Do you remember the greatest mysteries you grew around as a child? Those moments when the world seemed to be a tad bit too confusing and complicated for your feeble mind?
Did you ever wonder why the television never seemed to remember where you left your favourite cartoon, always intent on jumbling up the cartoons you left with all that adult hum-drum called news? Why was it called news anyway? Because it was ‘new’? And why did that TV never know how to keep its heat to itself; or how else did Mum always reach behind it after arriving home and give you a necessary dose for watching telly without her permission? Why on Earth did grasshoppers have green ‘blood’?
I had a few weirder or more vivid kinds of questions with time. Why did the wheels on cars in movies (and helicopter rotors too) always move in reverse? Why the sky is blue during the day and dark in the night, yet the sun and moon had neither of those colours. Why was there always a figure visible in the full moon? Some say they see the proverbial man in the moon, I have always seen what I perceive as Virgin Mary holding baby Jesus in her hands. To be honest, the greatest mysteries of my childhood were offered by the night sky, mapping out the few constellations I could, waiting out for periodic meteor showers, Perseids and Leonids especially, and confusing stars for planets and whatnot.
I once wanted to be the first African to go into orbit around Earth, until I joined high-school and met a creature called Physics. We weren’t best of friends, but we coped with each other’s ineptitudes. And along with Physics and his scientific cronies Chemistry and Biology, and a penchant for some of the more fascinating titbits that non-conventional education has to offer, I, with time, answered all of my questions above, and maaany more. Problem is I ended up with just as many questions as I ended up solving.
Therein, however, lies the beauty of it all. The ability to challenge one’s reasoning, and perceive reality, fallacy and all that lies between with a well-gleaned mind. I’m nowhere near as knowledgeable as I would ever want to be, because that’s a never-ending journey; one that requires endless questioning, probing. Why, who, what, when, how. WHY? WHY, WHY, WHY, WHY, WHY! It’s the never-ending question upon which all inquiry can be based, unravelling all other details along the way.
And it’s the very reason for my disappointment and dismay this day. On the cliché plains of the African savannah, to the red volcanic highlands along the Great Rift, to the formerly fish-laden waters of Lake Victoria and the formerly pirate-infested coast of the Indian Ocean: a child grows, is clothed and fed (presumably) and shipped off to the nearest affordable indoctrination camp. A more humanoid version of zero-grazing, endless rows of ‘vegetating’ young bloods, eagerly (or otherwise) soaking up repetitions of the answer to only one question: WHAT? And endless recitation of facts, accurate or otherwise, unchallenged; in the face of an all-supreme demigod upon whom incorrectness shall never be fathomed, lest you wish upon yourself the worst of reprisals. Fallacies shoved down those virgin throats, burdened with the yoke of semi-construed concepts, and prodded as cattle are to the cattle-dip to leave certain matters on the wayside as they are just ‘too young’ to understand.
What nonsense is that? Who or what set such abominable standards and, better yet, why? The failure of society as it stands today to accept the place of curiosity in the learning curve of any human being (and generally primate) is the very rot that keeps churning out robotically programmed individuals continually labelled as half-cooked graduates. We live in a society that continuously emphasizes on the teaching our children “what” and never “why”, but why? Hiding behind the sacrosanct veil of “knowing-what-is-best-for-you” and such timeless shielding mechanisms, we end up spelling out our own downfall, or at least of those we fail to enlighten.
I learnt enough from myself over the years, and from the challenges thrust at me by a loving mother, not-so-ordinary siblings and very particular teachers and seniors who always demanded more than was the norm; not merely asking for better grades but a continuous understanding and fathoming of what was at hand and beyond. I decided to pass the same onto a little man (who seems to have adopted me as his elder brother, hehe). Lord knows how bemusing it was to see his excitement and amazement bordering on disbelief when I first explained to him what exactly the contents of the Earth’s core are, embellished of course with tales of fiery volcanoes and earthquakes of horror. His utter cluelessness when I asked him why the stars twinkle or whether those lines around the map of Kenya actually can be seen still make me chuckle. He has this predictably masculine characteristic of boys his age (ten or thereabouts): not wanting to be wrong or seen as not knowing what’s cool or not. Take advantage of that and plant in him that slight query, that niggling curiosity, which as always will send him down that rabbit-hole, tumbling down. The tale unravels thus, and never ends.
And that’s just why I refuse to believe one is ever too young to learn anything. If the curiosity is there, feed it; well, unless it’s about the birds and the bees because that is always a gradual process. But never ever stifle genuine, well-mannered curiosity; and where it lacks create it and build it up. This struggle never ends, the inner child never sleeps, the beast inside must be quenched. We live in invigorating times; endless streams of information, accessible at the click of a button, the flip of a page or two, or the random ask of a question. No one is stopping you. Down the rabbit-hole we go.