By Gulrukh Tausif
Stories that you read and hear in your childhood stay with you all your life. Sometimes as a wisp of a memory and sometimes as a lesson etched into your mind. I have always loved reading and I used to read a lot of Urdu and English books in my youth. There are two stories that I read when I was very young but I still find them very profound.
One was about a young boy whose mother wakes up in the middle of the night and asks for a glass of water. The boy gets up quickly but finds the earthen pot (matka) empty. He goes to the well and returns with water only to find that his elderly mother had fallen asleep again. Rather than go to sleep, he stays awake all night with a glass of water in his hand, next to his mother’s mattress so that she can slake her thirst as soon as she wakes up again. It was a beautifully written story depicting love, respect and regard for one’s elderly parents.
Another story that has remained etched in my memory is about a young boy who was about to travel with a caravan to another country. Her mother gives him some money and also advises him always to tell the truth. The caravan gets attacked by dakoits. While looting, a gang member asks the boy if he has anything and the boy replies truthfully about the money had had been carrying. When asked why he disclosed such a thing, the boy replies that he could not go against his mother’s command who told him to always tell the truth. The gang leader was so impressed by his honesty that he gave up his bad ways.
I am often reminded of these two stories when I see my own children’s preference for English books. With so much emphasis on English medium education, I feel we have sacrificed our language on the altar of English language. Our children show very little interest in reading Urdu stories and the English books that they read might be rich in creativity but most are totally devoid of “tarbiyat.”
How can these books teach our children about modesty, respect and family values when these concepts are largely absent from their own societies? Children nowadays are addicted to books like Hunger Games, Divergent Series, Twilight Saga and other fantasy and dystopian fiction. But just how good for character building are novels that revolve around budding romance between teenage girls and bloodsucking vampires? Or chronicles of young boys as they change into werewolves at full moon? Or zombies falling in love with young, beautiful girls?
It will be very unrealistic of me to expect my children to read and enjoy the same books that I enjoyed when I was a girl. Cartoons, television, movies and computer games have changed our kids’ palate to such an extent that they want fast action, gory details and violence, even in books. But like junk food, while these books can be a source of enjoyment, they cannot be a means of imparting any moral values or character building traits in our children.
Another sad aspect is that there is a great dearth of contemporary quality story books for children in Urdu language. Most Urdu stories in digests like “Naunehal” and “Bachon Ki Dunya” still revolve around the age old themes of poor widow and his son or a brave prince rescuing a beautiful princess from the clutches of a jinn whose soul is inside a parrot, type of stories which tech savvy children of today can hardly find entertaining or alluring.
Children are addicted to low quality English fiction which is affecting their language, character and outlook on life. Classics and science fiction hardly make a blip on a young child’s radar nowadays. It is pretty shocking to see young preteens or teenagers walk out of book stores with explicit books, thrillers splattered with profane words or romance novels that are highly inappropriate for their young minds. It is the need of the hour that parents and school administrations work towards building a reading habit in children that revolves around good quality literature in both English and Urdu languages.
One thing that parents must inculcate in their children when it comes to inappropriate books, movies or just about anything negative is the confidence to resist peer pressure. If you are uncomfortable about letting your children read anything which you deem unsuitable for their immature years, put your foot down but make sure that you offer them better alternatives.