By Zubeida Mustafa
Do you remember the attractive little child with a charming smile and a lovely voice who appeared with Suhail Rana on television for a children’s musical programme, “Sang sang challein”, week after week in the seventies?
Mothers whose kids were young three decades ago would recall Afshan Ahmad for she was the heart- throb of every child who watched TV in those days – as well as of their mothers. Well, Afshan Ahmad is now a young lady with the same charming smile and lovely voice. She has two children of her own. She still remains the heart-throb of children though she doesn’t appear on TV any more. She runs a Montessori school and knows how to charm the young ones who come to her.
I find Afshan an extraordinary person. She has talent and a very pleasing personality. But popularity and fame have not gone to her head. What distinguishes her more than that is her tremendous love for children. She was complaining the other day that as a society we do not care for children and I agree with her fully.
Afshan would love to revive her weekly musical programme for children, but no one seems to be interested. “No finances”, the television channels proclaim and move on to the loud, horrendous pop music you get to hear today. No more are children listening to songs such as “Dosti aisa naata/Jo sonay say bhee mehnga”. Or do you remember “Sang sang chaltay rahna/Hans kay har dukh sehna” or the perennially popular “Daak babu daak babu mera khat lay jao/Nani Amman ko day aao”. My children learnt their Urdu alphabets sitting before the TV singing “Yaad karein hum sub mil kay/Jaldi say apni alif, bay, pay” with Afshan on the mini screen.
Afshan says she would love to record an album of songs for children but sponsors are generally not interested. She has recorded one album for a food company. Otherwise those who finance such things feel it is not a project worth investing in. As a result, children who have a natural love for music and rhythm are entertaining themselves with songs which are hardly the sort they should be singing.
In the process they are being robbed of their childish innocence. Or may be things such as the “Daak Babu” is something unfamiliar to them today. They would know more about the e-mail and the webmaster rather than the postmaster! But Nani Ammans are still around and friendship and love are values still to be cherished. Above all children still love music.
Why is it that as a society we neglect our children, though on an individual level we tend to indulge in them turning out thoroughly spoilt brats in the process? The fact is that on a collective level, anything which concerns children does not receive the attention it deserves. May be because children cannot protest as adults can. And adults have so many problems of their own that they forget their child’s needs.
Why have our schools been allowed to be reduced to such a pathetic condition that parents don’t want to send their children there any more? Just look at the falling enrolment in government schools. Why can’t we have more parks and playgrounds for the little ones to run around and play their cricket in without being endangered by a speeding car or endangering pedestrians on the roadside?
It is not just the poor who bear the brunt of this negligence. At a workshop on mental health it was pointed out that children in school – even the high brow elite schools – have no provision for counselling on their personal problems. In today’s competitive and consumerist world children are exposed to greater stress than they were ever before. Starting from the race for school admissions, private tuitions (more as a status symbol than any thing else), the pressure to keep up with the Joneses, the excessive exposure to television and the lack of exercise and games to help them let out their pent-up youthful energies, how can any one believe that children are not under severe mental and emotional stress.
You just have to look around to see what is happening. A young girl who got admission in one of the good A-levels schools after passing her O-levels was agonizing on how her parents would pay Rs 85,000 they were expected to produce in a couple of days if they didn’t want their daughter’s admission to be cancelled. Another young boy committed suicide when he failed his exams because he felt he had let down his parents who were investing their lifetime’s savings to educate him.
Yet schools – sometimes they themselves are the source of stress — don’t think much about the problems children have to grapple with. Why should they reduce their profit margins by employing counsellors to help children cope with the stress in their life? Their senior teachers act as counsellors. I asked one of them what they advised the children about. “The problem they face in their studies,” she promptly replied. Some are counselling them about the foreign universities they should seek admission to and so on.
A Montessori directress who is training Montessori teachers, the only one in Pakistan qualified to do so – of course we have many pseudo trainers around – said a number of her students are poring out their personal problems before her. She says she just has to give them a sympathetic hearing and it works wonders with them. All that is wanted is someone who has the time to listen.