I have been watching with some amusement over the last few days, as the open letter to Honey Singh from a parent gets Twitter and Facebook mileage.
It is rather remarkable that so many parents believe the responsibility to ensure that their children don’t learn “foul language” rests with Honey Singh, and not themselves.
Clearly, parents would rather have films avoid all depiction of alcohol, smoking, and all that is deemed vulgar, lyrics censored and books rewritten, than have an open discussion with their children about sifting through the various stimuli that come at them.
Children are impressionable, parents are busy, and therefore pop culture needs to stifle itself. Umm. Not quite.
When I posted my opinions on Facebook, a couple of parents agreed with me, saying it becomes rather easy for people to blame pop culture for its “evil influence” on their children, rather than choose not only what their children are exposed to, but also how they react to the exposure.
Most people took umbrage. Apparently, parents don’t want to be seen as “controlling”, and therefore the onus is on society to censor itself.
The fact is, I haven’t involuntarily heard a single Honey Singh song. I Googled him around the time of the “Balatkari” controversy, and that was the first I had heard of his music.
Our channels take their moral policing so seriously that they beep out words like “ass”. So, Harvey Two-Face in India is grateful for Batman for “saving [his] beep.”
However, most entertainment channels are in competition to produce reality shows involving children.
Worse, they find parents who are only too happy to enter their children in these contests, and who weep miserably when the children lose.
First of all, the idea of reality shows for children is cruel and ugly. But, if you must enter your child in one, the least you can do is be supportive, and show him or her that winning is not everything.
Often, it appears to me that the majority of parents doesn’t monitor their offspring at all, and then whines about pop culture.
Children are incredibly sexualised these days. I know parents who dress their children up in item number costumes and itsy-bitsy bikini, because “this is the only time they can wear it”.
Some find it “cute” to make their children dance to item numbers and ape the moves of the actresses.
The latest rage is usually an item number, and these songs play at all events from weddings to children’s birthday parties.
The fact is, they ideally should not be playing at events which are open to all ages. The fact also is, parents should not blame the makers of such music, but the people who choose to play the music at these events.
Those of us who are in our twenties and thirties now – many of whom have little children – grew up during Silk Smitha’s heyday.
Our excitement with television – which acquired cable when we were little kids – and our parents’ lack of paranoia precluded our being shielded from these.
However, I don’t think my friends grew up thrusting their nonexistent busts at imagined cameras. I certainly didn’t.
Like most children, I turned to the adults in the family in order to temper my opinion to the norm, through imitation.
My mother would usually shudder at the songs, and my takeaway was the addition of the word “vulgar” to my vocabulary.
My friend, independent journalist Sandhya Menon, who has two young children, made an excellent point about replacing dialogue between parents and children with bans.
“I was impressionable, just like scores of kids are, but I also had a solid, gentle, equal conversation going with my parents so that I could parse the crap and decide for myself. The minute you as a parent take away conversation and replace it with bans, judgement and authority, you’ve lost the chance to raise a kid who can think for herself and in fact say, yoyowhatsisface is an idiot.”
She also agreed with the idea that one cannot demand that another forfeit his or her right to speak: “As for the general argument that [children are] being exposed to it outside the home, well, they’re also being exposed to consumerism, greedy competition to top a class no matter what the cost, and carbon monoxide.
To feel as a parent you have the right to ask for sanitisation of pop culture or curb expression is a tad self-important.”
So, perhaps, rather than blame Honey Singh for their children’s vocabulary, people ought to see that they have failed as parents if they refuse to keep channels of conversation with their children open, and refuse to understand that children are not imbeciles.
They can be trusted to make their decisions, because they look to guidance from people they trust – most often, their parents.
I know several children who have prompted their families to turn vegetarian by pointing out that it is cruel to eat animals.
I have little cousins who chide me for littering, and for buying plastic bags because I can’t be bothered to take a bag along when I shop.
Usually, they tend to have some effect, chiefly because it’s embarrassing to be told off by someone half one’s size.
My point is, children can sift through what’s right, when they are empowered to do so. When we shun the responsibility and blame pop culture, we are infringing on the rights of other people.
I don’t care for Honey Singh’s music or lyrics, but he does have a right to continue doing what he is. I have a choice between patronising him and rejecting him. So do the children.
Read more by the author:
Dhoti row: Why are we so obsessed with clubs?
Sexual harassment: When cops turn criminals
Can we create a secular India?
Nandini is a journalist and humour writer based in Madras. She is the author of Hitched: The Modern Woman and Arranged Marriage. She sells herself and the book on www.nandinikrishnan.com