversation? What must I say? Should I have to be explaining terrorism -- my house is a TV, newspaper-free household because I don’t think kids should be seeing what a terrible world we live in yet -- and should I have to be explaining communal strife to a child who isn’t yet eight? But I realise if we don’t have these conversations now, in a simple, effective manner, they are going to be so deeply ingrained that the unlearning when they are older will come at very high price. And to be honest, I am fearful of the India where my children will become adults, go away to college, experience life. I want to be able to equip them with love and kindness before they step out into a country where, today, hatred seems to be the defining factor.
The conversation, of course, gave rise to me thinking where this was trickling down from. I refuse to believe that the 12 year old that my son picked this up from came up with it himself. Or anyone else of that age. It has to be a more grown up mind, filled with a bigotry that they wore casually that came up with this, it has be someone with an education that didn’t do anything for them to have come with this and call it a joke. Kids around us are listening, parents. All the time. It is on us to stop spreading Islamophobia to them, to stop spreading fear of the other to them, to stop spreading our vile casteist views to them in the name of an innocuous joke or a casual statement. These things stick in the mind of children, who don’t understand it like you or I do. We should know better. We should do better.
Again, I ask this question to all those parents around me. Have we lost sight of the fact that these children will one day grow into adults and not remain children all their lives? Have you forgotten that the men who kill others in order to protect cows were once children? Do we not realise that these children are the ones we are handing over the world to? I know it’s a lot of questions but the question is actually just one. What is making your forget that these kids will one day have to live with each other peace, as adults. Do you not want that for your children? Or have you, in the race to feel proud of your own parenting and your genes, forgotten that there is a life outside of academic and sport achievement?
I have another question to ask you: why aren’t you talking to your kids enough to pick this up? Why are your kids stepping out of your homes with this in their heads? My daughter’s 11 year-old cousin (from the Christian side of our family) left a note in my daughter’s bag when my daughter visited her for the summer. The note said, “You are a heathen. All those around you are heathen. One day My Lord God will strike you down on the day of judgement.” I was appalled, to say the least. In a moment of great sadness, my daughter said this summer holiday was deeply painful for her because her cousin kept insisting that Hindu gods were fake and made up. That my daughter “would go to hell” for believing in them. I react badly to this sort of thing and I know if I had been there I would have given the child a piece of my mind and had a proper blow out with her parents. It is unacceptable to me that we are ruining children who understand no divisiveness but introducing ideas that are hard to unlearn later in life.
Sometime ago, I would have been slightly amused and said, well, the world will straighten these kids out when they go out in the world and their superiority will be crushed by those who are better educated, more sensitively brought up. Now, though, I watch kids in jail for a Facebook post, people being killed for eating beef, and chief ministers encouraging speeches where women were being threatened with rape as revenge on another religion and I have no faith that “people like us” can straighten out “people like them.” I fear, having heard my son mouth that mindless song, that people like us will be few.
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