Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Ahilya Bai sat on a Wall...

English nursery rhymes have been declared too Western for children in the Indian state of Madhya Pradesh and have hence been banned from government (public) schools. The state’s education minister Narrotam Mishra has gone on record in an English daily as wanting “value education in local colour” i.e. more about the likes of Ahilya Bai who was a stalwart Hindu and a tireless temple builder to boot. I’m sure it’s practically tautological to disclose here that the Madhya Pradesh government is composed of the increasingly fundamentalist BJP.

Mr. Mishra, however, may not be kookier than the other kookaburras out there--nursery rhymes are notoriously scandalous and other hot-headed nursery-rhyme bans have been in the news pretty recently .

Parents and teachers in Madhya Pradesh seem quite taken aback by the ban, protesting that their children like both Indian as well as non Indian nursery rhymes. But the case for multiculturalism can be made convincingly only if we were teaching those tots Russian and Spanish and Chinese and Finnish nursery rhymes as well.

Until then it's ok to admit that we learn English nursery rhymes in Indian schools because we have a weird colonial hangover. Hey, i said it's ok :). Words have a seductive power even when we don't precisely know what they mean--like in sanskrit slokas, Dylan Thomas, terms of affection invented on the spur of the moment, etc.

So we'll keep learning those nursery rhymes or Shakespeare or Wordsworth...

My mother was, at the least, the third generation in her family to encounter William Wordsworth's Daffodils although the first one to ever see the flower itself--more than four decades after she first memorized the poem in middle school. The "sighting" occurred when she visited me early one April in England "That was what all the fuss was about?" was her underwhelmed exclamation to me re. the flower, but i guess that as a question it could well be directed to the assiduous industry of English pedagogy in India as well.

(Thanks to Kenn O'Reilly for link and title.)

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