Background: A little boy about 5 years old was asking me some questions. He only knows Telugu. I only know enough Telugu to follow a conversation when I know the context and my vocabulary is limited to a few common words.
I will call the boy A and myself K.
A: Nee nana per enti? (What is the name of your father?)
I tell him my father’s name
A: Ekkada unnaru? (Where is he?)
Me: Leru (He isn’t. I didn’t know the appropriate way to express the fact that a person is no more in Telugu)
A repeats the question, apparantly not understanding my answer.
I repeat the answer, not knowing how to make him understand. This goes on a couple more times.
A: Chachi poyara? (Is he dead?)
Me: Aaunu (Yes. I would have used less explicit language had I known it.)
A: Evaru champeshadu? (Who killed him?)
I was too shocked at this point to respond properly and anyway I wouldn’t have been able to frame a proper answer in Telugu.
At this point A’s mother came into the room.
A to his mother: K nana chachi poyaru (K’s father died)
A’s mother: Atla kada raa. Devudu deggara ellaru. (You shouldn’t say that. He has gone to visit God.)
On one hand we have the euphimistic language we use to “protect” children from exposure to “adult” topics like death.
On the other, we have the casual and unnatural portrayal of excessive violence in what we watch for entertainment. (Telugu movies are probably worse than others in this regard).
The result is that the first thing that comes to a child’s mind when he hears that someone is dead is “Who killed him?”. Murder is obviously the most common cause of death that this child has been exposed to.
There is little we can do to improve popular means of entertainment, but we can atleast stop using unnecessary euphemisms to hide facts from children. The truth is the truth and no one – not even children – can or should be “protected” from it. As adults, it is our responsibility to teach our children to face it and deal with it. If we hide the truth behind words that they are clearly not capable of deciphering, we do them a disservice and fail in our responsibility.