Leaf lessons

Mini Krishnan
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The Earth needs to be handled with care and respect, says Mini Krishnan.

Afew years ago I was asked to suggest games and activities that very small children could play or carry out in a group by way of what is called “co-operative learning”. I ransacked the magazines and scrap-books I’d collected over the years. It had to be something a teacher in an Indian school could conduct without too much disruption. Remembering words from that famous book Teacher, “War and peace wait outside an infant’s room, wait and vie” (Slyvia Ashton-Werner), I looked for something that didn’t trigger competition. To my satisfaction I found a game devised by my friends Shaku Raniga and Sherrif Rushdy. It did not call for different coloured cellophane paper or sequins or five boxes of the same size or a length of rubber hosing or an unused light bulb.

All it asked for was a large leaf.

The teacher was to wait till all the children lined up in a straight line, one behind the other. Then out came the leaf. Preferably a banana-leaf but it could be the leaf of a canna plant. It was given to the first child very ceremoniously. “Take this leaf. Hold it above your head, don’t drop it, pull it carelessly or tear it. Pass it backwards over your head to the child behind you. Don’t look back. Once you hand it over, stand still.”

Those were the instructions.

The second child was to receive the leaf very gently, and taking care not to drop it or bend it out of shape, had to pass it over his or her head backwards to the third child and so on till the leaf reached the end of its journey in the hands of the last child. The last leaf-receiver was to give it back to the teacher who would hold it up for all to see. The purpose of the lesson was to teach children how to handle all of Nature, which belonged to all of us collectively. Everyone was equally responsible for “land health”. The leaf was the messenger of the Earth. The Earth was like the leaf and was to be treated respectfully. The success of the group as a whole depended on the leaf remaining intact, hence it was important to emphasise that there was to be no grabbing and that every one had to wait patiently till the leaf reached him or her. The teacher could then ask, “How much time would it have taken for the leaf to grow to its present size? How much time will it take for us to shred and destroy? Is not a forest a long time growing?”

I would like to deepen this message and say that we must treat all of life like the children treated that leaf in the co-operative game.

Be careful how you handle yourself, your friends, your family. Flinging words, tearing into the other’s feelings, ignoring or ‘dropping’ family are all symptoms of a civilisation in decline.

Be careful how you handle knowledge. We are the only species that stores and records the memory of generations long gone, so we have a duty to not distort or misuse the collective gifts of the past. Let’s remember that we are not superior to Socrates or Bhaskara because we can fly aircraft and they did not. Is not the Uttarakhand catastrophe based on our inability or unwillingness to look after our leaves?

Lastly, be careful how you handle the truth.



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