We have been living in manicured gated communities for quite sometime now. Inside the gates of these gated communities, we live amidst planned, manicured gardens with swimming pools and kid friendly play areas. Outside these walls the chaos of urban life rages. A chaos our children rarely come in to contact with. Air-conditioned buses take them to beautifully designed schools and bring them home again. We drive them to birthday parties, movies and to relatives in our air-conditioned cars.
I don’t remember if my son ever took a public transport in the city during his schooling years. I was changing two DTC buses to get to school during my growing years. Like so many other parents of my generation including the new generation parents of today, we have raised / are raising our children in a bubble. We have chosen to do this for our own convenience, and as we tell ourselves, the safety and wellbeing of our children, even though we know in our hearts that safety cannot be guaranteed.
Our children have space to play in, pools to splash about in and enough classes/activities to keep them occupied from the time they come home till the time they go to sleep. Why should they have to take a DTC bus to go to school? I remember an incident when my son and I had to walk some 600m to a doctor’s clinic and I was bombarded with a zillion questions and it appeared that he was running a marathon and not a 600m walk on the streets.
‘It’s hot!’ ‘I’m thirsty!’ ‘It’s dusty!’ ‘How much longer?’ ‘Why is it so noisy?’ I looked at him and wondered at his reaction with a mix of horror and fascination. How had he turned out like this, I wondered. But of course, I knew the answer. I had raised him with limited, carefully curated access to the world outside. This was not his fault.
My parents stay in Gorakhpur and for visiting them we had to travel by train (AC-II / AC-I), since flights to Gorakhpur did not operate then. Similar questions rained from my son again – ‘Why does the station smell?’ ‘Why are people sleeping on the platform?’ ‘Why does that dog have only one ear?’ My almost eight-year-old declared that he never wanted to travel by train again because ‘seeing poor people makes me sad.’ He has already learned that the best way to not have to deal with things that make him uncomfortable is to avoid them. Not confront them. Or understand them. Or try to look for ways to solve them. But, to avoid.
I wondered these kids and their friends will grow up and learn statistics about health and poverty. But it will remain an abstract concept to them. Something they occasionally see at train stations and signals and on school ‘outreach’ trips.
On the train ride back to Delhi, I looked out the window as Gorakhpur gave way to smaller towns and villages, fascinated by the changing buildings, dried lakes and station names. My son was glued to his paraphernalia of devices and gadgets, preferring to immerse himself in a make believe world rather than look outside at the real one. Another bubble inside their bubble.
I don’t blame my child. These are bubbles I have created. The big question then was, how do I burst them? Where do I begin?