It all started when my son had to prepare to speak about the Word of the Day in the school assembly program. The word he got was “timid” which means showing less courage. And a sentence “A mouse is a timid creature.” While this in itself is not exactly a thought-provoking event, it did set the ball rolling in a series of confusing statements that our society makes.
Now going by this particular example, a child would grow up thinking that a mouse is a cowardly kinda creature right? But what about all the stories that are also told about his insignificant animal? Remember the one where a daring mouse climbs all over a sleeping lion just for fun? The lion lets him go and the mouse promises to repay him this life debt. Then when the lion is trapped in the hunter’s net, the mouse cuts it open and frees the lion. Is that something a shy person would do? Or one who was a coward?
Let me tell you another one that I grew up with. It’s the story of a little girl mouse that dropped into the lap of a sage. He transformed her into a human and adopted her as his daughter. Everything was going great till the day approached when they had to look for an appropriate groom for her. The Sun said that Clouds were superior to him since they could cover and hide him at any time. The Clouds confessed that the Wind was stronger and could disperse them at will. The Wind praised the resilience of the Mountain that would not budge no matter how strong he blew against it. The Mountain said that it was not invincible since tiny mice could make holes all over it. And thus, the girl was once again transformed into a mouse and wed to another. While the story goes on tell that what is inherent in a person never changes, I do think that there is another moral. Don’t judge a person by his size – even a small mouse can make a strong mountain tremble in fear.
Since I have already proved how brave these little creatures are, there’s another story that talks about their intelligence. Once there was a house full of mice. A cat heard of this and decided to settle down there. Every day was a feast day till finally the mice realized they had had enough and stopped coming out of their holes. In order to draw them out, the car hung itself upside down from a peg, pretending to be dead. But the clever mice saw through the trick and didn’t fall for it. They had learnt from their mistakes and knew that what was once dangerous, would always be so.
Why waste so many words on an animal that can scare the daylights out of me? Well, it’s not just about this creature in particular. It’s about everything we have been taught. Life is so full of contradictions that are confusing enough for the adults, but think about the children! Like, “Don’t hit anyone” yet “Always know how to protect yourself”. Or, “Always listen to elders and what they say” but “Don’t follow anyone blindly”. I am sure you can find plenty such sayings that are common to your cultures as well. The fine line between the two is so subtle that we have enough difficulties tight-roping it across. Now, imagine the kids.
We grew up with stories of Goddess Durga and Kali, who can make their enemies quake in their boots at the sight of their righteous wrath. They are protectors and destroyers. They are strong and can do that which no male God is capable of. Living in the land that worships such ideals, it then feels strange that a girl cannot go anywhere alone and feel safe. She is considered the weaker sex. Or she has to accept all the restrictions that will then ensure her safety (maybe). Or that a rapist can go scott free but the victim will forever be tarnished. Or even, where the primary teacher of a child (the mother) has not had the privilege of formal education.
So many contradictions, what do you believe in? What do you teach? Where do you draw the line?