The science behind those cultural blah blahs?

“Look at the moon. She is so beautiful isn’t she? She is watching over you, my little girl”, says my aunt to her one year old daughter, that she holds on her waist as she walks the perimeter of our front yard, feeding her dinner.  Years later while I will be sitting here in North America as an educator, speaking with multiple people on the subject of child development, and I will realise the importance of simple acts like that. It was an introduction to nature and creating love for it.  This could be one reason why the moon has so much significance to me to this very day, because I grew up with fables of the moon.  Culturally there was no significance to sitting at a table and using cutlery, yet that little girl will one day grow up to be a fine young woman who is well-versed in her table manners.

A 7-month old tries to crawl on the newly mopped floor to grab puffed rice flakes.  While on the floor, the baby sees its target at an achievable distance.  The drool is the impetus to reach it and hence strive for it.  He makes what seems to him as a herculean effort, to move his body weight towards the puffed rice.  With each move he reaches closer and his eyes fixate on one, while his fingers land on one. He grabs it and barely manages to put it in his mouth.  In a simple act like that lies concentration, fine motor skill development, self-direction and a few moments for the mother to take a breather from her little busy-body.

My sister sings as she holds my 8 month old on her lap.  She is sitting on the floor, cross legged, as she puts him on her lap facing him.  He wiggles resisting her attempts at getting him to nap.  She gently puts up a power struggle, one he is not likely to win. She taps his back and his bum simultaneously, rhythmically to her own tune.  He slowly drifts into deep sleep, as she picks him up and puts him in a swing that is made from old muslin cloth (typically the mom’s saree that carries her unique scent) that hangs from the ceiling of our bed room.  The soft, breathable cloth snuggles the baby in a swaddle.  Significance ? Introduction to music, rhythmic beats, smell of a familiar body, being swaddled like in the womb, bonding with family members.

My mom feeds lunch to my children.  They begin to feel full and protest as she excitedly narrates yet another cultural story.  Both of them finally realize her efforts are for them to finish their meal and simultaneously put up a strong “no”. And she says to them, “The strength of the entire meal is in the last bit on your plate – koopi.”  I was raised to finish every last bit of food on my plate and as I had children I taught them similarly and for whatever reason, that Koopi story stuck to me and I passed it along.  A silly belief, yet such a powerful message about the importance of food and its wastage.

My dad tells me a story from his understanding of mythology. It is the same story I have heard a million times before, that he has narrated at my behest.  Yet every character has a different feel, a different adjective attached to the very same incident, just to give it a different angle.  And in the end, the message is always the same – it is one of goodness. Lesson : Go to bed with a healthy thought and you will sleep peacefully.

Cultures follow what is a norm  without questioning it.  However, they perhaps were born from a certain significance that was innate to humans – respect for nature, following the natural development of children, creating a love for music, respect for food and so much more. I am so blessed that I was born in a culture and was given an analytical mind to question what I was raised with, only to realize it is that I was raised with such values that reinforce what is so organic to human nature.

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