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That’s tween logic about the city!

Updated on: 24 June,2024 06:47 AM IST  |  Mumbai
Fiona Fernandez |

How do today’s pre-teens and teens view the local and urban history and heritage around them? They threw up some rather interesting responses during this columnist’s many interactions with this age group

That’s tween logic about the city!

Representational image. Pic/iStock

Fiona FernandezIt's right opposite Starbucks…I’ve seen this white building!” a student yelled out. He was hoping that this half-answer would win him bragging rights among his classmates during a fun, interactive quiz centred on content from my book, H for Heritage: Mumbai, which I had recently hosted for schoolchildren at a city venue. He was referring to the Asiatic Society of Mumbai. Another student got the correct answer, much to his dismay.

But it was replies like this that made the session particularly insightful. For me, the key takeaway was how this young audience connected with the city and its people, its conversations and places from a slightly different lens—their universe. Take for example the boy’s reference to the popular coffee shop chain in my opening para. It was possibly a regular adda for him and his group of friends, and hence, it resonated a lot more than the neighbouring heritage landmark, which happened to be in the same frame of his wanderings in that area. A similar realisation emerged about how this age group looked at modern urban history. A student quizzer rattled off most of the names of locations of the Mumbai terror attacks. It came up as additional information in reply to his correct answer to my question about Victoria Terminus, or today’s CSMT.

There was another fascinating [and rather amusing] observation that came up during a similar quiz last year as part of the Kala Ghoda festival. Since my book celebrates people, places and objects by using the letters of the alphabet, I recall a moment from that session when my co-conversationalist asked me about the input for the letter Z, and decided to check what the students in the audience thought it would be. She had generously shared a clue—“It’s where you go shopping before weddings and functions…” A hand was immediately raised from within the student group that comprised the audience. “Z for Zara!” exclaimed a delighted youngster who was quite sure that she had the correct answer. In case you haven’t guessed by now, it was Zaveri Bazaar. She didn’t seem embarrassed or upset that she didn’t get the right answer. In her world, the international label was the first impression that best matched the clue.

At another session where I had the wonderful opportunity to interact with less privileged students from a municipal school in Colaba. I realised that they had never stepped into an Irani café, nor had they visited the Sanjay Gandhi National Park due to limited opportunities. Their school teachers, too, admitted that much had to be done so their students could have better access to places of importance in their own city. In this case, it threw light on the wide gap that exists between civic-run schools and international schools, when it came to access of information about Mumbai.

In my many interactions with children across city schools, or at sessions involving students, mostly in the 9-14-year age group, one factor that emerged is that parents played a key role in creating and nurturing the curiosity of their kids. More often than not, a reference would be made to them while answering a question: “My mother took me to Leopold Café, where she showed me the bullet marks left by the terrorists”. “My parents took me on the Kanheri trail inside SGNP”. It was reassuring to hear such statements because at the end of the day, knowledge-building, and this you will agree, begins at home. Schools are the next vital cog in this chain of information gathering and dissemination. 

During one literature festival organised at a school in Navi Mumbai last year, a few children went so far as to ask me for suggestions on how to develop a similar book on documenting the heritage of the satellite city. This, for me, was fantastic intent. While that was the high point, they also rued the fact that there were less than a handful of bookstores for them to access, and hence they had to rely on e-bookstores for their reading needs. That visit was a reality check on several counts.

One of my most satisfying memories of interacting with this age group was a session at a Tardeo venue where students comprised a mixed bunch, hailing from municipal schools, as well as the top schools from SoBo. They matched each other, answer for answer. Many made it a point to add details and dates while sharing their replies. Honestly, I didn’t notice any difference among these kids who hailed from different strata of society. Confidence levels, intelligence and swag, it was all on show. It was a win-win for these young inquisitive minds.

Children can play a key role in taking forward the idea of heritage and conservation in every avatar and form. It’s up to their parents and schools to channelise their curiosity and enthusiasm at the right time and in the right direction to ensure they look beyond their laptops and tablets, and soak in the big, amazing fact-filled city around them.

mid-day’s Features Editor Fiona Fernandez relishes the city’s sights, sounds, smells and stones...wherever the ink and the inclination takes her. She tweets @bombayana

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