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Bhala thha kitna apna bachpan bhala thha kitna
SHADOWS OF CHILDHOOD Early Childhood Is The Foundation of All Other Human Developments
By Dr Ram Lakhan Prasad 2019 3
FOREWORD Reading this manuscript was not only a pleasure for me but it brought back a lot of my own childhood memories to me. This is a very detailed presentation of Shadows of Childhood of a person I have known from my childhood. We were working on the farm together, I as a helper of the family and he as the eldest treasure of the Prasad Family. We did a lot of those things together that Dr Ram Lakhan Prasad has so aptly narrated in his essay. My son has helped me to write this Foreword for my friend, When he talks about Radhika as his nanny I was moved with the story that he wrote about her in his book Attachment. Incidentally Radhika was my sister who was an asset of our family but sadly passed away in 2015 at the age of 85. I am now almost eighty as well and still have my family farm where my children work and I enjoy their company. I too lost my wife some eight years ago and now I spend most of my time reading the scriptures and listening to bhajans and kirtans to keep my soul alive within me to be worthy of living a few more years. I wish Dr Prasad all the best in life and hope to read more of his publications. He is a great writer but I too have been a good farmer. I was very happy to respond to his request to write this foreword because he was my lagotiya yaar, childhood friend of great value and interest. I am proud of his success and contributions. Sat Narayan – Sattu for Barkana.
As my 18th birthday was rapidly approaching on December 27th 1957, I thought reflecting on a few important things that I had learned throughout my childhood life. Of course, I had to call on some of my childhood friends who were with me at Natabua High School and on my farm to help me. I am glad and proud that Sat Narayan my childhood friend agreed to write the Foreword for me. People may underestimate you because of your age, built and conduct but I learned to shut out the voices of those who doubted my ability so that I could keep my eyes, ears and mind on my goals. During my childhood life I sometimes realized that a lot of things did not move and progress the way I wanted them to That did not mean that I should just give up but instead I must try to assess what is going on in life and then make an effort to fix them as best as if I can. 5
I found that trying something new in my early life was somewhat scary and looked cumbersome but when I gave it a second look it all became possible and manageable. Resting and relaxing times should not last forever but while enjoying every single season of our life to the fullest we must wake up before we begin to rust, I felt. When our eyes are opened to all aspects of the current complexities, competitions and injustice around us, we must always speak up and be a voice to reckon with. It is criminal to just comply with injustice and many of the status quo in our life. It did not matter for me as to what happened to or for me the day, week or month or even year before but I made a definite effort to restart each day with a new, determined and brighter outlook on life. Sooner than later I learnt to let go of people in my life that were not really good, honest and helpful for and to me. I found that often this was somewhat painful to do but it turned out to be a worthy action in the end. My childhood development and growing up never let me feel guilty about just letting myself loose and having fun every now and then. Very early in life I assessed that worrying unnecessarily would never change and improve the situation because if things were in my control to change the situation then I was able to do so by all means 6
remembering well that if I could not change it then I should never sweat over it. It is a fact of life that acquiring the things we want in life may be hard at first but I knew that the best things in life always came to me with a hard fight and perseverance. My parents and grandparents were always right during my growing up. I found out that disagreeing with them only made them more right and me a lot more wrong, sadly. This became the best learning point of my childhood and I progressed. I soon realized that owning up to my silly actions and apologizing was hard to do, but it was simply a part of good growing up. I knew often that I could not change what had happened to me in the past, but knew that I could always change my present. I was always willing and sure to tell all those that I loved, just how much they meant to me and how much I depended on their support, love and care. I knew for sure what was in my inside and that it was by far a lot more important than what was on the outside. I often stopped and appreciated the small things in my life because I came to realize that they might not be there forever. Wise teachers always told me that a little bit of fun and game was always necessary in life and my elders agreed with this as well. It 7
was a lot better feeling to live the life I loved and live the life I loved.
INTRODUCTION My childhood was full of shadows Bright, blue and brilliant shadows On the winds of the silent valley Many memories that sang so gaily My childhood has gone but not forgotten I remember all that is good but not rotten Life was calm, cool and comfortable Nothing to worry, care with no timetable Family life full of love and comfort Grandparents and parents gave all support Love learn look and listen to grow Worries and anxieties nothing to show Farm of fruit vegies and healthy tree Cows, goats, horses and chicks running free Time to enjoy all morning and evening Life full of joy with no grieving That was my childhood full of fun Eating drinking no work to be done Born on the farm full of crops Lot of water good land no rocks Lot to learn from every one No more childhood cos it has gone I want to fly back but cannot My heart longs to find that report So let me write and reveal The entire good thing that is real.
Our earliest childhood memories start from the age of two - far earlier than previously thought. Scientists have found the area of the brain responsible for memories can be triggered before toddlers even learn to speak. We experience thousands of events across childhood, and yet as adults we recall only a handful. Some might be “firsts” (our first ice cream, our first day at school), or significant life events (the birth of a sibling, moving house). Others are surprisingly trivial. So, to narrate what my early childhood memories are I have decided to do the show and tell process. They reflected my early skill for remembering things, many of my interests and my individual experiences. I have begun to see my childhood memories as if a video camera captured the images and recorded the events of my life accurately and without bias. Like any other my childhood memories were intricately shaped by my family and the culture I grew up in. In the narration it can be seen that the shadows of my childhood have impacted upon and reflected upon my adolescence, youth and middle-age and is now assisting me respond to my old age.
Shadows of Childhood
I am reaching my eightieth birthday soon and after listening to various songs about childhood memories and reading the poem of Thomas Hood I could not resist the temptation to dig into my childhood activities that gave me so much knowledge to develop my life. One of the best things about being a parent is being able to see life from my childhood perspective again. I have many memories from growing up on rural farm of my grandparents and parents in a small village of Fiji called Botini. I am really amazed at many of my old childhood memories. Of course I remember climbing the mango and coconut and roaming round the farm with my elders and my aunts and uncles. It reawakens that little and chubby farm boy in me. Ait is so 11
amazing that all of a sudden, I can remember those days with such detail. After we had four children of our own we were proud to take them to the old farm to show them around. Our children were growing up in urban environment and to witness life on the farm was exciting to them. They saw my mother milking her cows, and my father holding out a handful of green para grass to the beautiful cow that kept chewing the grass so merrily.
The Place I Grew Up in Botini To watch my parents do the things that I once did was amazing not only to me but more so to my four children. I loved the look of pride on their little faces when they conquered their fear of animals and kept their little hand out long enough for a cow to actually take the green grass and then try milking the cow themselves. Then there were the chicken, ducks, goats, horses, dogs and the kittens that made my children forget their urban living for a while.. My eldest child in his excitement began chasing the chicks and in doing so he stepped on one of the tiny ones and crushed it to 13
death. I could see the anger on my mother’s face but the love of grandchildren brought total forgiveness for this crime. . There were always so many new activities for my children and all of it was such a fun and game for them. My own children then began believing all my childhood experiences that I used to tell them. We kept going to the village to keep the memories of childhood alive and make our children see the rural side of life and living we had come from. While the children and I were visiting my family farm over the holidays, my children kept making their own great discoveries: I remember at night we used to go out and huddled in a bunch and craned our necks up. There was nothing like seeing a sky full of stars on the country farm of my parents. After these stints and visits the poem of Thomas Hood made a lot more sense to my children.
I Remember, I Remember By Thomas Hood I remember, I remember, The house where I was born, The little window where the sun Came peeping in at morn; He never came a wink too soon, Nor brought too long a day, But now, I often wish the night Had borne my breath away! I remember, I remember, The roses, red and white, The violets, and the lily-cups, Those flowers made of light! The lilacs where the robin built, And where my brother set The laburnum on his birthday,— The tree is living yet! I remember, I remember, Where I was used to swing, And thought the air must rush as fresh To swallows on the wing; My spirit flew in feathers then, That is so heavy now, And summer pools could hardly cool The fever on my brow! I remember, I remember, The fir trees dark and high; I used to think their slender tops Were close against the sky: 15
It was a childish ignorance, But now 'tis little joy To know I'm farther off from heaven Than when I was a boy
My Birth Place – Sarju Nivas Botini 1939
This is a beautiful garden of my childhood I usually visit when I am an adult because it is an enchanted place where colours are brighter, the air is softer, fruits are sweeter and the mornings as well as the evenings are more fragrant than ever. This is the reason that the older I grow the more earnestly I feel that the few joys of childhood are the best that life has given me. Now whenever I go back to my old village I find that it is not the old place I miss but my childhood that has made me what I am today.
My childhood has its many secrets and its various mysteries that I cannot tell or even try to explain them properly but I keep trying to do this for specific joy in my life because I find that my childhood has been a mirror which keeps reflecting in my life the glorious images that were presented to me in the 17
beginning and these images seem to continue in my life now. I can recall the first joy, the first sorrow, the first success, the first failure, the first achievement, the first misadventure and many more firsts that my childhood keeps hiding. I can clearly notice that there is no place like the land of my childhood and this is my reason to reveal some of the valuable memories remembering that I am the product of my childhood. There are many things that I loved in my childhood that still stay in my heart as fresh as ever as if my childhood is going to last all through my life. But I know that this is not possible. Let me begin this narrative by saying that one of the luckiest things that has happened to me in my entire life is my firm belief that I was able to have a very happy, rewarding and exciting childhood. All of that was because my most important influence during my childhood came from the people I associated with and had my loving attachment. They were my grandparents, parents and the people who cared for me during my growing up. I am happy to remember the memories of my childhood that brought and instilled strength, courage and happiness for me to develop my future. Now I realise that childhood means simplicity and it has 18
gradually made me look at the entire world and its people with the child’s eye to accept that they all are beautiful. A lot of what I am writing is my imagination but deep inside me that tells the truth.
I have never and cannot ever think of any need in childhood as strong and beneficial as the need for the proper protection and continuous care of the family members especially my father and mother. One of the 19
reasons I am getting older gracefully is that I am able to carry my childhood with me with pleasure and honourable feelings. It is an irony of my life that whenever I think that while I spent my whole childhood wishing I were older but now I am spending my adulthood wishing I were younger. I now find that both the periods of our life are irreversible but interesting, exciting and memorable in own ways. All things that I grew up with have stayed with me to give me an eventful living. I started my life in a certain way and then I have spent my whole life trying to find a certain simplicity that I had acquired. It is less about staying in childhood than keeping a certain spirit of seeing things in a different way when I have grown up. My imagination goes deep to reveal the love and attention I received from my parents. Our grandparents and parents deserve my honour and respect for giving me life that is precious for me. Beyond this they almost always made countless sacrifices as they cared for and nurtured me through my infancy and childhood to provide me with the necessities of life and to nurse me through physical illnesses and the emotional stresses of growing up. Often I used to hear my grandparents praying and it seemed like the prayer of a 20
farmer. They used to start by saying ‘O Lord, bless us and the land You have so kindly given us. May we always get your guidance so that all the crops we grow and the creatures we keep may flourish. O Great Lord grant us the wisdom and strength to be good farmers and protect us from all harm. Give us enough sunshine and adequate rain and keep the moonlight glowing. We thank You for all Your gracious gift and kindness’.
My childhood memories of my parents and grandparents are that of a wonderful, loving, kind, considerate and complementary couple. While my grandfather had a spirited, humorous personality, my grandmother was gentle and poised. So were my parents. While I adore every aspect of their love and care for me I now know the greatness of that deep love and family bond.
My childhood, adolescence and youth as well as my primary and high school days have all been unusually important for me. If there has ever been a time that I developed a uniqueness and sense of humour and the ability to organize, it was then. In those early days, I developed the skills that gave me a certain degree of success in my later life. My father was a farmer and my mother was even a better farmer because together they made my childhood full of excitement and very good memories. I am very grateful for my early childhood when I was growing up with such a tolerant and dedicated parents 21
because despite their economic, academic and physical limitations they made my childhood and the entire life that became full of goodness and excellent example of humanity. Our farm had almost all the crops and the conduct of our animal kingdom made us respect and love the creatures and remain kind to them at all times because they were beneficial for us in many ways. We had cows, oxen, horses, goats, chicken, ducks and cats and dogs. Living with them and caring for them made me appreciate nature even more.
Our goat farm at Sipia in Votualevu I recognize that all my pain and gain are part of the past and there is never a moment that I can forget things despite the fact that I still carry many of the childhood words, joys and wounds. Some of my wounds are more 22
horrific than others but no matter how painful my young age memories were, there were also glorious moments that have kept me alive or I would not be here today enjoying life to the fullest. My childhood was the first stage of my interesting life. I was the first born of a family of nine children. My parents and grandparents were great farmers and I had a wonderful upbringing. My grandparents Sarju Mahajan and Gangadei were indentured workers who were dubiously recruited from Uttar Pradesh in India by hired deviators or Arkathis of the Colonial Sugar Refining Company of Australia that had begun sugarcane farming in Fiji. My grandparents arrived in Fiji in 1907 as I have shown in my essay titled My Roots-From Basti to Botini published elsewhere. My family became a place where I as the first child enjoyed my early childhood with the extended members. So my grandparents, parents and other family members were actually responsible in shaping my future and also in making my childhood memorable. The experiences of my past are undeniably exciting as would be seen from the memories that I intend to present. It goes without saying that my childhood was more than just a learning experience. These are my greatest and fondest memories. This is an essay not only on the memories of my childhood but also about the 23
lessons I have learned throughout my childhood that has developed me as an effective member of the community. I was told by my grandmother that my mother became very sick after giving birth to me and she was hospitalised for a few months in order to heal herself. As I have already related in one of my short stories that my grandparents were able to get a nanny for me in the name of Radhika who began looking after me when I was brought home from hospital. Radhika, I was told, became my second mother and cared for me for quite some time during my early childhood.
Radhika in 2015 before she passed away
My Aunt (Fua) Ramdei I also had one of my aunts, Ramdei who looked after me and carried me around the farm to make me feel and appreciate the love of nature. Her favourite time was in our orchard of mango trees during the fruiting season when she would make me enjoy the sweet taste of the variety of mangoes on our farm. She continued to be my carer until her marriage to my Fuffa Shyam Lal when she had to move to Drasa with her husband and begin her new life on the farm there.
Now when I think back everything was different when I was a child- the trees were higher, the colours were brighter, and every new day was more interesting than the last one. Even more importantly, many things happened that have stayed in my memory for a long time — in fact, often they have ended up being with me forever. I remember many of them like it was yesterday. For me, childhood memories are all made up of recollections of tasty food, rainy days, running streams, kites, hopscotch, skipping, swimming, fishing and letting my paper boats to sail along merrily with a little flower sitting in it as the captain. There are many reasons why the childhood memories do not fade away so easily but the best reason is the freedom and joy it gave us. 26
All these remind me of the favourite song of Jagjeet and Chitra – Ye daulat bhi le lo, ye shohrat bhi le lo Bhale cheen lo mujhse meri jawaani Magar mujhko lauta do bachchpan ka saawan Wo kagaz ki kashti wo barish ka pani. (Take all my wealth and my fame as well as my youth but return the joy, multiple glories of my childhood- those paper boats that sailed in the stream when it rained.)
Of course the presence of my grandparents who I lovingly called Aaja and Aaji and Naana and Naani had an added interest for me. I cannot forget their fairy tales, their wrinkled face that showed marks of million years. The nights seemed short and the stories of the grandparents were never ending. I now hope that they were around to narrate those great stories from scriptures. Whether it was bright hot sunshine or drizzles of rain but I loved to go out and chase the colourful birds, try to catch those brilliant butterflies and collect useless items to show and tell my 27
parents and grandparents when I returned from these excursions.
When I was five, I was always convinced that my father, who I called Pitaji, needed my company after work. When he came back from work in the evening and was all tired and looked bored so I would entertain him by either singing some prayer songs that my grandparents had taught me or get on his bare back and massage his tired muscles with my tiny feet. He loved my slow walk on his back and often went to sleep while I continued with my massage. Often I would be taken out to the nearby mango trees where my aunt Ramdei and Radhika had made a swing of hessian empty sugar bags tied with two pieces of rope to the branch or old tyre of our ford six truck or any plank put at the end of the loop of the rope. They would make me sit on the swing and push me as high as I could go. That was so exciting and exhilarating that even today I feel the pleasant effect of it when I sit and swing on the modern swing in my pergola. To add flavour to my enjoyment they used to sing some matching songs that I wish I could remember now. 28
When I was a child, I was often sent to the nearby store of Sukhai to buy things. I would always forget to buy something, and would be sent back to the store again. I wanted to make sure that the sales assistant did not get the impression that I was a foolish boy with a bad memory, so I would change my shirt or change my hairstyle, put on a different 29
facial expression and speak in a lowered stuttering voice. It seemed that I was a master of conspiracy. I still cannot believe that when I was a child I usually thought that people my age behaved like adults and I tried to put on my father’s large shirt and trousers to behave like an adult. But I was still an innocent child because at the age of 5 or so Radhika used to accompany me to my village primary school known as Sabeto Indian School where I completed my early education. This episode is also narrated in detail in my short story titled Attachment. My aunt Ramdei and Radhika would play with me outside in the farm yard constantly and I recall we would run around in the yard jumping as high as we possible could trying so hard to get the ripe mangoes, pawpaws, coconuts and other fruits. It seemed as though the beauty of the entire farm was making us enjoy life with my people. Thus the entire farm of my parents gradually became the greatest learning ground for me where I learned to appreciate nature and enjoy my freedom. There were trees to swing from, crops to admire and mountain range to climb.
I would love to go outside to play with my carers who would take me to the nearby creek where they did some fishing for fun. This outdoor experience developed a love of outdoor life and the natural habitat and taught me patience when I waited to get any fish at the end of my line. Slowly and surely my childhood gradually became one of the happiest periods in my early life. The reasons for all these were very simple because as a child I had nothing to care or worry about and had almost no duties or problems but to hang out with my aunt and my nanny all day long.
The most important thing which made my childhood more exciting and memorable was the instinctual and unconditional love, care and affection of the family and family members. As a child growing up among the loved ones, I had developed the purest heart any human being can possess and all that heart desired was love, tender loving care and freedom; no matter what the circumstances were. I am now able to claim that I had an amazing childhood and was able to witness sufficient amount of love, care and affection from my extended family members. Many of the exciting and pleasant memories of childhood have their own place in my heart. As I have been grown up, I have been feeling more and more attached with my childhood that remains the best period in my entire life. Having no anxieties, worries or work, I was always free from the dirty and filthy noise of the confusing worldly life. This 32
is another reason whenever I recollect the memories of my childhood I feel delighted as it is the most pleasant period which was free from any kind of worry or anxiety. The exciting and pleasant memories of my childhood have haunted me in a specific way throughout my life so much so that I often wish that those childhood days full of pleasure come back despite knowing that childhood is a thing of past. Time is always passing fast and it is impossible for anyone to enjoy those days of childhood which will never come back. I have read, seen and experienced that childhood is the period which has often been praised by poets and writers so as I was growing up in age, I have been feeling a great attachment and attraction for the days spent in childhood. I too deep inside my heart want and wish to be a child again but the fact remains; those days cannot come back however hard I try. My grandparents told me that children are actually God’s gift to the planet earth and they also said that if they could keep their children happy, they would be able to keep the Almighty happy. I found this truth in my own family life and tried to keep my own children happy and satisfied. In fact childhood is God’s best gift to any individual and we all are aware of the fact that money can buy anything but 33
even all the money in the world is in-sufficient to bring back the past of childhood in anyone’s life. My own experience is that childhood is that golden period of life which flies away without giving any notice and never comes back so we should all be aware of an important fact about childhood. It is during childhood that a child is moulded as an individual for the rest of the life. What the child will learn and see from his or her family, teachers and peers is what he or she will learn in the future. Thus was my case. Just as a potter moulds the pot according to his wish, similarly any individual is moulded in his or her childhood. If the moulding is good, the child will turn out to be a perfect individual who will help in the growth and advancement of the society, nation and the world at large. If on the other hand, the moulding is bad the child can result in being a menace to the society. It is thus essential for the parents that they instil the values of good character, patriotism, respect for the elders, helping people in need and the like in the child from a very early age to brighten their futures. Every child must be given the opportunity to enjoy his or her childhood to the fullest by their parents. My wife and I have had four children of our own and we made it sure that their 34
upbringing was the best we could afford to provide and we are proud with the fact that our four children have grown up and fitted well into the community and their respective life. We did our best but they in turn responded well and found their own niche in the competitive commercial world.
We as teachers knew fully well that studies were important but we tried not to over- burden our children with curricular and extra- curricular activities. We knew that these activities were important but we were certain and never forget the educational fact that many needed activities can be learned later also but childhood once gone would never knock the door of our children again. 35
We also knew and realised that when our children stayed happy, the feeling of happiness would always remain intact in their heart even when they grew up because even the slightest memory of the beautiful phase of life would remove all the tensions from their life and would bring smile on their lips. We realized the fact that we were extremely lucky for having an amazing childhood ourselves and providing the healthy childhood to all our children as well. We knew that some children were not even blessed with a beautiful childhood especially those involved in child labour and disturbed family life. We tried to ensure that childhood remained the most important period of life of our children and it was the period which laid the foundation of the future of our children. Since my childhood days were filled with fun and laughter we wanted the best for our children as well. I now realize that a lot of my childhood looked to me as if I was drunk where everyone remembered what I did except me but now that I am able to dig into it deep enough I am able to reveal a lot of goodness from it. I often see that how I am able to handle my success or failure in adult life is often determined by the growth and developments of my early childhood.
There are a variety of good and revealing things about my childhood I am able to hold onto because they were so much part of me like the places I went to, the people I met and knew and interacted with and the things I did and appreciated. My childhood was the most beautiful of all the seasons. The summers were warm, winters were cool, springs were pleasant and autumns were rewarding. So my childhood became the light of my life and I was able to keep it safe within my heart. I am able to clearly see how my early childhood experiences are so important to all my overall lifelong outcomes and how the early childhood environment literally became embedded in the brain and kept modifying and changing the architecture of my adulthood. The older I got, the more I began to appreciate my rural childhood. I spent a lot of time outdoors, unsupervised, which was a blessing for me and my family. I always remembered my childhood house on the farmstead with happy memories. There was a beautiful garden and a flourishing farm that my parents and grandparents had established with a lot of personal pride. In that childhood home there were a few windows on every wall to get the glimpse of the entire farm. Outside my bedroom window was a jasmine vine which
would open in the evenings, giving off a divine scent.
An exciting aspect of my growing up was a pond that was adjacent to the stream that ran through our farmstead. I learnt how to swim there and in the evening loved to see the ducks, birds and pigeons that came to cool themselves in and around the pond. The pretty lotus and lilies on the edges added to the beauty of the place. During the dry season when the pond dried up it exposed a large and deep space like a small play ground where my friends and I played games.
My childhood was not only safe with my parents around but it flourished in a sane atmosphere. There were no aspect of abuse and no traumas. I was surrounded by a large and loving extended family who taught me the importance of hard work and a meaningful education. In the beginning slight poverty dictated my childhood but soon things improved as we all worked hard to establish our family as an institution of dedication, love and good management. There were difficulties that came but went away a lot sooner than we could feel the full brunt of those. Of course, in this diversity there were benefits as well: our family and I became more independent, more mature than many of my peers and I realized that money was not the most important thing in life. With 39
all these normal developments, I would never say that my childhood was bad at all because it helped me grow up with ease and greater understanding. I was able to stay out of trouble while many of my vintage faced difficulties of various kinds. My parents taught me what was wrong and all that was right and they knew that as the eldest child I had my only brother follow in my footsteps and other sisters to follow my ways. My only brother became very successful in his personal way and today leads a life of a successful entrepreneur in Idaho, USA.
I had to make sure I was doing the right things so all my siblings would know what was 40
good for successful living. I was able to pass on the skills, talents and knowledge that I developed during my childhood, adolescence and adult life to my own family to become prosperous. As a child I matured in many respects as I entered my teens. I became more choosey in my clothes, eatables, games, friends and other programmes. Since I was active and in good health, the outdoor life became more attractive to me. I realized that there was a marked difference between the childhood life of a boy and that of a girl-all along-but this difference became more pronounced during my teenage. I began actively participating in sports such as soccer, hockey and tennis but my best outdoor activity remained my excursions to discover the great sleeping giant across the river from home and do some fishing in the river as well as Naisoso beach with a few of my village friends. At this age girls still did not come into my life as friends.
Human life can be divided into three principal phases namely childhood, youth and old age. The period from birth up to the age of 15 years can be termed as childhood; that from 15 to 40 years of age can be called youth, while the period from the age of 40 till one passes away constitutes middle and old age. I loved my childhood and youth for multiple reasons and enjoyed the activities of these periods. There has been an interesting debate as to which of these three periods of human life is the best. Some argue that the childhood is the supreme period as it is free from worries; others feel that the youth is certainly the best because of enthusiasm, power and health it provides; still others prefer old age because it is associated with maturity, wisdom and ability to understand life better. I am now almost eighty and I think that all the periods of human life are equally interesting and exciting depending on the enthusiasm and involvements of the individual. I loved all of the periods because they enabled me to participate in them well and learn from them. The discussion and debate on this issue goes on as time passes as new arguments for and against are added for each phase. My childhood, as stated earlier, was the period of life from birth up to the age of 15. My infancy 42
I am told was full of mischief and joy because I grew up as a chubby little child with my grandparents, parents as well as uncles and aunts. However, I remember a lot of my involvements during my early childhood and adolescence. As a twelve-year old boy my grandfather took me through a traditional initiation called janeu ( ). Janeu my grandfather told me was a traditional ceremony for me to enter adulthood and become a follower of Sanatan Dharm. I was to wear the thread of Janeu around my right arm and another called kardhani around my waist. This was like a second birth and transition to student hood.
It was during this time that I experienced the sorrow and sadness of my father’s near death when he was struck by lightning while we were working in our pawpaw patch. He was thrown on the ground when the bold of lightning struck and lay still on the ground in front of me throwing froth from his moth. I knew I had to do something to revive him. My knowledge of first aid that I had learnt as a Boy Scout flashed in my mind and I worked hard to revive my father. 43
From then onward my mind was seriously occupied in both formal and informal studies and I kept progressing well from year after year from my primary school to high school and then entered my tertiary institution to prepare me to enter the professional world. This was the prime of my life and my childhood was left behind and yet kept giving me inspiration, support and a variety of ways to tackle the problems of youth. My youth hood was not only zealous in many ways for me but it became a great planner of time to manage my future. I began to chalk out my schedules of doing things and passing my time in fun and enjoyment. This 44
was the beginning of good time management for me. Chatting with friends, roaming around in the city, window-shopping, eating my favourite dishes began to take priority. The biggest attraction, however, was the friendship with the opposite sex. Having a girlfriend was not only necessary but became a goal of youth. My life took a new and sharp turn as soon as I was posted as a teacher to go out and serve the rural community. I became more involved in my profession as the time went by. There was ambition to rise higher in the organisation I worked for. This period I recall was marked by professional jealousies and worries because of competition and stiff requirements for promotions. I realised that my parents wanted their well-settled son to settle down in life and they began to search for matches by arranged social calls or matrimonial soliciting so that normal nuptial knot was tied for me. Life took another turn when I told my parents that I had already found my life partner. This perhaps became the most blissful period of my life when my parents agreed to have us married. As the young couple we experienced deep satisfaction through physical relationship and conjugal love. We entered into our family life and then began to roam around the country-even the world to discover the meaning of companionship. 45
Instead of reacting to everything that I thought I gradually became an unbiased observer of my words, actions, thoughts, character and heart. When bad thoughts arose I tried my best to suppress them and when good thoughts came to me I rejoiced and enlarged them to gradually become a writer of fictitious stories with credible characters, plots and backgrounds. A lot of my creativity began to get published in various local papers and magazines and broadcast over radio. This motivated and encouraged me to enhance my creativity. As an unbiased observer of my thoughts, I remained in full control of my life and learnt to be non-reactionary. It was during 46
my childhood that I was told to identify with the waves of the ocean but still remained unmoving. Whether I was able to realize it or not, I as a single person had an important mission to fulfil in life. I had learnt in my childhood that any mental clutter would distract me from achieving my personal mission. Therefore what I began to focus on for a sustained period of time gradually and certainly became my reality. I realised that it was essential for me to decide the purpose I wanted to fulfil and keep directing my mental focus toward this objective and narrative. So the skills and ideas I had developed during my childhood began giving me good dividends. I then became aware that my mind was developing a pretty garden and I had to keep weeds and wild animals out of it. I knew that adverse thoughts are a type of virus and many people become sick because they are not able to manage evil thoughts and ideas. So it became absolutely vital and important for me to protect my mind from negative opinions and misinformation, especially in stressful moments, disturbing environments and heavily populated and infected areas. I began to reiterate that my mind was becoming a glorious garden and without a strong fence, wild animals and evil minded people would get in and destroy my newly planted crops of 47
good thoughts and ideas. Naturally my childhood learning assisted me to avoid the destructive influence of negative opinion and misinformation and keep the unwanted animals and evil humans out. My childhood knowledge again came to play its helpful part to tell me that my ego was my lower animal nature and its mantra was fear and downfall but I had to look for survival to become fit. I saw that my ego was beginning to talk very loud and it was getting hard to ignore this. By contrast, my Higher Self began to generate my wisdom, creativity and intuition. It was my universal accepted creative consciousness that was developed during my childhood that began to channel through me. I knew the language and notion of my Higher Self which spoke very quietly but clearly for my eager ears to hear, decode and fully comprehend without much difficulty, thanks again to my childhood training. Gradually and modestly I began to listen silently and closely to my Higher Self and eventually was able to edge out my ego. Thus my childhood learning assisted me to create a healthier, happier and hearty mind. My bottom line action was to listen more carefully and then react firmly. I then set out to have definite goals to fulfil some of my believable dreams. I strengthened my set goals and my believable 48
dreams. During my childhood I had learnt that there was a fine line between dreams and goals. When I was a 10 year old child, I would dream of being a soccer player who is idolized by fans around world. That dream was rapidly shattered because of my lack of direction combined with a bit of laziness and my illusion that talent can make up for any hard work required. It was a good lesson however that taught me much later in life that if I wanted ever to fulfil my dreams, I would have to set my definite and workable goals, accompanied by objectives that would help me achieve my goals. So when I went out to set my objectives, I followed a few simple rules that I learnt during my childhood development but often overlooked when I grew up as a youth. First and foremost, I learnt to write them down so I did not forget them or lose direction. Secondly, I made them specific so that I always knew what I was trying to achieve, and finally I made them measurable so that I could make myself accountable. Whether it was a new project, a work task, a new resolution or a dream, I began to follow these little rules with my firm objectives. If nothing else, it helped me stay focused, be more productive and work efficiently. I salute my childhood learning process for my continuous and effective journey in life. 49
I still vividly remember the informal lessons that my nanny Radhika used to impart during our weekend errands. She told me that I will be rewarded always when I worked hard in life. She emphasised that if I did the little things really well then that would definitely give me peace of mind and prepare me to do greater things later in life. She wanted me to have the strength enough to get up myself whenever I fell down. Then she wanted me to change myself first before I could change anything for better living in life. I tried hard to live with these experiences throughout my childhood and keep revising the vivid stories of my aunt, my nanny, my parents and my grandparents because they were certainly the most valuable lessons of my life; lessons that taught me to remain calm during unfortunate circumstances and to always have the courage to stand up on my feet when I fell down. So I managed to use every bad experience to my advantage by asking myself what went wrong, how could I prevent it from happening again and how I could improve the odd positions but most importantly, all those lessons taught me to stay positive for the good things that will come in my life. I now realise that my childhood too would have been a period of my attempts to recognize the world around me such as my 50
mother, father and other people in the house. I can understand that I would have been always attracted by a few things like toys, colourful things, certain voices and familiar sounds. I am certain that this would have been the dormant phase of my life and perhaps the most difficult part as I could not speak in any clear language but would have had to convey my desires of hunger, love, care, change of clothes and attention by either crying or cooing that my mother understood very well and responded. As I was growing up I may have remained oblivious of the ways of the world as my own children did when they were growing up. In early childhood, I too should have become active to run around in the house, in the garden, neighbourhood park, streets and play schools. Like my own four children I am sure I would have been attracted by anything and everything that came my way. During my toddlerhood I may have had to be tamed and controlled from my naughty habits and highly active positions in almost everything. I thank the discipline imposed on me by my father that led me to follow the right path. I know that I too went to school to learn to read and write, plays games of my choice, make friends in my school as well as in the neighbourhood, and would have been extremely fond of toys and food such as 51
chocolates, ice cream, cake, pastry, fruits and drinks. It is a pity that no one has been able to narrate all these normal behaviour of my childhood that I am sure I too would have conducted. There was no TV or Radio during my childhood but I know now from the actions of my own children how I would have conducted myself if I had the opportunity to have these. Cartoons and films would have made a lot of difference to my growing up. I have made these points not to show the missing links but to emphasise that I grew up without the modern technology and fared well because my parents could improvise with care and understanding. In the hind side I am lucky to be raised without all the modern amenities of play centres and kindergartens. My home and yard were my early childhood school. Kite flying, tug of war, skipping ropes, playing Gillidanda with village kids, playing hop scotch, hunting with tamer hawk or gulel and many other childhood games of those days were part of my past time activities. Of course, participating in religious drama at the local temple ground with my grandfather as the director was another of the highlights and grounds of informal learning. It was here that the artist in me jumped out and later in life I did many more acts in various drama productions during my College days. 52
I cannot forget the pleasure I got out of horse riding, milking cows, drawing water from the deep well and going to the river with my mother and sisters to have our bath and do the washing. Then participating in planting crops, harvesting and going to the market every Friday night to help my father for Saturday market day were of great interest and additional learning. I loved watching the trucks 53
and tractors travelling on the dirt roads and the cloud of dust accumulating behind them. These all made my childhood full of fun and fondness.
All my childhood memories were either the fondest ones or the ones that I dreaded most of all to remember. They carved my soul; they moulded my being; their force had an impact greater than other memories. The force of these memories also suggest that the roles of parents and teachers were ever so vital in my life as a small child and I learnt that as an 54
adult I should see it as my responsibility to find good outlets to create great memories for my children and children generally. This was the reason I got inspired to become a teacher. Some of the childhood Memories I always remember, cherish and admire are the bedtime stories, celebrations, presence of adults in case of needs, family traditions, quirky family words, family dinners, showing affection and play times. There was something so special and magical that happened when my grandparents and parents read to me at night stories from our scriptures and narrated other stories during those snuggly last moments of the day before sleep took over. This was the prime family bonding time and enriched my knowledge of my tradition and culture. I truly appreciated that my parents and grandparents celebrated all the festivals such as Holi or Fagua, Diwali, Ram Naumi, Krishna Janamastmi and even Bada Din (Christmas) well enough to leave an indelible impression on my mind. My family always found a way to make certain days fun and memorable. These were some of my favourite childhood memories that always bring a nostalgic smile to my face when I think about them.
There was nothing quite as memorable as having parents that show-up and attend the various school functions that their kids are involved in like the concerts, sporting events and school report discussion times and my father made a point that he was present at almost all of these not only because he was the president of the Parents’ Association but because he loved to be part of my schooling. I cannot forget the participation of my family at Ramlila, Laukush Lila and Krishnalila at the local mandir. This made me so happy because I used to play specific roles in these religious dramas. This family tradition was important for our interaction with the community and my grandfather was the director of these drama presentations and my father was the President of Sanatan Dharam. 56
Every family has quirky names for the children and ours was no exception. I was called Munuwa (the loving one) by my grandmother, Barkana (the eldest) by my mother and my father called me Babua but the best of all was the title that my grandfather had for me and that was Sardar. Those specific little expressions or words had special love and meaning attached to them and I loved those. However, as I grew up all and after my grandparents passed away I was only known as Barkana. Looking back, one of the things my friends and I all noted as being especially good memories were family dinners. Back then it may have just been part of the normal routine to sit in the yard outside on a large mat with some of my friends, cousins and the family and enjoy the feast that my mother and my aunts would prepare that would include the meat of the best rooster and goat from the farm and the best vegetables for my grandparents because they were vegetarians. I could proudly say this to my next generation that I had the best gift of growing up and that was in my family we ate together. If I ever look back on my own childhood with warm feelings of love and happiness, I am proud to say and I am pretty sure that t was filled with moments of affection from my parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles. Even 57
then everyone needed a hug every now and then, or a cuddle, or a supportive arm around their shoulder. In fact I now see that hugs became a way to express so many emotions; love, joy, encouragement, reassurance and protection. It was no surprise at all that my grandparents and parents or even the uncles and aunts knew when I needed a hug or a cuddle. During my childhood the expressions such as “just a minute” or “not now, I’m busy” were hardly heard. Every adult was ever ready to listen to me and my problems if there were any. My voice and I was a priority for all adults in the family and I do not know that I ever vied for attention because my family wanted to take care of me and give me full attention whenever I needed it. This conduct made me reciprocate that habit with my children because it has stuck with me. I was told that I was a chubby baby and was naturally playful enough for the family to enjoy my company. My childhood created a family dynamic where fun and play were encouraged and I was a playmate of everyone. This atmosphere must have given me the sense of pride and acceptance and I carry this aspect of human development with me. So I think and believe that the best childhood memories do not require money and what makes them valuable is the time and 58
attention you spend focused on your family. Trust me; the things children will always remember are the special moments the family spends together. So my advice is to gather up your crew and start making some beautiful memories together. Every one of us has childhood experiences that set us for life. I was no exception. These experiences created my being and purpose, making me who I am today as an adult. What I remembered most as a child has given me a lot of ideas and thoughts for the future development and have remained with me forever. Some of my own childhood experiences have etched likes, dislikes, pains, gains, dears and fears in my mind that has lasted as an eternity but the pleasure that the family added to my childhood life and later life was able to override those traumas. Like many others, I grew up to become a lover of good people, crops in the field, running streams and domestic animals very much because I was surrounded by a very happy and enthusiastic family members who depended on a variety of domestic animals and produced healthy crops on the farm. These became part of my life as a child. Everyone in the family and village in those days taught me something special but then every domestic animal has taught me so much about living, being patient, honest and above 59
all, loyal. My best childhood memories revolve around all these unique experiences and I am greatly thankful to my family, my relatives, my village and school friends plus the village people who kept a check on my conduct. It is no secret at all how I grew to love reading and becoming a teacher and a writer of fiction and poems. Some of my best childhood memories revolve around reading. My father used to bring things such as bread and other food items from his trips to the market and these items used to be wrapped with the pages of old newspaper. My mother collected these and kept them for me to read and explain what was written in them. My task was to read and explain the news and other items in the newspaper columns when we gathered together after dinner. It is no mystery why it is said that parents should always encourage reading and although my mother never went to formal school she knew the value of reading for the future life. Had it not been for those pages of old newspaper, I would not have loved literature and become a language teacher and later an amateur writer. Then the world should know how my childhood memories shaped my love for music. My father was famous for singing tambura bhajans and Ramayan recital in his own mandali and often took me with him 60
maybe in the hope that I would learn some of the skills but I disappointed him badly because I could not develop any skills of singing or playing music but was always a great listener and I still love to enjoy my gazals, bhajans and other songs. When I hear people singing and playing music I curse myself for not developing these skills although I was given the opportunity. However, I am satisfied that I know how to appreciate music.
Whatever is the case my childhood memories have definitely shaped my life and greatly assisted me to be who I am today. I have no disappointments and qualms for my uncle’s behaviour when he threw me into the river to swim or sink. Now I believe that had he not been thrown me into the deep end of the river I would probably have not have become a swimmer. It could have very well 61
gone the other way; I could have developed a phobia of water and not be swimming at all today but that did not happen because my uncle jumped after me and guided me to follow him to the bank of the river. I have said this many times that what I learnt as a child has stayed with me. My grandmother always told me to be resilient and she reiterated that being tough when facing adverse circumstances I would gain respect everywhere I went. I still hold that teaching to be true today and try to meet whatever challenges I face with optimism. By no means is that easy or a heroic attempt; I certainly do not want to make it seem that way. It is just saying that whatever I learnt in my childhood has definitely stayed with me. My experiences with religion and scriptures during my childhood are the best examples to illustrate that many of the values I learnt as a child have stuck with me for life. Many of us, whichever religion we embrace, we stay with that religion till we come into adulthood. For me, continuing to embrace Sanatan faith is as a result of being initiated during childhood by my grandfather when he performed the tradition of janeu or second or spiritual birth for me. I as a teacher in my later life have unfortunately had to offer counselling to some grown up children who had lost their values. 62
They did not seem to think that going on the wrong path of life was inappropriate but with my personal intervention they were able to revive their values. So I feel strongly that what we learn as right or wrong in childhood, is something that remains carved in our life. All the wrong memories for children will always have terrible ramifications for the society and the community we live in. Let me end the Shadows of Childhood with this poem that emulates the thoughts of Thomas Hood. THE PLACE I WAS BORN I remember, I remember the peaceful place I was born The tiny village with fields of fruits, maize and corn The sugarcane crops so green and coconut mighty high The sun always shines brightly from the clear and wide sky My childhood was happily spent here with the young and old As if I was in heaven feeling blessed neither hot nor cold I remember, I remember the shallow running stream Full of clear running water that threw some steam 63
The fish and the eels, the prawns and the crows The pretty flowers and the green grass for the cows The horses and the oxen roaming the flat fields The goats and chickens under the shady shields I remember, I remember the tender trees and shrubs In my childhood I used to swing and catch grubs Swimming in the stream was a pleasure for me Ridding my favourite horse was the best hobby for me My childhood was enriched here with a lot of meanings My life has many marks of those mornings and evenings I know I am now so far away from my tiny village I still get the pleasure when I return to my tillage I cannot forget the house I was born so soon Botini was the village where I sighted the first moon The village priest was called to write my horoscope
Life would roll past eighty; the rest was God’s hope The predicted time has come but I wish to live forever I want that village life again, but not as an adult ever The ignorance of childhood and the village life was bliss The process of growing up cannot be reversed or to miss The land, the people and the crops that made me grow well Let the Sleeping Giant lie still and help me show and tell But it has been a life that was full of blessings and joy I thank God and my elders who moulded me when I was a boy.
As my essay has shown, I continued to grow and to change in amazing ways as I moved from toddlerhood to school-age and then from adolescence to youth and then from youth through middle age to the present age. My readers will be able to see that recalling a favourite childhood places and memories has not been an easy endeavour for a person of my temperament. Through a hazy memory, instances and occurrences were able to come fleeting through my mind like clouds floating across a coloured sky. However when that cloud of memories started raining, I tried to make the best stream to flow to show and tell all. I could recall many of those happy memories and tried not to leave the sad ones behind. Both have been there; only their shapes differed as clouds too offer up different shapes. My problems lay in the actual choosing of the places and memories that I 66
have called favourite. Many different places and memories came to mind but each one had to be either ruled out or included depending on my mood. Of course, there were always some glitches that appeared and floated across the foggy memories that had not yet been burned away by the hot summer sun. My early childhood development has been crucial to how I developed to proceed to later part of my life. The reasons for a how I acted, behaved, and thought can be traced back to my childhood circumstances and environment. My parents and grandparents also played a very important role in my development. I was fortunate because they were involved and provided me a nurturing and rich environment which contributed in a positive way to all my later development. The human brain is most impressionable in the first several years of life. This is why these years were so extremely important for me and impacted on my life even into adulthood. Good eating, sleeping, playing, reading and writing habits and all positive social interactions led me to develop in a proper way. As a teacher I know that the child who is raised under any adverse circumstances could suffer the consequences later on in life such as speech impediments or the inability to socialize in a proper and civilized manner. I
was fortunate to grow up in an excellent environment free from all irregularities. There are times when we just sit back and think about those happy and fruitful childhood reminiscences. It could be the memory about our favourite fruit or the first game of Gillidanda that we played on the dirt road and village playground or the ride on our fathers back while he ploughed the field. As a child, we remember how we used to climb trees and trouble our neighbours. That phase of our life will never come back and all we have are the cheerful childhood memories that we treasure..
However, parents can do many things to ensure that their children’s developmental process is successful such as, developing a positive bond with the child, surrounding the children with positive influences and
encouraging family and friends to give tender loving care to all children. Since children truly are the future of any nation or society it is important that each community recognizes the proper steps that need to be taken in order to ensure each and every child is given the opportunity to develop properly. Early childhood development programs are extremely effective and should strongly be considered by parents. Research has proven that those who attend early childhood development programmes benefit greatly. These children see better results in school, have better social and more stable emotional behaviour and develop stronger relationships with their parents, to name a few. Overall, early childhood development is an extremely important issue which needs to gain recognition. Every parent needs to understand and be aware of how crucial is the first several years of their child's life. They should not hesitate to research or ask for help on this topic if need be. If there are any parents needing assistance in this area of development I as the former curriculum development and assessment personnel and human resource consultant am willing and ready to provide free consultancy to interested parents. My age is supposed to be the age of maturity, wisdom, knowledge and a sense of 69
achievement but I leave that decision on my readers after they have read the presentation. I am not as innocent as a young child and not as exuberant as a young man but I am at peace with myself after completing this Shadows of Childhood. My mind has not gone after material pursuits and that is why all my publications are online for the readers to enjoy. By publishing my ideas I try to become more religious, tolerant and even withdrawn from mundane affairs. The biggest disadvantage of old age is that it brings physical weakness, disabilities and a number of diseases. Sometimes it becomes difficult to cope with them but I have kept myself occupied through my creativity and expressions. Had it not been for all these writing, composing and discussing activities, I may have felt lonely, ignored and isolated but I was glad to have the support of my family, friends and colleagues who kept encouraging me to remain engrossed in my pursuits. My age is the time when people tend to get closer to God and spend more time in meditation and worship. I too have woken up with this realization and try to spend some of my time in conducting prayers and listening to prayer and similar songs to keep me soul and heart attain peace and calm. I am now satisfied that I have completed all my goals and am enjoying whatever is left of this life. 70
ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS First and foremost I would like to thank God for His never-ending grace, mercy and all the needed provision during my childhood and the entire life time.
I am indebted and thankful to various educationalists and other kind people whose ideas have enriched my life because they assisted me with the compilation of this essay. They are too many to mention by name but I will mention a few. I wish to salute my mentor and colleague Professor William Maxwell who earned his master’s and doctorate at Harvard and has taught psychology courses at various reputable universities of the world since 1955.and was the founder of the International Conference on Thinking in Fiji in 1982 whilst he was the Professor of Education at the University of the South Pacific. It was a privilege to serve as Secretary General of this Organization for a couple of years. Among his many publications Super Parenting is the best reading for parents. Publications and ideas of other people that inspired me to narrate the Shadows of Childhood are: Professor Brij Lal, Professor Satendra Nandan and Professor Subramani. Others who gave me tons of good thoughts are: Dr Donna McGrath, Dr Naveen C Sharma , Mr Divakar Rao, Mr Krishna Datt, Mr Praveen Chandra, Mr J S
Kanwal, Dr Kunai Thaman, Mrs Padma Singh, Mr Pratap Chand, Mrs Rajieli Racule and my brother Vijen Prasad. My special appreciation goes to all my children and grandchildren who gave me a lot of inspiration and kept enhancing my experiences through their continuous interactions. Then all my teachers who taught me during my life time deserve my deep and sincere thanks. Of course, all my friends and colleagues deserve my sincere appreciation for their interactions and sound ideas. I pay my respect to my childhood friend Sat Narayan for his kind words in the Foreword. Unfortunately he passed away early this year after sending me his blessings. He often reminded me of the great friendship of Krishn and Sudama of our scriptures. In fact these simple words are not enough to adequately express my gratitude but let me say that you all have blown me away with your thoughtfulness, support and generosity. Thank you all for everything.
What is Childhood? Childhood is the time for children to be in school and at play, to grow strong and confident with the love and encouragement of their family and an extended community of caring adults. It is a precious time in which children should live free from fear, safe from violence and protected from abuse and exploitation. As such, childhood means much more than just the space between birth and the attainment of adulthood. It refers to the state and condition of a child’s life, to the quality of those years. Despite intellectual debates about the definition of childhood and cultural differences about what to expect of children, there has always been a substantial degree of shared understanding that childhood implies a separated and safe. In 1989, the United Nations General Assembly adopted the Convention on the Rights of the Child. The Convention is the first international human rights treaty to bring together the universal set of standards concerning children in a unique instrument, and the first to present child rights as a legally binding imperative.
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