Restoring the Lost Wisdom By Ananya Pathak

Restoring the Lost Wisdom  

The Little Prince, published in 1943, is French aviator Antoine de Saint Exupery’s most famous novella. Throughout the book, a child’s view of the world, of the purpose of human life and of relations between people is set off against the grown-ups’ view. At a time when education has degenerated into a broken adult-child relationship, a book of this kind ought to invoked for educating the educators, and restoring the lost wisdom.

By Ananya Pathak

“Good morning,” said the little prince.
“Good morning,” said the merchant.

This was a merchant who sold pills that had been invented to quench thirst. You need only shallow one pill a week, and you would feel no need of anything to drink.
“Why are you selling those?” asked the little prince.

“Because they save a tremendous amount of time,” said the merchant. “Computations have been made by experts. With these pills, you save fifty-three minutes in every week.”

 “And what do I do with those fifty-three minutes?”
“Anything you like…”

“As for me,” said the little prince to himself, “if I had fifty-three minutes to spend as I liked, I should walk at my leisure toward a spring of fresh water.”

This is a charming story about a little prince. However, what adds the pinch of magic to this entire story is the fact that this little prince does not belong to the earth, but rather falls upon the earth from Asteroid B-612. What kind of little prince is he then? Sadly, he is a lonely little prince. He is in need of a friend with whom he can share his world of feelings and fantasies, worries and pains, dreams and desires. And with the hope of meeting somebody, somewhere he sets off on a journey across the planets. The little prince’s long journey in search of a suitable companion is a trail of disappointment, at least until the end. However, in his search he journeys across several planets and meets different kinds of people, and his meetings with each of them entails a new meaning for the story. The little prince meets people such as the absolute monarch, the conceited individual, the drunkard, and the businessman.

He discovers  that they are all too wrapped up in their own affairs, each of them seems so engrossed and so caught up in their business that they have no time left for spending on the non-utilitarian things of life such as love ,friendship, the fragrance of a little flower or the smile of a little child. The little prince sees the tragic irony of their existence, and thinks that when they do not have time for the most precious of life’s gifts, then how could they consider being the little prince’s friend? A beautiful portion from an important passage is here:

    “ Grown-ups really are very, very odd,” he said to himself as he continued his journey.  “What are you doing here?” He said to the drunkard whom he found sitting silently in front of a collection of bottles, some empty, some full.  “ I am drinking”, answered the drunkard. “Why are you drinking?” The little prince asked.” “ In order to forget,” replied the drunkard. “To forget what?” asked the little prince, who was really feeling sorry for him. “To forget that I am ashamed,” the drunkard confessed, hanging his head. “ Ashamed of what?” asked the little prince. “ Ashamed of drinking”, said the drunkard withdrawing into complete silence.

The prince finds this extremely bewildering and sets out further in his journey in search of a friend. He finally meets a very special kind of grown-up when he lands on planet earth.  Right in the middle of the desert is Antoine de Saint-Exupery who has crash-landed in his aeroplane. They seem to understand each other very deeply and without the need of many words. As if communication is as much from what isn’t said as from that which is said. They don’t have much time to be with  each other, for each of them must go back home in his own way. Antoine de Saint-Exupery tries laboriously to mend his broken plane and after days of trial, he is finally able to repair the damaged machine. But the little prince’s home is much farther, and it really isn’t easy for him to return now. He cannot take his body back with him, because it is much too heavy for him to be able to carry all the way back through the skies. But then, he finds his own way to travel back home with the help of the snake, who agrees to bite him in order for him to be able  to leave his body and setback for home.

But before the prince and the airman part they learn to share a lot of simple joys together, like the pleasure of looking at a single flower, or taking a drink of water when you are really thirsty. Here I would like to quote a small passage from the text.

            “The men where you live,” said the little prince, “raise five thousand roses in the same garden…and they do not find what they are looking for.” “They do not find it,” I replied. “And yet whatever they are looking for could be found in a single rose or in a little water.”Yes, that is true,” I said. And the little prince added: “But the eyes are blind. One must look with the heart…”

I personally feel that there could be two levels at which this book could be read. At a superficial level this could easily be seen as an ordinary story of a Prince’s trials and tribulations and the adventurous explorations of various places. But when somebody tries to peek deeper into the story he/she would realize the deep messages of life and existence that this simple yet profound text invokes. Thus The Little Prince is a classic tale of equal appeal to children and adults. At one level it is the story of an airman’s discovery, in the desert, of a small boy from another planet –  The Little Prince of the title – and his stories of intergalactic travel, while on the other hand it is a thought-provoking allegory of the human condition. What make this book even more delightful are Saint-Exupery’s illustrations. At first glance you could be thinking that this book is a simple story for young children about a little prince.  But once you begin reading it you would realize that this is far from the truth: it is in fact a tale whose significance the adult world needs to understand urgently. It is an intricate story containing lots of ambiguities and questions that arise in the child’s mind upon observing the strange world of adults!  Thus we would be mistaken to think that The Little Prince is a story written for children only, because in reality it is a meditation intended for adults. The book beautifully weaves in its storyline the art of living, along with a system of values, and the train of thought behind them.

As teachers and educators this is a book of tremendous significance to us as it opens before us a new window of imagination. It enables us to question the ridiculous and strange world of adults that has forgotten to celebrate the simple joys of life in the race to material success. This book takes us back to the times when we ourselves were children and lived life to its fullest, finding happiness in things that were non-utilitarian. From the perspective of the child, the world of adults—the world of political manipulation, the tendencies of selfish hoarding, the egoistic pride and the need to be better than others— seems utterly absurd. The child’s uncorrupted heart cannot make sense of these emotions; he wonders why adults are not like kites flying in the abundance of the open skies. This is a book that would help us to raise these existential questions, and it is in that sense that adults are more in need of its sacred message. The Little Prince is a book which, I feel, every educator needs to engage with in order to unlearn the worldview that many of us as adults tend to take for granted.