In the process of growing up, we often stifle our inner child, and lose our spontaneity and joy, regrets Punya Srivastava
Have you seen the Dairy Milk Silk chocolate advertisement series with adults savouring the silky texture of the chocolate, unmindful of their chocolate-smeared faces and fingers, or the stares they attract, in their absorption of this simple treat? At first, I rejected the ad because no adult would behave in such a childlike manner, that too amidst other adults. But on thinking deeper, I thought, ‘Why don’t they?’ Soon enough, I attracted a social media post titled What Indian ads teach us, and the Dairy Milk ad topped the list. “The ad teaches us that people can’t eat a simple chocolate without smearing it across their faces and making fools of themselves,” sneered the writer.
Well, I don’t say that it’s the best way to eat chocolate, but since when did a bit of chocolate around your mouth qualify you as a fool? Apparently, the joy of these few uninhibited moments comes with a huge price tag; that of losing face before the world. How troubling it is to know that most of us are judging every small, insouciant act of others, and in turn fearing being judged. Why don’t we do something simply because we want to? We all know that happiness comes in small packages; still, we are afraid of indulging in these moments.
When was the last time we got out in the rain to join kids in the park for a muddy game of football? When was the last time we wore birthday caps and danced like clowns at a party? When was the last time we slurped on ice-lollies? When is the last time we have played, even if it is a round of cards or a game of scrabble? Don’t these activities give us immense joy? Then why did we stop doing them? Because of our fear of public censure.
I have always loved playing Holi. I remember the Holi celebration in my first year of college. Students celebrated the festival with their outstation friends who wouldn’t be there on the festive day. I remember pleading, in fact imploring, my gang of friends to join other batch mates in the revelry. When they didn’t, I alone went forward and had a gala time with the others. When I came back to my friends, I was given such contemptuous looks that I quailed.
The sense of being a cause of embarrassment for others because of my childish enthusiasm took a long time to wear off. It took me some time to realise that we were all too young to accept each other the way we were.
In our need for peer approval and social acceptance, we stifle our spontaneity and inner child. We strive to live up to the social standards of correct behaviour even if it means throttling our joy. And when we do occasionally indulge in joyous activity, we justify our actions. “Justification is often an act of rationalisation, a way to protect oneself from truly admitting the real causes of our behaviour. Generally, people justify their actions because they do not wish to deal with the cognitive and emotional dissonance it raises internally,” shares Sugandh Gupta, a Delhi-based psychologist providing behavioural training to organisations.
She gives an example. “Sheila likes eating sweets. Yet each time she bought a chocolate, she would tell her mother that she had purchased it for her younger sibling, or that she had bought it in lieu of change. Why is Sheila explaining? Why does she feel compelled to justify the purchase of a chocolate? What is it within her that she is not acknowledging? What happens when she thinks of chocolate? What memory, experience or feeling does it evoke in her? What are some of those emotions that she finds challenging to look at, understand, stay and process? What is she seeking from her mother when she justifies her purchase? Maybe Sheila is reminded of chocolate as her ‘go to’ when her mother was angry with her, or she may remember the guilt of stealing chocolate from her sister,” she explains.
Delhi-based Varun Verma who works as an Assistant Manager in Syndicate Bank, observes: “As we enter adulthood, we shoulder many responsibilities and life begins to change. The inner child gets submerged in this process. Colours start fading, our unquenchable curiosity gets replaced by a fear of the unknown, and we embrace cynicism, which we mistake for pragmatism.”
Varun is the youngest amidst all the siblings, and the most gregarious in the family. “Many people believe that this process is irreversible and that our inner child, once lost can never be brought back but no, they are wrong,” he says.
Varun is indeed right. No matter how much we may neglect it, our inner child never fully dies. It waits for us to return to it, reclaim it, and breathe it back to life. And when we do so, we ourselves get back in touch with our authentic innocence and joy.
Don’t be apologetic
“Most of the things I do today are because I want to. I have always been like this, now even more,” says Anupama Joshi, a Mumbai-based energy healer. For her, it could be eating alone because of a sudden craving, watching a movie all by herself, wearing what is comfortable at functions where she is required to ‘dress up’, going without a bindi because she sweats a lot, fastening a gajra on short hair, or doing a victory dance in the elevator. “I don’t follow rules, and just do what I want to in the moment. A lot of things were a no-no because I was a woman and a mother, but not anymore. There are times when my daughter calls me the kid in the house,” she adds.
Freedom and lack of fear; knowing that you have nothing to lose, lets Anupama be so. After having lost everything unexpectedly four years ago, there’s nothing that stops her now. According to her, the most important aspect of following her heart has been that of not maintaining relationships with those she doesn’t want to, just like a baby feels comfortable with some, and cries in the arms of others. “No more relationships because of being related to someone,” she adds.
In our need for peer approval and social acceptance, we stifle our spontaneity and inner child. We strive to live up to the social standards of correct behaviour even if it means throttling our joy
Nipun Augustin Jacob, fashion business journalist and former correspondent with Life Positive, shares his experience. “I have been passionately fond of dancing since childhood. My parents would also encourage me to dance at family gatherings. Even as a child, I would be the star of the function because of my dance moves. But as I grew up, my parents found my dancing embarrassing, and would discourage me to perform before others,” he says. This curbing of his passion was one of the many factors that depressed him, and made him miserable. It was only after coming to Delhi five years back and going through the struggles of living alone in a metro, that he gained back his confidence, and again met his inner child. “My feet start tapping involuntarily as soon as I hear any music. Today, I am not afraid to set myself loose and dance like no one’s watching. I no longer worry about what people may say,” he says.
“I have started breaking out of my inhibitions for I have been serious for too long,” says Kamal Kishore, a Mumbai-based trained actor and hobby photographer, who recently realised that he had forgotten to smile and be happy. “I am now doing things I didn’t do all my life despite meaning to; like playing with children and animals, and travelling. I am trying to smile and open up,” he says. A scarred childhood left him shy, scared and reserved, and stopped him from realising his own potential. “Everything that I am doing now has made me happy and content like I always wanted to be. I am on a break from professional life indefinitely and I am actually at peace. I don’t have a family, nor many friends, but I am fine. It’s nice to be with myself,” he adds.
Childlike, not childish
I really don’t care about the incredulous expressions I get from people when I tell them that the tattoo I sport on my wrist is the Deathly Hallows symbol from the Harry Potter series. The day I got it done two years back, I sent its picture to one of my closest friends who exclaimed, “This means you have marked yourself as a Harry Potter fan for your whole life!” I wondered, “What is so wrong about that?” How does it matter if, as an adult, I sport a tattoo related to my favourite childhood fiction series? (That the HP series is definitely not children’s fiction is a separate discussion altogether.) Does it make me a lesser adult; an incompetent professional? Does it make me seem childish? I don’t think so; childlike maybe, but definitely not childish. And there is a world of difference between these two terms.
When you are childlike, you are being your innocent, vulnerable self, but with a sense of responsibility. Being impish is childlike, being derisive is childish.
“My friends, wife, father and relatives often accuse me of being immature. But I like to think about myself as childlike, not childish,” says Vikasendu Pandey, an attorney by profession. Despite being in a profession which seems bereft of fun and laughter, Vikasendu has a thriving inner child life. “I am full of enthusiasm and find joy in little things. I tend to forget my problems very easily after listening to Mohammed Rafi songs, and singing along. I play with my eight-year-old son. I ask his friends to include me in their games as a team member and run away with their ball if they don’t. I never get bored in the company of young ones. I never miss riding my bike straight into after-shower puddles. The child within me keeps me alive; it comforts me despite my financial instabilities, career failure, and other difficulties of life,” he says.
“Sit with yourself, listen to your needs, understand your desires, question their presence, think about how they make you feel, what part of you it connects you to. This is a slow, gradual, self-care process which enables us to integrate our adult personality with our inner child’s personality,” suggests Sugandh.
It’s a beautiful world we live in full of lively colours, enchanting sounds, mesmerizing smells, tantalizing tastes, amazing wonders and experiences. Almost every one of us has experienced the joy of living in this dreamland when we were young kids. And we still carry those memories and those wants within. It will do us only good to let ourselves free and release our inner child for a while without thinking too much about our image. We’ll see more colour in every colour and every routine event will become an adventure.
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