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What if...

Meher MarfatiaSometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast. The White Queen in Alice through the Looking Glass.

I love the line. It’s the reply that the queen gave Alice when she declared, “There’s no use trying, one can’t believe impossible things.” But there’s every bit of use trumping up half a dozen Impossibles daily. So I thought, fascinated by Lewis Carroll’s character living backwards in time through that eponymous looking glass.

The seven most challenging letters of the alphabet strung together may well be “Imagine”. And the two worst words hurled at a child —“Stop dreaming!” I heard them at school. Explaining why I was lost in my own world, “Ah, she says she wants to be a writer,” teachers whispered.

How strangely certain they were that storytellers alone need imagination. Pity I hadn’t yet read enough to quote John Dewey: “Every great advance in science has issued from a new audacity of imagination.”

Audacious it has to be. Imagination is the boldest part of the shyest person, unafraid of mental calisthenics. Imagination dares, imagination dreams, imagination denounces.

It defies, not denies. It turns logic on its head, shakes reason out of bed, floats where fear fails to tread. So who better to explore such a superbly fluid space with than the young?

Asked how children can be made intelligent, Albert Einstein advised: “Read them fairy tales. If you want them to be more intelligent, read them more fairy tales.”

The relativity theorist celebrated the value of imagining through a genre we have long neglected — in our rush to offer kids realism, to complicate the uncomplicated.

Unfettered fantasy fires the imagination superbly in plain and simple play. Good old play out in the park, down in the building compound.

My grandmother urged nosey parents crowding the Five Gardens lawns in Dadar to butt out when children cooked up mysterious original games with friends. Why should they explain these to you she’d ask. Controlling creativity insults its very essence.

Years later I found her view echoed in James Druman’s piece ‘Directing your child’s creative pursuits without restricting them’. The ideal way to inspire imagination is to get kids used to being active and playing outside, he says.

“Not only does this encourage them towards a bigger, authentic world, but exercise is the best for stimulating human emotion. And I think we all agree imagination and emotions are closely related.”

We could quit chiding children to “stop dreaming”. A cooler phrase may be “What if?” Because “What if...” breaks the rules, bends the mind, stretches plausibility and rearranges reality.

They’re the neatest pair of words to precede a question mark. They push and pull, fuse and free those grey cells to think in quite outrageous patterns. To re-draw the brain map excitingly contours rippling, ever expanding, never static.

Cheers then to imagining at least six improbable ideas each morning. The White Queen wouldn’t be counting, just whooping. Wonderland is for winners. Gift yourself a place there this Mother’s Day.

Meher Marfatia is the author of 10 books for children and two for parents. She has mothered her own kids well past the terrible twos and almost past the troubled teens. Reach her at: mehermarfatia@gmail.com

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