Childhood Shouldn’t End – Ben Okri

Childhood Shouldn’t End - Ben Okri

Booker Prize–winning Nigerian-British author Ben Okri was in Kolkata to attend the Apeejay Kolkata Literary Festival, where his latest novel, The Age of Magic, was launched. An engaged conversation ensued; many issues central to Okri’s writing came up for discussion – his views on childhood, race, African literature, the Indian experience and Rabindranath Tagore.

Read Excerpts below:

Children appear as protagonists in your novels and the world of a child, full of magic and wonder, is crucial to you. Do you think childhood ever ends?

I wouldn’t say childhood features all that much in my work. It just features in The Famished Road trilogy. But I am fascinated by childhood, in childhood as a device for a special kind of consciousness. There’s been a lot of misunderstanding about the trilogy.

One of the crucial things to understand about it is the lens through which the whole world is seen. The lens is everything – the lens of a special kind of consciousness. I wanted the reader to feel a combination of things and I simply could not think of any other way of bringing it about. Even if I had a saint or an enlightened person, it wouldn’t have that purity of lens that I required.

Does childhood ever end? I think society specialises in bringing childhood to an end as quickly as possible. It is one of the failings of what we consider society, of education. A child is no sooner given to the education system than it sets about bringing childhood to an end – by counteracting the child’s perceptions of the world and putting in its minds a replacement reality. I have not yet encountered any education system which takes an interest in enriching the quality of childhood while allowing the possibility of adulthood to grow within that, to retain the playful way of seeing, a certain openness of heart, a certain unjudgementalism.

I personally think that childhood shouldn’t end. It’s quite possible to grow up and become tough, hard-seeing adults, to be able to look at the world and see it for exactly what it is, while retaining something of the garden of childhood in one’s consciousness. That’s the ideal. Because only then can many of the rich possibilities of society come about. I lament the swiftness with which childhood is brought to an end. You send your kids to boarding school – wide-eyed and fascinated by the world – and when they come back they are cynics. In two or three years the child is gone.

Read full interview here

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1 comment

  1. I love this point by Ben Okri. Fantastic. I honestly think education curbs the childhood in us and kills creativity. To be able to create products that will shake the world, we need the childhood spirit that is willing to take risks, dream and move ahead (without boundaries). We need the kind of spirit that is not bound by reality.

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