Take two seven-year-old boys. Give them moustaches and dress them in shirts, ties and have them lounging by the office water dispenser. Have a six-year-old girl walk by dressed as a secretary with a severe bun and clacking heels. Have them pause in their baritone conversation to idly check her out. Then resume discussing the benefits of using your credit card to buy stuff online. Or take two prepubescent girls with their hair in curlers under the driers at the parlour, texting madly and gossiping in lady’s voices about boyfriends (and the benefits of using your credit card to buy stuff online). Or dress a bunch of schoolchildren like Hindustani classical musicians, with one as a hip-hop gangsta…
Flipkart, the online megastore’s ‘no kidding, no worries’ campaign is considered ‘cute’. It’s not. It makes me want to hurl something at the TV, or possibly to simply hurl the TV, or maybe just to hurl. Why have we not had a mass cry of outrage, the way that when Vogue took to modelling pre-teen sex kittens on their covers, the backlash was instantaneous? Gross! we cried. How could they? Glamorising paedophilia! Or, we thought, more resignedly, that’s the French for you. Well, Flipkart is the Indian for you. Yes, it’s not paedophilia, but its insidious promotion of another kind of underage activity is perhaps only slightly less harmful.
My son’s school demands that holiday homework projects are submitted complete with references, bibliography and acknowledgements. “Aids such as flow chart, picture chart, flashcard, collage, transparencies, recorded interview, video clippings, slides etc. can also be used.” At the age of ten, he can put together a professional looking Powerpoint presentation. What, exactly, is the point? I ranted to a friend the other day, what are they learning? They are learning important lessons in how to lie and cheat, she replied with chilly sangfroid. I mean, what more vital education is there for getting ahead in today’s India?
Children in India are treated, by and large, as adults manqué. Little mini-grown-ups, lacking only in height, girth and credit cards. They are talked down to, patronised, instructed, moralised at, taught to mug up the ‘right’ answers, to mimic speech patterns and parrot scripted lines. Rarely, if ever, are they listened to. Churned out of the system with a cast-iron knowledge of how to work the system, and precious little else. An English colleague of mine recently bemoaned the difficulty of hiring Indian applicants for a job here. Far too polite to call it lying and cheating, she termed it a “serious overinflation of job titles.”
How do you survive Holiday Homework, I wailed to a mother far more experienced and worldly than I. “Oh, you just pay someone to do it,” she replied. “Then she’s happy, you’re happy, the kids are happy, the teachers are also happy. Everyone is happy.” Another mother waved away my qualms: “Get it done in the market,” she advised, “anyway holiday homework doesn’t count for much marks. Then you can spend the rest of the time getting him to study for tests.” I reeled away, feeling like an absolute sucker and an idiot: these mothers have it down pat.
At the other end of the scale are the adults, infantalised continually by the family and society. The old joke about why Jesus was a Bengali (lived at home til he was 33, thought his father was god and his mother was a virgin) is only funny because it is painfully true. My uncles, all 70-plus, still sneak out the back to have a cigarette so my father, their elder brother, won’t see. My cousin (female) wasn’t allowed to cross the road without her father or (younger!) brother until she was safely married off in her early twenties, to a husband who, presumably, could take over hand-holding duties. And what’s with all this ‘uncle-auntie’ crap? Surely that should stop by the time you turn eighteen? Why are we still be uncling and auntying in our forties and fifties?
But there it is: a world full of miniature adults and overgrown children – or is it infantile grown-ups and middle-aged kids? I wonder when we’ll start acting our age? Flipkart, I’m really not kidding.