Y is for Yaks

The Lord of the Universe (Jagannath) Vishnu's avatar Rama, and his consort, the goddess Sita, sit on their thrones flanked by two guards, who could be male or female, waving  yak tails gently to keep them cool. Yak tails, or fly whisks, are always used in Gurudwaras as well where the Guru Granth Sahib is treated just as Hindus treat their deities. Yaks, otherwise  famous for their shaggy look, and domesticated for their labour (as "beasts of burden"), and milk, the butter of which has made Kashmiri tea famous, are thus raised to a different level. 

Yaks are already for us exotic creatures that live in habitats such as the Himalayas. There may not be many mythological stories about them, but we thus have their presence in our midst…in the form of their tails. Yak tails are used to show off status, whether of historical figures, or of Hindu gods and goddesses. 

In short, a great deal could be made of yaks, and isn't. When we teach the letter Y in Nursery, we do use the word yak, along with yellow, yacht, you, yes, and yesterday, but all teachers do this unthinkingly, and none that I know ventures into its social and cultural depths. 

The direction I want to invite you to follow me in is how to indigenize our curriculum, while always aiming for excellence and child-centredness. Colonialism had already left us in an imitative mould. Now, globalization has furthered that relationship, where we take a Western image, term, or narrative, to be the universal one that applies perfectly well to us. While it is good to read stories placed in Denmark or Germany, they are not anonymous, undifferentiated normative places that can be used with Indian children without any comment. We may not be able to fight Disney products or the media, but we can surely control our classroom's images. It is good to treat them as fun, fantasy-filled lands in early years, and as interesting, sociological units in later years. 

You will perhaps think it is all a lot of trouble, but I want to invite all teachers to teach y for yak (a Himalayan image), and a carefully planned y for yellow (mustard ripening in fields), and y for yacht (the Naini lake full of boats).   

Only thus can we start to tackle the huge problem in our country of a lack of Design sense and skill. Sad to say for a country as rich in artisanship as ours that almost any product made nowadays, be it a building or a soapdish, lacks beauty and invention. 

Along the same lines is y for "yuck!" that favourite expression of disgust of American children that is phenomenally successful at communicating dislike of an object or situation, typically related to food. It's an innocent expression, if over-used. The problem is that as with "hi!" and "wow!" it is a random selection from scores of expressions used in the US or elsewhere in the West.  If it was a conscious choice, it would be defensible. But it is an involuntary, unreflexive choice which is what then needs to be deconstructed and some education begun. 

Then there is yoga, a huge reservoir of philosophy and practice that could be adapted to any level for diverse goals. Coming from the old Indo-Aryan for yoke or harness and control, it means disciplining one's senses. Now, this raises a conundrum: are children mere creatures of the senses or do they have, could they develop, a disciplined awareness of the self? 

Looking at the vast data of the best children's books, one would find that 90% of them present children as animal-like, that is as simple, innocent, loveable, but spontaneous, sentiment-driven, the opposite of the complex self-conscious identities of modern adults. 10% of the books, however, treat children as the bearers of a consciousness that is higher than that of adults, and that comes closer to the goal of yogis, namely, the dissolution of the (false) self in a one-ness with nature and selected humans. A great example of that is the Prince in The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint Exupery, where the child is the essence of purity and innocence, a kind of metonym for the soul, or god, or life itself. The animated film by the same name pushes the same idea further. Its business-minded adults are fierce and frightening. 

If we go with this, children are natural yogis. And those adults who pursue yoga may be going a little in a desirable direction: we should all be a bit of the child who never grew up. 



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