Neelmani J. Bhatia

Speaking Time and Room No.: 2006-9-23 8:30-10:30 Room I

Speaker: Neelmani j Bhatia (India)




Neelmani j Bhatia


Though human beings are social by nature yet at the same time are individualistic too. Our love for company might bring us contentment but it also brings with it a sense of competitiveness leading to unscrupulous oppressive, treacherous behaviour and even cruelty. Terrorist attacks are one glaring example of war between individualistic idealism and social order. Entire world is being rocked and shocked by this unnecessary violence. Mahatma Gandhi said, "I object to violence because when it appears to do good, the good is only temporary, the evil it does is permanent". Violence is one of the vices germinating from unethical behaviour.

Fight against this could be either through weapons (guns) or tools (pen). The end would be same-annihilation of the evil intentions. Guns ask for heavy price in form of bloodshed and destruction. Whereas the pen is a better option as heart rending tales of unnecessary carnage sensitises the reader towards cruelty and pain and make him want to shun it.

Holding mirror to human life itself, literature reflects the truth, however shameful the naked truth be, because being ethical in emphasis, it makes pain of shame act as a deterrent. Writers have concerned themselves with social problems and have either provided solace or suggested solutions by bringing social ethics to the forefront by manipulation of cathartic emotions.

Emotionally we are really attached to books specially written for children. Children's literature is very heterogeneous. It embraces everything from religious books to comics, from classic to popular, nursery rhymes to serious poetry. It evolved with books of instructions. The Schoole of Good Manners adapted by Eleazer Moody in 1715, extolled what Caxton suggested in his Book of Curtesye about piety, neatness, honouring one's parents, politeness.

When the Sun doth arise

Fall on your knees and to God humble pray:

Then kneel to your parents, their blessing implore

And when you have money, give some to the poor.

Your hands and face wash fair and brush your apparel

And comb your hair

And wish good morning to all in your view.


Then came the fables, where the "stories were more of a cloak for moral lessons" and fantasies, folklore which according to Singer, “has long provided grist for the children's literature mill…they seem a swell way to learn about other times and other places". (Eliot A.Singer, Multiculturalism, and the Ethics of Children's Literature) Locke thought that Aesop's Fables were the only books that were fit for children. The ethics of the beast fables containing worldly wisdom, recommending presence of mind, trimming one's sails to circumstances and caution had the unanimous approval of all- abbots to puritans. The Bidpai fables, translated by Sir Thomas North were derived from the Panchantra, Jatakas or other Hindu tales, are the ingenuously linked stories told by Indian sage to imbibe virtues.

Virtues have to be imbibed, not preached so most of the classic stories relied on realms of fantasy because “those things that are most real in life can best be conveyed through fancy". The Vikram (King) and Betal (Ghost) stories revolve around Vikram, an honest man whose every act was kind, good and just, yet he suffered. But at the end his righteousness paid off. His life story upholds that an ethical man must not give in and should face adversity with fortitude. A lesson very necessary for today's children as there is an alarming rise in the rate of suicides by teenagers. One essential commonality in these stories is the perennial stream of innocence running through them. This genre was popular among wisdom writers of Egypt and Mesopotamia too during the same period. Thus we see that presenting the problem of dogmas and struggling with the meaning of existence by writers traversed across eras and human boundaries. Decrying deceit and greed for dirty lucre it was said” Still as old, men by themselves are priced, for thirty pieces Judas sold himself, Not Christ”.

We sell our souls in search of materialistic happiness. Sometimes we forget money buys material goods but not real happiness. Happiness lies in giving not taking. Helping others gives us a sense of fairness and one golden thumb rule to attain is by saying to self, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you". It is really hard rule to follow in these days of stiff competition and the rat race we are forcing our children to run to be on the top. In wanting super kids we are forgetting that Jesus desired us to be" Wise as a serpent but harmless as dove". In our day to day life and in even in our stories we are teaching our children not to offer the other cheek when hit. We are preparing them for war cry, “You scratch my back or else, I'll scratch your eyes out”. Whereas it would be better to teach them "you scratch the back of your foe when it itches even if he refuses to do yours. Be independent yet be social and always lend a helping hand”! If we all adopt this basic principle of humanity no mother will have to worry when the child is late coming home. East or West, that's one worry which parents all over the world have in common. Biology tells us that a child is carried in its mother's womb for specific period of time according to the species. This part of science does not know that a child is carried in its mother's heart forever.

Once the umbilical cord is cut, the child is physically and psychologically more dependant on parents. The basis of the bond, which forms and strengthens the relationship, is communication. Initially the older members of the family through stories help the children learn about their genealogy and religion (a very important aspect of life which determines our actions and destiny. A Hindu child learns about Rama, Krishna, and Durga, a Christian about Jesus Christ and a Muslim about Prophet Muhammad at his mother’s lap)

The first introduction of child with outside social world is his familiarising with family members and he is taught to treat each member as it behoves fit. Ethical learning process begins in earnest. Then follows the acquaintance with and an understanding of what it is to be human through bedtime stories. The contents of stories are means of exploration of the world and ways for a young mind to understand and appreciate its world and all those who share it with him. It is one very important means of making sense of what might appear to be strange and quaint.

Our children are disconcerted at seeing innocents being miserable and merciless flourishing. How children think and learn have been debated upon for centuries but on one point where there is consensus is that a child's thought process is greatly influenced by stories he hears and books he reads. Through these ethics abound stories they have to be assured that there is some sort of relationship between sin and suffering and between righteousness and blessing and that goodness will prevail.

The ability to differentiate between black and white and the underlying shades of grey in human life is not genetically ingrained. This fissure between ignorance and awareness has to be bridged properly so that our little Pilgrims’ Progress towards adulthood does not lead to an abyss.

Sarah Fielding in her novel The Governess (1749) was right when she exhorted her girls” that true use of books is to make you wiser and better”. Good books expand perspective, promote critical thinking, broaden the horizon, help in appreciating and understanding the bond we share with nature, flora and fauna and how it is the duty of us all to preserve it. The Prince and the Salmon People, an old myth is topical as its powerful, timely message, resonates with contemporary problems in treating environment. Aquatic animals globally are facing "dangers as they return to their home rivers to spawn. Over-fishing, concrete dams, polluted rivers and hatchery fish contribute to the lowered numbers of their species. Unless we take drastic measures to preserve-and honour-the salmon, they may not exist for future generations” (Children's Literature-An illustrated History Ed. Peter Hunt.) In Black Beauty the cruelty to animals has been dealt with very sensitively. The compassion it arouses itself becomes a lesson in Art of Living.

Ethics deal with how we ought to live and with such conceptions as right and wrong. “In the world and in all of life there is nothing more important to determine than what is right" C I Lewis. William Golding's Lord of the Flies provides a clue about the purpose of morality. He shows that the evil is within us and it emerges from the depth of subconscious whenever there is a moment of the moral lassitude. Ethics gives us prudence to sift right from wrong and warns we reap as we sow. This idea is embedded in Hindu doctrine of karma, Islamic concept of last day and Christian idea of divine justice. Mary Wollstonecraft expressed in Original Stories that an author is obliged to attempt to cure faults by reason which ought never to have taken root in infant mind.

Ethics is not about being part of any culture; it's about being human. It keeps society from falling apart, ameliorate human suffering, promote flourishing, resolve conflicts, assign praise and punish wrong. But who is to judge whether it was right To Kill a Mockingbird? The answer is we all - every rational being must make a moral judgement and be responsible for one's own actions. According to Kant the goal of morality is to create happy and virtuous people who are a “jewel that shines in (morality's) own light”. Seneca, a Roman philosopher said, “mere living is not good but living well". Which again leads to a question that what is living well. The answer was given by Aristotle" … identify living well and doing well with being happy and with regard to happiness …when we fulfil the ideal of living the virtuous life, we are truly happy". Ayan Rand, in The Virtue of selfishness said, “The achievement of his own happiness is man's highest moral purpose".

If the purpose of life is to be happy then why is there so much unhappiness around us or even within us? It is because we are so involved with self that we do not learn our lessons well. It is said life is a school which all have to attend, irrespective of caste, colour and creed and where each passing moment teaches a lesson. As in formal education, where the teachers seeks help of the books to impart knowledge, similarly the lesson taught by life too have to be interpreted and garnered through experiences of others or the external influences.

As the world goes smaller our problems seem to grow. Life in general seems to be in a flux. We all seem to be running race against time. Children are maturing so fast that one hardly realises when the child is out of diapers and walking out of the house in a huff as you did not think him/her old enough to go on a date. In the garb of modernisation social and family values are regarded as obsolete and seem to be breaking down. But new values are yet to be consolidated thereby leading to chaos. Nucleus families, single working parents seem to have no time to play with children and urbanisation is leaving no safe place for children to play. As the chairman of Wipro, Azim H Premji wrote in an article ' India will be radiant when our children are free to dance in the rain" (The Times of India Monday November 14th, 2005). Here Well-crafted story books can take control and Specific Selling Point, of the ethical stories is in such scenario is that they guide the child through the maze of ignorance, confusion and lack of information in an entertaining form and to inspire them to face life with grit and courage by encouraging development of certain attitudes that lead to caring for and appreciation of others specially others who are unlike themselves in the actual world. For every Robin Cursoe, there is one man Friday.

The very fact that though humans are marooned on Treasure Island yet man is not yet an extinct animal is a proof of that we do live by instincts and emotions too. Every act must be weighed in the scale of human values. The highest of all values is love and its fountain is in our body. Like Wordsworth's skylark it soars' true to the kindred points of heaven and home'. Tolstoy wrote, “Where love is, there is God". Great Chinese teacher of the Chan School of Buddhism believed that love succeeds where intellect failed. “Truth like a flower is to be enjoyed with emotional insight; it cannot be appraised by logic".

Humans need to be logical but at the same time we need to be emotional and sentimental too. I further hope that this world will be once again a garden of Eden where there would be trees of knowledge, flowers of love and that this materialistic attitude is temporary - this hope lies in the golden heritage of rich literature treasury and the new books being written- provided the current custodians of pen do not discard either the tool or the will. Writers will have to play a key role in the evolution of one human race- to make the world a global village as far as human values are concerned- an activity as important as social activists in promoting human welfare.

Welfare being our prime concern, we must remember children are like little saplings, needing nurturing and nourishing. After experimenting with chemical fertilisers we are back to organic agriculture, when it comes to growing our food, similarly from pulp fiction we have to see that stories being written for the children are value based. Our children are over stressed and many show certain undesirable tendencies like smoking, drugs addiction and even violence. "These days parents find it easier and less stressing to acquiesce in to whims of a spoilt child than to stand firm and teach values" (Da Vinci Code, Dan Brown). We must see to it that appalling attitude must be stemmed and growth inhibited before the weeds of deceit obliterate the fragrance of the blossoming flowers of innocence or the serpent of violence destroys our garden completely. Feeling the crying need for proper nurturing, I have coined an acronym BRIDLE where authors must venture to extend a helping hand by Building Resources for Intellectual Development and Growth through Literature and Ethics.

Our teachers and parents heavily depended on great classics and biographies of people like Lenin, George Washington, James B Garfield, to imbibe certain values like friendship, patriotism, tolerance and global integration and peace. Continual appeal of certain books like Little Women, What Katy Did etc lies in their demonstration of archetypes of goodness like compassion and charity and motifs of traditional familial bonds. Children's literature is for the celebration of childhood by an adult- a bridge between those who have lived it all and those who are yet to live life. With a twinge of nostalgia about the golden past one writes for those who are to live the golden future. Children have to be prepared to face the realities of life with fortitude. Books really have great impact on the child's psyche. A child’s mind is like a clean slate with one important difference: whatever is written on the impressionable mind becomes indelible and cannot be easily erased and more often than not lasts life long. As adults we have not forgotten the stories read at younger age.

Recently J K Rowling announced that Harry Potter would die. There was great hue and cry. One avid reader said, “Harry is a phenomenon and he belongs to us as much as he belongs to Rowling”. Otherwise too, it would be sending a wrong message. Ruskin Bond feels that “as in adult books, in children's book too the good is supposed to defeat evil" (Death of an icon, Times of India, 2nd July, 2006. There should be no blurring of the line between right and wrong. Good must be clearly victorious.

Considering that for the child his favourite character becomes a role model and that he tries to emulates its characteristics, the responsibility of the writers is really great and hence the genre for writing for children acquires a new dimension. The onus to sensitise the child and offer methods to cope with moral dilemma and inter personal conflict lies with the author. The books should deal with sensitive issues in the lives of young people in such a manner that they willingly accept the way of truth and face the adversities, which usually accompany those who tread the virtuous path. And prepare them to overcome problems accompanying adolescence well in advance that they are not shocked when the time comes when they have to face them. Endeavour should be to achieve universally effective and acceptable social norms that enable the children to honestly strive, thrive and prosper in a complex society. Within the leaves of the books, are preserved certain treasures, which are being fast lost, in the raging war of technology versus nature. The sweet music of the Fir trees growing high on the Alps Mountain still rings fresh though my first introduction with Heidi (Joanne Spyri) was when I still needed my mother’s help to braid my hair. The bond Heidi shared with her grandfather which made her give up the luxurious life to return to her poverty stricken grandfather brings a lump to the throat.

Children's books are so personal and so preserved as part of our childhood that we consider it a sacrilege if someone criticises our favourite books. No one dare suggest in front of me that Heidi is childish book. Dorothy Parker warned all those who might criticise a child's favourite book. She said, “…to speak against… puts one immediately in rank of those who set fire to orphanages, strike crippled boys or…to explain to them that Santa Claus is only Daddy", which unfortunately some parents and writers are doing, thinking fantasies are bad for mental health of the child".

We want our children to be healthy - both physically and mentally and this very want make us worry about them and are irritated when we see them not treading the path we want them to follow. Common refrain through ages has been that there is difference between kids of today and the children we were. We bemoan the deterioration. Caxton shook his head in despair at the decadence in the year 1483. “I see that the children …encrease and prouffyte not lyke theyr faders and olders". In 1570 Roger Ascham, in The Schoolmaster had bitter things to say about contumacious modern youth "Innocence is gone. Bashfulnesse is banished… reuerence is neglected, dewties be confounded and to be shorte disobedience doth overflowe the bankes of good order almost in euerie place".

Not that matters improved in 1693 when Locke wrote in his Some Thoughts Concerning Education that "early corruption of youth is now become so general a complaint"

Even in 21st century our concerns are same. We are still worrying about generation next and wonder whether it has become the misguided missiles to wreck havoc on our culture and ethical values. In a recent talk William Prior, professor of philosophy said, "I talk with a lot of parents who often complain: ‘Our child won’t talk to us'. If I try to have a conversation with her, she’s likely to be messaging her friends at the same time". "When I insist he be home for a family dinner, he says I’m ruining his life". We are locked in a battle for influence, Adults are in direct competition with the child’s own peer group in trying to affect values and form behaviours. If all the children are taught the specific common desirable values there won't be any confrontation and the yawning chasm will be properly bridged.

Over a hundred years ago Edward Salmon wrote “Nothing surprises me more than the ignorance of parents on the subject of literature provided for their children". He would be shocked to see things have not changed for the better. Usually they just pick up books off the shelves to buy their children gifts. They just don't realise that there are certain questions for which the children are gasping for answers. Questions like, How should I live my life? Are there any intrinsic values? Why should I, who aspires to be doctor and am average in studies not cheat or copy from Internet and get my hearts desire as did my deceitful neighbour and now he drives a Chevrolet? Why is morality important? Are there any moral principles which are universally valid?

Can adults give answers off hand to these questions?

Yes, I'd say, provided we read and make our children read ethical stories. Ethical stories free our minds from prejudice and dogmatism as they have a distinct action-guiding aspect and set forth-comprehensive systems from which to orient our judgements and carve a moral landscape in which fits the concrete society oriented values. Just as the wheel was invented to facilitate the transportation of objects with minimum friction, analogously morality was constructed to serve human to survive and prosper.

Some people might ask why we need morals when we have law to check the wayward. But law sometimes permits what’s against nature, homosexuality for example. If we start condoning this, a day might come when there won't be any children. It is a nightmare none of us would like to come true. Instead of telling about safe sex, we should tell them about control- control over everything - from anger, jealousy to physical urges. Childhood means freedom but does not means licence to do any misdemeanour. What we need is morality enforced by conscience which would tell us why it is wrong. Ernest Hemingway said, “I know only that what is moral is what you feel good after and what is immoral is what you feel bad after". Just like we have sanctions for controlling economy of the world, “Morality not being contingent but a necessity " (Louis P Pojman) is a form of social control.

Because we have to share this planet with other people, we have to have some considerations for others too. Eric Berne termed social interaction amongst humans as Transactional Analysis. According to it we interact from one of the three psychological positions known as ego states- Parent, Adult, and Child. Irrespective of age we all are all three rolled into one. Our personality is decided on the basis of these three ego states similarly our attitude towards is decided by our own ethics.

Hence we can say Ethics is about relationships, and justice is necessary in order to preserve those relationships. Children's literature can perform a yeoman service to the society by rekindling the embers of brotherhood, that lie latent in the present generation, through “Words that come from heart" which beats for common cause-welfare of all living beings. I would like to end by reading out a line from my unpublished story let us see our tomorrow. A child cries out when her school is under attack, “Why are we being killed? Terrorist uncle you have seen your today, let us see our tomorrow".


Bibliography (List is exhaustive but just to give an idea)

1. Moral lessons and books given by my parents

2. Ethics Discovering Right and Wrong: Louis P Pojman 2006, Thomas Wadsworth

3. The Moral Point of View” Bair Kurt, Cornell University Press 1958

4. Ethical theory: The problems of Normative and critical Ethics Richard Brandt Prentice, Hall,1959

5. Children's Literature: An Illustrated History Ed. Peter Hunt).

6. C I Lewis, The Ground and Nature of Right , Columbia university press

7. The Moral Sense, Wilson James Q the Free Press 1993

8. The Mountain People, Turnbull Simon and Schuster, 1972

9. Beyond Subjective Morality James Fishkin Yale University Press

10. Concepts of Morals, Stace, Macmillan 1937

11. The cultural heritage of India, Ed H Bhattacharya Rama Krishna Mission

12. Children and Books, May Hill Arbuthnot

13. Stories and Society: Children’s literature in its Social context

14. Various Internet Sites

Neelmani j Bhatia (ms)

101 Vaishali


Delhi-110 088 (India