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Caged

by Vidya Hariharan
1 comment

Illustration by Harshita Bandodkar

As a child in a small town, visits to the only zoo in town were really exciting. If you were lucky, the lion might roar during your visit and then you would speak about it for the next few days and even later whenever you would get a chance. As I grew and moved places and saw larger wildlife sanctuaries, any life in a cage looked sad, depressed, angry, helpless. I don’t enjoy the visits anymore. If there are kids along, I just pretend to be excited. Deep down, it feels criminal, and just like the roar of the lion stayed in my mind for days, now the questioning looks of the caged creatures stay on for days.

Then one usual day, after completing a piece of work so unwillingly, I asked myself, ” Am I in a better state? Am I really as free as I imagine being?” Well, there are laws to be followed, so that no one harms anyone. There are rules to be followed so that everyone can live peacefully (humans at least… who is thinking of other creatures!). But there are also rules on what one should do, how one should speak, what one should study and even what/how one should ask a question.

We all got caged at birth in a social framework. That decides what is right and what is wrong, what should make me happy and what should not, what we should call success and what I should call failure…so many definitions and ironically, as many variations across different cages!

Education…the biggest enabler. It enables, trains and channelizes the bright young minds to “contribute” to “society”.

Education…the biggest enabler. It enables, trains and channelizes the bright young minds to “contribute” to “society”. Education brings out inventors, discoverers, artists, writers, entertainers, engineers, doctors and what not. It faithfully ensures it produces more of itself, to keep the show ON. Things evolve and advance, and more of the advanced product continues to be manufactured.

The same education….happens to be the greatest disabler too. The “survivors” of the education system are a small percentage of the people on the planet.

The same education….happens to be the greatest disabler too. The “survivors” of the education system are a small percentage of the people on the planet. In each class, at all levels, there will be students who are learning stuff that they don’t care about. If the lessons given in the first ten years of school education are mandatory for every human to survive on earth, why isn’t the teacher willing to ensure that students have really understood the concepts? They are only interested in ensuring that the student can answer the questions that they ask, often in how they would like to see it. The students must also understand the teacher’s ‘likes’ and ‘dislikes’. Excellent students don’t do what the teacher doesn’t like!! The message from all directions to the child is simple…..You got to ‘Fall in line’. The small (extremely small) percentage that survives are the ones who actually learn at least one thing that is useful for their life, and who keep their individuality intact. Everyone else either gets moulded or gets lost, and no one cares. The survivors are so few that they are impacted less and harmless! The moulded ones are enough to keep the show running. The lost ones either become trouble makers or martyrs of the massacre….who cares… the show is ON as the factory continues to manufacture and dump more and more products (read students).

If the learning game was hard, the earning game is harder. It usually follows the learning game and we accept it so gladly, like a reward. You just got to do certain things now and then- agree, disagree, like, dislike, be fair or unfair, it doesn’t matter. Even better, you pretend you agree with it! If you dislike what is said, you will soon be disliked! Remember what they taught in school, ” Good employees also don’t do what their bosses don’t like”! And the same is with the boss and the boss’s boss. So, no one is playing the game for themselves, like themselves. It is a role play, where is the originality, where is the freedom to live as yourself, act like yourself, speak as yourself.

The family setup, the social setup, the community, the financial mafia, the cultural bindings. There seems to be just one cry from all directions all the time- adjust, align, fit in. The effort is tremendous, and it is rather stressful. Some don’t even have the luxury of space to let out an enormous sigh or cry out loud. Someone once said:

Kabhi kisiko mukammal jahaan nahi milta
Kahin zamin to kahin aasmaa nahi milta

Are we to settle for that! It may be a harsh reality, but it need not be the rule!

For now, there is one area where we are truly free.  In the mind.  That space is special, it is private, it is forgiving, it is forever yours, it is flexible, it is sacrosanct and best of all, it is only YOURS.   But beware, soon computers will read or claim to read your thoughts too.  Imagine having to even think in a certain way!

Mind aside, are we any better than the lion pacing the cage?  Maybe we are like the elephant tied with a rope that it can actually break easily….but doesn’t even try.  It’s worth thinking about whether the cage is holding us or if we are holding the cage! For breaking free has its risks.  Can the lion survive outside of the cage?  Maybe it would be worth the try…..for yeh jeena bhi koyi jeena hai yaaron.  It is worth the try for us and for the little unassuming children.  Can we raise a new generation of free learners, free thinkers, free performers, free makers.  People who have learnt what they loved and not what the education minister loved.  People who know the meaning of love and empathy as they received them in plenty.  People who have the sense of conviction towards what they are doing, who will question the purpose, who know no fear as they have faith in each other, as these are the only things we would have to teach them.  Everything else, they would learn and do out of passion, out of choice, out of love, as a free spirit.

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1 comment

sunder and sonati August 6, 2021 - 6:51 pm

Well said Vidya
When we meet the educational dropouts among our neighbours, they seem to be well adjusted to village life and the reality that surrounds us here. They have shrugged off the disabling effects of education and got on with their lives. It is the town-dwellers whose kids are caged by education; with little chance of breaking free.
Heartbreaking to see. And now more than ever when the horrors of school are moved online.
More power to your pen (or rather keyboard:-)

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