“Those were the days, my friend, we thought they'd never end...”

Such nostalgia is wrapped around this song; those were indeed the days! A house would overflow with children, of all ages and sizes! Uncles, aunts, cousins, friends, visitors were all welcome, as enormous amounts of food were cooked in the smoke-filled kitchen, and served with affection. Children went to neighbouring homes, eating breakfast at one place and lunch elsewhere.

Amazing was the rapport between cousins, as also between adults and children. The parents often didn't even know what their kids were up to, and when they were naughty, anyone of their uncles or aunts had a free hand to chide them and set them on the right track! The chiding would slide over like water off a duck's back, and off they would go, back to their tricks again!

There was no time for complexes to form, as corners were rubbed off, and children learnt to face challenges with a smile. At times, canes were brandished at the backside, but after the first torrent of tears, they would be back to playing with their cousins! Sulks never lasted long as playtime was precious, and no one wanted to miss the fun! Thus, kids grew up tough, unspoilt and intrepid!

So much has changed since then! Nuclear families are now cocoons with just the parents and one or two children. ‘Personal attention' has become the catchword, with young parents reading books on parenting, trying to bring up their children according to the written word. Grandparents are too far away to be able to offer nuggets of wisdom through wonderful tales of the past.

So children grow up as loners, depending on their own devices, turning into latchkey kids. They learn to twist their parents around their little fingers. Guilt can often prove very lucrative! A special treat at McDonald's for having missed the school annual day, an extra bit of pocket money for a birthday forgotten! For, the parents, both working, have ‘no time to stand and stare'!

New rules for GenNext

Schools have also revised their rules to cater to GenNext. “Spare the rod and spoil the child” has now given way to “Strictly no corporal punishment!” No longer can a teacher scold a student, or lay a finger on him, for fear of damaging the sensitive psyche of the child. Of course, when we were growing up, there was no such thing as a sensitive psyche, which was actually a good thing. For, we grew up well able to handle ourselves and the tough world beyond!

Today psychologists talk about young plants needing protection to grow, and warn that negativity might maim a child's mind! So words like 'fail' and ‘poor' are taboo, and ranks have been replaced with grades to boost the child's self-esteem. The latest principle: overprotect a child to the extent that he is scared to death by any challenge — exams, competitions, a strict word, a rebuke before his peers, any kind of failure! Anything can make him go over the edge, which is mortally frightening. For, suicides have become all too common and no adult wants to take that risk.

So a 14-year-old creeps up on his teacher and stabs her to death, because she wrote a few reformative remarks in his diary on his poor performance in class. A deadly rage within his bosom grows day by day, as he feels pressure on him from home and school. This rage reaches breaking point, and he buys a knife for twenty rupees and keeps it ready to be used against a hapless teacher, only doing her duty!

A teacher who has worked hard all her life to brighten the lives of her students, popular amongst students and colleagues, a woman aspiring to become a college lecturer as she had just two papers to finish her M.Phil, a doting wife and mother of two daughters... a good human being, who had not lived out her life completely.

The boy comes from an ‘affluent' background — he gets one hundred rupees a day as pocket money! However, does that give him the right to cut short a human life and blight an entire family? Who is to blame — the parents for wrong parenting, the teacher for having tried to give the boy a bright future, peers who often wield a frightening influence, or as the boy has cleverly said, a movie like Agneepath that provoked him to take revenge? Questions that need answers if such endemic rage is to be stopped!

(The writer's email ID is deepsmenon_7@yahoo.com)

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