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 catching Goan dances in Lisbon to sampling langar in Munich

A guide to the surprising Indian connect in Lisbon and Munich.

For several decades, a trip to Europe simply meant a visit to London, Paris and the Alps of Switzerland. Indians today, though, are looking beyond the tried and tested destinations and making an attempt to explore the rest of Europe as well. A more integrated global economy, moreover, has resulted in a more widespread Indian diaspora. Indeed, if you know where to look, you’ll find traces of Indian culture even in some unlikely cities. Lisbon and Munich are good cities to include in your European sojourn as they both offer compelling reasons to visit, thanks to a vibrant cultural life. Here’s a guide to everything Indian at Lisbon and Munich, when you wish to take a break from all the sight-seeing and bar crawling you’re likely to indulge in.

Lisbon

Lisbon is known as one of the most vibrant cities in Western Europe. On its streets, the ancient and the modern co-exist in effortless harmony. This shows in the fact that the patron saint day festivities every June make way for a summer that celebrates the arts with rock, jazz and fado concerts, theatre performances and art exhibitions taking place around the city. Every two years, Lisbon also hosts the largest Rock festival in the world, Rock in Rio Lisboa, that sees a staggering footfall.

The cultural life of the city has seen a revival of sorts under the current Prime Minister, Antonio Costa. Costa is of Indian origin, and like many other Indian-origin citizens prominent in Portugal’s political, business and entertainment scenes, he exemplifies Lisbon’s deep Indian connect. Starting from Vasco Da Gama’s voyage to India, Lisbon’s historic connection to Goa is well-documented. Its traces can be still be seen on the streets of both to this day.

While the Indian population in Lisbon is largely integrated with the local population, a few diaspora groups are trying to keep their cultural roots alive. Casa de Goa, formed in the ‘90s, is an association of people of Goans, Damanese and Diuese origins residing in Lisbon. Ekvat (literally meaning ‘roots’ in Konkani) is their art and culture arm that aims to preserve Goan heritage in Portugal. Through all of its almost 30-year-long existence, Ekvat has been presenting traditional Goan dance and music performances in Portugal and internationally.

Be sure to visit the Champlimaud Centre for the Unknown, hailed a masterpiece of contemporary architecture, which was designed by the critically-acclaimed Goan architect Charles Correa. If you pay attention, you can find ancient Indian influences, like cut-out windows and stand-alone pillars. The National Museum of Ancient Art also has on display a collection of intricately-crafted traditional Goan jewellery. At LOSTIn - Esplanada Bar, half of the people can be found lounging about in kurtas and Indian shawls. There’s also a mural of Bal Krishna and a traditional Rajasthani-style door to complete the desi picture. But it’s not just the cultural landmarks that reflect this connection. The integration of Goans in Lisbon is so deep that most households tend to have Goa-inspired textiles and furniture as a part of their home decor, and most families have adapted Goan curries in their cuisine. In the past two decades, the city has seen a surge in the number of non-Goan Indians as well. North Indian delicacies, for example, are readily available and can be found on Zomato, which has a presence in the city.

If you wish to avoid the crowds of the peak tourist season, you can even consider a visit to Lisbon during winter. To plan your trip, check out your travel options here.

Munich

Munich’s biggest draw remains the Oktoberfest – the world’s largest beer festival for which millions of people from around the world converge in this historic city. Apart from the flowing Oktoberfest beer, it also offers a great way to get acquainted with the Bavarian folk culture and sample their traditional foods such as Sauerkraut (red cabbage) and Weißwurst (a white sausage).

If you plan to make the most of the Oktoberfest, along with the Bavarian hospitality you also have access to the services of the Indian diaspora settled in Munich. Though the Indian community in Munich is smaller than in other major European destinations, it does offer enough of a desi connect to satisfy your needs. The ISKCON temple at Munich observes all major rituals and welcomes everyone to their Sunday feasts. It’s not unusual to find Germans, dressed in saris and dhotis, engrossed in the bhajans. The Art of Living centre offers yoga and meditation programmes and discourses on various spiritual topics. The atmosphere at the Gurdwara Sri Guru Nanak Sabha is similarly said to be peaceful and accommodating of people of all faiths. They even organise guided tours for the benefit of the non-Sikhs who are curious to learn more about the religion. Their langar is not to be missed.

There are more options that’ll help make your stay more comfortable. Some Indian grocery stores in the city stock all kinds of Indian spices and condiments. In some, like Asien Bazar, you can even bargain in Hindi! Once or twice a month, Indian film screenings do take place in the cinema halls, but the best way to catch up on developments in Indian cinema is to rent video cassettes and VCDs. Kohinoor sells a wide range of Bollywood VCDs, whereas Kumaras Asean Trades sells Tamil cassettes. The local population of Munich, and indeed most Germans too, are largely enamoured by Bollywood. Workshops on Bollywood dance are quite popular, as are Bollywood-themed events like DJ nights and dance parties.

The most attractive time to visit is during the Oktoberfest, but if you can brave the weather, Munich during Christmas is also a sight to behold. You can book your tickets here.

Thanks to the efforts of the Indian diaspora abroad, even lesser-known European destinations offer a satisfying desi connect to the proud Indian traveller. Lufthansa, which offers connectivity to Lisbon and Munich, caters to its Indian flyers’ priorities and understands how proud they are of their culture. In all its India-bound flights and flights departing from India, flyers 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 internalised 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.