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Maternal mumbo jumbo.

Oochoo-boochoo," she said, unmindful of the others around. Then, for variety, "Oogoo-boogoo!" Then, a series of the two oddly-rhyming nonsensical terms, in rapid succession.

One or two passengers sat stoic and statue-like, nary a face muscle twitching. Two or three others glanced surreptitiously, trying not to seem interested at all. A vast majority, however, craned left and right to look.

But the young woman, concentrating on her meticulous syllabification, crooned on. Presently she invented an entirely new set of meaningless rhyme words and chanted these for a while. All the time, her voice would rise and rise, heading towards a point of laughter. Then she would chuckle delightedly and, if any of those passengers not looking were really listening closely, they would have heard not one but two chucklers - the woman, yes, and a second one even more delighted, her voice rising towards a point of uncontrollable laughter.

The craning watchers, though, would have seen them straight off: mother and infant. Hardly a single intelligible word was uttered but the baby laughed as though every single word made perfect, hilarious, sense.

That's the thing with babies, I - one of the biggest craners - thought. They can make you resort to all kinds of nonsense, just to keep them pleased. Even at such a diminutive stage, it's they that call the tune and the adults that dance to it.

I have, in the course of my life, heard numerous other mothers and fathers, brothers and sisters, do likewise: jabber away in gibberish and still be rewarded with furious hand-kicking and hand-waving that is the equivalent of an infant's applause.

One of my friends - a very learned person - very conscious of this incomprehensible 'hullabaloo' we feed infants, decided very early on in his marriage that his children, if he had any, would hear nothing but strict sense from the minute they were born. I am not sure if he ever had to tell off an exuberant aunt or niece and cut short their 'nonsensical cackling' to his two children - a girl, then a boy. But I'm sure if that did occur, he would have stepped in very forthrightly and nipped things in the bud.

Scientists say that a child's mind is like a fresh sponge - it can absorb freely all the early impressions that come its way. "Why," reasoned my friend, "waste precious moments of a young life feeding it a lot of trash it will never, ever use when it grows up? Why clutter up its mind, when the same space could be used to pack in useful information?"

So serious was he, I'm pretty certain he sat by their cradles and read them Dickens (unabridged), or Defoe or Scott. I've got to say that, whatever he read them, whatever material their young minds received, it has stood them in good stead. Now grown and young adults themselves, one of them is a double MA, working towards a career in industrial law. The other has a business degree and an accompanying assurance that may very well see him become a CEO at a tender age.

It would be interesting to hear what the experts really have to say on this. I haven't really case-studied any youngsters who have been the recipients of 'mindless crooning'. All I have is the evidence of my friend's children, both very well spoken, both very well informed, both making grand progress in their fields.

True, they lack an abundant sense of humour. They both think a little too deeply before spotting a joke and letting slip the wry smile, as though the joke tricked them by not revealing itself earlier.

Those are minor blemishes. Or are they? Have they gained more than they've lost? I don't know. I'm a serious-minded type but I'm certain my dad didn't read me Dickens when I was 18 months. I'm more likely to think he, in an unguarded moment when unwatched, behaved like the woman on the train. It's something to think about, all you young parents out there - especially those with babies on the way.

AaKevin Martin is a journalist based in Sydney, Australia.

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Publication:Gulf News (United Arab Emirates)
Date:Oct 1, 2009
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