A Hundred Little Flames – 100 Thoughtful Questions from a 4-Year-Old!

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Have you ever listened to the questions children ask?

Have you ever witnessed the evolution of perception, by an infant and gradually through his/her childhood?

Have you ever tried to look around the world and within you through a child’s brain?

If you have experienced any of these, you would know how amazing it is to have around a child who questions incessantly!

A child’s mind and consciousness is an empty slate. As he begins to question and understand things around, fresh thoughts, emotions, facts, ideas, perceptions and just everything get written down on the slate. Said that, when I am the first person my little boy will run his questions to, my answers are the ones that are going to be engraved on his slate. As a routine, it seemed a casual thing to answer his questions. However, the more thoughtful his questions became, the more thoughtful I became in responding to him.

I remember writing twenty of my three-year-old’s questions, last year. It was just the time when his speech was getting coherent. Ever since then, his questioning ability and the questioning context has been widening steadily. Today, as I write this post, the numbers have surpassed my capability of documentation. Nevertheless, the sparks, – the little flames, many of my four-year-old’s questions has ignited in me– are all closely chronicled in my being.

Here’s a list of ‘A Hundred Little Flames’ that has quietly reformed the way I have been perceiving life and living for three decades!

The title of this post is inspired by author Preethi Shenoy’s 9th book, A Hundred Little Flames

Understanding Life & Death…

  • 1. What is death?
  • 2. Where are your grandparents now?
  • 3. If you have never seen your grandparent’s parents and grandparents, how do you know who they are?
  • 4. Is this toy (a battery operated toy which can walk and talk) dead or has life?
  • 5. What is the difference between a dead man and a not dead man?
  • 6. After you hit that mosquito, it didn’t fly again. Is it dead now?
  • 7. Why do people die?
  • 8. Where was I before I was born?
  • 9. How did I come into your tummy?
  • 10. Will my children come into my tummy when I grow big?

“What is death?”

I was stunned when my boy asked this; not because of what he asked but to realize if it takes only four years for a person to start to think about life and death. The challenge was to answer him in words and concepts he is familiar with. I haven’t been successful yet to touch the depth of this topic. Well, for now, he knows what death is, biologically.

Understanding Humanity…

  • 11. Can robbers rob by mistake?
  • 12. May be robbing is bad; but the robber is good?
  • 13. What happens after robbers are taken to jail? Do they become good? – He intuitively understands that robbers may not become good just by locking them in a prison. What logic is it then to take them to jail?
  • 14. Why is it wrong to lie?
  • 15. Why do people become bad?
  • 16. Why is being sad not nice?
  • 17. Are human beings bad? Why should I not talk to a stranger?
  • 18. Why does the man in the petrol bunk did not have a hand?
  • 19. (While eating chicken) Will it pain for the chicken now?
  • 20. Is it right to eat animals?

As a parent, it feels complicated to project about humanity to children. The fact is we don’t live in a beautiful world with beautiful people around and I don’t want my children to grow up knowing this ugly fact.

When he asked, “Why shouldn’t I talk to strangers? Are human beings bad?” a little flame of deep contemplation stirred in me. For the first time, I questioned to myself if human beings are all that bad. Why wouldn’t I want my son to talk to strangers? There have been many circumstances when strangers have helped me in the past. When I was hit by a bike and fell unconscious on the road, it was a stranger who had picked me in an auto to admit me in a hospital. When I had to get down from the train at the station, during my last month of pregnancy, it was a stranger who volunteered to get my luggage down. Why then do I preach my son not to talk to strangers? Am I afraid of human beings? And am I blindly trying to pass my fear to my child? If I would answer him, “Yes, human beings are bad,” wouldn’t I be seeding disaster in his heart?

The little flame slowly fired up to a big transformation of unlearning my blind perception; of discarding insecurity from my subconsciousness and refilling my heart with love and positivity, before I could answer his question. And there I realized what great teachers children are!

Understanding God…

  • 21. How can God protect us after you close the Pooja room door?
  • 22. How can God protect us when you are driving? God is at home, isn’t it?
  • 23. Why do Gods have weapons? Only bad people have weapons.
  • 24. Is God real?
  • 25. Can God see what we are doing now?

Sometimes, when I understand where he gets to through his questions, I realize how familiarity kills curiosity. As a child, when we don’t get a convincing answer to a question, we begin to accept the norm and ditch the curiosity behind. And the life we live, is on thousands of such dead curiosities!

I have been raised up assigning ‘God’ to the idols in the Pooja room. On growing up, as I understand ‘God’ has nothing to do with the altar at home, I am split between respecting vs. ignoring the idols in the Pooja room. What do I do with the idols and photos of the zillion man-made Gods and Goddesses?

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With respect to the subject of God, I decided not to tell him stories which elders usually tell; not to explain him who God is; NOT to kill his curiosity! The process of answering my little boy’s questions on God has helped me acknowledge the triviality of the superficial rituals I had been holding to, all along. I am now able to find clarity in practicing only that which nurtures faith in God and discard the rest which are a mere routine, name-sake, guilt-inducing customs. For now, he understands, there may be (or may not be) a God, who is supposed to be an embodiment of goodness. The rest, I want him to self-realize and figure out by himself. In the process, if he becomes an atheist, that’s okay as well.

Understanding Relationships…

  • 26. What is marriage?
  • 27. When will I get married?
  • 28. Who will I marry?
  • 29. What if nobody wants to marry me?
  • 30. After I grow big, will you still be my Amma?
  • 31. What will you be for my children?
  • 32. How will my children call baby (his sister)?
  • 33. Is Appa your husband?
  • 34. Why are you not calling him as ‘husband’ but while I call you as ‘Amma’?
  • 35. All sisters are girls, but not all girls are sisters, correct?

This was an amusing set of questions from him. Soon after we returned from my cousin’s wedding, he began to think about what marriage is. He still doesn’t understand why people marry but he is excited about the thought that he will get married one day 😛 At first, it seemed as if marriage should be a censored topic for his age but I soon realized the opportunities it gave him to explore about relationships.

Understanding Human Body…

  • 36. How does the heart work?
  • 37. Where is mind?
  • 38. Who is thinking – me or my mind?
  • 39. How do we get energy?
  • 40. How do babies learn to talk?
  • 41. Why do human beings drink cow’s milk, instead of human milk?
  • 42. What if I get lost in a dream; when I wake up, will I still be sleeping on the bed?
  • 43. When we get a cut, where does blood come from?
  • 44. When do germs enter the mouth and why don’t we see them when they enter?
  • 45. Why are pee, poop, puke, saliva, runny nose – bad when they are afterall coming from the inside our bodies?

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I am a biologist by profession (I used to be). However, when my son began to ask questions about the human body, I began to google as though I am learning things from the scratch. I certainly did not study the human body to the level of explaining it to a four-year-old 😆 Not a joke, but as Einstein said, ‘If you cannot explain to a six-year-old, you don’t understand it yourself.’ Nevertheless, I am now a better student of biology than ever before 🙂

When I grow Big…

  • 46. When I grow big, will I touch the ceiling?
  • 47. When I grow big, can I become a blogger like you?
  • 48. When I grow big, will I go to an office?
  • 49. When I grow big, will I play with my toys?
  • 50. When I grow big, what will be my name?
  • 51. When I grow big, can I drive a garbage truck?
  • 52. When I grow big, can I also drink coffee?
  • 53. When I grow big, who will my Ma’am teach?
  • 54. When I grow big, will I also know the human body like you?
  • 55. When I grow big, can I talk to strangers?

This is one of the interesting series of all questions children ask. It says the little things they see in their own future. “What do you like to become when you grow up?” is a common question which grown-ups ask children. And the answers could range anywhere from silly imaginations to serious ambitions. What my boy often asks is, “When I grow big, will I play with my toys?” When I answer, “You may not,” he’ll get sad for a while and then he’ll lighten up saying, “May be I can manufacture toys then.”

Exploring Numbers & Alphabets…

  • 56. Where do numbers end?
  • 57. If numbers don’t end, why does rupees end in 2000?
  • 58. Which is big, 1 0r 10?
  • 59. Why is coming 1st in a race big then?
  • 60. Is SQL a word?
  • 61. But you said alphabets make a word when put together?
  • 62. How will you know which alphabets make words together?
  • 63. Why do rhyming words always rhyme at the end? Why can’t it be rhyming at the beginning, like technology-mechanic?
  • 64. Why do some words have 2 same alphabets like 2 ps in Peppa Pig?
  • 65. Shouldn’t it be called PEE-nix mall because it begins with P? Why are you pronouncing it wrongly as FEE-nix mall?

I am not sure if he can recite A to Z in order while many children of his age can read and write words and sentences. I am not worried though because I am confident one day in life he will eventually learn his ABCs. For now, he is in the process of exploring alphabets and numbers on his own. He is mixing and matching several alphabets together hoping one day, one of it will make a word. He keeps adding random numbers to come up with their sum. He has taught me how to learn and that becoming a learner is more important than what we learn.

Learning about the things around him…

    Earth

  • 66. If earth is rotating, why are we not rotating?
  • 67. What is at the top of earth?
  • 68. What will happen if earth moves faster?
  • 69. When will earth stop rounding?
  • 70. Which moves faster – sun or earth?
  • 71.Does earth have a stand (like in the globe)?
  • 72. Where do the clouds move to?
  • 73. Why doesn’t a rocket carry passengers like an aeroplane?
  • 74. When it rains in Chennai, will it also rain everywhere in the world?
  • 75. How does water cover one country on all sides (island) but not the country next to it?

    Electricity

  • 76. Where does electricity come from?
  • 77. How do birds sit on the wires? Won’t they get a shock?
  • 78. Can fan run on a battery?
  • 79. Why clocks don’t need electricity?
  • 80. Why do the wires we see outside are always high?

    Money

  • 81. Why should we give money to buy a chocolate?
  • 82. Why can’t we take money from ATM? (When I say something is expensive and we don’t have enough money to buy)
  • 83. Why do some people have more money while some have less?
  • 84. Why can’t everybody do a job which gives them more money?
  • 85. Coins are heavier than notes. Why then is the value of coins lesser than notes?

    Nature

  • 86. How does sunlight get darker?
  • 87. How do plants grow without eating fruits and vegetables?
  • 88. Why are some things made of metal, some of plastic, some of glass and some of cardboard?
  • 89. When will we get an earth quake?
  • 90. Is magic real?

   Places

  • 91. Why doesn’t it snow in Chennai?
  • 92. Why don’t we need passport to go from India to Bangalore? (He often equates Chennai to India)
  • 93. Why can’t we go to America by train?
  • 94. When it is early morning here, what will it be in America?
  • 95. Why do some people don’t speak Tamil?

    Some Personal Questions…

  • 96. Why did you leave America to come to Chennai?
  • 97. Who is your best friend?
  • 98. Are you a doctor?
  • 99. Who will be the baby’s mother? (He asked this when the baby was in my tummy)
  • 100. Why didn’t you go to office?

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