Posters with advice on how to become an “ideal boy” that aimed to groom Indian students in the 1980s and ’90s have found an unlikely taker in a fully-grown adult several countries away.
On Sunday, British comedian and writer Stephen Fry tweeted that he had chanced upon one such poster while visiting his doctor. Though he was taken aback by it, he decided to follow its advice, he joked. The good habits propagated by the poster include getting up early in the morning, studying diligently and joining the National Cadet Corps (which Fry will sadly not be able to do).
The tweet prompted a flurry of responses, some from Fry’s equally bemused followers and others from Twitter users who surmised that the doctor was almost certainly of Indian origin and would have likely got the posters from his or her homeland.
Several Twitter users pounced on the Indianisms and grammatical errors in the poster. In particular, the panel advising an ideal boy should “brush up” his teeth invited many laughs and questions.
As the posters were put to close scrutiny, several other peculiarities were brought to attention, including the fact that the illustrator chose to leave the boy’s underpants on during his bath.
Other oddities were also pointed out.
The poster served as a reality check to some parents, while other Twitter users offered a different interpretation of its content.
There was also much curiosity about what “NCC” stood for – the National Cadet Corps trains school and college students for the Indian military, so non-Indian Twitter users are unfamiliar with the term – and many options were thrown into the mix.
Given that the poster side-stepped a whole gender in its morality lesson, several Twitter users wondered what the rules for an “ideal girl” were. Fry later shared another poster he found online, on bad habits, which also covered the female gender.
The publishing company that makes these posters, Indian Book Depot Map House, does have an answer to what an ideal girl would look like. The advice is similar to that for boys, but notable additions include “help mother in the kitchen” and “learn stitching”. These posters are part of the category titled “educational charts”, the contents of which also include similar artwork on Leaders of India, Means of Communication, Life of Indira Gandhi and Parts of the Body.
Such posters and maps made by the company were a fixture in school textbooks and a staple for homework assignments in Indian schools. In recent years, however, they got a new lease on life – and new meaning – thanks to a parody account created by Mumbai-based artist Priyesh Trivedi.
Trivedi’s posters used a similar illustration technique and panel-format to subvert the messages presented in the “ideal boy” posters, throwing dark humour and social commentary into the mix. Trivedi’s Adarsh Balak offers a joint to his father, gets high whenever he can and vandalises walls, offering an extreme though possibly more relatable representation of childhood.
The popularity of Trivedi’s illustrations gave rise to Adarsh Balak merchandise and also spawned a meme subculture that included offshoots and similar satirical posters on what would qualify as a “bad girl”.
It also sparked a poster war between supporters and critics of the Narendra Modi government. The pro-government camp took on their detractors with “Adarsh Liberal” memes and were paid back in kind with “Adarsh Bhakt” art.
There was even an Aadhaar Balak version, poking fun at the ever-increasing list of schemes being linked to the government’s unique identity project.