The Financial Express

Changing nature of childhood thru time

| Updated: July 07, 2020 22:24:36

Artist: Kiriti Ranjan Biswas Artist: Kiriti Ranjan Biswas

Childhood is the most pleasant phase in one's life. It's accepted universally. Few of the adults hesitate to admit that they have passed their most enjoyable time during their childhood. According to behavioural science, humans normally cannot clearly recall their pre-teen days. But the phase of pubescence remains etched out on the mind. The colours, smells and sounds do not get erased even in old age. There are, however, a few exceptions, like people afflicted with bouts of amnesia.

Apart from its pleasant nature, childhood has other features as well. On being noticeably engrossed with their present times, most of the teenagers are found least bothered about their future careers. At times, middle-class parents are seen asking their children what they want to become in future. The teenagers find themselves in a fix. Few can come up with definite replies to these queries. Their answers are shaped by the compulsive nature of the questions. Thanks to the parental badgering, many children blurt out their aims of becoming a 'scientist', an 'engineer', a 'doctor', a 'pilot' and the people in professions commanding respect in society. In a few cases, the ambitions do prove true. These boys and girls are exceptionally serious in their studies. The rest, apparently, have no ambitions. They want to continue their happy-go-lucky style of life for an indefinite period.

Yet childhood calls for parental guidance. Even amid their absolute freedom, its necessity has been felt through the ages. However, in today's complicated times the instances of promising children getting spoilt before reaching youth are many. In these cases, complete absence of parental guidance, neglect or excesses of supervision are blamed generally. The parental laxity is blamed by social psychologists on the modern parents' nonstop engagement in livelihood-related activities. This scenario prevails mainly in the urban areas. The rural parents rarely feel the necessity of keeping their children under watchful guidance.

The quintessential aspect of the topic, indisputably, is all children love to be free during their formative age. Many of them prove themselves extraordinarily successful in their adult lives. Their areas of attainment cover varied types of disciplines. Some bring for them both fame and riches. The average people see them emerge as illustrious sons of the soil dedicating their lives to the betterment of society. They include reformers, politicians, economists, academics and lots of others. In their journeys to success, they have depended on their thoughts and innovations and courage. At the same time there are children who leave their mark in the arts. Although having little material prospects, lots of great persons enrich this discipline. They include writers, painters, philosophers, musicians, players to unconventional politicians and philanthropists. A major feature is common to all of them. A great number of them remain miserably unsuccessful in terms of material gains throughout their lives.

An age-old proverb is used to define a child's growth into adulthood. It reads, 'Morning shows the day'. The meaning is subtle but clear. There are signs and hints during childhood as to whatever a teenage boy or girl is set to become in future. The saying is increasingly being proved an anachronism. Modern realities are stark and hard to digest. The times, especially which that began in the latter half of the 20th century, have been identified as being ever-changing and unpredictable. One cannot say for sure that a brilliantly faring school student will eventually emerge as someone having exceptional qualities.

The other way round, obscure and mediocre students have occasionally been seen emerge as the worthy sons of the soil. In these riddling times of the 21st century, forecasts about teenagers are fast becoming a difficult task. The all-time truth about children is they love freedom. They dislike the overbearing presence of the elders, be they teachers or parents, in their domain which they think is exclusively theirs. Notwithstanding the many restrictions in force at Tagore's ancestral house at Kolkata's Jorasanko, the poet enjoyed vast freedom in his boyhood. However, he did it in his own way. Due to his being the youngest of 13 siblings, he would attract the loving attention of all elders at 'Thakurbari'.  Poet Nazrul had also passed restraint-free childhood. But it didn't last long. Poverty and his bohemian character prompted him to come out of his village home. Amazingly, the budding poet showed clear signs of his eventual emergence as a poetic genius in his early youth. Nazrul's was a struggling and uncertain life even in his boyhood. Unlike Tagore and the other poetic and music stalwarts in Bengal, he had not been able to bask in a tension-free childhood for long. But this difficult childhood left lasting influence on his literary and musical output.

Not all children grow into famous people in their later lives. But the universal scenario is childhood is a person's best of times. However, there are notable exceptions. Many a legendary personality had to pass through their childhood haunted by nightmares and dreadful times. During the times of war and the state of being under siege, children had been singled out as the premier victims. They felt persecuted both physically and psychologically. Of these children, the German-Dutch teenage girl Anne Frank stands out with her extraordinary experience during the World War-II. A victim of the Holocaust, the 15-year-old Anne Frank gained posthumous fame for her diary written during the hiding of her and her sister and parents in some concealed rooms. Those were located at her father's office in the German-occupied Amsterdam. In one of the rooms at the 'office' of Anne's father, the teenage girl chronicled her life under the German occupation. She and her sister Margot were later transferred to the notorious Auschwitz concentration camp to be transported to another. Anne Frank and her sister, however, died of typhoid in October/November, 1944.

The publication of Anne Frank's war-time chronicle 'The Diary of a Young Girl' turned out to be a phenomenal event in the post-war world. In a few years, it was translated into 50 major languages of the world and recognised as a milestone in war literature. The diary's translation hasn't stopped; and it continues to be adopted into plays, movies and other forms of performing arts.

Deaths of teenage boys and girls in armed ethnic conflicts, civil wars etc haven't stopped. Anne Frank was awarded a celebrity status; but the world in general knows little about these children. Not all of them are dying. But they are caught in or are being made to pass through scores of phases of ordeal. It's not only wartime hostilities which plague the lives of today's children; lots of them are victims of the fallout of prolonged drought, near-famine and the threats of climate-change-prompted disasters. The persons who were children during the 1971 occupation of Bangladesh by the then Pakistani occupation army were made to pass through a 9-month period of horrific experiences.

Bangladesh children have lately been made victims of a global pandemic. In both urban and rural areas, school children are passing times free of the pressure of studies. Although, the upscale schools in the cities, including Dhaka, have introduced online classes and examinations, the rural schools are deprived of this privilege. Nearly three months into the raging corona pandemic, the country has yet to get down to its everyday business. It prominently includes the education sector. Unfortunately, this sector appears to have borne the brunt of the pandemic scourge most severely. The underprivileged urban and rural school children whiling away their time in leisurely abandon are now a common sight. Neither they nor their parents are found least bothered about this frittering of the learners' valuable time. These portend a difficult future for the teenagers. With career openings becoming narrower and the vying for having a berth in professional life fierce, today's youths may view the childhoods in the distant past in incredulity. The fun-filled period of childhood spent in the early 20th century may turn out for many of today's teenagers as chapters from fairy tales.          

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