Child Intervention

At the height of the Gaza conflict earlier this year, I approached some of my favourite little human-rearers. They discussed the issue together and these are the solutions their wards offered. The story was originally commissioned by Mumbai Mirror.


Child intervention

First, a disclaimer: This article is not an attempt to simplify or be irreverent about the Gaza conflict. It is an attempt by the parents to inculcate the values of social justice in their children and to explain to them a complex international situation.

Gaza is under siege and the world is tying itself up in knots. Whether you are pro-Israel or Pro-Palestine, there is no mistaking that this conflict and the subsequent death toll. With peacemakers and peacemaking efforts failing, perhaps the answer lies at a more innocent source?

We asked the parents of children between the ages four to thirteen to explain the Israel-Gaza conflict to their children and report the solutions they come up with.

Zoë Smita Deshmukh, 4, New York City


Zoë is a precocious 4-year-old. She has conceptualised a country, Manizao, and detailed its districts, vegetation, wildlife, visa rules and borders. It’s located between India and China, if you are looking. Her soft-toys run a company called Bears At Work where they develop apps that help them make money for underprivileged bears.

“Zoë has recently been developing a sense of social justice,” says her mother Kate Deshmukh. “She recently learnt that some teddy bears live in hotels and they were upset because it cost USD 100 a night. They held meetings with the hotel owners and came to an agreement that one night at the hotel is free and multiple nights are a few dollars.”

Kate explained the conflict to Zoë without getting into graphic details and said that people aren’t sharing the land and sometimes hurt each other. She ended up relating the situations to her bears and projected it on them. “She said the bears were upset and throwing honey pots at each other. But then they sat down and ate honey together and stopped being upset,” says Kate.

Here’s Zoë’s solution: First, they should take a deep breath to make them calm down. Then, they should eat something together. They should eat fruit that’s juicy and sweet because that helps me relax. People are happy when they eat together.
They should think about how nice things will be when they start to share the land. It must be very loud there [because of the fighting], so they should think about how nice it would be if it would be more quiet.

Celeste and Hannah Meyn, 7 and 6 respectively, Bangalore


Celeste and Hannah are Irish twins with very different approaches to life. Celeste is a deep thinker, deeply observant and affected by life. Hannah is happy-go-lucky, with a lighter view of impediments and more focused on the solution.

To explain the conflict to the girls, their parents Benly and Neomi spread out a sheet on the floor to denote Palestine. Then folded in half another sheet to denote Israel. Celeste was Gaza, while Hannah was Israel. They reinforced their territories with increasing number of dolls. Benly personified the United Nations.

“We told both the girls to pretend they were going to have their own countries,” says Neomi. “Hannah didn’t have her own country because her parents were thrown out of their country and she was now living here and there. She then went crying to the UN asking for her own country. The UN takes Hannah to Celeste and gives her place in Celeste’s land. Celeste says it’s her country. Hannah insists that the UN gave it to her too. So they divide their countries. Celeste keeps demanding more and more land saying that the country is hers while Hannah fights back. They both get more ‘people’ to get stronger. They also get their weapons. Hannah had very little people. We told them the people die if they are shot at or bombed.”

Neomi and Benly also showed their daughters what was actually happening in Israel and Gaza through news footage and newspapers.

“They decided that Gaza would settle with a ‘little’ piece of land that they could call their own while Israel would get the larger pie since the land originally belonged to them,” says Neomi. “This they decided only after we told them that the war was really taking place and people were dying. Until then Gaza (Celeste) wanted to continue fighting for her land despite having Israel’s (Hannah’s) people killed. They don’t want any more deaths and said they’d just come to a mutual understanding. Celeste (Gaza) would be satisfied with whatever was given from Hannah (Israel) even if it meant lesser territory. Hannah was happy as long as Celeste didn’t argue or demand land anymore.”

Partho Gupte, 13, Mumbai


Partho’s mother, Deepa Bhatia, insists that Partho scan the newspapers each morning, if not read them in detail. So Partho is clued into what is happening in the world and has an opinion about it.

“Use the experience of the old and the ideas of the new and make the land prosperous. The fight is over ownership of land and that itself is getting destroyed. Soon, no one will have anything,” says Partho. “Sometimes sitting with someone neutral helps…someone who is not emotional about it all. Like when we have big fights in school, then a common friend intervenes and calms the matter down. Then the friends can sit down and talk it out but in the heat of a fight, its difficult to be reasonable. Of course the common friend should have no selfish interest. Sometimes one of the parties must compromise more than the other. Someone needs to have a bigger heart and say fighting has to stop. Ego is a big problem.
Sometimes I wonder whether history is a good thing. Even today Hindus and Muslims in India keep picking fights over small issues, mainly old ones. Resentment breeds hatred and makes you vulnerable to manipulation.

“The land is big enough to feed everyone, house everyone, to keep everyone happy. A plant would not grow if the leaf and stem kept fighting over who’s more important. The greatest of films wouldn’t be not be made if the unit members fought amongst themselves. I know it sounds like a cliche but think about this: ‘Yesterday is history, tomorrow is a mystery but today is a gift. That’s why we call it the present (by Oogway, Kung Fu Panda)”

I want to live in Beaver Grandeur

Since this blog is now official on life support, I am routing some professional work here. Work that has failed to find a publisher. This story was originally written for Caravan magazine, but they realised that had published something similar about Noida a few issues ago. Here it is.

Home is an inappropriate name

Pune’s booming real estate market is Dr Frankenstein’s workshop for names

Pune is dense with real estate activity. Steel skeletons rise kilometres before that wholesome town aproaches. The aspirations of these projects scream: Amanora, a world of WOW; Westernhills, 40 acres of old new way of community living; Signature Life, Life Republic, Belleza, Bella Casa, Athena, Valencia. All painting serene images of the Mediterranean, rolling meadows or at least swaying flora.

There are pastoral images in Elysian, the abode of Greek gods where humans are allowed after death. Slowly, the billboards acquire a tone of desperation. Projects get a compulsive Latin/Italian lilt. You could live in Oystera, invest in Royal Entrada, rent at Linera, be one of the Excluzee, live it up at Liviano, be serene in Senero… Ambition mounts higher — why not be one of those who lives at 24k Gliterrati whispers a voice in your ear.

Above this din, rises a tower of adjectives —Nargis Fakhri invites you to join her at Castel Royale Excellente.

This affliction is not Pune’s alone. My mediocre hometown of Navi Mumbai has an Olive and Shallots housing society. None of these premium ingredients went into the making of the building. Hopefully. But in Pune’s it’s an epidemic. Why is a city, mapped with lyrical and historical names like Prabhat Road, Junglee Maharaj Road, Budhwar Peth and Aundh, perpetuating this ludicrouness?

Advertising and media professional Sopan Sharma tells me its investor apathy. “Most of these properties will be bought by investors in Mumbai or Bangalore. It’s not going to be their permanent address, so they don’t care if the name is ridiculous. It’s just a place to park their money. They will refer to it as XX’s (insert builder’s name here) project in Baner or Hinjewadi,” he says.

Budget homes aimed as residential for the middle class are still named traditionally, using Sanskrit or Marathi names. Then you have a Vaastu Shodhan (finding Vaastu) and Aapla Ghar (our home).

As a consultant, he tries to steer developers towards meaningful names that encapsulate the salient points of the property, but in the end, client is king. “There are developers with rational sensibilities, but they mostly come with a pre-decided name,” he says. Mont Vert’s Vesta, for instance, takes its name from the Roman goddess of house and hearth. “It could even be the result of rivalry,” continues Sharma. “If another developer’s Italian-sounding project as done well, they name their similarly. Sometimes, there’s also astrological compulsion to start the project with a certain letter or include a number in it. Then we absolutely can’t do anything.”

That would explain 43 Privet Drive. 4 Privet Drive, visitors to author JK Rowling’s Harry Potter universe will place, is the Dursleys’s ordinary, unimaginative muggle residence. It’s an anti-thesis to Harry’s magical world. Privet Drive is a place where he is miserable and trapped. Some words are forced together in an Indian marriage, like Aman (peace) and Aura to form Amanora. The internet cannot explain to me the etymology of Bravuria.

A driving force is that the new inhabitants of developing Pune are IT professionals rising up the corporate ladder. Those who want to leave behind the Madhubans and Sadafoolis (forever in bloom) of their childhood and live in antiseptic Florentinas and Florenzas. Keyur Godse, another advertising professional, says Greeko-Roman names are associated with luxury. “No matter if there is not a tree in sight on the property of Florentina. Small-scale developers [who are often the ones with misdirected names] are not interested in making a brand,” he adds. These clients come with a prepared name, with little or no research. And though these names exude luxury, they are most often not plush properties. “Luxury housing would imply a premium location or facilities,” says Godse. “Mostly these projects are located on the developing outskirts of Pune.” That would explain why the Westernhills Townhouse project, for instance, is located in the dusty plains of Baner.

The territory of traditional names is guarded by Puneri developers such as the Paranjpes and the Kolte-Patils. These developers specialise in housing complexes in already established tony areas. However, they too understand the shift and will build a Madhukosh on Sinhagad Road, Yuthika in Baner, Pratham at Sadashiv Peth, Punarvasu at Prabhat Road, but a Xion at Hinjewadi, an IT suburb.

Sameer Desai, director of Seagull advertising, which handles about four real estate developers a year and their multiple projects, says “Earlier developers wanted to be aspirational, international. At that time the names preferred were anglicised. In recent times, developers have become more consumer-oriented. Projects cater to consumer needs — both at a rational and emotional level. These names are either Indian or anglicised.”

A canny developer understands these two different markets — the traditional Punekar and the aspirational outsider — and names the projects accordingly.

“Developers also come in two categories — the Marwari and Gujarati groups from Mumbai and the Punekars,” says Desai. “The former is most likely a partner of local the land-owners, enlisted to develop, build and market the project and deliver a pre-decided sum to the landowner. These prefer the anglicised or Mediterranean names.”

According to him, when a project is designed to meet a consumer’s emotional needs, the developer turns to the native language. “A blue-collar township in the industrial suburb of Chakan is called Aapla Ghar. The tagline is Sarve Sukh-Suvidha Sapan (every need for peace and utility is met),” he says. “Another township near Lonavla, which is famous for an Ayurveda centre, is called Naad Brahma (the first sound of creation). A project of weekend homes is simply called, the Weekenders. The name should reflect the properties of the project.” But he also admits to seeing the blueprint for Vistas without plans for a single tree. Nobody can explain Beaver Grandeur to me.

Pune is metamorphosing as towns must, but when I pass Privé Rio, I wonder how the residents feel about being “deprived of Rio”. Or is it just a concern of the over-thinking Arts graduates?