I have been at a loss of verbs (pun, yes!) looking for, as my client asked, a ‘softer’ replacement. I have been wondering what words can be soft for acts that are outright cruel. So if the villainous king kills babies by throwing them against the prison wall, how can you tone the sentence down without losing the essence of the story?
I was recently given a writing assignment where I had to rewrite Lord Krishna’s life story for the reading of children starting as young as five. And in times such as ours when even calling someone fat (who is naturally so) is formally incorrect, imagine writing on Krishna’s life without having to use all those forbidden words is next to impossible. Just like writing on any mythology from around the world. They are full of acts committed by good and bad people alike such as deceit, murder, rape and all that is agreeably heinous.
So how far should you really go to tone down a mythological story for an extremely young audience? Yes, Lord Krishna as a child loved to ‘steal’ buttermilk from his neighbours’ houses. As he grew up, he loved to ‘flirt’ with village girls and the other characters in his story line, like his uncle ‘killed’ babies upon babies by ‘bashing’ them against the prison walls searching for the correct baby. His adopted sister was ‘dragged’ to the royal court when her ‘5’ husbands lost her, along with their kingdom in ‘gambling’. They tried to ‘disrobe’ her. So in short, what you have here is stealing, flirting, killing, bashing, gambling, selling your spouse and a near-rape. Now all this makes an interesting read for story-lovers but toning it down for little children! Yes, you want them to read mythologies as early as possible and without telling them that the good characters too indulge in acts that are absolutely unacceptable. How do you do it?
I couldn’t. Yes stealing was replaced by ‘took’. But the softer verb ‘took’ changed the real meaning, right? I changed the word bashing to flinging though that was also not happily accepted by my client. I left it on him to find a softer word. My mum suggested an adverb to bring down the impact, ‘casually throw’. I think it is as horrendous as merely flinging. The uncle was anyway throwing the babies in a fit of rage! And disrobing the dress was replaced by pulling. They all sound equally bad! Why would you want to pull someone’s dress!
Never having read on child psychology I find it difficult to apprehend on how a child gets affected while reading or watching something he or she really shouldn’t. All of us, including children, are different. We react differently to a particular situation. My daughter, who is ten, read an article in the newspaper nearly a year ago on how two babies died in a car due to heat as their negligent parent locked them inside the car while he/she shopped for hours. Every time when she feels hot, she is STILL reminded of that incident and talks about it. Yester night, she remembered about it when she felt warm after she had taken the quilt! She just has that episode stuck in her head and no matter how hard I try, I fail to explain things to her. And this is factual news that she read in the newspaper, so I can’t even tell her that it is just a fabrication or she shouldn’t be reading such news. This is how she is and not all other kids of her age are like her. Some will glance through the news, some will go deep and some won’t even bother reading! But who is learning what and when is a very subjective matter.
So my two bits, be truthful (ok, you don’t have to give vivid details) and have a disclaimer in the beginning. After all, a very young child is not expected to read/watch without his parent around! A parent is the best judge to tell if a specific story containing all these unacceptable episodes is fit for his or her child or not. But, leave the story alone. Especially mythology.
(image courtesy: http://www.cliparthut.com)