It’s the time of year parents dread — at least those that don’t have the time, money or inclination for long vacations — kids underfoot and whining of boredom.
They can’t watch TV or play computer games all day (they can actually, but only an idiot parent would let them), they never cultivated the reading habit, it’s too hot to play outside...
Summer workshops come to the rescue. Chances are most kids will be rushed willingly or reluctantly to sports, art, drama, music, dance workshops from morning to night till they are too exhausted to be bored. But unless a child’s mind and energy are channelised well, these workshops become as much a chore as tuition classes.
Years ago, Sanjna Kapoor started Summertime, and gave hundreds of children (and their harassed mothers) something to look forward to during the vacations — a schedule of fun workshops that engaged as they educated. Then, sensing a business opportunity, other workshops came up and now there’s almost a glut. But most are just commercial ventures. There are a few that actually kick off a child’s cultural journey. And it’s a pity that so many of these workshops are just vacation activities.
A child’s exposure to the arts should be a regular process, and it’s sad to note that large parts of Mumbai are a cultural wilderness. The gaming zones at malls are where some kids get to expend energy every weekend. For others, movies, TV and gizmos occupy the little leisure they get when school’s on.
Bollywood is the kind of giant, toxic mushroom that doesn't let anything grow under its shade. Witness the pride on the parent's face when their kids imitate film stars’ dance moves, dialogues and expressions on TV talent shows... it’s disgusting to watch.
A parent brings a sulking child to a theatre workshop and asks, “Can my child become an actor after this?” When told, it’s a workshop, not a casting call, the parent says, “Then what’s the use?”
What is the use? That’s the crux of everything that's wrong with a system of education and child rearing that does not think that letting children explore and express their creativity is any use. Parents don't read, so kids don't either; parents watch third rate serials on TV, so kids do too; parents take their kids to watch films that are not always suitable for them. No wonder so many children grow up with warped ideas about life and relationships. So many mothers say they are fed-up of teaching their sons to do any tasks at home, because they think its “women’s work.” That’s what they see on TV.
In an environment like this, in Mumbai, there are people like Sanjna and her team, Shaili Sathyu, Divya Palat, Raell Padamsee, Avaan Patel, Jehan Maneckshaw, Meherzad Patel to name just a few, who as individuals or as heads of organisations they run, are engaging with children all year round.
Thankfully some schools have started to see the benefits in using drama, dance, music, art and creative writing to help a child’s growth, even if they are not part of the syllabus. At least till the child reaches the deadly 10th standard, when all life ceases for the whole family, there is some joy to be had in exploring the arts. At least some children will grow up to make a career in these fields.
A lot of parents sign up children for workshops just to keep them occupied, however, in spite of growing up in an atmosphere not conducive to independent thought or creative expression, the natural curiosity and intelligence of children brings forth amazing astute responses to what they are taught, and questions that can knock over grown-ups with their sharpness. If children’s imaginations are set free, who knows how high they can soar. But for that, the impetus has to come from within the family and education system... first by just exposing children to the arts, to nature, to thought-provoking experiences.
Let’s not raise a generation of money-grubbing philistines.
When the most bored child fed on a diet of Bollywood and bad TV is allowed to think freely, that’s when true potential can be discovered. Children who have seen the most sophisticated films and TV programmes, will find something as simple and basic as shadow puppetry enthralling, because it lets them imagine and create. Theatre games or poetry workshops will bring out startling insights.
Summer’s a good time to start, for young minds to be captured...and then let life take over.
Deepa Gahlot is an award-winning film and theatre critic and an arts administrator