Happy Children’s Day everyone! And on a more serious note, it is my solemn wish that whatever is happening with the terror attacks in Paris and the world is resolved quickly and peace can prevail again for those who have been affected. I find I have nothing to contribute in words for everything that’s happening in current events, so it is back to my usual blogging…

In honor of Children’s Day, it seems like a good time to share one of my favorite academic pieces to date in a 4 part series. In this paper, I talk about the social construction of childhood, related material culture, and whether an ‘archaeology of childhood’ can exist. It is the first paper I thought of getting published in a journal, but the ideas about ‘childhood’ have probably become a bit old-fashioned and outdated. I wrote ‘Isle of Child’ for my Island Archaeology class taught by Paul Rainbird back in 2007, so the references are definitely on the older side. The whole essay has been divided into 4 blog posts for ease of reading, and the full bibliography of references will be available in the last post.

Please respect my ownership of the words and ideas used herein, and do not use or share any portion of this series, in part or in whole, without my expressed permission. Thanks!

Prompt: Considering the term ‘island’ in its broadest sense, I take a look at ‘childhood’ and critically assess how the  archaeology of this ‘metaphorical island’ informs us about the concepts of isolation and interaction?


**This is Part 1 of a 4-post series**

Isle of Child

Photo by Supreet Vaid

Photo by Supreet Vaid

Introduction

Many attempts have been made by academics as well as non-academics in the ‘West’ to grasp and define the concept of ‘childhood’ and understand its relevance and history in lieu of societal importance; the lack of distinctly marked boundaries between ‘adults’ and ‘children,’ making it a futile attempt to try and incorporate children fully into the archaeological record just yet. Taking into account the ambiguity of terms like ‘child’ and ‘childhood,’ this essay hopes to fulfil a better understanding of these ideas by making comparisons to metaphorical ‘islands’ and using models, terminology and theories` pertaining to island archaeology to solidify this analogy. However, the often contradictory conceptions involved with the indefinable nature of these labels are an unavoidable consequence of such a study. The reasoning for ­­­­­­­­­­­­associating ‘childhood’ with ‘islands’ comes from the Western idea (and my own personal experience) of childhood as ‘utopia’ resulting in such attributes as innocence and bliss – attributes also used by anthropologists in explaining islands and islanders.  However, the recent Western perception of the ‘lost childhood’ will also be considered as a flip side to this coinage.  Being seen as something ‘distant’ and ‘imaginary’ from the ‘known’ world, the possibility of a ‘separate’ material culture of children and childhood to that of adults and adulthood will be addressed in retrospect. And so, notions of material culture, and in fact the future scope of a possible sub-discipline of ‘archaeology of child(hood),’ will be considered and assessed as a way of understanding people in the past better. This essay, therefore, (while always being informed by my personal experience) aims to adopt techniques used in ‘island’ archaeologies as a way of assessing the archaeology of ‘childhood’ (in the West) and determine the extent of its material culture, in relation to that of adults, taking into account the future possibility for an ‘archaeology of childhood.’

Before looking at the various contradicting and complex definitions of ‘childhood’ and ‘islands,’ my personal background will be briefly explained.  This will be done as a kind of reflexive ‘preface’ to understand how my ideas and thoughts about my own ‘childhood’ have biased or informed the kinds of conclusions I make throughout this paper[1].

Concepts Defined

Born and brought up on the largest Japanese island of Honshu was a wonderful experience.  My memories of Japan as a ‘child’ include an overwhelming sense of safety and security in my ‘bubble of happiness’… my Utopia (for history on ‘utopias’ see Gillis 2003).  I never visited the other three main islands (Hokkaido, Shikoku, or Kyushu) while I lived there and rarely visited places inside Japan (see case of Balearics in Waldren 2002: 4-5).  Instead, summer vacations were spent with family in India or on the beaches of Hawaii.  School, family, and friends filled up my life, as did the yearly trips abroad.

It was easier to fly around the world than to go across the country (see Rainbird 2007: 54 for fluidity of ‘island boundaries’).  Ironically, even though I watched hours of Japanese television after school and used Japanese on a day-to-day basis, I was educated and spoke to my school friends in English.  Hindi was spoken at home and with my relatives who also lived nearby, and we often watched Bollywood films that we rotated around our community. As I lived in a Jain, (predominantly Gujarati) community in Japan, I grew up with religious and cultural practices quite different from my Japanese neighbours (see Eriksen 1993: 141 for ideas of ‘cultural entropy’ in Mauritius).  Therefore, I equate an island as being no different from any other ‘land’ in terms of boundedness.

As to the question of what exactly ‘childhood’ is, I would say it is the period between infancy and adolescence, or until a big life-changing event occurs (see Lillehammer in Chamberlain 1997: 249 for similar thoughts).  Personally, I bound my own ‘childhood’ between the ages of four and eleven, when I moved out of Japan[2].  Therefore, I equate ‘childhood’ with ‘utopia.’ However, I do believe there are different lengths and experiences of childhood which are all nonetheless still grouped together as being separate from adulthood with clear cut boundaries that cannot be crossed (for more on ‘insiders’ and ‘outsiders’ see Kohn 2002).

Among academics, contrasting viewpoints have been taken for the meaning of ‘childhood’ in a Western context[3].  Two examples are given below. Firstly, childhood is seen to be a stage in life when humans are asexual and in an “ambiguous phase before they reach sexual maturity” even though they are labelled as being ‘male’ or ‘female’ (Lesick 1997: 35). However, it is my opinion that even children are sexual beings, as they are often ‘taught’ about gender responsibilities through media and toys (see Wilkie 2000: 101-102) and are ‘incorporated’ into a gender category soon after birth through dress, name, and various ‘rites of passage’ (see Van Gennep 1960).  According to Sofaer Derevenski (1997: 195), three stages are undergone to understand gender and the last of them, ‘gender constancy,’ when an individual fully comprehends their own gender identity, occurs at the age of five – putting it well within the range of ‘childhood’ and pre-pubescence.  Secondly, children are also seen to be apolitical, which is contested by Sofaer Derevenski (2000) when she looks at military training of children in South Africa. However, in a Western context there is still little found to suggest that children have political rights (see Buckingham 2000: 195).

According to Buckingham (2000), the main point of contention is whether ‘childhood’ is seen to be a ‘natural’ state of being or if it’s a social and cultural construct.  Those who believe that childhood is a biological ‘given’ that is a mandatory phase of life based on aging (Lillehammer 2000: 20 and Buckingham 2000: 14 for psychology perspective) usually side with ‘childhood as being natural.’  Same goes for those who believe in the ‘loss’ or ‘death’ of childhood in recent times (Buckingham 2000: 3).  Arnold Van Gennep (1960: 61) describes childhood as “the period extending from birth to the beginning of adolescence, or to initiation … whose length and number vary among different peoples.”  This shows that even though part of the biological stance, childhood is not rigid and is contextually based.  It is also their perspective that due to electronic media (television, computers, etc…), children are increasingly more in contact with ‘adult’ themes leading to a premature loss of innocence (Buckingham 2000).

To be continued…in Part 2, Part 3, and Part 4 (end)


Footnotes

[1] Notably the fact that this is written after having left my childhood and biasing my views of it.

[2] To label my own memories and enclose it within an age range is my bias as an ‘adult’ as are all my statements made about how my childhood was ‘a bubble of happiness’ because while I was living the experiences of my childhood, they were anything but ‘great.’  So, childhood is defined by adults (Buckingham 2000: 12) through second-hand measures.

[3] ‘Childhood’ is a culturally-specific term that is understood differently according to region.  Therefore, it will only be addressed in the Western context unless otherwise noted as it needs to be understood fully in our own society before we project ethnocentric biases onto other societies or into the past (i.e. Sofaer Derevenski 2000: 8).  It will also allow me to verify through my own experiences to see and judge who I believe to be right. Additionally, as this is a comparative study with (island) archaeology as well, which is a Western-centric discipline, I thought this would be the best option. However, having said that, I am probably guilty of making the grave mistake of extrapolating and interpreting other childhoods using the Western view of ‘island’ and ‘childhood’ and making the assumption that this is a universal when it in fact it’s only a Eurocentric one (ibid).

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Kudos to my dad for showing me this brilliant YouTube video of Pritam’s Mashup Performance from this year’s GiMA (Global Indian Music Academy) Awards. Not only are the 3 performances brilliant, the video also inspired the idea for this blogs post!

I love Bollywood music and always have. However, I can’t remember lyrics if my life depended on it! Do I sound like anyone you know? Yeah…there is a whole community of us hidden across the world. The only words I can remember (and only after hearing it) are the catchy and overly repetitive song choruses used today. So a mashup is an ideal way for me to enjoy music.

Back in the day, I always felt a bit out of my element in America because other young people would start cheering before even two seconds of the intro of any popular song came on at a dance party, for example, while my own recognition response would have to wait until I’d hear the chorus. May not matter much if you’re just there to dance, but unfortunately, I don’t enjoy dancing and only get on the dance floor and dance if I know the song playing and can sing along to parts of it. I know, bummer for me.

Anyway, getting back to the point, this delayed recognition meant that being in singing or music environments was (and still is) a rather difficult and arduous ordeal for me growing up. Having to participate in a game of Antakshari with family in India by far tops the bill for most uncomfortable situations ever. India Opines disagrees with me and uses cute GIFs to give reasons why it’s the ‘Best Indian Game Ever’ (which apparently requires little skill to play), but I stand by my statement of traumatic (despite the excitement I felt just spending time with family in an entertaining way).

Words Spoken when Starting a Game of Antakshari

For those who don’t know, Antakshari began as a family pastime and singing game played between 2 opposing teams where the first verse of Indian songs are alternatively sung by each group, but the first consonant of the song must match the last consonant sung by the last team (confused yet???). It has featured a lot in romantic films with Bollywood dancing accompaniment (such as the video below from the movie Maine Pyar Kiya) and has even been popularized as a popular Zee TV singing show / musical competition game show since 1993 (hosted until 2006 by Annu Kapoor). The parlor game is also most often played while on a road trip and preferred over collectively watching a movie  in silence, for instance, because it facilitates participation and entertainment for all ages instead of a bus full of snoring and lethargy.

Thankfully the cute little me didn’t know Hindi that well – and knew only one song that started with the letter ma – and would sometimes be unlucky enough to start off the game with my rendition of Hum Aapke Hain Kaun‘s song ‘Maye Ni Maye‘ – jumbling up the lyrics soo bad that I’d become the hilarious opening act for the group. (To be fair, that is a fond memory I retain of the sport…)

Point: Don’t get me wrong, I love watching and listening to Antakshari when there are energetic players on both sides, but being roped in time after time was difficult because I never felt like I could walk away or control the situation. It took me listening to Pritam’s fantastic mashup performance from last month (and the fact I could sing along to all 10 minutes of the clip!) to realize just how uncomfortable I used to get from being dragged into a game of Antakshari in my younger days because I was hopeless at memorizing song lyrics from the beginning verse!

Since November 4th, people everywhere on social media platforms like Twitter and Facebook are having a field day over something Bollywood actor Neil Nitin Mukesh allegedly said in an interview with the newspaper Mumbai Mirror. What has transpired since, and how the story has been blown out of proportion, producing thousands of additionally false and skewed stories, is infuriating and reminds me how scary the power of the internet can be…yet again.

Rumor has it that 33-year-old Indian actor Neil Nitin Mukesh has landed a role in Season 6 of HBO’s Game of Thrones (GoT), offered to him by stunt director of GoT Greg Powell. Powell was also the action director of the actor’s upcoming film Prem Ratan Dhan Payo. Now, I’m not one to go in search of news online (whatever the cost – I find world news too depressing), but I was aware that Facebook was trending this story on my newsfeed a few days ago and again today when HBO denied the claims that such a casting was ever in the works. The newspaper dna analysis came out with its own version on the story on November 8th, outing the actor’s remarks as lies about being cast in the series halfway through filming. The story doesn’t annoy me because these rumors are being exposed. That’s not the problem. What annoys me is that the real target of backlash is unfortunately the actor himself for making such ‘outlandish’ claims  and receiving flak for it.

It took me ONLY 15 minutes of surfing on the internet to catch a better glimpse of the original story behind all the stories (and by the way, I’m no genius, but the fact that even I could figure out where the truths and half-truths lie say a lot about how idiotic this whole situation is). You can read the short Mumbai Mirror article ‘Bollywood’s Prince to Conquer the Iron Throne’ that started it all here. This is a classic case of leading-the-reader by insinuation on the part of the author Avinash Lohana (and editors at the newspaper). In a botched attempt to produce a witty and eye-catching headline, not only is the ridiculously titled piece completely unsubstantiated by the contents of the article itself, but the vagaries in the story writing attest to how easily Neil Nitin Mukesh’s words could be twisted and misinterpreted by readers. Intentional or not, the decision-makers at the Mumbai Mirror are responsible for the actor getting the raw end of the deal. Shame.

To be fair, it isn’t uncommon at all for newspapers to print such hiccups, so the fault lies duly with the readers who swept up the fodder and catapult their own 5 minutes of fame by reporting incorrectly (they now know) the story of Neil Nitin Mukesh and his upcoming role in GoT. Queue loads of memes and tweets that personally attacked the actor’s name and his acting skills.

In this respect, actors are notorious for saying that they don’t worry about negative or crude comments people make about them. As the sayings goes, ‘it’s the media’s job to take your words out of context and reframe them as they wish’ and ‘everyone has a right to their own opinions, even if against their acting’, but in all honesty folks, unless you are a media person or actually have a serious vendetta against the culprit, there is no reason why you (the lay people) shouldn’t respect another person’s humanity, celebrity or not. Being nasty isn’t the answer, like the one that seems to want the actor dead, shown below. This sort of thing doesn’t tickle my funny bone in the slightest!

The fact that this story took a life of its own and became a media frenzy is not my issue. What bothers me and irks me to the core is the fact that such a rumor has sparked mindless victimization and cyber abuse towards the actor. Direct or indirect, Neil Nitin Mukesh has been made a laughing stock and been the butt of many a jokes (for some time now actually), and because of his supposed claims and the hand he played in propagating these claims, it is becoming worse. At the very least, the actor is being mocked for making a cheap publicity (PR) stunt. Whether it was in fact a stunt or not, my nagging concerns are still valid. Find someone to blame and relentlessly beat the shit out of them without repercussion – is that what our generation has learned and enforces? I don’t like it.

…And who hasn’t heard of false accusations of sexual harassment ruining the lives of upstanding teachers and citizens. Or the victim of rape and gang rape being considered at fault. Or not upholding the ‘innocent until proven guilty’ landmark for criminal cases that forever stain the lives of the innocently accused? These are all-to-common occurrences and a testament to the way our society functions and blames first then looks for truth later (if at all!). It’s a scary world we live in, where truth and faith are no longer given importance over first impressions and immediate reactions. I’m not saying everyone is falsely targeted, but it’s happening too much to go unnoticed in society without a vent.

I do want to end on a rather realistic note about the Neil Nitin Mukesh and GoT fiasco, however. There are gaping holes in the narrative available online. The actor’s side of the story is patchy at best, and the stunt director Greg Powell’s side missing altogether. Both individual’s point of views seem to neither be of interest nor importance. In the meantime, the actual contents of the interview and topics covered are buried behind closed doors that no one wishes to open. So, of course, my personal theories on the matter will remain unresolved:

  1. that there was a misunderstanding of what was said vs. what was meant (between the interviewer and interviewee)
  2. poor English word choice used in the original newspaper article that made it difficult to differentiate between a tentative role, a confirmed role, or even the offer just being a compliment from stunt director to actor (despite title using the word ‘conquer’, author did say ‘offered’ and not ‘bagged’ or ‘landed’ role in body)
  3. or that the actor was asked hypothetical questions and gave hypothetical answers about a future role in GoT (which was then written about in a literal way)
  4. where is it mentioned that Neil Nitin Mukesh might get a role in Season 6 of GoT and not a later season?!

The reason, as we all know, for all the gaping holes (and I agree with this rationale to an extent), is the fact that this is not news at all. No aspect of this story requires serious journalism or investigation. It is just a quick ticket to fame that had its limelight by trending for a few days then dying in its own outlandish embers without a second look from anyone. Sparks one day, put out the next. This is the epitome of Page 3 gossip, am I right?

So I have talked about Bollywood item numbers in an earlier post, however, I just wanted to share what I consider to be the best attempt at a proper item number in recent times. Below is a song ‘Mehki Mehki’ from the Abhishek Bachchan starrer Game (2011). It was sung by Shreya Ghosal and picturized by Sarah-Jane Dias using a burlesque form. I really enjoyed it and I think you will too!!

Whether you look like one of these

or like this Venus figurine

No one has the right to make you feel bad about how you look or tell you that you are imperfect in any way.

Fashionable trends will go and come and it makes little sense to follow them blindly. However, it’s important to realize that current western ideas of beauty as thin and slender with a flat belly was not always considered beautiful in the past, and not even among different societies today. In many societies, women who have a bigger derrieres and wider hips are found to be more attractive than those without. Also, many people have also been known to prefer at least a fashionable little bulge on the belly and waist, rather than flat or six-pack abs.

Your body type will be considered ‘perfect’ somewhere in the world, even if it is not in your own community – and this I strongly believe is true for each and every person in this world. Therefore, it is no surprise to learn that if a man or woman wants to be an actor or actress, they need only look for the right entertainment industry in the right part of the world to join. This is why so many foreigners with ‘outside’ roots are becoming commonplace in Bollywood – the Indian film industry – and achieving recognition here.

This brings me to something I remember from my Introductory Anthropology classes back in my undergraduate days. It was relatively early on that we were introduced to the existence of groups like the feeder communities in the United States. Personally I find feederism really interesting because their ideas of beauty and erotica are often at complete odds with our skinny-conscious society. Unless someone does not wish to be fed or gain weight, and is being pressured or force-fed against their will, I see no problem in this kind of lifestyle. Read this article for more on feeders. Comparatively, this kind of force and pressure is not uncommon in our society either, with such eating disorders as anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa affecting so many people, which are in complete contrast to the ideologies of feeders and feedees.

Let me know what you think!

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I went to watch Ek Main Aur Ekk Tu solo the weekend of its release. It was average and mediocre according to me. Reasons that top the list for my reaction to this Kareena Kapoor and Imran Khan starrer are: the shortness of the film (it’s less than 2 hours long!); the lack of pull from the characters to the audience; and the crappy portrayal of romance and friendship. Rather, the leads Rahul and Riana seem to spend the majority of their time boozing and highly strung – if nothing else, then on candy!

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On the flip side, there were also some pros to Ek Main Aur Ekk Tu which includes: energizing songs and music; interesting families characterized for both leads (Boman Irani and Ratna Pathak Shah were especially fab as Imran’s parents); a fun and adventurous portrayal of Las Vegas; and an above average film ending, which is a bit unconventional for Bollywood, unlike the other popular and conventional endings these days… Although I cannot go without saying that the title songek main hoon aur ekk tudoesn’t match the title of the film! Why not have the title and title song be the same and go with convention, but who knows, it may have been a deliberate move…

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Both the leads did a decent job acting in this film. I wouldn’t blame their lack of range in emotion on the actors themselves but on the narrow storyline. It had potential but sadly didn’t come close to achieving its motive. The main drawback being the length of the film. Neither could an attachment be made by viewers to the characters and their plight, nor could the storyline do enough to make us anything we watched past the 110 min running time.

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I’d rate this film a 5/10

Went to the cinema with my gym buddies to watch this film today and was glad I did! Tere Naal Love Ho Gaya stars recent newlyweds Genelia D’Souza and Riteish Deshmukh. Have a look at the trailer!

I love how bubbly Genelia is in this film! She cracks sooooooo many jokes (verbally and non-verbally)! And we loved the way she danced, dressed, talked, moved, and everything else pretty much about her in TNLHG! I don’t know how Genelia is in real life, but I’d be highly surprised if she wasn’t a lot like her optimistic extrovert selves that she portrays onscreen. Her character reminded me a lot of Geet in Jab We Met (opposite Shahid Kapoor) but much fresher!

And Riteish is always at his best in all his films, especially when he does comedy. His facial expression, like the one on the poster, are classic and I hope to see him go places in the Indian cinema circuit. I’ve actually been a big Riteish fan since he played Diwakar in Antara Mali and Abhishek Bachchan starrer Naach back in 2004, and especially have a soft spot for his 2009 film Aladin. I also follow his twitter and he genuinely seems like the nicest guy!

Ok, so the best part of Tere Naal Love Ho Gaya is the chemistry of all the characters with Genelia as the glue. What is great that it stays true to being a Romantic Comedy so there is no drama or typical Bollywood plotline in the climax. It’s a short (running time: 130min) film that makes you happy and carefree. There is cuteness, innocence, childishness and hilarity all mixed into this melting pot of a film. The situation is unrealistic, the girl-kidnaps-boy angle I love, and one of my favorite actresses Chitrashi Rawat has a role in the film as a magician-thief – so what could be better!?

There is nothing overtly special or amazing about this story, but you can’t go wrong with this one. If you don’t mind staring at Riteish and Genelia for 2hrs, then I recommend you watch this feel-good film at least once.

I’d rate this film a 6.5/10