Of Children And Childhood – What Are They Thinking?

by | Jun 7, 2023

Part of how Basic Healthcare Services takes care of the community’s health is through its Phulwaris, the day care centres. In areas that are off route (what is the route anyway? And what makes so many people build houses so far from each other and so far up the hill?) and difficult to reach that it gets difficult to make visits and take care of children. These are areas where children are in need of care – something they can’t receive all day because their parents are working.

In  most cases, the father is a seasonal migrant following the migration route of south Rajathan to cities in Gujarat and Maharashtra in the western corridor, and away for work. The mother is out all day working on farms or collecting firewood in the vicinity.

The clinic, Phulwaris and government schools (because of school health sessions) are areas where I frequently have direct contact and get a chance to be around and observe these children.


Child’s play here:

  • Older kids-roller skating being dragged
  • Running behind a tyre with a stick
  • Juggling pebbles
  • A game similar to jenga – they make a stack with empty matchboxes and throw slippers
  • There’s a lot of kite flying too
  • Running after each other

For the child is smoking a beedi play too? After all, they are playing with whatever’s available around them and what they see around them except that it’s contextualized. For kids whose moms have smartphones, watching youtube videos is another play.

Oral Stage – They put most things in their mouth and if nothing is around them, it’s going to be their finger or one end of the clothes they are wearing. This leads me to think of the oral stage itself as per Freud’s Psychosexual Stages. Sigmund Freud proposed that personality development in childhood takes place during five psychosexual stages, which are the oral, anal, phallic, latency, and genital stages. During each stage, sexual energy (libido) is expressed in different ways and through different body parts (refer here)

The Absent Father

Most of the kids’ fathers are working in different cities. According to one of the Phulwari workers, they come home once every two months or on festivals or when the kid is sick. But I wonder how present they are in their presence … this could also be one area to look into.  And what about the wife? Is she happier with/out him? What does their (intimate) world look like? The poor kid needs to enter the world fighting. And life is a constant battle. 

What Is The Foetus Thinking

A colleague, conversations with whom always leave me with food for thought asked, “What does the unborn child feel? Is the foetus a separate entity?” My current thought – I don’t think it’s separate because it’s ‘foetus’. It can’t exist if it weren’t in relation to the mother. But this is what I’d ask the foetus I think. Vania, an ex-colleague and India Fellow beautifully described in one of her menstral health session,

“Bacche ke swaagat ke liye ek qamra sajta hai khoon se. Bacchadani mei. Voh khoon ka kamra wait karta hai purush ke beej ande se milne aur baccha banne ka.”

It’s so interesting that life and even possibility of life begins with preparing and making room of/for blood. These children visiting the clinic either cry or sit silently. They don’t play amongst themselves. Why? They look at each other and observe but that’s it. I need to go back to children’s play and attachment. Also, types of play and which play is preferable why and in what context. I also need to understand that the kids are only in the clinic. So if they’re brought for fever or whatever illness, of course their illness has taken over and they’re unresponsive. What I need to see though is whether they are just as non-curious and uninterested in their homes.


There’s so much in people’s eyes and the blinking. Who is how expressive, energetic, melancholic, submissive, almost giving up. I’m thinking of Midnight’s Children, the book, and the sadness and possibility of inequality simply dependent on birth. What happens when you’re born and grown up with flies sitting on you? Later when you don’t shoo them off is it unresponsiveness or just the general response? When flies become a part of your skin. How does this constant flies on skin interruption of smooth sleeping under fan later define parts of personality? 

One kid’s crying in the room and then all new entrants begin crying even before entering because they hear the other kid crying. They already feel something fearful is happening inside. They sense a threat in addition to already having to leave/separate from their mothers. There’s something amiss in the socialization process that children have. This is related to the attachment style. Also the weaning process. If the child is used to only being around the mother or in the same environment and does not play much with other kids, of course the child would cry more when in an unfamiliar environment with so many other people. This is logical. But if these children go to Anganwadis and Phulwaris, why do they still not play and open up and get comfortable with other kids that are present?

A file image from the India Fellow archives, for representation purpose only


In one of our trainings, some doctors from AIIMS Jodhpur came to learn of, from our work. A discussion with them during this training also got me thinking. You need to let the baby seek and reach out for your nipple. So that you don’t suffocate the baby with your nipple. You are then imposing the world onto the child. Give the child space to reach out. See if the child needs it.

Also let the child feel needs and be present for gratification when the need arrives but at least make room for the child to feel it in the first place. Otherwise the world becomes overbearing soon. Because the child feels I have never needed and asked for these. So why is it being thrust onto, into me. The child feels injected, impinged. These are my associations from what the doctor was explaining. Later as I was reading The Secret Garden (The Secret Garden is a novel by Frances Hodgson Burnett first published in book form in 1911. Set in England, it is one of Burnett’s most popular novels and seen as a classic of English children’s literature), it made a lot of sense to think of this in context of Colin and Mary too.

Out Of The Cave And Crying

The foetus has grown and now the world is becoming too restrictive and small and suffocating. The baby wants to push through and get out. It likes the protection and warmth but the space is also quite less so now the child wants to be out. Like Plato’s Cave, you like the cave because that’s your world and that’s what you are used to but you also want to get out of the cave and see what’s outside. And so we are already going out in the world with an expectation and familiarity and idea about the warmth and protection of the inner world. We carry that along, outside.

And then there’s a dissonance between both realities and we are all crying, flailing children in this world and we want to go back to the sheltered cave and womb but how can we return? Even if we do manage to go nearby, we cannot be inside. We are divided always carrying with us carry overs. Also note the struggle, will to not die and remain alive begins automatically in the womb. Before birth begins running away from death.

One more interesting thing is the fact that you are born with life support, the umbilical cord. You need something to ground you or you start floating and such is existence and such is the felt need for purpose and such is the free floating anxiety of nothingness and vacuum and being lost.

I already hold the view that thereafter our existence is living on life support, with palliative measures, anyway. And the minute the child is born, it’s threatened and attacked by bacteria, getting hurt, attacked by the world.

“Adults can change their circumstances; children cannot. Children are powerless, and in difficult situations they are the victims of every sorrow and mischance and rage around them, for children feel all of these things but without any of the ability that adults have to change them”

Mary Oliver in Upstream

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