There’s a certain kind of innocence to many of the children, teenagers and young people in India that I’ve noticed. They don’t seem so jaded, and they don’t seem as apt to form cliques, excluding others.
Even among graduate-level students at Brian’s university you see a camaraderie—an inclusionary vibe—that’s refreshing. It’s almost like stepping back in time, before hand-held devices, tweets and Facebook posts supplanted real conversations.
Here’s one example. My husband recently took his students on a field trip. These are college kids in their early to mid-20s, mind you. On the way to and from their destination on the bus, they actually sang camp songs and clapped along! They laughed with each other, they joked together. Until he started describing it to me, Brian hadn’t really thought about it much, but as we discussed the field trip and the social interactions of the students, we both agreed it’s something you just don’t see with most college-aged students these days.
Perhaps it’s just Symbiosis University, where Brian is teaching, and Symbiosis International School, where our children attend. The fundamental belief at Symbiosis is that the world is one family – “Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam” in Sanskrit.
But perhaps it’s not just Symbiosis. Perhaps it’s India.
Young Indian men and boys who are friends will frequently put an arm around the other’s shoulder as they walk down the sidewalk here in Pune. Girls and women hold hands. Whether friendship or family members, it’s simply a nice thing to see. I remember holding hands or linking arms with my friends on the playground in first and second grade (Kathy and Gwen, you know I’m talking about you) … but not since then. Somewhere along the way it became “babyish.”
Young people in India also show a respect for their elders that seems missing in many social groups today. I love how little children here in Paradise will call me “Auntie.” This is something all children in India do with adults of a certain age. I’m Auntie, Brian is Uncle. It’s just….nice. Younger adult Indians will greet older people with the traditional “namaste” in Hindi or the regionally accepted “namaskar.” The hands are folded in front of the chest in a prayer position or, in Marathi, at the forehead.
India is crowded places that’s jostling, hectic and sometimes rude. But underneath this chaos, there’s an amazing tolerance and respect among people, especially for families and children.
My first thoughts of this image of “family friendly India” go back to the Frankfurt airport as we checked into our flight to Mumbai. It’s common for airlines to let families traveling with small children go first. But in this case, even a family with two teenage boys and an eight-year-old girl were invited to check in ahead of the others. The woman wearing her smart Lufthansa uniform told me, in a confidential whisper as she scanned our boarding passes, “There’s always lots of children on the flights to India!”
Without getting into the child policies of various governments or problems with the planet’s over-population, let me just share some positive aspects of our daily life in India.
In Paradise, our housing society, there’s a little playground and park in the center of the complex. After it cools off, from about 5:30 to 8 p.m. or so, there are always groups of children playing football (aka soccer), cricket or badminton outside or table tennis in the breezy clubhouse. Rachel and her little friend Rahi, two years her junior, frequently skip rope or play hide and seek. Older children often join in, and it’s very common to see children from 6 all the way up to 18 play games together.
We were only here a couple days when the doorbell rang one evening. When I opened it, there were two pretty teenage girls asking if we had any children and, if so, could they come out and play or something?
This struck me on two levels. One; it’s unusual for teenagers to use the term “come out and play.” Yet, that’s what teenagers and youngsters do here in Paradise—they play games with each other in big groups. Yes, there’s a fair bit of hanging out and talking among the teen set, but they frequently join in with the younger ones.
Secondly, our kids have only lived in Two Rivers and Goldstream Valley prior to this—out-of-the way places even for Fairbanks, Alaska. They aren’t used to having neighbors close by, much less a whole bunch of them with kids. Getting together with friends usually involves a parent driving them someplace, or at least a bike ride.
Alaskans highly value privacy, and I’m no exception. In Two Rivers, we loved our secluded 20 acres. We’ve scaled back to 7 acres in Goldstream Valley, with neighbors’ houses just visible through the trees in winter and obliterated in summer by green leaves. It’s an interesting contrast to live in a closely compacted neighborhood, at least for this year.
And it’s wonderful to have children ringing our doorbell, asking if our kids can come out to play.