Why Indian mythical cartoons fail to infuse cultural and moral spirit in children

Whether India is hybridizing in many walks of her national life has been an unprecedentedly burning question for the past few years. But it has already been well within India’s national culture when down the centuries, nay millennia, she accommodated many cultural ingredients found in other regions and people. Years back Arnold Joseph Toynbee described India as an epitome of the world wherein one could see all the world cultures amalgamated. A major tool of social mobility apart, it has contributed in many ways to the evolution of national culture by embracing to its heart people and their cultures from across the globe. Cultural and ideological waves one after the other frequented the Indian shores and the nation’s soul imbibed the suitable, expelling what was otherwise.

This hybridization, as one sees, was different from that of other countries. The US, for example. The world’s biggest ‘melting pot’, it encompasses a myriad different cultures tightly knitted together. Multitudinous of languages, traditions, religions and races has made this hybridization more complex, confusing and even contagious to the undesirable extent of the leading American social scientist writing the US off as ‘Fatherless’. David Blankenhorn of late in his book Fatherless America has brought out the volcanic dimension of this negative development the US has been recklessly undergoing for the past many decades. Had it not been for the sustaining economy, that nation sparse of any idea of cultural harmony and unity would have kissed the dust during the very early decades of its independence. This appalling possibility of America falling apart like a pack of cards is in fact what is vouched of by another American thinker Samuel Huntington in his Our American Nation. But is America in fact a nation? Answers are a legion, all contradicting and conflicting. Unity has been an alien idea to the US’ mammon worshipping economic upstarts devoid of a national culture.

But much waters had flowed, presenting an almost entirely different scenario in all walks of the national life. More than cultural hybridization it appeared rather inculturation helping alien elements creep in. It gave way to the charm and ease of western culture owing to colonization followed by globalization. Urban areas paced fast to cosmopolitan outlooks and heterogeneous lifestyles, leaving role model to the suburban follow the suit. Gradually the rural folk too was dragged to its ambit with the satellite television launched.  Indian society turned hybrid everywhere it turned – in food, dress, ornaments, language, education, lifestyles and what not. Even the little ones were not spared. What should have been nipped in the bud, the children’s TV promoted. Once out of seed, the plant grew among artificialities. If the old or middle-aged ones got hybridized quite gradually, children get hybridized the moment they are born, before being matured to select wisely.

Even the Amar Chitra Katha series when came in for children’s reading, none realized that it was only a narration devoid of the cultural inspiration the traditional literature used to infuse into the little minds. The literatures of India, be they regional or vernacular, were capable of grooming a generation sublime in its outlook. They steeled the moral temperament, enlightened the plains of imagination and developed a national psyche. The stream of social culture flowed down the millennia uninterrupted, preserving and transmitting down the generations the glory that was India. The same was retold umpteen times by the elder generations to the little ones who like the purring cats danced around the former listening to the tales of Rama or Krishna. The school days of Krishna and Sudama, the exploits of the kids, Lava and Kusa bridling the sacrificial horse of Rama, the pranks, heroism and heights of the divine monkey Hanuman, all stood in their proper steads in the narrations of the old. And the little ones had woven a thousand webs of imagination around the many such inspiring characters of Indian epics and Puranas. So much powerful and influential these narrations were that they groomed even our national heroes. It is the stories the mother Jija narrated to her young hero, the little Shiva that made the formidable Maratha Empire and its valiant fighter Chatrapati Shivaji who heading his death-squads avalanched down the Poona hills determined to die for the religion Ramadas preached and Tukka sang. What evolved from the mother’s imagination was an empire and an indefatigable defender of a national culture. Jija’s stories must have been that much inspiring and inculcating that they incubated one of the world’s inimitable but ought to be imitated characters.

Many of the Indian mythical cartoons currently dominating children’s channels, though expected to infuse cultural and moral spirit in the little ones, actually fail in their mission. The inspiring and enlightening messages they should have conveyed gave way to popularity and entertainment. The subtleties and nuances of the itihasa or purana stories, the cartoons are not particular about. The beautifully decked vehicle loses its destination; the kernel is lost and only the shell remains. Most heroes, as one sees in Chhota Bheem, Bal Ganesh or Little Krishna, give themselves completely to violence, speed and power, the quotients of a hybrid culture. The Mahabharata hero Bheem is belittled into a cartoon figure bashing up bad guys or wielding a cricket bat to play 20-20 match. True, the character taken is mythical, but put in the grooves of modern trends to make it more appealing. Despite the Indian traits like traditional fineries, namaste greetings etc. these cartoons only exude the negative message that violence and aggression are the only panacea of many ills. Bheem ceases to be the ideal Mahabharata character to become like He-Man, Phantom and Superman of the western cartoons. The hurry-burry syndrome of today’s tech-savvy generation is exemplified with the powerful super-humans bashing up their enemies in a split second shot leaving no span to retaliate. Chhota Bheem is kid-friendly, but stunts the vital and sublime elements that groom the tender hearts into gentle human beings.

Come to Little Krishna. The darling of Vrindavan who grew up among the innocent Gopis and calves becomes demonstrator of power-packed herculean performances. The plots are recreated into simple parables. Kamsa’s tortures on Devaki, his fear and frustration at Krishna’s birth, Vasudeva’s pangs to save his child – all present the thorny human life well.  But how these are solved by Little Krishna with his funny pranks and super human powers that suit the current tech-savvy world looks very queer.

Bal Ganesh, the elephant-headed God set against mythical backdrop using computer graphics, no doubt, amuses the kids, but looked from the cultural angle draws flak. Caricature of the mythical figure put to silly pranks with the Mooshik or seen somersaulting in the snow cannot be looked otherwise!

Put into sublimely sentimental psychic grooves, these tales like those of Panchatantra and Tenali Ram can no doubt evoke noble emotions in our kids, making them grow into humane humans. Think of the present hooliganism perpetrated, for instance, on our campuses where a majority are seen involved in barbarism, observing the Mahishasur martyrdom, celebrating beef festivals, staging symbolic ‘funeral’ to the outgoing teachers and many an undesirability. The stories and their style of presentation impact greatly on the young minds.

I still remember a little child listening to the serial, Hanuman on the mini screen. The little one seemed painfully annoyed at an episode presenting a pious devotee of Lord Ram being tortured by demons. He did not know what to do. In his over anxiety to see the poor fellow rescued, he asked his mother, “Ma, won’t Hanuman come”? His faith in the divine monkey was such that it became that much stuck in his heart. Hanuman turned out to him not a mere comic cartoon figure, but a great savior of the pious.

Write stories and present them in such a way as to cultivate nobility, character and humanness in our coming generations. Children fed on mere retellings only to amuse can do no good. Puppet shows can breed only mere vegetative species. Hybridization can reduce our country only to identity crisis. Or shall we expect an Indian Blankenhorn write a ‘Fatherless India’?  It is high time we freed ourselves from such hybridizations and eradicated all falsities from the grass root level. We do not want our coming generation to be cartoon figures.