Of Nursery Rhymes & Fairy Tales

The recent controversy on the court order cancelling IPL cricket matches to be played in Maharashtra attracted mixed reactions from the media. A journalist whom I hold in high regard (Dipankar Gupta) opined that cricket is a British sport which is ideally suited for that country which had and still has surplus water to grow pitches. On the other hand, Kho Kho, Kabbadi and Shuttlecock requiring no water to grow lawn have been our traditional games. However, we imported cricket from England along with their culture and ever since then it has been our most popular game. I completely agree with this view and would like to add that it is not just cricket that we inherited but a whole lot of other things completely alien to our culture. For instance, our childhood is filled with English fairy tales and nursery rhymes. A little close examination of these reveals how inappropriate they are to our culture or for that matter for anyone’s childhood. Consider the following examples:

During a famine, father of Hansel & Gratel and their step mother abandon them in a forest so that they will starve to death.The children find a shelter in the house of a witch who imprisons and fattens them so that she can eat them. Fortunately, Gretel manages to shove the witch into a fiery oven and makes good their escape even as the witch gets burnt to death. What a gruesome story of violence we narrate to the young minds at an impressionable age!
The story of Snow white is even more gruesome. Snow white’s beauty arouses jealousy in her step mother(a queen) who orders a huntsman to take her to a deep forest, kill her and get her lungs and liver for the queen to eat. When this attempt failed, the queen made three more unsuccessful attempts to kill her – one of them with a poisoned apple and one by asphyxiation. In the last scene, the jealous step mother had to put on red hot iron shoes and forced to dance to her death.
The famous story of Cinderella is yet another story of a nasty stepmother which is bound to create a sense of insecurity among children.

If one turns to Mother Goose Nursery Rhymes of 17th to 18th century, they are no better. Steven Pinker, in his recent book titled Better Angels of our Nature, lists the following rhymes or songs of the 18th century reflecting the prevailing violent times. A childhood song describes how innocent Cock Robins was murdered in cold blood. The famous rhyme Jack & Jill is about how two unsupervised children are allowed to go on a dangerous errand; Jack sustains a serious head injury that could leave him with brain damage while Jill’s condition is unknown. In another famous rhyme Goosey Goosey Gander, a drifter confesses that he threw an old man down the stairs because he didn’t say his prayers.
The rhyme Georgie Porgie is even more inappropriate in content for children. I believe, it’s about a guy who sexually harasses little girls. What about Humpty dumpty? This is about an unsupervised boy falling off a wall. The next one is really damning of mothers. In Rock a bye baby, a mother leaves a baby unattended on a tree top and as the wind blows the cradle will fall. The famous Rhyme Solomon Grundy describes the story of a man who, metaphorically lives and dies his entire life in one week. My last example is – Here comes a candle to light you to bed, here comes a chopper to chop off your head. One theory is that this deals with child sacrifice or public executions prevailing in the middle ages. A research paper reports that if TV programmes had 4.8 violent scenes per hour, nursery rhymes had 52.2.

As a child, I have been brought up with stories from our famous mythologies like Ramayana or Mahabharata or Bhagavata. My favourite childhood rhymes have been in Telugu like Chanda mama Rave which would put any child instantly to a blissful sleep. I would any day prefer these over the violent ones imported from England!

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Published in: on April 17, 2016 at 6:35 pm  Leave a Comment  
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