Mother's Day

What Peppa Pig taught an Indian mother about parenting in a world without innocence or security

In Peppa’s world, the cake never runs out, the puddles never dry up, and everybody’s welcome no matter what type of animal they are.

Piglets and preschoolers: who can deny the commonalities? They stick their snouts everywhere, they eat everything off the floor, they communicate in grunts and squeals, they get under foot, they tend towards chubbiness – and don’t even get me started on all that gratuitous, unscheduled puddle-jumping.

Small wonder then, that piglets turn up fairly regularly in children’s literature. There’s the suckling pig in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Piglet in Winnie-the-Pooh, the famously divergent Three Little Pigs, eponymous characters like Babe and Olivia, and who can forget Wilbur from Charlotte’s Web? Why, even mere babes have had their fat fingers and toes tweaked to the sound of “This Little Piggy went to the Market”.

Fictionalised piglets have long had their day in the sun. Yet, nothing prepared me for the animation phenomenon: the preschool anthropomorphic Peppa Pig. A news report published this month in The Australian states that the Peppa Pig franchise, which began as an animated TV series in 2004, is worth $1.7 billion in annual retail. The show has been broadcast in 180 territories and counting. Language is no barrier – the show has been translated into more than 40 tongues. The first Peppa Pig theme park is up and running in England. The secret dream of animation companies has come true: around 50 million toys and 30 million books have been sold worldwide.

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The show’s preschool viewers care little for statistics, or that it’s a four time BAFTA award winner. They just want to see it, “Again! Again! Again!” with that special passion for mindless repetition that little kids seem to thrive on. Whatever their background, kids are only too glad to be mesmerised by the warm, familiar, and uniform glow that is the Peppa Pig show. Who can look away from those hypnotic pastel colours, and those cheerful blue skies? It’s not such a bad thing – as TV shows go – either. I mean, what’s not to love about a show where everyone snorts or falls down and rolls with uncontrolled laughter?

Peppa Pig is the manufactured epitome of harmlessness – not just in content (so age appropriate!) or tonality (such scrupulous politeness!) but also in its bite-sized packaging. What kind of monster would keep a child from watching its five-minute long episodes? Fits in before a nap, is appropriate when waiting for the dentist, and allows for a beleaguered parent to slip in and out of the shower, without being missed.

Five-year-old Peppa lives in a house at the top of a hill with Mummy Pig, Daddy Pig and her two-year-old brother George. Her ambitions and desires are the ambitions and desires of five year olds across time and continents: to splash in muddy puddles, to boss around the house, and plunge into new activities. She may get a little antsy at times, but the grownup narrator with her rich tonality of voice is never frazzled.

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Surprisingly, neither are we. This is a world of real comfort – little things go wrong, but no one suffers for it – Peppa may drop her stuffed rabbit on a flight in the Big Balloon episode, but it’s quickly recovered, and there’s no blame or shame involved. Daddy Pig may turn out rubbish at map reading and drive their balloon into a tree, but he’s solidly there for his children. What’s more, Mummy Pig won’t make him stop for directions. In fact, “Silly, Daddy Pig” is firmly in the mode of generously paunchy and incompetent fathers in contemporary television animation: similar to the dad from Family Guy or Homer in The Simpsons. He is full of easily shattered delusions: “I’m naturally fit,” he says, or, “My work is very important.”

The kind of self-deprecation that follows says a lot about the relaxation of gendered norms when it comes to children and parents attitudes towards the “bread-winner”.

A century ago, children may have been raised to be seen and not heard – but Peppa’s voice dominates the show and she leads the family’s adventures. Coming back to the Big Balloon story – it delighted the kids, and it moved me as well. Not only because the eternally single, career-hopping and carefree Ms Rabbit was now learning to fly a hot air balloon. But because it gave me an opportunity for reflection and do-overs. Consider the episode as an illustrated parenting manual. What if I shifted mode from blaming my toddler to merely solving the problem when she dropped something out of the car window next? Peppa Pig is a lesson on the psychological benefits of focusing on positive behaviour.

What incredible allure that imaginary world had for both my kids and I, when they were little: I could stand to sit through it on repeat because it was parental wish-fulfilment 101. After all, it takes a village to raise a child, and the village in Peppa Pig is full of trustworthy, supportive, and decent individuals. The family is unbroken and and the show’s only tension comes from new yet-to-be-fulfilled desires. Peppa Pig is like a balm for the overheated parental brain. It’s a place of hyper-realised comfort where raising a happy child in a world without innocence or security does not seem like an act of sheer delusion. The cake never runs out, the puddles never dry up, and everybody’s welcome no matter what type of animal they are. If Peppa Pig were a political animal, she’d have my vote.

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I asked my ten-year-old what she remembered about Peppa Pig.

“Oh yeah,” she said, “I loved it. In fact, I met a sixth-grade girl in the bus, she’s really cool, she still likes Ben Ten, and Peppa Pig, like, even now; she isn’t ashamed of it.”

It made me curious, so I tried my seven-year-old son. “It’s because everyone is ready to help Peppa Pig,” he said, firmly. “There’s always a happy ending – just listen to the music and you’ll know.”

Blameless, bucolic, and bland, Peppa Pig is a cultural phenomenon in itself – a fairy tale without teeth. As its first crop of viewers head into teenage hood, it is tempting to speculate about the imaginary world of Peppa Pig’s impact on them. Will they demand the standardisation of “happy”, on exposure to the real world’s complexities? Or will the warm embrace of predictability in their early viewing form a bedrock of stability for the storms ahead?

Karishma Attari is the author of I See You and Don’t Look Down. She runs a workshop series called Shakespeare for Dummies and is currently writing a novel titled The Want Diaries. Her Twitter handle is @KarishmaWrites.

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From Indian pizzas in San Francisco to bhangra competitions in Boston

A guide to the Indian heart of these American cities.

The United States of America has for long been more than a tourist destination for Indians. With Indians making up the second largest immigrant group in the USA, North American cities have a lot to offer to the travel weary Indian tourist. There are umpteen reasons for an Indian to visit vibrant education and cultural hubs like Boston and San Francisco. But if you don’t have a well-adjusted cousin to guide you through the well-kept Indian secrets, this guide to the Indian heart of Boston and San Francisco should suffice for when you crave your fix.

Boston

If you aren’t easily spooked, Boston is the best place to be at in October due to its proximity to Salem. You can visit the Salem Witch Village to learn about present-day wiccans and authentic witchcraft, or attend séances and Halloween parades with ghosts, ghouls and other frightening creatures giving you a true glimpse of America during Halloween. But the macabre spirit soon gives way to a dazzling array of Christmas lighting for the next two months. The famed big Christmas trees are accompanied by festive celebrations and traditions. Don’t miss The Nutcracker, the sugar-laced Christmas adventure.

While it upholds its traditions, Boston is a highly inclusive and experimental university town. It welcomes scores of Indian students every year. Its inclusiveness can be gauged from the fact that Berklee College of Music released a well-received cover of AR Rahman’s Jiya Jale. The group, called the Berklee Indian Ensemble, creates compositions inspired by Indian musical styles like the Carnatic thillana and qawwali.

Boston’s Bollywood craze is quite widespread beyond the campuses too. Apple Cinemas in Cambridge and Regal Fenway Cinemas in Fenway can be your weekly fix as they screen all the major upcoming Bollywood movies. Boston tends to be the fighting ground for South Asian Showdowns in which teams from all over the North-Eastern coast gather for Bollywood-themed dance offs. The Bhangra competitions, especially, are held with the same energy and vigour as back home and are open to locals and tourists alike. If nothing else, there are always Bollywood flash mob projects you can take part in to feel proudly desi in a foreign land.

While travellers love to experiment with food, most Indian travellers will agree that they need their spice fix in the middle of any foreign trip. In that respect, Boston has enough to satisfy cravings for Indian food. North Indian cuisine is popular and widely available, but delicious South Indian fare can also be found at Udupi Bhavan. At Punjab Palace, you can dig into a typical North Indian meal while catching a Bollywood flick on one of their TVs. Head to Barbecue International for cross-continental fusion experiments, like fire-roasted Punjabi-style wings with mint and chilli sauce.

Boston is prominent on the radar of Indian parents scouting for universities abroad and the admission season especially sees a lot of prospective students and parents looking for campus tours and visits. To plan your visit, click here.

San Francisco

San Francisco is an art lover’s delight. The admission-free Trolley Dances, performed in October, focus on engaging with the communities via site-specific choreographies that reflect the city’s cultural diversity. Literature lovers can experience a Dickensian Christmas and a Victorian holiday party at The Great Dickens Christmas Fair, a month-long gala affair starting in November.

As an Indian, you’ll be spoilt for choice in San Francisco, especially with regards to food. San Francisco’s sizeable Indian population, for example, has several aces hidden up its sleeve. Take this video by Eater, which claims that the ‘Indian’ pizza at Zante’s Restaurant is the city’s best kept secret that needs outing. Desi citizens of San Francisco are big on culinary innovation, as is evident from the popularity of the food truck Curry Up Now. With a vibrant menu featuring Itsy Bitsy Naan Bits and Bunty Burrito and more, it’s not hard to see why it is a favourite among locals. Sunnyvale, with its large concentration of Indians also has quirky food on offer. If you wish to sample Veer Zaara Pizza, Dabangg Pizza or Agneepath Pizza, head to Tasty Subs & Pizza.

There are several Indian temples in Sunnyvale, Fremont and San Jose that also act as effective community spaces for gatherings. Apart from cultural events, they even hold free-for-all feasts that you can attend. A little-known haven of peace is the Sankat Mochan Hanuman Temple. Their Anjaneya World Cafe serves delicious mango lassi; the beverage is a big hit among the local population.

If you’re looking for an Indian movie fix during your travels, the San Francisco International South Asian Film Festival’s theme this year is Bollywood and Beyond. Indian film enthusiasts are in for a treat with indie projects, art-house classics, documentaries and other notable films from the subcontinent being screened.

San Francisco’s autumn has been described as ‘Indian summer’ by the locals and is another good season to consider while planning a trip. The weather lends more vigour to an already vibrant cultural scene. To plan your trip, click here.

An Indian traveller is indeed spoilt for choice in Boston and San Francisco as an Indian fix is usually available just around the corner. Offering connectivity to both these cities, Lufthansa too provides a rich experience of Indian hospitality to all flyers on board its India-bound flights and flights departing from India. You can expect a greeting of Namaste by an all-Indian crew, Indian food, and popular Indian in-flight entertainment options, making the airline More Indian than You Think. And as the video shows, India’s culture and hospitality have been internalized by Lufthansa to the extent that they now offer a definitive Indian flying experience.

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This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of Lufthansa as part of their More Indian Than You Think initiative and not by the Scroll editorial team.