A long time back, I had expressed concern at what kids would do after Rowling outed Dumbledore. But a while later, it struck me children have their own ways of filling up gaps that result from grown-ups not telling them things… like this little girl I know who came across the term ‘sugar daddy’ in a TV review of Cheeni Kum automatically assumed that the term meant a dad who got his kids lots of sweets.
When grown-ups grow tired of the constant barrage of questions, they simply quit trying to make answers up and ask the curious kids to “go study”, or “check on the dog” or “see if the front door is latched and the stove is turned off”.
This creates a mystique around the grown-up facets of life.The sort which begets a sneak-sneak-giggle-giggle reaction.
I find kids can’t quite resist a smile when you say you’re going to teach them mensuration. Back in the HIV scare years in ’96 and ’97, a teacher just had to mention the word ‘aids’ (even hearing-aids, or teaching aids) to have meaningful looks pass around the classroom. So I don’t quite know what one lady was thinking when she said to a class full of curious pre-teens that she would start the new topic once Sir who taught the other section passed her the aids.
And the news channels talked about prevalence of HIV among sexworkers. For some reason I confused it with social workers and was perplexed because I thought the virus didn’t spread through casual contact, and was shocked that it spread to people who took care of patients, too. And what’s more, spread THROUGH them.
And disambiguating between the two was another issue…. when there were interviews of social workers on NDTV, I marvelled at their bravery at coming out on TV when the very thing they did was illegal.
And this mystique makes kids wonder if everything around them has a double meaning, and if everything in the world was in some way or the other related to procreation.
Like I was reading a book review in The Hindu (I must have been 11 or so then) where I came across the phrase, “a seminal work”. In that environment where the current topic of discussion was the truth about the birds and the bees, curiosity knowing no limits, and newer facts and phrases being unearthed everyday and shared, irrespective of the grown-ups’ indifference, I naturally assumed it must have something to do with bodily fluids. And passed on that piece of wisdom to others who promptly added it to the list of nudge-nudge-wink-wink words. And no, I never did refer to the dictionary, as one English teacher of mine said it was a bad habit to constantly keep referring to the dictionary while reading… and you should derive meaning from context. Though.. it was much beyond me to understand whether the word was a compliment or not.
But I guess that was a one-off incident. There was a grown-up conversation going on around me once between my mother and an uncle, about the Tamil movie Mahanadi. Now I hadn’t seen much of this movie, coz it being a Kamal movie with grotesque theme as usual (this was wayy before his bunch of family-oriented comedies), my mother would not let me watch it. She mentioned that Kamal Haasan goes away to jail, and his daughter becomes a woman-of-ill-repute to sustain herself. “Great career choice, no?” I brightly asked my uncle. “Why do you think so?”, he asked… evidently there was more to this. “What are you saying?” asked mum. “I think it’s a great career choice… you need so much of skills. My friend XYZ is thinking of becoming one herself… she’s so good at debates and arguing. Ma, you might be prejudiced, but you’ve got to admit it’s a necessary profession. I’m pretty sure you can be one without resorting to underhand techniques… all your nonsense about lawyers being liars…”
And they burst out laughing… I’d confused the word ‘prosecutor’ with the similar-sounding word my uncle had uttered.