Thursday, June 27

Where have all the children gone?


Where have all the children gone?

READING opens the window to experiencing things that one otherwise has no access to.

Reading brings us to places we may not be able to go and teaches us about the world around us. There is no doubt about it.

I love striking up a conversation with young Uber or Grab drivers. Yes, all Uber and Grab cars that I used during the past week in Kuala Lumpur were driven by young drivers –  some just 23.

One such driver was naturally curious about where I come from.

“Well, Sarawak. Is it a jungle and you live in trees,” he enquired (ignorantly, I surmised).

Yes, we do feel offended when asked such a question. But I’m absolutely confident I don’t dress nor behave like a Tarzan, swinging from trees to trees. It’s not my fault if people continue to ask whether or not Sarawakians still live in trees. All I probably could do is to set the record straight.

So, to that young Uber (or Grab) driver, I would like to ask these questions: Do you read? Do you learn about Sarawak in your history or geography lessons? Do you learn about the people, places and events outside your own experience from newspapers? Are you not interested in knowing the ways of life, ideas and beliefs of other places besides your own?

In a shopping mall a little further from the city, I saw a magnificent book fair set up by a local bookshop. Believe me, there was not a single soul browsing at the fair. But at an adjacent amusement centre equipped with machine games, the scene was quite different – jam-packed with not only children but parents as well.

Parents are the most influential people in the life of a growing child. If the parents themselves do not cultivate the reading habit at a tender age, they should not expect their children to do so. Most parents seem to hold with keeping their children busy at amusement centres. It’s happening, and probably, has been happening for a long time.

So children might grow up without much interest in what’s happening around them. Unable to see beyond the end of their nose, they are more than likely – out of sheer ignorance – to swallow weird disinformation fed to them like “Sarawakians still live in trees,” and bereft of any logical thinking, may even never wonder how ‘jungle people’ could tap them for ‘Uber’ or ‘Grab’ services.

“Yes, Uber picks me up from my tree house when I call for one. Uber drivers provide excellent service. The tree houses are all on google maps,” I replied to the young Uber driver who took me round KL. And I bet he believes every word I said.

Last month, the New Straits Times interviewed our 33-year-old squash queen Datuk Nicol David on her book preference, featured under its ‘Last Word’ column.

Nicol said her favourite childhood book is Juggle Book by Rudyard Kipling. Ah, that fantasy book in which Kipling tells of a village boy, Mowgli, who was found and raised in the jungle by a pack of wolves as their own.

It is not my favourite book because of the physical violence Baloo and Bagheera (the two monkeys) continuously use against Mowgli. How I have wished that when Mowgli swings from tree to tree, he will eventually swing to freedom. But no, he is always back for another beating after getting into more trouble.

My favourite book is “Giving Tree” by Shel Silverstein, which reflects our short-sightedness and inability to distinguish want from need. The review of the book by Professor Timothy Jackson from Stanford University (found on Wikipedia) articulates: “Is this a sad tale? Well, it’s sad in the same way that life is sad. We are all needy, and, if we are lucky and any good, we grow old using others and getting used up. Our finitude is not something to be regretted or despised – however, it’s what makes giving (and receiving) possible. The more you blame the boy, the more you have to fault human existence. The more you blame the tree, the more you have to fault with the very idea of parenting, Should the tree’s giving be contingent on the boy’s gratitude? If it were, if fathers and mothers waited on reciprocity before caring for their young, then we would all be doomed.”

The book Nicol wishes every Malaysian should read is ‘Outliers’ by Malcolm Gladwell. She rationalises that the book can encourage Malaysians to put their heart and soul into their passion and achieve their dreams.

If I may add, one of the key points of Outliers is probably upbringing which leads to opportunity. The quality of bringing up a child is the key determinant on its future success. That’s where Nicol is today. I firmly believe it has a lot to do with her parents bringing books into her life.

Is there a reason not to read and exercise our brain – and strengthen our connections even if it means with tree people?