It amazes me how my perspective on life and things that go on in it has changed tremendously over the years. From something as mundane as deciding to finally apply kohl to my eyes to the notion of love, all were overhauled time and again as I grew up. Yes, this maybe something you went through too (not the issue of kajal and love per say) but a recent self revelation compelled me to pen the current entry and share it with you.
I have, for the longest time, been a sucker for happily ever afters. Like chocolate, I like my stories sweet; anything above 45% darkness leaves a bitter taste in my mouth, something I am not too fond of – the same rule applies to fiction. I grew up reading happy stories, and anything resembling a sad ending, sent me into depression for weeks. Which is not to say that I am a stranger to poignant ending; but the secret romantic in me somehow almost always managed to extrapolate tragic endings into happy tidings that took place after the story on paper drew to a close. You see I am one of those who believed that Scarlett got Rhett back, eventually.
Now I am a great fan of fantasy fiction. If a book talks of magic, I need to read it; doesn’t matter what age it is targeted at. This zeal led me to Philip Pullman’s trilogy, His Dark Materials comprising the titles The Northern Lights, The Subtle Knife and The Amber Spyglass, back in 2007. The first book was a breeze and quite fun to read. However, the next two novels in the series were darker and dealt with some very adult themes, the starkest being that of the pain of choice and loss. I remember my adverse reaction to the books. “I could never let my kids read this stuff.” - is what I had thought. If these left me this depressed I shuddered to think how kids would perceive the emotions that the books elicited. If you are one who thought Rowling’s Prisoner of Azkaban was disturbing, I would not recommend Pullman’s work.
Recently as I sat trying to roll over writer’s block my friend offered a sound advice but an unusual choice of reading to unclog the unresponsive mind. Witches by Roald Dahl. While I have enjoyed watching Willy Wonka and the chocolate factory and Matilda tremendously, I had never really read any of the ex-RAF pilot’s works. And having watched the two aforementioned films, especially, the adaptation of Charlie and the chocolate factory, I wasn’t sure its dark undertones were something suitable for children to watch. As I read Witches, I was again struck by how it was in contrast to the happy childhood stories I had grown up reading. The parents are bumped off early in the story of Witches and unlike a fairy tale setting, here the bad guys (or in this case women) are flesh and blood entities who are difficult to detect and are eerily real. The dark undertones prompted me to ask myself if this was really what qualifies as appropriate children’s literature.
Then I thought why not. You see I have been working with children and teens living with HIV in the last few months. The resilience they have to face adversity head on is a feat that deserves respect. At an early age they have had to take on responsibility of their health, come face to face with stigma and at times their parents’ mortality. Their lives could well be something many of us might have only read about. But they are anything but martyrs. They are heroes; heroes who took on the challenge and lived to tell the tale. For them the pain is real but so is life and the happiness it can bring. Just what Dahl told us didn’t he?
I would be more than glad if more and more children could read the works of Dahl and authors like him who don’t shy away from talking about real topics, while making sure they offer the right kind of hope needed by all of us to get by life knowing that even though the going is tough, we can be tougher than our circumstances, if we give ourselves the chance. One of the most valuable lessons our kids could learn. Furthermore, nudged by adults in the right direction, youngsters can learn the importance of empathy, not be afraid to be different and to believe in themselves through these stories.
I for one am convinced that if I ever have kids, I would want them (at some point in their growing years) to read these stories for sure and learn some valuable lessons.