The dictionary defines the word culture as the ideas, customs and social behaviour of a group of people and the word tradition as the transmission of customs or beliefs from generation to generation. Although the words are used interchangeably, I like to think of culture as the customs and tradition as the effort of passing them on. In this context, the role of family and parents becomes critical for the preservation of our culture.
Culture is not something that can be taught in a class room. It is a gradual assimilation of thought processes and behaviour that are learned over a period of time so that they become a part of the everyday. In olden days, this happened almost seamlessly – through the interaction of multiple generations living together.
However, with the growth of the nuclear family and in many cases split families, this seamless and natural interaction between generations has become greatly reduced. With the rise of women in the workforce, children are often left with attendants and nannies leading to a further breakdown of regular interaction. While conscious effort is made to spend time together in recreational and academic pursuits, what is often lost is the passing on of culture.
Globalisation and the introduction of international brands with supporting marketing has also resulted in the further erosion of local cultures. I remember a few years ago, the huge marketing thrust that accompanied the introduction of the Beyblade into the Indian market. There was a parallel effort going on to introduce the Indian top – a toy involving a great deal of skill and hand eye co-ordination. The deeper pockets of the international brands combined with the complete lack of awareness about the Indian top had the Beyblade winning hands down!
Indian culture is fascinating in its variety. No matter what your taste, your preference or age, there is a wide choice of elements that can appeal to you. Among these, perhaps the most versatile are songs, stories and games with each generation absorbing a different aspect from them.
For example, a simple game of pallanguzhi might be just fun to the child but the more complex rules could be an effort in mental mathematics for an older person. A teacher may look at the motor skills being developed, a psychologist may look at the need to learn how to win and lose, and yet another may look at the powers of concentration involved.
The same goes for our stories. From the basic concepts of good and evil to more complex shades of grey, you can introduce children to layers of information. What is required is a more aware and conscious effort to ensure that culture is transmitted from one generation to the next. It is a good idea to begin with the toddler with stories, music and games.
Make it fun
I remember storytelling lessons in school which were ruined by the concluding statement about the moral of the story! The session becomes a lesson rather than an enjoyable way to spend time. Children can and will draw the necessary lessons. When they are older, a discussion about the story allowing them to vocalise is a far better way than thrusting morals and judgement.
Make it spontaneous and natural
Structure in many ways eliminates the natural flow of learning as all structure is focussed on a single outcome. For e.g., playing a simple game of Parama Padam (the Indian version of snakes and ladders) taught the child mythology, how to count, to add, to identify numbers, to win and lose and so many other things.
Make it a part of the everyday
Culture is not something apart from life. It is a part of life. If we live the culture in our food, in our activities and in our customs, it becomes the norm and therefore something comfortable and familiar. Teaching culture as a specific activity only separates us from it and thus makes it something outside day-to-day life.
Keep it simple
Much of our culture can often get very complex, particularly around festivals. For a toddler, the cooking of a number of dishes or new clothes, by itself, means very little. Those are the elaborate rituals of adulthood. Instead focus on one small aspect that is simple and the toddler can participate in. Stories particularly are a wonderful way of doing this. Amid the stress and tension of celebrating a festival, set out a half hour of calm – a story telling session that becomes an integral part of your festival every year.
Children like to be a part of efforts which everyone participates in. It makes them feel grown up. Pick an activity, song or game that everyone enjoys and do it together. It adds to the fun of family time and becomes a part of the cultural growth of the family as a whole.
What is important is to remember that culture is about the essence of things…not the things themselves. It is not how you celebrate a festival, but celebrating the festival itself. It is not how you tell the story, but the story itself. Each family must create their own customs and formula in keeping with changing lifestyles and thinking.
But if at all it can be done, perhaps the most crucial effort will come in having toddlers spend time with grandparents. Then the learning happens seamlessly. After all, grandparents are the true storehouses of our nation’s culture.
The author is founder of Kreeda Games...for more info see kreedagames.com/