Lessons in history

“Social activities in the Neolithic age included FaceBook, Whatsapp & Google Plus.” 

“A mummy is a dead body covered with toilet tissue paper and more toilet tissue paper to preserve it.”

  

I was baffled with the answers in my son’s history class work notebook he had got on the last day of school.

My son goes to a school that encourages freethinking and does not believe in pressurizing kids with exams. While its fabulous news for his creative side, my son takes total advantage of the system when it comes to serious studying. His main objective to go to school is to meet friends and play football. Oh and the studies just happen on the side.

This point was brought home strongly when we got his year-end report.

All the teachers had just one thing to say. He’s not attentive in class and does the barest minimum work needed and runs out to play.

Though it was pretty much the same report we’ve been getting since he started school, it’s no longer cute when he’s almost a teenager.

So this summer holidays, I decided take charge of his academia. No more easy-going mom who lets him get away with vegetating in front of the television the whole day.

I decided to start with rewriting history. Going through what he had done his notebook all year either sent me into a fit of rage or rolling on the floor laughing. He just did not have a clue.

In an ideal world, we would probably sit together companionably, go through the books with his full cooperation and my son would be an ace in history in two weeks.

But since we live in a world where a PS4 and football are the reigning gods, the television full of fabulous programs, we start off the morning bickering about setting the time for the lessons. And at the agreed time, he flies into a rage because I’m causing him to lose a virtual football game.

When I try meekly after an hour, I’m met with the same resistance. By then it’s time for lunch.

When I check with him after lunch, it’s the same tantrum. I’m at my wits end now and go into my momster mode. Then he swiftly changes his tune and with a woebegone face, starts on how he hates summer holidays and how I torture him with studies.

After all this we manage half an hour of sitting sullenly with each other and go through the books. But instead of focusing on the core of the lesson, we get sidetracked with so many unimportant details. Why isn’t the statue of the dancing girl in Harappan Civilization standing like a fashion model and not at all like a dancer?

Or he comes up with the profoundest of questions like “At what age do you reckon I’ll get married?” To which I replied scathingly, “It all depends on how good you study. If you’re going to goof off like this, you’ll never graduate and you’ll never get a job to support a wife and family!”

Stung, his bonhomie changes to open hostility and we continue the rest of the lessons with barely masked anger.

Of course most days are interspersed with me running behind deadlines, him busy with play-dates and we don’t even touch the books on those days.

It has taken us almost a month to cover 3 chapters. And there are still math & science books to open.

Oh how I long for those far away summer holidays of my childhood where clocks did not exist!

But, despite the tantrums, despite my working hours going crazy, something tells me I’m not going to like the strangely quiet, neat and tidy house, once the school reopens.

A wise man once told me, “There’s no quality time or quantity time when it comes to children. There’s only time.”

 

 

 

 

 

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May I come in?

DoorToDoor

I answered the doorbell.

Two young women, probably in their early twenties, smiled brightly at me and said, “Good Morning Ma’m! Can we speak to you for a few minutes?”

They were decently clothed, each carrying a backpack and looked like any office-going girls we see on the road.

“May we come in?” They asked sweetly, totally ignoring my perplexed expression.

Of course I wasn’t sure if I could let them in.

I was home alone and I’ve read stories of thefts and scams by women like this.

They came in anyway, took their seats and started a sales pitch about caring for cancer patients.

They had been trained well. But despite their eager, hard-selling faces I was frantically looking for excuses to pack them off as politely as I can without parting with any money.

Sure enough, they took out a bunch of receipts & cheques to show me the transparency of their system. None of the cheques were made for anything less than Rs. 8500.

I gently told them I’ll have to check with my husband and will get back to them through their website. They were reluctant and tried to appeal to my compassionate side, but I didn’t give in.

They left after having a glass of water.

My sigh of relief was short-lived. I suddenly realised that while the girls were genuinely a part of a legitimate organisation, didn’t they put themselves in danger by entering the drawing rooms of so many strangers’ homes each day?

There are so many repressed, lecherous men waiting for a chance like this.

And two isn’t an ideal number for safety.

There is a report of rape in the papers every single day.

What exactly is the point of companies that use these women to canvas for their cause like this?

We, as parents teach our children not to talk to strangers, not to accept money or any other gift from strangers. Then when they’re barely out of their teens, we send them off to total strangers’ homes to do the very opposite.

On the other hand, crooks and cons use the guise of the same vulnerable sales force to gain entry into households for thefts.

My mother-in-law had a surprise visit one Sunday night from two women posing as officials from the gas agency to check the cylinder. They demanded Rs. 2000 to fix an alleged leak in the tubes. They left only after a belligerent neighbor from the next apartment stepped in and ordered them out.

*******

When I was in grade 8, there was this drive to collect money for an NGO for senior citizens in my school. A lady from the organisation addressed us during the morning assembly to enlighten us on the plight of the neglected elderly and how we can help them.

Each of us were given a form with our names on top with 20 blank lines below to fill with the donors’ names and the amount.

We were urged to ask our family, neighbours and friends for donations. We were also given a minimum individual target.

That evening, I approached 2 of my neighbours. One literally shut the door on my face and another reluctantly parted with Rs. 10.

Feeling very humiliated, I stormed back home and banned my younger brother from trying to get donations even before he began.

Once my father came back home from work, I related the incident to him and demanded he pay our minimum target to save us from further embarrassment. He readily agreed and offered to meet  my principal the following day to give him a piece of his mind. He reluctantly let it go, after I begged him not to.

Imagine our shock a few days later, my brother’s classmate dropped in home for a game of table tennis (on our dining table) with his pocket jingling with coins.

When we asked him how come he had so many coins & he replied it was his collection of the day for the drive. He said the teacher said he can ask strangers too, so he’s been asking people waiting in the bus stops on his way to school and everywhere.

We were horrified. We told him off and asked him to stop it at once. He was a very well-off boy, who lived in a posh house with his parents and brother. And he was so naive he didn’t even think people mistook him for a beggar! At age 10, he was just following his teacher’s instructions.

********

Really! Aren’t there any other means to raise funds for a cause without using kids and young women like this?

True, there are certain smart kids who are confident and capable enough to collect money, but what about kids like me, my brother and his friend?

I’m sure this marketing system was a successful business model once, but what is the point of hard-selling door-to-door, when SMS marketing and phone marketing have taken over?

Please, please let’s not support a system that puts so many children and young adults in danger. And help conmen misuse it so.

 

 

 

 

 

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.

Decency & Decorum

Pardon me if this post sounds preachy… (But if I can’t rave & rant about things that irritate me in my blog, what’s the use of it?!)

Road-rage is rampant in our cities. I’m subjected to it on a daily basis. Even if I try to keep my cool, there’s always some boorish nut case challenging my resolve.

He honks non-stop when I have no place to move this side or that and even if I get fed up & give him way, all he does is get caught between my car & the car in front of him!

And some take great pleasure in overtaking you from the left… When you least expect it.

And of course with my 8 year old son travelling with me most of the time, I have to constantly watch what I’m saying.

Once when he was 4, we were off to some place. After ten minutes, he asked me “Amma, where’s that idiot uncle?”

“Who?”

“That uncle who always comes on the bike every time…”

It took me a minute to realise he thought there was just one guy on a bike every day who irritates me & his name is ‘idiot’!

Oh and don’t even get me started on auto drivers! Yesterday, an auto suddenly shot out of a side road, directly on to my path on the main road. The driver was not even aware of me screeching to a halt within inches of him because he was too busy talking to someone on his mobile.

The other day a group of us in a car burst out laughing at an auto driver who was casually manoeuvring his auto with one hand and holding a hot cup of tea on the other. God save his passengers if he had to hit a pot hole!

All these are just a few examples of the hundreds of irrational driving in our roads. In almost all cases, accidents are just waiting to happen. Only avoided in the last minute with some divine intervention!

I’m not getting into drunken driving. That’s a whole new ball game altogether.

This kind of behaviour does not stop with just driving. We encounter indecent, thoughtless, mindless stuff everywhere. People throwing junk behind their walls, spitting on the roads, talking loudly on their phone in public places… the list is endless.

The easiest way to lable these ‘don’t-care’ attitude of our people is to blame the government & corruption. But aren’t we living in a democracy? Shouldn’t we take the blame too, for keeping quiet & letting hooligans inherit the earth?

I feel the government officials, administrators, lawyers, judges, politicians should not be blamed.  They just go beserk with a little bit of power and their kith & kin get equally drunk with the reflected glory.

How will they know what they’re doing is wrong when they were never taught to behave with decency & decorum?

How will an illiterate auto/cab driver know it’s indecent to honk too often? How does a mechanic rushing off to his job on a bike know it’s wrong o overtake from the left? How will a man realise it’s wrong to urinate in public if his parents taught him to do just that when he was a kid?

Do you know what will really help? Catch them young.  Why wait for people to grow into adults and start teaching them ethics and values?

In my opinion ‘Decency’ should be taught in schools as a subject. Not just as an optional, with no marks subjects like Moral Science, but compulsory, up there with Maths, Science & the languages.

Children should be taught good manners, on being sensitive to other people around them, care for the environment, everything under the sun which comes under decency & decorum. People who fail in ‘Decency’ should not be allowed to progress to the next class.

Just imagine. After say ten years, we’ll have a new crop of people who’ll be courteous to each other. Road-rage will be extinct. People will patiently wait for their turn in queues instead of pushing each other like savages. Government employees will be punctual and treat people with utmost kindness. Auto drivers will drive carefully & return the exact change due. Maids will do their jobs sincerely and not bunk at the drop of a hat. Colleges will be more honest about the courses they offer and more transparent with what they do with the fees they receive. Builders will not cheat by using substandard materials for the price of better ones.

There will be less fights and more peace.

Less noise pollution and more happiness.

Less stress and more bliss.

Utopia, here I come.

Its raining, its pouring…

My father used to be paranoid about sending us to school when it rained. My brother was very happy with this arrangement and would proceed to spend the day with gay abandon, but I’d usually start to fret. To me, going to school used to be the sole purpose of my day. If  you take that away from me, I just wouldn’t know what to do. There was always some friend to whom I’d promised something or a test which had to be written or a teacher waiting for an assignment.

Once,  I must have been in class 6. My grandparents were visiting. As usual, my grandmother took over the kitchen and went about cooking all our favourite foods and griped about how we never get to eat properly, thanks to the working mother we had.

Since the school I went to was about three streets away, I decided to come home for lunch.

And by the time I set off to school again, lo and behold, it started pouring cats and dogs. Since my father was also expected to come home for lunch, I hurriedly put on my long Duckback raincoat, ensured my school bag was protected against the downpour and stepped into the pouring rain amidst loud protests from my grandparents.

We’s just moved back into town, so the school we went to was a transit one, while waiting for admissions from a bigger school.

It was actually a small house converted into a school, with hardly ten students per class. And since we were only four of us in class 6, we were seated in a long bench with a long desk in the verandah. The teacher normally walked to & fro or perched on the broad parapet  while teaching.

I had hardly settled into my corner of the bench after removing my raincoat and set my bag beside me, when I heard a screech of brakes. There was my father, as angry as ever, driving right into the open gates of the school and stopped right in front of my class, the verandah. He lowered the window and barked at me, “Get in!”

Totally  taken aback, I looked at the teacher’s face. Equally shocked, she gestured me to ‘just go’.

We rode back home with me sniffing into my hanky at the humiliation and my dad listing all kinds of mishaps that could have finished off my life enroute to school. (Open manholes, falling trees, to name a few).

I was surprised to learn none of my friends’ parents shared this strange paranoia. Most of them ensured their kids never used the rain as an excuse to bunk school.

Later, being in a bigger school never discouraged my father to keep us home during a shower.

In grade 10,  I had to write a model exam. (A preliminary internal exam before the actual board exam). I woke up with a raging fever and it was raining. I begged and pleaded with my father to let me go to school for just an hour. Of course he didn’t let me.

“This is not an IAS exam, you know. ” He told me sternly. After giving me a grossly exaggerated account of what would happen if I risk stepping out even for a minute in the rain, (“There’s this nerve in your brain which will explode when you go in the rain with fever. Instant death!”) he ordered me to go back to bed.

Even now I’m queasy to step out in the rain. But I never shy away from driving my son to school when it pours. We both kind of enjoy the drive, except for splashing water on an unsuspecting pedastrian on a cyclist. (I always mouth an apology)

Now my father calls me when it is raining, ” So, you’ve dropped him off at school in the pouring rain?” He asks accusingly.

“Yes, and he’ll not melt you know..” I retort cheekily.

But last week, I made an exception. My son was just recovering from a viral fever. He was all set to go to school after two days of driving me crazy with all his unspent energy (yes, even with his raging fever and lack-lustre eyes, he had to be up and about), when I noticed it was raining heavily. Old fears reared their ugly heads back . “You cannot go to school in this rain,” I told him. “What if you get your fever again?”

My husband raised an eyebrow. “Stop making him a sissy!” He growled.

“He’s not exactly studying for the IAS, you know. Its only class 1” I informed him. “And I’m the one who stays with him when he has fever. ”

My husband shrugged and went back to his newspaper.

My son has been watching our exchange with great excitement. He looked at me questioningly.

“You go to bed, baby!” I told him.

“Yippee!” he did a jig and ran back to bed to sleep some more. Fortunately or unfortunately, he takes after my brother in such issues. Didn’t fret a bit like me.

My father was extremely pleased with me when he called later.

I know creatures like my father and I are slowly getting extinct in this rat-race, but once in a while, it’s nice to take a break when it rains and chill with a hot cuppa and pakodas and just watch the rain from the window…

Lab Visit…

Yesterday, my son went on a field trip from school. He was taken to a nearby higher secondary school, specifically to the science lab, so that these four-year-olds can get familiarised with the subject.

When I went to pick him up later, I was told most of the children enjoyed the visit and asked a lot of questions.

After coming back, all the children were asked to draw pictures of what they had learnt or their take on science or something along those lines.

The pictures were then put up outside class to the eager parents.

Most of the children had tried to draw a butterfly or a potted plant or earth and sun or an egg morphing into a butterfly.

The teacher had written down what each child had told her about his/her drawing.

The last drawing is what my son has done. Its nothing but vengeful scribblings with all the colours he could find.

The footnote says, “Monster & a boy. (Skeleton)” I have absolutely no clue what that means.

I know I’m supposed to view with an open mind and all that.

But I’m seriously worried for him…

Answered Prayers…

After that horrendous experience in my son’s school last March, I had frantically tried most of the good schools I could think of inside city limits. (I was tired of driving 10 kms one way!)

Walking into a school in my own neighborhood, I’d fallen in love with what I saw. It had such a friendly ambience, lots of space in front for the kids to run around and fantastically informal & colorful classrooms… Was sure my son would love it too. But as luck would have it, all admissions were closed. I left an application, nevertheless.

When school began in mid-June, I’ had no choice but to send him back to that same distant school. Now I had to make the trip twice. Once to drop him and once to pick him up.

Just when I’d braced myself for that routine, I get a call out of the blue from the school I loved. Am I still interested in a seat for my son?

Of course I am.

I was asked to meet them today.

I’ve just met them and he’s got himself a seat!!

Its just two minutes walk from home and he just loves it!!

Heaven!!

I also heard that some moms out there in the old school were smirking that I came back this year after fighting so much with the management..

So my pride is back too!

Disillusioned, further…

Just wrapping up the school issue.

After 2 weeks of all this hullabaloo, the school seems terrified. The story seem to have spread like a wild fire, thanks to parents like me who’s been telling all and sundry, so they can watch out for their kids. So the authorities have suddenly woken up to the fact that its dangerous to let parents inside for more than ten minutes. Especially when there are lot of prospective parents walking into school everyday.

Now parents have been kindly requested to drop their wards in school and go back. No more waiting in the school. And when we come back, we face a security guard and a grilled gate in the lobby and a stern, sour-faced coordinator who lets the children one by one to their waiting parents outside.

On the personal front, my son has not got admission anywhere else. So I just have to brave it out in this fabulous school till November. And pray everyday that I’ll get a positive response from a nice school by then.

The silver lining is that my son seems to be enjoying the school.

Thanks so much, all you guys, for holding my hand through all this. It meant a lot to me when most people were asking me to keep off such things, how my kid may be targeted by the school for my impudence, etc.

My next post is going to be cheerful, I promise.

The death of innocence

What’s the point in having a blog if I don’t air my grievances?

Here’s my recent one.

My son’s classmate was molested in school. She’s three and a half.

Her only fault is , she’s born to parents who are not aggressive. Who are unaware of their rights as parents. Who are not capable of taking the school to task.

I came to know of it by chance. When I contacted the mother on an issue not connected to school.

It was 2 weeks after the incidence, when she blurted it out to me . Said she’s been meeting people in school, but though in the beginning the school authorities seemed supportive, they refused to admit the offender was a staff of the school. They tried to brush it off by saying it could have happened in the restroom when she went unaccompanied. The offender could have been a cleaner who’s not in their rolls. From an agency whose under a contract with the school. But we’ll make sure from now on all the students will be accompanied to the restroom by an ayah.

She told them that she had her daughter examined by a doctor who was horrified and said she was lucky that her daughter spoke to her about it. There are lot of children who silently suffer because they’re too young to know that its an offence. What if he’s still lurking in school? He might try the same thing on another child.

The school did not take her seriously and made her sign a letter in English. Its content was not explained to her.

I was furious and told her the school had given her the brush off because she’s not aggressive. I promised to round up some more parents and confront them together.

During the course of the weekend, me & a fellow-parent called as many parents we could. We joined forces, entered the school only to find the coordinator too busy to meet us. When we raised a hue & cry, another coordinaor who hasn’t heard the problem before (we believe you) came forward to address us. After we briefed her on what had happened, she assured us that the school will take necessary action and how they’re equally concerned, but we as parents should not spread this among other parents since it’ll damage the school’s reputation. Fair enough, we said. Catch the offender and kick him out and we’ll keep our promise.

She asked us to wait in the lobby, till the Kindergarten coordinator and the principal came back from whatever was keeping them.

So we waited.

A little later the affected parents walked into the office again to see if they can secure a picture of the employees of the school, so they can make their daughter identify the offender at home when she was in the right mood.

The minute they went inside office, The principal and 2 more coordinators came back, hijacked them into the Principal’s office, before we had the chance to join them.

We waited outside, even after our kids had come back from their classes and were ready to go home.

The parents emerged a while later to tell us the Principal was furious that they’d told other parents. And had asked her to send us home, since she had no time to speak to us.

“We are taking necessary action. You can tell the other parents the same” was her instruction to the parents.

We have a handful of celebrity parents at school and its hilarious to see the correspondent & the princi fawn all over them whenever they walk in to drop or pick up their kid.

They even held up the Annual day celebrations till all the celebrity parents had taken their seats in the auditorium.

It got me thinking, will she have reacted the same way had it been a parent who’d been atriculate in English and was well-connected?

Had we been told so subtly to get out of their premises, if one of us waiting parents had been a celebrity?

And you know what takes the cake?

When a friend called the school to find out if this incident about child abuse was true, the coordianator tells her breezily, “oh, nonsense! the mother is mentally disturbed due to some harassment at home and is just spreading stories…”

Even if that’s true, how will a father go through his wife’s stories and bring harm to his own daughter’s name?

Which mother, however disturbed, would say something so shocking about her own daughter?

For what gain?

The child is now undergoing counselling to come out of the trauma. The parents are harrowed and has totally lost faith in people.

Now my ego is hurt too, because I’m not entitled to see the principal to address any issue because I’m not a celebrity mom.

A friend told me this is the trend with schools. They’ll never admit to any mistakes on their part and hush up anything unpleasant. When a similar incident occurred at her daughter’s school (very reputed school in the city for years, by the way) the parents had to fight tooth and nail to kick out the offender. The explanation the school gave was that he was on their roll for 30 years and they just cannot dismiss him in one day.

I’m depressed to see schools take the offender’s side (however subtle) to safeguard their reputation than the child side, whose whole life is ruined.

I’m pulling my son out of this school where the discrimination is so high even in such a serious issue as child abuse.

I’ shall try once more to see the principal to get my son’s transfer certificate if not for anything else. (Not that he needs it for preschool)

And if I get the brush off again, I shall reveal the school’s name here.