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6 Nursery rhymes that are NOT as ‘cute’ as we thought they were!

Pareshan Parents

6 Nursery rhymes that are NOT as ‘cute’ as we thought they were!

6 Nursery rhymes that are NOT as ‘cute’ as we thought they were!

We live in a world where we are constantly being reminded of the dangers of screen time, unmonitored social media access and exposure to violence on TV and in movies. Every other day, social media is rife with the ‘latest’ research and articles warning parents about the harmful effects of these on children, especially young ones.

And yet, if you look deeper at some of the stories and nursery rhymes our children are exposed to from a very young age, you might end up baffled or even terrified at the subliminal content. In fact, most of us have been raised listening to these fables and rhymes, without really questioning or pondering over their meanings. However, children today are much more inquisitive and vocal than we were and hence, we need to pay more attention than ever before to the content they are being exposed to – not just on TV and social media but through books and songs that have been around for eons!

1.Lakri ki Kathi

My four-year-old learnt the Urdu nazm, Lakri ki Kathi (Frame made from wood) last year but while singing it recently, he asked me what a hathora (hammer) was and without thinking, I began to translate the rhyme from Urdu to English. However, after the first line, Lakri ki kathi, Kathi pe ghora (A wooden frame, a horse on the frame), I had to stop. Why? Because while translating, I realised how insanely cruel the words were! This is how the rest of the rhyme goes…

Lakri ki kathi, Kathi pe ghora

Ghoray ki dum pe jo maara hathora

Daura daura daura, ghora dum daba ke daura! 

 Which loosely translates to:

A wooden frame, a horse on the frame,

When we struck the horse’s tail with a hammer,

Off ran the horse, with its tail between its legs!

Ummmm….WHY would you want to teach your kid to be cruel to animals or subliminally tell him/her that it is okay to watch someone being cruel to animals because that’s the message their little minds may receive if they are being taught to ‘cheerfully’ sing a song about a horse being hit on its tail with a hammer!

This disturbed me so much that I thought through all the nursery rhymes that he has learnt so far both, in English and Urdu, and also the ones that I learnt in my own childhood. And to my horror, I found that some seemingly innocent rhymes that we learnt, and in turn teach our kids, are fraught with shaming, animal cruelty, morbidity and more.

2. Three Blind Mice

Three blind mice, three blind mice,

See how they run, see how they run,

They all ran after the farmer’s wife,

Who cut off their tails with a carving knife,

Did you ever see such a thing in your life,

As three blind mice?

The anti-animal rights sentiment in this poem is not even subliminal! Rodents are a menace, yes, but touting “cutting of their tails with a carving knife” to children aged four to eight years old just doesn’t seem right, does it?

3. Machli Jal ki Rani

Machli jal ki rani hai,

Jeevan uska paani hai,

Haath lagao ge tou darr jayegi,

Bahar nikaalo ge tou marr jayegi!

Which loosely translates to:

The fish is the queen of the water,

And water is her life,

If you touch her she will get frightened,

If you take her out of the water, she will die.

While some may argue that this teaches children that fish need to be in water to survive and that they shouldn’t take fish out of water, what about those kids who need to find out things for themselves and take everything on as a challenge? I can bet there are some children who would feel the need to grab a fish out of the fish bowl just to see if it would indeed die when taken out of the water. While doing my research, I came across an article where someone had pointed out that a child they knew was learning Hindi in the US and he was being taught a slightly modified version of the poem,

Machli jal ki rani hai,

Jeevan uska paani hai,

Haath lagao ge tou darr jayegi,

Bahar nikaalo ge tou so jayegi! 

Clearly, they thought that talking about death (Bahar nikaalo ge tou marr jayegi)) might be too much for young children and hence, replaced it with Bahar nikaalo ge tou so jayegi (If you take her out of the water, she will fall asleep).

I personally like the modified version. Don’t you?

4. Ring Around the Rosie

Ring around the rosies,

A pocket full of posies,

Ashes! Ashes!

We all fall down!

Sigh…I know you thought this was simply a rhyme about going around a rose bush with pockets full of posies and sneezing until you fell down. So did I. But as absurd as the words really seem, the background to the rhyme is actually morbid. Apparently, it is actually about a plague that killed around 200 people in the 1300s. The ‘ring around the rosie’ and the ‘Ashes! Ashes!’ (sneezing) refers to symptoms of the plague – a ring-shaped rash on the skin and sneezing – while ‘pocketful of posies’ refers to people carrying sweet-scented things in their pockets to camouflage the constant stench of death.

 Not exactly cheerful, right?

5. Rock-a-bye Baby

Rock-a-bye baby, on the tree top,

When the wind blows, the cradle will rock,

When the bough breaks, the cradle will fall,

And down will come baby, cradle and all.

Like many mothers, I am guilty of having put my baby to sleep while humming this tune. In retrospect, thank God babies can’t understand what we are saying because if they understood the words of this nursery rhyme, they would never sleep.


6. Nani Teri Morni

 I have always loved this rhyme but on taking a deeper look at the words, I am not so sure anymore. Some of the lyrics go something like this:

Nani teri morni ko mor le gaye,

Baaqi jo bacha tha kaalay chor le gaye,

Un choron ki khoob khabar li,

Motay thaanaydaar ne,

Moro ko bhi khoob nachaya,

Jangal ki sarkaar ne,

Nani teri morni ko mor le gaye,

Baaqi jo bacha tha kaalay chor le gaye.

Which loosely translates to:

Grandma, some peacocks took your peahens,

And the black thieves took what was left,

The thieves were rightfully reprimanded by the fat policeman,

While the animal kingdom did justice to the peacocks,

Grandma, some peacocks took your peahens,

And the black thieves took what was left.

My son is at that stage where he’s learning descriptive words and he’s very vocal so I spend my days telling him NOT to point at people, NOT to say things like ‘fat Aunty’, ‘old Uncle’, ‘brown girl’. And then, along comes Nani Teri Morni with terms like ‘black thieves’ (kaalay chor) and ‘fat policeman’ (motay thaanaydar).

Makes me want to smack my head into a wall!

There are some arguments about how thieves in olden times would blacken their faces with soot to conceal their identity and hence, the term ‘kaalay chor’ is used. In fact, if you notice in the video above, the thieves have actually been shown to be dark-complexioned! But we live in different times  where issues like racism, body shaming, animal cruelty and bullying are REAL – and it is imperative to use caution when exposing our children to content.

Just like we modify our methods of teaching for each passing generation, content needs to be modified too, to take these issues into account. Why confuse children by telling them to be kind to animals and then making them sing about a horse being struck with a hammer or mice tails being cut off with knives? Why tell them not to point out people’s complexions or body size and then cheerily sing about kaalay chor and motay thaanaydaar?

Don’t you think?

A thinker, reader and writer, always trying to make sense of this world and always seeking justice, mother of a fiesty three-year-old who has taken over her heart (and life!)

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