They say the laughter of a child is pure and innocent, unaware of all the burdens lurking behind the veil of adulthood. They are free thinkers and they ride along with their imaginations as far as the galaxy can stretch. The question is, do we, the grownups, let them just be themselves? The innumerable times I have had my teachers complain of my grades, writing, colouring, arguing, homework, class work, files and projects to my parents made me doubt myself repeatedly. So what if I drew a yellow peacock? So what if I had the courage to draw that does not exist?
Why did my parents find me crazy to have drawn two suns in my art project? The heat in summers scorches every bare foot, reddens and blisters the naked skin. I understood what the sun could do and decided to draw two of them in my scenery. At ten, it was really confusing as to why my art teacher stamped my sheet with a C-minus. I was ten, for god’s sake! The heat bothered me, the sweat annoyed me, the sun mocked at me, the heat wave sucked out all the strength I gathered each day for school. Was I that stupid to believe that there could be more than one sun? I was not arrogant back then to think that there could be more to what my naked eyes could see. Why was my art teacher arrogant?
The struggle to think free, and be free hence, began at the age of ten for me. And I am sure, for many of you it might have begun earlier. Remember those classroom periods, where you doubted yourself while raising hand for a question? How the fear sneaked into those little fragile arms that desperately wanted to oppose and interrupt, but never had the courage to do so? Because, even though the teacher said, “There is no such thing as a stupid question,” you knew she would point out that topper kid and advise you to be more like them. And how she compared your writing with that kid who won every inter-school cursive writing competition!
The constant pressure we the adults bury our kids with is enormous. You just never know when an unintentionally snarky or a disapproving comment would shatter a kid’s will to be different.
Every time I was taught to sketch a woman, she was portrayed as a fair, slim and tall lady. The overweight child, the short underconfident soul or that dark-skinned kid who knew nothing of ‘fair and lovely’, grew up rejecting her body and skin. The system we believe in failed us, right there. Because our fight against body shaming is the product of those classroom clichés we failed to get over from.
No one ever taught me to love myself, but nobody ever missed an opportunity to ‘inspire’ me to be like the kid next door. We all have had that one kid living right across the street being better in grades and sports – the one our mothers wanted to ‘adopt’ – right?
As a 24-year-old now, in my adulthood, I fight within myself each day. I incessantly accept and reject me. I fear rejection, of being wrong, of looking the wrong way and of saying the wrong things, because my classroom taught me to be the part of a herd. The archaic system of education and teaching, barred me from the freedom of making a mistake, doing the undone, and finally create.