On a balmy afternoon, while sifting through my beloved mahogany bookshelf, I came across an old edition of the Outlook Traveller magazine. I opened it, perhaps, out of my aching desire to hit the road, see the mountains and catch the waves again, or maybe I realized that we are somewhat stuck in a time warp, nowhere to go. At least, I can humor myself with dreams of long voyages and fun trips and savor those travel essays and beautiful pictures of a far-flung Mongolia or an unseen Madagascar.
As I glanced at the glossy pages, a familiar line caught my attention — “fascination for atlases”—mentioned in the short bio of one of the magazine contributors. The travel writer alluded her interest and attributed playing different roles in her lifetime as a traveler, planner, and travel researcher, to those set of maps. This, apparently, reminded me of my own childhood fondness for the bright colored atlas books. Intrigued by solid lines crisscrossing cities and foreign lands; boundaries separating rivers from the terrains; hues of blue and green representing the vastness of oceans and continents, I remember, back in the day, during my school recess time, I would randomly open a page of the Atlas, jot down the details of the map, draw symbols that represent mountains, lakes, and capitals; and often circle places that had peculiar names. For a nine-year-old, Bermuda Triangle carried an air of mystery. Trinidad and Tobago sounded more like two eccentric brothers than a country set in the Caribbean and somehow, I would always land up on the South American countries of Paraguay and Uruguay, simply fascinated by their names.
Basically, the atlas was no more a course book for me, it became a happy refuge and had a special place in my heart. It gave me a sense of knowing so many places of the world, the possibility of wandering and seeing the unseen and untold cultures and landscapes, much beyond my imagination. And just like that, learning about new capital cities became an easy job, for I never looked at them as names with thick black dots on the map, ready to be memorized. For me, each had a personality of its own that might be interesting to know.
I intuitively understood that the world is not just round, but a vast sphere of unlimited adventures and journeys. And much before Wikipedia or Google came into existence to give a quick answer to “What is the capital of Turkey?” We children, ready with pencils, would make the effort to go to our atlases, open the page and encircle the city of Ankara.
I wonder how inspiring it would be for children to learn about the world through atlases, where schools develop pedagogy to make geography lessons fun and creative. How wonderful it would be for the kids to learn in a way that never feels like a chore or a boring assignment, rather it gives them the power to expand their imagination. So that whenever they look at a map, they are thrilled to know about places they have never visited, they understand that a mere spot on the map is not just a place, but a fusion of culture, religion, and races, and a land that inhabits livestock, grows crops, supports the economy and its people.
There must be countless, creative ways of teaching a child, helping them see the world beyond boundaries and ethnicities, and in building a unique outlook towards life. Now that I am recollecting my early days and writing about my love for atlases, I realize that in so many ways we can spark the minds of young children. We talk about protecting our environment and protest about the climate change. We create policies and ask of people to become law-abiding citizens.
And I realize the passion to do the right thing only comes when we begin to understand it. Our love for beautiful architectures and our natural world only begins once we understand how precious they are. Knowing about a place like Barrow—5000 miles away, tucked in the remotest corner of the earth, where the sun doesn’t shine for six months long—perhaps, through that little handbook, you can ignite the child’s fertile mind and let him know that there is a big world out there.
That little handbook, I believe, has the power to bring change, even if tiny. The coordinates, the places, all may sound irrelevant, but it may inspire the child to look at mother earth with love, feel deeply for the environment, and reflect on the choices she makes towards sustainable living and making rainforests thrive, especially at a time, when the world talks about green energy, climate emergency, and sustainable livelihood.
Let the child know where his food comes from and what it takes and what it is like to grow his own vegetables.
Let a child become an explorer, discoverer, innovator, or farmer. The world needs them.
Who knows, a child sitting in a dull social studies class may become fascinated with that tiny atlas and dream of a world larger than the life.
Who knows, this child may one day become a changemaker, creating a better world to live in.
Every child must carry it like a handbook, until those eyes open to the many possibilities