“Off with their heads!” The Queen of Hearts is well and thriving, but would she have been allowed to survive? Lewis Carroll would have probably had to delete the interesting character that the Queen was, had he been alive in India today. In fact, a number of his wonderful creations would have had their heads chopped off, especially with the number of thin-skinned politicians and bureaucrats who seem to dominate our country, determined to rid her of her funny bone!
So the Thorat committee has taken a pair of giant scissors and ridden roughshod over NCERT textbooks, like the bull in a china shop, destroying what it does not understand — the thin line between good humour and stringent lampooning!
The advisers on the political science textbooks cautioned readers at the start that “the attempt is not to hand over a definite opinion to students, but to enable them to think on their own!” Mere wishful thinking, it seems as even the immortals in the rarefied realms of politics seem to have forgotten to think!
Why else would such gems be done away with? A picture is worth a 1000 words, and a well-scripted cartoon makes one laugh and think as well! Yet, the snipping goes on, along with the harping and the carping, and the tendrils of gentle humour are yanked by their very roots and thrown into the dustbin.
The two offending cartoons that opened a Pandora’s box have disappeared, and a number of others which have enlightened so many students are also on their way out. The reasons are flimsy — politicians and institutions may not be represented as animals (which get rid of the use of the popular allegory), regional sensitivity is paramount, the role of the bureaucracy shall not be misinterpreted and no ambiguity will be permitted! All very ambiguous indeed!
So it is back to the old boring textbook that drones on and on about dry facts and trivia, and the student is at liberty to fall asleep, as his mind begins to lose that creative spark and energy fuelled by cartoons! The NCERT, which had tried to be original, has now had to backtrack, all because politicians have suddenly turned into pedagogues, who think they know everything. Unfortunately, many of them know little enough of what is happening in their own constituencies, let alone in the hallowed sphere of education.
Let us applaud the lone dissenter on the committee, M.S.S. Pandian, who firmly avers, “What is perceived as ‘politically incorrect’ need not be ‘educationally inappropriate.’ The textbooks should be used as they are.”
What are we finally losing out in the long run? Ever since I was able to read a newspaper, my first instinct has been to glance at the cartoon on the first page, which always evokes a smile, and kick-starts my day, along with my funny bone! Aren’t we being selfish to deny our children the same, even as we try to curb their curiosity and nip their ability to judge what is humorous and thought provoking?
The Spectator Pandit Nehru loved a good cartoon, and a good cartoonist! Maybe, that is the difference between a great statesman and a mediocre politician!
(The writer’s email is firstname.lastname@example.org)