One of the perks of begin in an intercultural relationship is that you find out tons of weird things about your own culture. Like today, when I began to consider the sad truths behind common nursery rhymes.
This morning, Varun and his sister Vasudha were joking about a Hindi nursery rhyme when Varun asked, “Why did she die?”. As you can imagine, this caught my attention. After some discussion, it became apparent that the Queen in the rhyme experienced death by frying. Whatever that is.
Ek Tha Raja (There Was A King)
[loosely translated into English by the Rana Siblings]
There was a king and there was a queen and there was a child.
The king died in the war.
The queen died in the frying pan.
The child died studying.
The more common version goes:
Once upon a time there was a king and there was a queen.
They both died.
End of story.
As I thought about it, I realized that the nursery rhymes I grew up with aren’t much better.
Peter, Peter pumpkin eater,
Had a wife and couldn’t keep her!
He put her in a pumpkin shell,
And there he kept her very well!
Um…What? Why couldn’t he ‘keep’ her? How did she fit in a pumpkin? And why does she look so happy knitting in her pumpkin shell?
If that’s not weird enough, how depressing is Humpty Dumpty?
Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall,
Humpty Dumpty had a great fall.
All the king’s horses and all the king’s men
Couldn’t put Humpty together again.
These rhymes aren’t exactly heralds of joy and hope. I guess I knew this before, but it wasn’t until I started perusing nursery rhymes (because I have a life and am a contributing member of society) that I realized many of them are quite dark. On the one hand, I support the idea of preparing children for the realities of life. But on the other hand, pithy rhymes about broken heads, fried queens and imprisoned wives are a little bit creepy. Or maybe it’s just me.
What do you think is the most odd nursery rhyme? Was it ever confusing to you as a kid? If you have a nursery rhyme from another language, please share!