Parenting books and blogs are written about this generation of rug rats and how to raise them best. The 1 to 8 year olds of a certain class are probably the most over stimulated people around. These are the kids who grew up absorbing Mozart with dancing hand puppets on Baby Einstein videos, learned numeracy skills and saw Van Gough at age five months. These are the kids who go to Saturday studio for art instruction, Tuesday afternoon for football, equestrian classes, swimming at Beach luxury, tennis lessons at Sindh Club, Math tutoring, piano lessons at CAPA, karate at Gymkhana, rowing at Boat Club. First world lives in third world countries. I am surrounded by a generation of mothers who must provide their child with every opportunity so they may realize their fullest potential, get the 12 A stars at O levels, and go onto to excel in some field. Even their emotional needs must be met. Serving them in parallel is a whole industry of caterers and entertainers, and magicians who eat last.
All in some unknown quest for the child's development - some excellence?
When M's fascination with Greek mythology, and the prophets of God, took a serious turn, I figured I don't aspire that she be a deeply spiritual person, but I'd be fine if she chose a Phd in Theology - yes. Am I seeking excellence? Despite my instinct, I did not dissuade her. She may rebel and hate my politics. I have taken her to press club protest. She sat through a two hour peasant meeting in the Thal desert of Southern Punjab. As a toddler, she handled, albeit discontentedly, signs at regal chowk. She saw a rural school with benches, brick walls reminiscent of Mohenjodaro..
But these experiences are few and far between. And I am apologetic..
Compared to the jumping castles in manicured lawns, these can be alienating. Real life organizing and road protest politics is not fun in Pakistan. Its not cheery or creative; it does not appeal to young people; nor is it a non hostile space. Organizing in communities takes grit and stamina, as does working on issues of basic survival. Old activists of the Akhtar Hameed Khan And Humza Alavi genre would say - throw them in and let them swim. But that was a stoic generation, perhaps, oblivious to their children's looming insecurity while they engaged in purist politics and no frills activism. It may be a right winger's fantasy, but the title, "Alice Walker's daughter exposes the cruel narcissism of a feminist icon," is a frightening, if exaggerated, prospect. Children remember their emotional happiness, and may recoil from progressive politics if that period is associated with their own personal turmoil.
Our parents, although apolitical, never had time to tap any hidden talent of ours, never had the time to nurture the fluff. Most days were spent in the infinite boredom of youth and powerlessness, and trying to find something to do. A couple of decades of self analysis later, we came out whole. But a nice set of markers would have worked just as well - as would some focused attention on a skill - some reassurance.
But with our children -- if our peculiar neurosis prevents us from throwing them in and allowing them to resurface - what kind of twisted politics would they emerge with the other side of two decades? What chance do you have if you are surrounded by privilege and entitlement, based indirectly upon the systemic oppression of others - and not much questioning or organizing besides the typical. The rich kids learn charity, a form of self appeasement, but not much more. That Earth day must be celebrated, but no reflection how over consumption manifests itself in their own lives. Their lives are spent in activities which would be more normal in the first world, but within the grotesque inequity of Pakistan, seem excessive.
This while their 99% counterparts have little fun.
I have seen children sit through four hour lectures and funeral speeches, and look forward to tea and biscuits. Protected by little, they struggle, experience oppression; in their Eid finest they hear about domestic workers's unions, and clap when an activist goes up to sing Faiz or Jalib. They sit through day long seminars because the air conditioning at the arts council auditorium is a treat in the blistering summer, and so is an extra bottle of Pepsi and a box of spicy biryani, and the bus ride home to Karachi's shifting peripheries. Kids in Sajawal displaced by the floods, their cheeks dry and chapped from the cold, noses caked in snot, responded enthusiastically to art, drew in the colors of their environment, were happy to receive two crayons as keepsake. They traveled on a bus to from Thatta to Karachi, not for a circus or a party, but for a 2 km march demanding land rights.
The point is not to highlight disparities in our society. But this:
How do you raise your child to be ethical amidst an indulgent elite culture and intense deprivation that does not find respite in inspiring or sustained resistance. How can you popularize resistance and make it matter? How do you nurture children and make them political at the same time?
Expose them perhaps to multi class spaces. The zoo, the flower show at sea view, the book fair at Frere hall on Sunday. Expose them to shows that are political minded. Sanya Saeed's storytelling for little children. A few down to earth lessons in gardening and composting inspired by Taufiq Pasha. Membership in the Children's Human Rights Museum. Community building within schools. Building campaigns around issues. Train them to use social media as a tool to promote their campaigns and organizing.
Would these baby steps ever be enough though given how bad the economic imbalance is right now and how strong the current of self indulgence? Are we continually missing the boat? Can it change the tide and salvage them from free market economics and liberal politics -- and before they can say: Why the heck would you want to destroy a Starbucks? How do you teach them that privatization and the IMF are bad; so was the Iraq war and the drone strikes; that providing social security and labor legislation is important. Ultimately they can not just organize in their own private stratosphere. Is the only true choice to actually just give it up and practice your politics. Can you ever be a radical if you can not allow your children to leave the trappings of class.