How a fairy called Marie Kondo left me some KonMari pixie dust and it changed my life

Earlier this year, a few weeks before my birthday, I was at my friend Jo’s house in Dehradun, en route to Mussoorie for a holiday with my son. The home was lovely, and bookshelves in every corner beckoned. Until a tiny unassuming book called out to me and I was lost for the rest of the day. It was Marie Kondo’s The Life-Changing Magic Of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art Of Decluttering And Organizing.

I had, at the time, not heard of the book, let alone the fact that it had sold over two million copies in its English edition (the original was in Japanese) and that the author was so big that KonMari (derived from the author’s name Marie Kondo) was now a verb. For someone who started as a tidying consultant, that is huge. I must add here that there is a minimum six-month waiting list for her services in Japan. Of course, her popularity in the US has also led to a backlash. So while The New York Times did an article on celebrating clutter, others poked holes in her methods. It might be disconcerting to some that in a country like the US, where minimalism is not a matter of pride, KonMari has had a pandemic effect over the last year or so.

In this book, she describes her step-by-step tidying method (now trademarked as KonMari): a simple but time-consuming process of going through every single thing we possess and keeping those that spark joy.

She had me at joy.

It’s such a simple filter really. Something we can apply to a lot of things, beyond clothes and books. We know it when we feel it; it’s strong and palpable, devoid of rationality, almost like a thrill. Plus it can be a great lens through which to view other life choices too.

I was riveted.

As I flipped through the 200-odd pages of Kondo’s book, I found myself nodding and sighing, being shocked and relieved in equal measure by some of the revelations. And yet it was all so commonsensical. She draws attention to the common mistakes we make while tidying (or decluttering, as we call it). Sort by category, not by room, she urges. Bring everything that belongs in one particular category, say, books, to one place (her preference is the floor) and do not put them back until you have gone through each and every item in that category and chosen what to keep.

The criterion for keeping something was simple: Does it spark joy?

I could already visualize all my books lurking in different places—the kitchen, the living room, the hallway, the bedrooms, the bathrooms, even the drying area. Clearly, there was a lot of work to do. I was soon making notes, promising myself that I would be practising what I read as soon as I got back to Mumbai in a week. Yes, I had been KonMari-ed, hook, line and sinker.

Like most people, I struggle with clutter in my life. Although I don’t buy clothes or books often and retail therapy doesn’t do for me what it did in my 20s, I find myself overwhelmed by stuff every two years or earlier. I rationalize that it is the frequent moving (I, like most city people of no permanent address, have moved more than I would have liked to—about 14 times in the last 24 years, since I left my parents’ home). I have done more than my fair share of donating clothes, books, electronics, furniture and utensils to NGOs and orphanages. I have had garage sales and barter meets in my home. I have gone off shopping completely for long periods (two years being the last stretch). Whenever I decluttered, which was often, I followed some blanket rules: Throw away anything you haven’t used in two years (or one year, or six months, depending on how irritated you are). At times I found smart storage solutions. For a year, I also spent 10 minutes every day getting rid of things you don’t need in the house. But within a few days, there would be a clutter relapse and I would feel the same as before.

It appeared like I had no control over the way stuff was multiplying in my home.

Yes, I was tidying up (to use Kondo’s quaint word for decluttering). Except, I was approaching it the wrong way. I was focusing more on the negative (“I really have to get rid of these things”) than the positive aspect (“This is what gives me joy”) of tidying up.

And that is why Marie Kondo’s book has created a tidying revolution of sorts: Choosing what you want to keep is far harder than deciding what you want to give away. It brings to the fore the anxiety of human decision making at its worst. It’s tedious and time-consuming and requires commitment. But once done, it’s a great feeling.

In a country like India, bred on Gandhian philosophies of minimalism, where Feng Shui is a recent religion of sorts, it is shocking how much stuff we accumulate. Some of it is inherited from our parents, some is a byproduct of marriage—that big merger of stuff (also, having children reinvents clutter in ways you never imagined). Some of it is nonsensical gifting by people we otherwise love, but most of it is things we buy and hoard mindlessly. Indians also have this knack of building storage systems—overhead swivel cupboards, beds with box storage, enclosed attics, kitchen units that extend up to the ceiling, dining tables that fold into storage units—if we have too much stuff, we find ways to put it out of sight. What you don’t see cannot harm you, is the philosophy most of us live by.

For the past year or so, I have been feeling ambushed by my own clutter. It was also the time when I was going through major life changes—my separation, moving houses (again), and having my mother move in with me. The upside was: I finally had all my stuff in one place. Trouble was, I still couldn’t find things, because I didn’t remember where I had put them. And I felt I had too much.

I returned home a few days before my birthday, ready to begin the rest of my life with Marie Kondo. I followed her instructions meticulously. She recommends clothes first, then books, then papers, komono(miscellaneous), sentimental items, mementos, and lastly—photos.

Clothes and books were far smoother than I had imagined. I found myself caressing each item of clothing, asking if it sparked joy (some were a straight yes or no, a few were ambiguous but not as hard as I had imagined). The yes was always definite. The no was sometimes overridden by guilt (“I paid so much for it, I should have worn it more”). But letting go was easier than I thought.

According to Kondo’s philosophy, there should be a designated place for everything that belongs in your home. Folding is a very important aspect of the KonMari method and I realized why my closet was so noisy earlier. I just wasn’t folding right. The book doesn’t have photos or illustrations, but there are several videos on folding ties, socks, underwear, shirts, T-shirts the KonMari way on YouTube (yes!). I folded all my clothes into neat little rectangle envelopes (it was somewhat challenging for typically Indian items like salwarssarisanarkalis, etc, but I worked around those). I trained my son to fold his and he said it felt like origami. It is, actually.

KonMari way of folding The idea is not to stack up but to arrange clothes vertically so you can see the edges of all your clothes (it took me some time to understand this). In the Indian scenario of cupboards/shelves versus drawers, this can be challenging, but it is still worth a shot.

A KonMari drawerNext was books. I can finally see the coloured back panels of my bookshelves and a month later, I still don’t regret giving away any book—a thing that would happen quite often earlier, causing me to go out and buy another copy of the book I was missing.

For me, papers were the most intimidating part, as one is always holding on to them for a “what if” scenario. Since there is no way they can ‘spark joy’ to most of us, KonMari recommends brutal discarding: How many bank statements, passport photocopies, bills, credit card statements, warranty cards, user manuals and car papers can you hold on to? I pared it down to a single box of papers, stacked vertically in simple files.

After two very productive weeks of sorting, discarding, folding and organizing, I was stuck. It was komono.

Komono, which Kondo defines simply as miscellaneous, is actually the biggest roadblock in the KonMari method. It is stuff that doesn’t belong anywhere and yet is all over the place. It is the rest of your crap and it is a lot of crap that includes, but is not limited to: CDs, DVDs, make-up/toiletries/cosmetics, accessories, valuables (what was she thinking?), passports (this terrified me!), electric equipment and appliances, mysterious cords, wires, household equipment (stationery, writing material), household supplies (detergents, medicines, tissues, etc), kitchen goods (spatulas, pots, blenders, etc). But I guess everyone’s komono is different. As Indians, we have way more komono than the Japanese, I am sure.

komono

I figured food was low priority for Marie Kondo, because in India there is no way kitchen could be komono. I also kept thinking, “She definitely doesn’t have kids.” Because she doesn’t factor in school things, toys, board games, portfolios, masks, art and craft supplies. Apparently she does have a child now, and I can’t wait to read her post-child KonMari.

I guess all the gaps in Kondo’s book can be books in themselves: KonMari of marriage, KonMari of children, KonMari at work, Digital KonMari, KonMari of relationships, friendships and more. It’s the kind of thing that can be extrapolated and applied to every aspect of your life, each time yielding the same results: Once you are clear about the noise of things that clutter your life and home, you can focus on enjoying the things that really matter. I don’t know what first-date conversations are like now, but it would be worthwhile to try and suss out a potential partner’s KonMari quotient.

If you want to start the KonMari method of tidying up, here are a few tips:

  1. Sort by category (for example, clothes, books, papers, etc.) and not by location (living room, bedroom, bathroom, etc.). 
  2. Tidy up in one go and do it alone, preferably.
  3. Gather all the items in a category on the floor, so you can see every single thing. Pick up each item and decide if it gives you joy. If it doesn’t, let it go.
  4. The focus is not what you must get rid of, but whether the things you want to hold on to make you happy. 
  5. Follow the right order: clothes, books, papers, “komono” (miscellaneous), sentimental items, mementos, photos.
  6. Have a designated spot for everything in your home (for example, bag, shoes, wallet, phone, etc.) and return it to that spot every day. 
  7. Store everything vertically, even clothes (you can, if you fold them right)
  8. Visualise your destination: How do you want your room, your closet, your bookshelf to look? Then work towards it. 
  9. After discarding, designate a place for every item and stick to that place, to avoid a clutter relapse.
  10. Empty your handbag every day. It’s where clutter starts.

I don’t know if the book has changed my life; I still have to tide over my komono, and my mother is still holding on to hers. But I am able to get more done in a day and I look forward to the next. I also feel I have KonMari-ed my life, in a manner of speaking—holding on to work, memories, people and things that truly spark joy. This little book about tidying ended up being about much more than tidying. There is a certain calmness in my cupboard and drawers and bookshelves, and perhaps some of it has passed on to me.

(This post first appeared in Mint Lounge on 3rd September, 2016.  http://www.livemint.com/Leisure/2Ox6Si3QDJnpF11nM8H0JL/Why-KonMari-is-the-new-detox.html )

Books to pack in your child’s suitcase this summer vacation

BOOK REVIEW: The Beebop series

Published by: Harper Kids (A Harper Collins imprint)

Ages: 4-7

Price: Rs 75 each

So things happen when you write your first children’s book. Other children’s books start appearing magically in your mail. So when the Beebop series (a Harper Kids imprint) of four charming little story books accompanied with four equally charming activity books showed up, I handed them all over to him, declaring it as his first official review.

The books are about Beebop, the friendly Bee, who takes four friends, Sarah, Jay, Zoya and Zubin on many exciting adventures.

The Beebop series And although I am no book reviewer and I am at that stage in life where I find it tiring to have an opinion on everything, I do have a point of view on what kids should be doing in their holidays and I think reading should form a major chunk of it. Or doing nothing. Or allowing the fertility of boredom.

And now that Re has started to read, it is such a joy to watch him staring letters into words and words into sentences. His first pick was Zoya and the Bee, and it’s a lovely little story of a little girl who chases a bee and “a lot of useful things happen while she is chasing the bee,” as Re put it.

It’s about the magic of friendship, he declared, since he is still heady from Rainbow Rocks. And family, he added.

Although I am not a great one for “activity books”, I would particularly recommend this set  (each book is priced at Rs 75) to carry along on your summer vacation, because the stories are simple in plot and their telling, and the books are a perfect, compact size to slide into your suitcase. Each of the set of activities accompanying every book – including little puzzles, drawing and coloring projects, word scrambles, spot the differences and other brain teasers – has been very thoughtfully put together, and makes you look at the story in a new light, enhancing the reading experience.

Book review: Pollyanna by Eleanor H. Porter

Pollyanna by Eleanor Porter(Abridged and Adapted version for young readers)

Reviewed by: POYANI MEHTA

Pollyanna is an ever readable Classic Book and the first part of one of the numerous books written by Eleanor H Porter.
Pollyanna and Pollyanna Grows Up was by far the most famous and well loved of her books .
Pollyanna is the story of an orphan young girl of 11 years who is taken in by her stern and dutiful strict Aunt Polly. Pollyanna is ever happy inspite of all the difficulties and challenges she has had to face in life.
Though she is a naughty and mischievous young girl Pollyanna with her endearing qualities and optimistic attitude slowly and surely she wins over her Aunt and all the people of the town that she has befriended on her everyday travails in town.
‘The Glad Game’ specially created by her father for her  and then used by Pollyanna forms the main gist/crux of the story. To be happy/glad about all things in life however small they may be and finding happiness from it.
I loved the story and my daughter also liked it a lot especially ‘The Glad Game’ and Pollyanna’s helping nature.

The Game could work in our everyday life too if we could learn to appreciate the small gifts /lessons bestowed to us.

Who can read?
Pollyanna can be read by kids aged 8 + and adults too who love reading classic books.since the book is in abridged and unabridged versions all can avail of it.
Where can you get it?
It would be available in all leading book stores in India and around the world be it in illustrated form or just novel.
(Would you like to write a book review? Mail me at mommygolightly@gmail.com)

Is your reality getting in the way of your child’s imagination?

child's imagination

Mermaids are just the beginning of a child’s imagination

I have always believed that a child’s imagination is a place where anything can and must be allowed to happen. But earlier last week, Re came home one day and said, “Mamma, teacher said that there are no fairies. And no mermaids also.”

My heart sank. I cried a little. I was angry, disappointed, depressed and sad at the same time. A revelation of this kind can only make a six-year-old’s world come crashing down. I found her words not just insensitive, but also dangerous. But I had to do something about the damage, although I could sense that Re’s voice was incredulous even as he said it.

“May be she hasn’t met a fairy called Imagination,” I said.

Re has never asked me if fairies, unicorns, mermaids exist. He just believes they do, and I have never, for the purpose of “letting him know the truth”, told him that things like that are only fantasy. I hope he never loses his sense of wonder, his inner fairy, and most importantly, his ability to fantasise. Because I don’t believe one must take fantasy lightly. And I don’t really know what the “truth’ is. 

Exchanging stories with your child is a key part of parenting; Re tells me his, I tell him mine, we read some together and nurture our little world of wonder. And how can we tell good stories if we don’t believe in fantasy? It’s our prop, our muse, something that comes to our rescue each time, even after we are all grown up. 

Oh, the things a child’s imagination can do!

When we discovered rainbows, Re began finding rainbows everywhere. In bubbles we blew. In petrol trails drenched with water. In doors, windows, streams, elevators. He found them in different shapes. Triangles, squares. octopus-shaped. Even a circle rainbow (we spotted a sundog last year from our school campus). For months, he only drew rainbows. It opened up a whole new world for him. It made our home a happier place. We are still looking for our pot of gold and we believe it exists.

C.S. Lewis once wrote a letter to his granddaughter about The Chronicles of Narnia that began:

My Dear Lucy,

I wrote this story for you, but when I began it I had not realised that girls grow quicker than books. As a result you are already too old for fairy tales, and by the time it is printed and bound you will be older still. But someday you will be old enough to start reading fairy tales again…

I think I am. I had reached that point where I felt too old to believe in miracles. Growing up with Re has made me believe in fairies all over again. And for that, I am thankful. He is six now, and I have already started to feel that he is growing up too fast. Very soon, he will be “too old” to build his dream castles, wear his mermaid suit, make Playdoh dresses and picnic with his princesses and fairies. He will soon be too grown up for his own good. He will soon morph into a person that says, “I’m-too-old-for-fairies!’. And yes, he will lose some of his wonder. But as a mother, I don’t want to be the person who led him there. I don’t want to be his fantasy-squasher. If that makes me an over-indulgent, removed-from-reality mother, so be it.

The gift of wonder and imagination is the right of every child and we have no business to deny them that. Because our thoughts, ideas and more importantly, our imagination are just another dimension of who we are. And whenever I lose hope, I remember this by Roald Dahl:

“And above all, watch with glittering eyes the whole world around you because the greatest secrets are always hidden in the most unlikely places. Those who don’t believe in magic will never find it.”

For all those who told me to not read happily-ever-after stories to my child, including teachers at school, I have this to say: Sometimes our reality hinders us from believing in love and wonder, but that doesn’t mean we stop our children from believing in it. The fact that we have started listening to TEDtalks on how to dream and how to imagine explains that we are already bankrupt in our minds as a race.

So I am going to allow him to dream for as long as his heart will allow him. If we believe that things don’t exist just because we haven’t seen them, that’s bordering on arrogance. I really worry for us as people. I worry for his teacher too. As a start, I wrote her a note:

“Dear teacher. I know you don’t believe in mermaids or fairies, but we do. And maybe you should give it a shot as well. Because the world would be such a boring place if we didn’t believe in magic.”

She hasn’t replied to it. But if she says, “I don’t believe in fairies,” one more time, I am going to unleash some bad pixie dust on her. And introduce her to a certain Miss Tinkerbell.

Meanwhile, Re and I are working on spreading pixie dust all over the world. And we need all the help we can get.

(A version of this post appeared as my column in Pune Mirror on 16th August, 2015)

Reading aloud and why it must never end

Long before I had a baby, long before I was even in the reckoning for it, I had developed an appetite for children’s books. Perhaps it had to do with my diminishing attention span or inability to focus those days. I would read them aloud, imagine someone reading them aloud to me, buy myself a copy, and buy extra copies and gift them to friends who were having babies when babies are meant to be had. I remember buying The Caterpillar who grew a Mustache for my friend Rashna’s daughter Shibumi and relishing it so much, I didn’t want to give it away.  Needless to say, I was everyone’s favorite aunt, but the whole process created a whole new world for me to live in, where things could be the way I wanted them to be.

I don’t remember too many books from my early childhood, and the earliest books I can remember were from the time I was seven or eight. This was because a large part of my early years was spent listening to stories told by my grandmother, rather than being read to. When I recently tried to put together a book of family stories for Scholastic, I realized I remember each and every story that my grandmother told me, (except one, which I have forgotten the twist to). It’s been nearly four decades, but such is the power of listening.

I began reading to Re quite early, even as I was nursing him. My friend Abira gifted him his first book – Karen Katz’s Where is Baby’s Belly Button?. It was a book he ate, read, played with and listened to, over and over. Reading aloud became our nighttime ritual and it seemed to soothe him and me equally. We moved on to Spot’s antics, Dr Seuss’s delightful journeys, Arthur’s strange neighbours, Pippi’s fascinating adventures, the colorful world of the Mudpuddle farm and many other books, unfolding many new worlds as we grew up. Each Peach Pear Plum by Janet and Allen Ahlberg is one baby book we have been reading for five years, and there is still that magical moment when we spot Mother Hubbard in the cupboard. We have read aloud brochures and inflight magazines on planes, when a book was in the overhead compartment and clumsy to access; we have read aloud road signs and hoardings and bus shelters on bumpy rides that made reading difficult. We never tired of reading aloud.

Of course technology, the not-so-silent predator, was lurking around everywhere, sometimes in the next room, where his father consumed hundreds of hours of screen time, watching television or gaming. But I carried on, trying to dilute the effects with my nighttime ritual which lasted half hour to an hour, every single day, and still does.

Some days, his father would abandon his controller and join us, and just the fact that the three of us were huddled together, reading aloud, transporting ourselves, took us to a warm fuzzy place. It was like we had coalesced into the family we were meant to be.

I know it’s very easy for any child (even Re) to be completely usurped by technology. It is designed to do that. But as long as I stick my neck out and read to him every day, and as long as he knows that he cannot go to bed without hearing a story from his mamma or dadda or aunt or grandma, all will be well.

Spoon-feeding is easy, and there are just millions of ways of doing so and the iPad is just one. But allowing our children to create their own magical worlds exercising those imagination muscles is harder. It takes time, it takes work, but is oh-so-rewarding in the long run.

The husband, who has been wholly consumed by technology, wanted to do his bit and downloaded glitzy story books on the iPad (something he legitimized the buy of by saying, “it’s for story time”, much to my chagrin). Sure the iPad offers visual, interactive story-telling. But it can’t allow your child to paint the land of Carabas or hear him giggle when he touches his belly button or says “Rumpelsliltskin”. The iPad can’t answer why.

How long do you read aloud? Forever, if you ask me. Weaning a child off reading aloud time just because he can read is like weaning a child off breastfeeding just because he can eat solids. Even social media-infused, technology-deformed people and children come alive when they are read aloud to. At a recent storytelling event I attended at the Loft in Pune, which was packed to the gills, I realized how starved adults are of listening to stories unfold.

Of course the Internet is winning the books vs Internet war. Which only means we have to work harder on our children. Like Megan Cox Gurdon wrote recently in her article in the Wall Street Journal, “In an epoch in which screens of one sort or another have become ubiquitous, it is more vital than ever to read aloud often, and at length, for as long as children will stay to listen. Without sustained adult effort, many kids won’t bother going through the gateway at all.”

(A version of this post appeared as my column in Pune Mirror on 20th July, 2015)

Now we are six

“I want to finish my dream mamma,” Re often says as I wake him these days. I know the weather is lovely and perhaps it makes for better dreams too, and better dreams can only mean better stories and better conversations. I often envy him for having whole, vivid dreams, full of texture and detail, unlike my fractured, jagged, muddly ones with rough edges.

These days he dreams a lot about mermaids (ever since he requested me for a mermaid tail which would help him turn into one) and once he told me I woke him just as he was about to turn into a mermaid. I felt really guilty about that.

Some days I wish I could have the sleep of my childhood when dreams were things you slept for. Once in a while, when I do have them, and I wake up thinking of them, I do try and go back to sleep, before my rational mind gets in the way.

Re once told me, “You can change your dreams mamma!” It seems all you have to do is think really hard about what you want your dream to be just before you go to bed.

“I always change my dreams,” he said. It is when I realized that as adults, we accept reality too easily. We give up on dreams and the world of magic too easily. We have become unidentifiable versions of our little selves.

But our dreams can still save us.

As you read this column, Re will be turning six. I have never really kept track of his milestones but felt the urge to google six year-olds and read the various newsletters baby experts have been relentlessly sending me since Re was a little life brewing inside of me. I read, among other things, that at six, the child is now at the centre of his universe. That he is more of a lot of things – more mature, more adventurous, more independent, more daring. What bothered me was the bit about “relationship with mothers being difficult”. I can feel that already. I also googled some key strategies to cope, and found them in excerpts from Louis Bates Ames Book, Your six year old: Loving and Defiant and some of them were: minimal direct commands, sidestepping, bargaining, not noticing, ignoring or giving more chances. I smiled, realising I need more ammunition now.

For the last two years, birthdays have meant a big deal to Re and he has already become somewhat of an expert in carefully choreographing all our birthdays, his being the most important, of course. This year, he told me. “On my birthday, I will do whatever I want to do for the whole day and you must not tell me what to do.” I quickly agreed, remembering what I read in the key coping strategies.

I remember buying the children’s book of poetry, Now We Are Six, by A .A Milne long before I had a child (I used to, at the time, make excuses for buying children’s books which I always enjoyed more than adult books, I don’t have to make those excuses anymore) and this poem beautifully encapsulates what being a six year-old is:

“Now We Are Six”

When I was one,
I had just begun.
When I was two,
I was nearly new.
When I was three,
I was hardly me.
When I was four,
I was not much more.
When I was five,
I was just alive.
But now I am six,
I’m as clever as clever.
So I think I’ll be six
now and forever.

So my little wish for my not so little boy is the gift of dreams. It’s the only thing that will last a lifetime, if he lets it. So dream all the things you want, because if you can dream it, you can make it real.

 (A version of this post appeared as my column in Pune Mirror on 22nd June, 2015)

 

What I learned about fairy tales from my child

Our little family of three went to watch Disney’s new rendition of Cinderella at the cinemas last weekend. I was as excited as Re was. How would she be? How lovely would her blue gown be? What would her castle look like? How evil would her stepmother be? What would the prince be like? How would her carriage look? How will the lizard turn into the coachman? And the mice to horses? And the most important question: What would her glass slipper look like?

While Re and I were both riveted, my husband kept turning to him, squeezing his hand, wondering if the harshness of the stepmother and starkness of evil would be disconcerting. Re told him with an equanimity that only a child raised on fairy tales will have: “Wait, she will be sended away from the kingdom soon.”

The child was indeed the father of man in our case.

As a new mother, I often faced the anti-fairytale brigade. They are too black and white, they said. “They glorify concepts of good and evil. They are full of evil stepmothers and witches and fairies and make your child believe in the supernatural.” Another voice said that fairy tales give you the illusion of a happily ever after for everyone and life is not like that.

I paid no heed, and decided to listen to Albert Einstein who once said, “If you want your children to be intelligent, read them fairy tales. If you want them to be very intelligent, read them more fairy tales.”

In the earlier school that Re went to, I was cautioned: “Let him not read too many fairy tales.” It was too late, as we had read most of them in their various versions. While my friends were still arguing about gender fluidity on social media, Re and I were playing with wands, ball gowns, castles and of course, princesses. When people said I should be letting Re know that there was no real Santa Claus, I went and got ourself a real Christmas tree.

Children need fairy tales to make sense of the world. Because sometimes, fantasy can be a great way to reveal the larger truth. When there are no rules to be followed, the truth is often clearer. Like any other good story, a good fairy tale can provide a reference point to your child. It teaches us about hope, courage, hard work, justice. And above all, love and kindness, as Cinderella’s mother would say.

But even if broken down to its most simplistic form, fairy tales help the child’s imagination. And imagination is everything. A child who can imagine fairy wings and magic bean stalks is also capable of imagining other wondrous things. And what can be wrong with a little bit of color?

As adults, we forget to believe in our imaginary worlds. But there are still things in our subconscious that get awakened by fairy tales. They take us away from our everyday world, they free our minds to see the intangible with special clarity. They make us believe in magic. If we are afraid of magic, there is no hope for us as human beings.

Richard Dawkins, prominent atheist, evolutionary biologist and author of The Selfish Gene and The God Delusion had provoked a debate about the impact of fairy tales when speaking at the Cheltenham Science Festival sometime last year. Among other things, Dawkins said that it was harmful to read fairy tales to children because it instilled a false belief in the supernatural. He has since denied the claims, adding on Twitter that fairy stories may “on balance” have a positive effect on children as they grow up by fostering critical thinking.

No matter how politically incorrect stories about evil stepmothers, damsels in distress, and cannibalistic old women may be, fairy tales are here to stay. And that’s a good thing, say the experts. “They work through so many personal and cultural anxieties, yet they do it in a safe, ‘once upon a time’ way,” says Maria Tatar, professor at Harvard College who writes about, and teaches classes on, fairy tales. “Fairy tales have a real role in liberating the imagination of children. No matter how violent they are, the protagonist always survives.”

Writer and child psychologist Bruno Bettelheim believed fairy tales are important to children’s development because the main characters – many of them children themselves – demonstrate pluck, and the ability to triumph over adversity in a world of giants and cruel adults.

The joy is when your child tells you that magic is not real, but still allows him and you the possibility of being enthralled by it.

It is possible to believe in magic, yet know that it is not real.

It is possible to know that bad things happen to bad people, but sometimes they can also happen to good people.

For every Snow White waiting to be kissed by her prince, there is a Pocahontas, who can kiss her Prince and let him go. For Re, they both are heroes, perhaps the latter a shade more than the former.

I don’t think children believe in absolute good and absolute evil. Re told me once, “If you were good, and then you became evil , you can become good again.”

Or this about Cinderella’s stepmother: “Well, she is not a mean person. She just does mean things sometimes.”

Or this about Pocahontas: “Sometimes, you can do true-love’s kiss, but you don’t have to marry!”

The beautiful thing is, until my child believes in fairy tales, I can believe in them too. And that perhaps is the greatest gift a child can give you. Because if your heart remembers that the impossible is possible, you will try it…and sometimes, it works.

(A version of this post appeared as my column in Pune Mirror on 30th March, 2015)