Nurturing Young Minds

Nurturing Young Minds

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

7. The Barber Boy and a Billion Children: the Story of an Evolving Dream

Episode 7

How Eiffel Towers and Taj Mahals are Made

On a Sunday, when no social gathering is scheduled, everybody is usually in a leisurely mood, and there is no hurry to be in time for anything.
             It was already 3 pm and the fire in everybody’s belly was raging, even as the poetry recital was on. So it was decided that we would now have lunch rather than poetry. Everybody, therefore, headed for the dining table, where the lunch was laid out.
            As we seated ourselves around the dining table, the expected tug of war started between Priyadarshi and Prerna as to who would be fed by the mom today. This acrimony had always seemed extremely disturbing to me at the dining table, as I like to focus fully on my food. I had never demanded such a thing of my mother though my siblings did. If infants are fed by the mother, it is understood. But in India even grown up children prefer remaining infants till their late twenties! And when a tug of war remains unresolved, it is Babboo who usually acts as the arbiter.
            This baby doll named Babboo, whose name would sound like a Baboon to a stranger who does not know him, is actually a plump plastic male baby doll measuring about 8 inches, ‘adopted’ by my wife as her third child, around 2001. In reality, my wife bought him from Prerna, who had purchased him from the Archie’s shop for a hundred rupee of her pocket-money. My wife instantly fell in love with this doll and its captivating, innocent smile. She gave Prerna a hundred rupees, and wanted the ownership of the doll transferred to her.  Prerna, who was then only around 12 years of age, was quite a mature person, and could sense the good business opportunity before her, finding her mother extremely eager to take possession of the doll. She demanded rupees 300, and finally the deal was clinched at rupees 200. Prerna had doubled her money in just two hours! What a promising business professional at 12!

            Whatever the history of the doll, whenever there is something that my wife finds inconvenient to say to somebody, especially me, Babboo  speaks out on her behalf, borrowing her voice, and he is capable of speaking out practically anything!. Since he is protected by informal child rights norms, nothing much can be done to him, whatever he says or does. The fellow has not grown a millimetre since he came to our house, but the glow of his skin and the killer smile on his face have remained intact.   
            Since it is very unusual for a grown up woman to keep a doll, initially it created quite a good deal of confusion in the family, as my wife was often found caressing and talking to this creature as if it was a living entity. But gradually people in the family came to accept the fact that my wife had some extra bit of affection for small children since her younger days, and because now that all children had grown up, this was the only little child to fill that emotional void. There is no streak of abnormality in my wife except this, so I had no problems with Babboo except that he always slept between the two of us, and because he is ultimately made of plastic, and not of flesh, his hardness at times hurt. But nobody is allowed to say that the fellow is made not of flesh but of plastic. Everybody who visits our home brings gifts for Babboo that he might like! The items vary from tiny footwear and toy mobile phones to trousers and tea-shirts. It is mandatory in my home to show affection to Babboo in order to remain in the good books of the lady. On this Sunday, Babboo was wearing the tea-shirt brought by his Bua (father’s sister) on which it was written:
Please do not disturb.
Already disturbed!

            When no amicable settlement could be reached between Priyadarshi and Prerna as to who the mom would feed with her hands today, Babboo finally rose and declared in a stern voice: “Today is Bhaiya’s turn since he lives in the hostel!” ‘Bhaiya’ means ‘elder brother’, and Priyadarshi was Babboo’s elder brother. When Babboo has to speak, he speaks in Vinita’s voice. That is the practice.
            Prerna had no option now, so she sat close to me and Priyadarshi close to Vinita, and we started sipping the soup. As our hunger started subsiding with some foodstuff making its way into the stomach, the children’s anthem started surfacing in our minds.

“Papa, why did you write that the Golden Temples are made from feelings and sacrifices? What sacrifices went into building the Golden Temple?”, asked Prerna.

“Actually, temples were built six times at the place where the Golden Temple stands today. Each time the Muslim invaders attacked and demolished the temples built by the Sikhs there. They also killed the Sikh priests  at those temples. But the Sikh community was a very sturdy, brave and martial community. They were not deterred, and were prepared for any sacrifices.  Each time their temple was destroyed, they built a new temple at the same place. Today’s Golden Temple in Amritsar, Punjab, which is among the most beautiful temples in the world with its dome covered with gold, was their seventh attempt that succeeded. So it did not take only marble and gold to build this temple; a lot of feeling and sacrifice went into its making”, I replied.

All three of them (sorry, four of them, including Babboo!) were surprised to hear the story.

“And what about the Taj?”, asked Priyadarshi.

“If this seventh wonder of the world was made of marble, it would have been made in Rajasthan, near Makrana where the marble was available in plenty. There was no marble near Agra where the Taj was sought to be built. Marble was transported to Agra from faraway places with the help of thousands of labourers and elephants. Emperor Shahjahan was determined to create a monument in the memory of his beloved wife which, in beauty, would know no parallel in the past or future. It was the toil and commitment of the labourers and the power of imagination of Shahjahan that went into the making of the wondrous Taj, and not really marble!
            My wife was visibly moved at the exemplary love of Shahjahan towards his wife. I have found that this story moves nearly every wife to tears, and all of them want a Taj built for them after they leave for their heavenly abode! This may be a good idea, but if this were really to happen, the world economy would collapse, and only the construction industry would boom!
            Suspecting that the discourse might take a more serious turn, and my wife’s moist eyes could start releasing fully formed tears soon, I promptly retreated from the Agra highway, and set my foot on the road to Paris and its famous Eiffel Tower, after which the children’s anthem had been named.

“Eiffel was a great engineer who wanted to erect the tallest tower in the world at Paris that would give worldwide fame to his country, France. There was vehement opposition from various quarters. His envious fellow engineers said that no tower of iron and steel could be built which was a thousand feet tall, as it would collapse under its own weight. No tower of this height was ever built, and therefore could not be built. There were others who pointed out that it would be a great waste of money, to which Eiffel replied that tourists from the world over would visit Paris to see the tower, and the revenue thus generated would far exceed the expenditure incurred on erecting the tower. There was a fierce public debate on the issue, and some people also came out with sarcastic poems on the subject, and against Eiffel.”

I found that sipping of the soup had slowed down considerably, as people had become extremely curious about Eiffel and his tower, looking intently at me. I asked them to finish their soup before it completely lost its warmth, and paused for a few seconds. In fact, I was more interested in finishing my own soup which was turning cold.
When the soup finished, I began talking again, also at the same time starting the main course.

“Eiffel remained unfazed. He had studied the subject very deeply, and he was sure that what he had conceived, he could also implement. And finally he succeeded in erecting the over one thousand feet tall tower that could stand on its feet for over a hundred years.”
“When the dream is big, the knowledge, commitment and hard work needed to fulfil the dream are to be even bigger. And Eiffel had all of them.”

“Now”, I asked, “could anyone prove how Eiffel Tower was not made from iron and steel, but from the passion for dreaming big, and doing big?”

Priyadarshi and Prerna had so far been in a mood to ask questions, and not to answer. Therefore, they looked uncertain and curious, especially when the answer was self-evident. Perhaps my mind was engrossed in eating, so I had asked an uncertain and unwarranted question. While Priyadarshi and Prerna looked on, trying to figure out what to say, Babboo sprang (or was made to spring) to his feet, and said, “I can tell you.”
Everybody looked at him with amazement and amusement.

“If Eifel Tower was built from iron and steel, it would have been built first in the states of Jharkhand and Orissa in India where high quality iron ore has been always available in plenty, and where some of the largest steel plants of the world are located. But it was built in France, which is not known for iron and steel.”

I felt flabbergasted, because I had myself not thought in this manner! Surely the creature (or his mother, in whose voice he spoke) had struck upon this idea based on the analogy of the Taj Mahal, from my narration of how the Taj was built.

While I clapped, Prerna looked at Babboo as if she would bar-be-cue him given a chance, and Priyadarshi, a better manager of emotions, eyed him with admiration, as Babboo looked around victoriously.

“In essence,” I proceeded, “it must be understood clearly, that great achievements come not from external resources, but from inner strengths and passion: from will power, exercise of intelligence, power of imagination, hard work, and passion.”

“Not that the external resources are not important, but these inner powers can create or bring external resources.”

“This realisation becomes extremely important in view of the fact that nearly half of the world’s population is classed as moderately or extremely poor, without much external resources. If they and their children realised it, they would overcome poverty very soon.”

“What an idea!”, said Vinita, “Why don’t you incorporate some of these comments in the song as commentary when it is composed and sung?”

“If need is felt, I will do that in one of the versions of the song”, said I.

Our lunch was proceeding very slowly, we being busy dissecting the newly created children’s anthem on the dining table. So I asked everybody to hasten up, and go and relax.

“No. Papa, children do not need to relax! I, Bhaiya and Didi (elder sister, i.e. Prerna), would go and study now, quipped Babboo.”

This time even Priyadarshi did not look at him with admiration, as he was in a mood to rest after a full week of hectic activity at his college.

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