Sometimes I take a look at my collection of ebooks and downloaded pdf books on my phone to find out what hidden gem I would come across. On one such occasion, I came across a must-read from our childhood, written by Upendrakishore Raychaudhuri (উপেন্দ্রকিশোর রায়চৌধুরী), father of another stalwart of Bengali Renaissance literature, Sukumar Ray. The book is called Tuntuni ar bagher golpo (টুনটুনি আর বাঘের গল্প), which translates to Tailor Bird and Tiger Tales. Even if we didn’t read these stories, we have been told these stories a thousand time by our parents, relatives, neighbours…whoever was ever tasked to babysit us. Despite having heard those stories umpteenth times, I didn’t remember any of the stories, and perhaps that was why I downloaded them when I did. Somewhat thrilled, I turned the pages of the book and basically, what I found was stomach-churning.
To those who haven’t read or know the stories, I wouldn’t spoil by retelling every detail, but what I found most shocking is the casual nature of the violence present in a book aimed at children, even for pre-school age. Killing/death was casually mentioned in every other story, and some of them with gory details, to some extent, unpalatable.
I’m not writing this blog to criticise the violence but to appreciate how the world has changed and why we need to ensure the content our children have privy to as parents. For many of us, to whom the book almost had a classic status, it is tempting to offer our children read what we read while growing up. It is common human nature; we want our children to fit into our shoes, knowingly and unknowingly. It is often difficult to acknowledge that they have their own tastes.
But what we forget is that they live in a different time than ours and Tuntunir golpo is a prime example of how the children unknowingly can be exposed to violent content that was once deemed harmless. Corporal punishment was still ubiquitous during our childhood, and reading this book during that era, we probably wouldn’t bat an eyelid. Yet, standing where we are today and how susceptible we are to hatred and violence, it is essential to shield the children from these vices as long as possible and protect their innocence. One might question why that is necessary when a large amount of offensive content is so easily available. In my opinion, it is essential because not even trying means we can’t be bothered about the mental well-being of our children. We need to understand that children grow up in much sheltered surroundings these days and in their cocooned existence. However, they have probably a thousand times more information about everything than we did; they also lack the human interaction that children of previous generations had. It is difficult to assimilate useful information in this day and age of information overload. When they come across something disturbing as the contents of Tuntunir Golpo, we don’t know how they would react to them. In effect, they may become vulnerable to problems with mental health.
If one thinks that it is unrelated to the present-day children since I’ve cited an example of a book written two centuries ago, in a different language, situated in a different geographical location…these arguments are all valid, yet, I must add that similar parallels can be drawn with more familiar situations. This is why the big bad wolf doesn’t eat the old lady but hides her in the closet. This is why it’s not common for children to have golliwog dolls. The texts and connotations of older times are altered to suit children of the present age, and an amount of censorship is required. We often ridicule it for political correctness or the entire generation of present-day children by calling them snowflakes. Still, in reality, it’s about someone deciding what children of this era should and should not have access to. We all probably thought about it and did nothing, and when someone took that step for us, we are offended that it’s an affront to our social norms. Of course, a line has to be drawn on the censorship, for more often than not, it becomes a political tool. But in general, the outcome of altered content is a positive step in shaping the minds of tomorrow’s children.
To conclude, Tuntunir Golpo was a part of my childhood, like many other Bengali children, and it brought back fond memories. However, reading it now, we see it in a different light compared to forty years ago. It might have been altered already in present versions that filter out the original text’s gory content. But, in essence, it’s not only about Tuntunir Golpo; it merely serves as an example. The main concern is that it is quite easy to expose our children to offensive contents accidentally. Rather than handing them over our childhood possessions, we need to think about whether what we pass on is appropriate in today’s world. And it makes sense to make them ready for a future world rather than dragging them back to the past, overpowered by our nostalgia.