And we all sang along

Written by Sridip Sural from Discreet Voices
Those nursery rhymes are still domiciled somewhere in our memory. Hanging by the edge of their tiny finger nails, they refuse to let go. All of us joined in unison when the teacher sang “London Bridge is falling down” without a care in the world as to what it meant or why it was written. Just sang along, following the teacher’s lead. We all have to agree that the tunes were catchy. But sadly most of the teachers made us sing those rhymes in a pretty morose “here.. just learn it by heart.. will ya???” fashion.

It’s kind of surprising to know that most of these rhymes were written between 13th to 18th century and they are still in existence. What’s more surprising is that most of these rhymes not only had hidden meanings but also referred to some political event or disaster. Like “Jack & Jill”. The origin of the poem is in France. Whom we call Jack is actually King Louis XVI and Jill is Queen Marie Antoinette. King Louis XVI was beheaded (lost his crown) first, and then Queen Marie Antoinette came tumbling after during the Reign of Terror in 1793.

Then there is “London Bridge is falling down”. It supposedly tells about the fall of Anne Boleyn. Boleyn was accused of adultery and incest and was ultimately executed for treason. “Humpty Dumpty” is about huge cannon which couldn’t be fixed once it fell. Don’t you find it weird that Humpty Dumpty looked like a giant egg? Nowhere in the rhyme does it tell that he looked like one. But, here we are, singing about an overgrown egg, sitting on a wall for reasons best known only to him and then dies in mysterious circumstances. If you notice properly, in most of the pictures the wall is not more than 8 feet high. Just a mere fall would not be enough to crack an egg that big. Plus he had two hands and legs to cushion his fall. Unless he fell like this:

So was Humpty Dumpty murdered? Or did he commit suicide? Guess, we will never know.

Would have definitely changed the ending.

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.
So they made a huge omelette,
And had it with bread,
So that people in the country knew,
He didn’t die in vain.

“Baa Baa Black Sheep”, our timeless racist rhyme, also had political undertones. No.. it’s not about slavery. It is thought to be a political satire on the export tax imposed in Britain in 1275 under the rule of King Edward I. Forget about its origin, somehow people still consider the poem to be very racist. So they went about changing it. Two private nurseries in Oxfordshire in 2006 altered the song to “Baa Baa Rainbow Sheep”. Rainbow Sheep??? Just hope this doesn’t turn out to be an anthem for the cough syrup drinking, glue sniffing youth we have nowadays. It has all the elements to be a dope classic.. the colour, the talking with animals and the “bags full of wool”. If you refer to the original version of the rhyme, the last line was ”who cries down the lane”, which can be a possible reference to cold turkey.

I have to admit though, that am fascinated by “Ring around the Rosie”. This rhyme tells about the Great Plague of London in 1665. If you haven’t heard of the rhyme before, here is how it goes:

Ring around the rosy,
A pocketful of posies,
“Ashes, Ashes”
We all fall down!

The symptoms of bubonic plague included a rosy red ring-shaped rash, which inspired the first line. People carried pockets full of fresh herbs or “posies” since they believed that the disease was carried by bad smell.  The “ashes, ashes” line refers to the cremation of the bodies of those who died from the plague.

I was wondering if such rhymes can originate in this day and age. There have been many events which can be cocooned by a rhyme. What I really want to see is a nursery rhyme originating in India. We even had an age when we could have done that. Like when the British ruled. Or when Indira Gandhi declared emergency. What if you had a chance now? What would you cover? Godhra Riots? Bhopal Gas Tragedy? 2G Scam?

It’s leaking, it’s oozing,
The worker is snoring,
All the people who went to sleep,
Smelled something that hit them deep,
And they couldn’t wake up in the morning.

P.S. Here is my favorite nursery rhyme:

A wise old owl lived in an oak,
The more he saw the less he spoke,
The less he spoke the more he heard,
Why can’t we all be like that wise old bird?

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