Magane Manogara!

I sit in a sofa looking around listlessly. A little away from me, sitting at the head of her dining table, the Tamil teacher presides over a small group of 10 year olds. There are two girls reciting Thirukkural loudly and a boy who is copying down answers from his open text book.

And there’s my son, sitting there bewildered..

The girls voices raise in competing with each other. The boy stops writing to check something with the teacher. Suddenly the teacher’s grandson who has been playing in the drawing room screams. Before anybody could react, one of the Thirukkural girls runs towards him and picks him up. “Auntie! He has done su-su!” She wrinkles up her nose. The teacher immediately gathers the boy from her and heads to the restroom, shouting instructions to the children over her shoulder.

Oblivious to all this, the teacher’s mother-in-law sits near me in another sofa, her head thrown backwards and is snoring softly.

The teachers comes back to her seat, settling her grandson on her lap and continues her lessons with my son.

“What day is it today? How do you say this in Tamil?’  She asks him.

My son stares at his toes. “Come on! Tell me!” She prompts him. He sinks lower in his chair. “Take a guess.” She cajoles him. “I’ll not mind even if you give me the wrong answer. Don’t feel shy!” She laughs. My son cringes some more.

Indru enna kizhamai!” She booms the answer. “You repeat what I just said!” He mumbles something inaudible. “Come on! Louder!” She encourages him.

Then she looks at me across the room. “Ennamma idhu? (What’s this?) Your son has no comprehension of the language. And he’s born and brought up in Chennai!” She clucks.

tlc051014bwevNow it’s my turn to cringe.

Before you judge me, let me assure you that I’m certainly not one of those hoity-toity moms who thinks it’s uncool to let her child learn his mother tongue.

But as Murphy’s law would have it, especially when it comes to children, you end up doing the exact opposite of what you had planned.

Before I had my son, I always looked at parents of misbehaving kids with diasdain.  ‘How could they let their kids get away with such behaviour?’ I used to wonder. ‘I’ll never be like that when I have my own!’ I used to resolve to myself, in my blissful ignorance.

Of course, once my son was born, I just had to add pepper & salt to my words and gobble them all up.

Tantrums in the mall, check. Screaming in the theatres, check. Making another child cry in a restaurant, Check.

By the time he turned 5, I’d been there and done all that and more.

Anyway,  I swore to myself that my son will never be one of those snooty kids who spoke only in English and think it’s infra dig to talk in their own language. I spoke to him only in Tamil and urged the father to do the same in Telugu. Though he played along most of the time, my husband invariably reverted to English after the first sentence.

But I plodded on. A friend still remembers when my son  was around two, I got palpitations when I heard her talk to him in English, . “How you yelled at me!” She recalls even now. “Like I slapped him or something!”

And I was very happy his baby-talk was all in Tamil.

Amma! Menaam!” He used to scream when he didn’t want something.

Inniyum’ meant another. “Biyam’ meant he was scared.

Our initial ecstacy over his utterences soon turned to worry when we realised he hadn’t graduated beyond his one word sentences at three, when my friend’s son who was a few months younger was belting out full sentences like an adult.

I panicked as usual. He had just started play-school and there were so many more to compare him to.

One friend suggested it was because we were confusing him with too many languages. “He just doesn’t know which one to communicate with. Just stick to one language and see the difference. I’ve seen the same thing happen to so many kids”.

It made sense to us and that was the end of Tamil & Telugu for him. We conversed with him only in English and lo and behold, he was talking nineteen to a dozen in a month.

Cut to present.

At ten, my son has made me eat my words all over again with a lot more pepper & salt. Since English is the only language he uses for communication and thanks to the All-American entertainment he gets from Disney channel, he is snooty and refuses to talk in Tamil.

And when he utterly has to, he sounds exactly like M.R.R. Vasu in an old Tamil film playing a Marwari money-lender.

I still would have shamelessly shrugged, blamed it on TV and went on with life. But trouble brewed when I had to choose Tamil for his second language. Only other choice was Hindi and my knowledge of that language ends with the sporadic bollywood movies I watch.

Last year I realised the gap between his textbook and his actual understanding of Tamil was greater than the widest of oceans.

So I now sit in this drawing room three days a week amidst a cacaphony of voices which strangely reminds me of a 80s Bhagyaraj film set and giggle shamelessly at my son saying things like “naan en amma veedu ponaan” (Which is supposed to mean I went home with my mother.)

When I asked him why I should wait there instead of running some errands he replied, “Because it’s all your fault Amma! You did the crime, so you do the time!”

Serves me right.

Homework…

My son had 6 weeks off from school. During which time he was supposed to catch up on his maths. We had 2 entire work-books to finish.

And yours truly was in charge. And terribly apprehensive about the whole thing.

Now let me  give you an inkling of what kind of student I used to be.  Once,  I spent the entire a day before a math test, making greeting cards by pasting pencil-shavings. (they made pretty attractive flowers, actually.) Then spent the next morning working myself up to a major state by trying to study at the breakfast table, enroute to school, etc.

Lets not even get into the marks I scored!

Totally forgetting all this, I looked at him sternly. He was actually eager to do the sums. “Good,” I thought to myself.

He had to add up numbers. There was this row of numbers from 1 to 20. And if he needed to add 2 + 7, he had to put his finger at 2 and count 7 to find out the answer.

He did the first one with great speed.

Next one was a bit slow.

The third one was ‘difficult’.

The fourth was ‘boring’.

He looked at me pleading. “Amma, please, can I take a break?”

“Ok, I relented.  “But only 5 minutes”

“Ten minutes..” He bargained.

I gave in. I Picked up a book and began reading.

He took a fresh paper and started drawing Hanuman and his army of monkeys.

The ten minutes stretched to half an hour. All my efforts to get him back to Maths were met with screams of  “But I’m busy!” or “Look at this!” He was so engrossed in drawing that I let him be.

But after half an hour, I lost my cool.

“Now!” I said sternly. “I want you to finish that page!”

He whimpered a bit, but went back to the book.

“What’s 8+4?” I plodded on.” Where’s 8? Put your finger on it.”

He looked at me with big, sad and accusing eyes.

“I don’t know.” He said in a small voice.

I took his hand and guided it to 8.

“Now, count!” I ordered.

He stopped mid-way  and said, “I’m soooo tired!”

“Just 5 more sweetie… ” I cajoled. “C’mon! You can do it! You’re so good at this!”

He responded by sliding down his miniscule writing desk with an exaggerated groan.

I tried to pull him up, but he clung to the legs of the chair, shouting, “I can’t! Leave me!!!” and groaning “Aiyyooo!!!”

I burst out laughing. I suddenly thought of my own wayward ways of handling homework even when I was in my teens.

Startled he sat up and looked at me.

“Go on!” I waved him away. “Play! Draw! Do what you want!”

Shocked at my reaction, he stared at me dumb-founded for a second before charging out of the room with his usual war cries.

Actually, I really don’t mind if he doesn’t grow up to be an Einstein. I really don’t mind if he even takes up grazing cows!

I know, I know, I’m a bad mother…  but Krishna the cowherd had more fun and less pressure than Einstein, anyway!!!

PS: I was so relieved when I learned later that completing the work-books were not mandatory. It was just to help him at home to stay in touch with what he’s been learning at school. Phew!