On November of 2013, during the morning Sun TV program, my favourite speaker, Sri Suki Sivam, talked on the subject of who is a good speaker. ‘Merely babbling something or making sound is not the mark of the good speaker. He should know the pulse of the society and tell the truth to the people why and where we went wrong’, he said.
In order to ‘communicate’ his view, he quoted two important thoughts of the famous Tamil writer Azhagiri. One is from Kambaramayana. Kammban used the same tune (sandam) to describe the walk of both Sita and Surpanaka. What is the difference between them? While Sita naturally walked beautifully, Surpanaka tried to walk beautifully (to seduce Rama).
Another thought of Azhagiri is about children. While a child loves us naturally, we pretend or act with them as if we love them. Children don’t act unnaturally, whereas we do it all the time.
Then Sivam said that he learnt a good point from this thought; he too should not pretend with children but should treat them as a fellow human. To further illustrate his point, he quoted one incident from a Zen Master. When that Zen master was playing hide-and-seek with some children, he hid in some hay. Since the children could not find him even late into the evening, they all went back to their homes. But the Zen master continued to remain inside the hay. The next day, when the owner of the hay came to feed to his cattle, he saw the Zen master. The Zen master told him not make any sound since the children were looking for him outside.
According to Sivam, that Zen master did not act or pretend to be a child, but really behaved like a child with the children. ‘This is the true mark of a jnani (wise man). Thayumanavar also said that a true wise man will become like a child’.
My question is: can we actually treat a child as an equal to us? For example when we feed a child, according to Sivam, we use certain words imitating the child’s words. But for me this is not acting, or pretending, or not showing our love to the child. This is what is called “the art of communication.” We should become ‘childlike’ to communicate with a child.
If a child refuses to eat, then can we rebuke him as we do with a grown-up child? Above all, when we temporarily act or pretend like a child, not only does the child enjoy it, but we and other members of the family enjoy it too. We should rather treat a child as a child and never as our equal to our respective stage.
When a grown-up person actually acts or pretends using words or mannerisms with a child, she can do that because of her love the child. If she does the same with grown-up, they will think something is wrong with that person, but not the child. This is a universal phenomenon with all grown-up people in the whole world, particularly parents.
Coming back to the Zen master, if I were in his place, I would never have remained inside the hay while disappointing the children because they couldn’t find me. I did this one time at Varanasi when I was staying with one family. I was playing the same hide-and-seek game with two children. They kept a mattress on an easy chair, and I hid inside the mattress.
The children searched the whole house. The house was locked inside, so they know that there was no chance for me to go outside and the terms and conditions of the game were that we should hide somewhere inside the house. As they failed to found me, they sought the help of their father. He too joined, and to his amazement they could not found me.
At that point, the children started to get disappointed. Since I didn’t want that, I gave them a small hint where I was hiding. Then one child saw that, and he ran and found me. After that, there was a lot of joy and shouting as they finally won the game after searching the whole house in which their father had also failed.
Similarly, if the Zen master was serious about becoming or behaving like a child, he shouldn’t have disappointed the children but helped them find him. This is not cheating, or acting, or teaching the children something wrong. When we play with children, the aim is to make them happy and they should win. At that time, the ethics of the game given by grown-ups won’t work there.
A wise grown-up person will always see that the child wins the game even by pretending that she is losing it. For this, she will give some concession. When the child finally wins, she will run and tell her father she has defeated her mother with a beaming smile and lots of laughter. By giving such a concession, a mother is not teaching the child something wrong by not following the rules of the game strictly. When we play with a child the only rule in that game is that the child should win.
Suki Sivam is one of my favourite speakers in Tamil. Though I agree with him that a good speaker should know the pulse of the people and time and tell the truth, a speaker should not pretend that she is a different one just for the sake of saying something different.