A few days ago, the features team sat down to discuss options for a Children’s Day special. Truth is, apart from the usual suspects – Sanjay Gandhi National Park, Gateway of India, Mahim Nature Park, Rani Baug and a few other outdoor destinations, we are at a loss to find newer additions to a list that hasn’t quite changed for decades. It wasn’t comforting to stare at these predictable names. It’s when one got thinking about the fallout of such a scenario.
While Mumbai as a city seems to have succeeded, to some extent, in offering entertainment options (still a long way from Singapore and Hong Kong, though) for its impatient, choosy urban population, kids seem to have got the wrong end of the stick. What does it mean? Is Mumbai a child-unfriendly city? Without a blink, a big yes. What’s even more disturbing is the reality that malls, increasingly, are being touted and sold as the best place to keep your kid, while you set out on one shopping rendezvous after another.
Forget about imagery from a picnic scene in an Enid Blyton classic; today’s kids are trapped in a concrete jungle where enjoying the thrills of activities — indoor and outdoor — are met at one destination – the ‘godsend’ mall. So, whether it’s gaming zones, bungee jumping or bumper cars, horror shows and fake ice skating rinks, a potpourri of mindless materialistic mumbo-jumbo is thrown at our little ones, and the sad, alarming part – they seem to be lapping it up. The lack of options to find interesting activities and venues to engage Mumbai’s kids means the neighbourhood shopping zone comes to the rescue; never mind, the zero scope for anything remotely close to a stimulating, enriching experience.
While a few organisations and groups are doing their bit to ensure that our children get a sense of the outdoors, via a tree trail, a book fest, a bird watching session or a visit to the museum, it’s a tiny drop in this churning ocean. Eventually, it’s up to Mumbai’s parents to wake up and smell the cold coffee.
Agreed, that at the moment, options to find fun yet educational activities are dismal in the city. But it wouldn’t hurt if families were to shake off their mall-fixation, and introduce their kids to the sights, sounds and obvious treasures that the city has managed, just about, to hold on to. What’s stopping us from reintroducing kids to the world of books? How about a trip to Sewri’s mudflats to spot flamingoes or even a visit to the Elephanta Caves? Our museums are sleeping giants of treasures, from Mumbai and beyond, so, why not introduce them to these?
This turnaround must begin from somewhere, lest our kids start to think and react like humanised avatars of their Playstations and PSPs. Another case of blindly aping the worst from the West, what say?
— The writer is Features Editor, MiD DAY