Wednesday, November 29, 2006

LIVING FOSSIL

Young working mothers please don't take offence.Just having fun at your expense.I wrote this 2 years back and though written in the first person not all the instances apply to me.For instance my daughters live in America where domestic help is unthinkable. So those of you who have the facility go ahead and enjoy the pleasure. However, I did undertake to teach a little girl and she stopped coming to me and I heard that the mother 'didn't mind paying any amount of fees' as long as the teacher wrote out her daughter's answers.


I like to call myself a living fossil. I seem to be such a major misfit in today’s world that I decided to take stock of areas that seem totally out of tune to what I perceive as normal. Take for instance my grandson’s upbringing. He is just 2 years old and he is being sent to 3 different places to “study”.

I assure you that I attended school. My dad had a transferable job and those were days when transfers did not coincide with our academic session. My father just barged into a school of his choice filled out a form and before we knew it we were enrolled in the appropriate class. We took care not to fail an exam and that was it. We studied on our own and were praised or punished according to our understanding of the subject. We played every kind of outdoor game, read a whole lot of storybooks, got in and out of trouble and studied just before bed-time often nodding off to sleep without even finishing our home work assignments.

My children had to face slightly more competition and the onus of preparing them for an admission interview in a reputed school fell on me. I trained them as best as I could without compromising on their playtime. I spoke to them in English and made them aware some general information like ‘we see with our eyes and breathe through the nose’. I designed the syllabus myself and we went through the routine twice a day. I must have overstepped my limits because my son decided that it was our milkman and not the cow that gave us milk and my daughter declared that the color of her hair was green at their respective interviews! Nevertheless they managed to get admission in the only school that I had applied. Once admitted we led our lives in peaceful co existence, with my children agreeing to sit with their books at a particular time of the day while I believed that they were studying.

Twenty-five years have gone by and my daughter is tensed about her son’s school admission. The child can barely make himself understood and throws a tantrum when he is woken up and sent to a playschool in the neighborhood. I fail to understand why a child should be sent to school to play. I may sound old fashioned but I was brought up to believe that children went to school to study and played with other kids free of cost in neighboring parks or wherever it suited them. We are six years into the 21st century and perhaps Internet parenting suggested that in order to make children socially acceptable they had to be sent to the most expensive play school to ‘interact’ with other children. I secretly wondered if it was the parent who was in need of social acceptance. In our times we lived in isolated bungalows and jumped over walls and ran across roads to meet our friends. My daughter lives in an apartment complex which houses 118 families and a bunch of kids are always available for interaction at the park in the complex at any given time. We have security guards at the gate to ensure that the children stay within the premises. Yet my daughter pays a tidy sum to avail the right kind of interaction. Luckily the duration of the school is only an hour so what if it starts at 7 in the morning! It is quite another matter that the child’s name was registered for admission to this school even before his first birthday. I tried to reason with my daughter but continued to be silenced by the famous one liner ‘ your times were different’. Unable to witness the child’s trauma I go for a morning walk at 6 o’ clock and return after he leaves for his playschool. Apart from this play school he goes to be coached by a retired Anglo Indian schoolteacher to pick up the “right accent”. She charges a fortune to teach him nursery rhymes that I could have taught him in my free time. But as my daughter says ‘times have changed’ and perhaps my accent that was good enough for the mother was below the standard stipulated for children of the 21st century!

I had waited for around 10 years after marriage to buy an electrified food processor and perhaps another 5 years before getting myself a washing machine. Till then I was happy to ‘process food’ manually and to be frank once the mixer arrived it took me a month to get used to it. I’d switch it on only when my husband was around and unplug it the minute I finished using it. I then decided that my daughter would have all the available kitchen gadgets from the day she set up a home and so she did. She has a food processor, washing machine, a microwave, a vacuum cleaner dish washer and what not! You name it and she has it. But if you think that having them also means that she’s using them you are wrong. She has a maid who took up the job after ensuring that all the above facilities were available and the servant is paid a cool fifteen hundred for her services which include heating up food in the microwave apart from putting these gadgets to good use! My daughter also stocks up all kinds of instant mixes, readymade ginger and garlic paste, pickles, packaged rotis, precooked dals and vegetables. I tried asking her why the servant could not render manual services and with the available gadgets doing their job and a well trained maid to handle them where was the need to stock instant food? There seemed no logic in it. I was silenced by a look that said it all! ‘Who has the time?’ True no one seems to have time. Not even the two-year-old! I had enough of it so I looked around to see if other families were better off.

A young girl in the neighborhood about the same age as my daughter came home the other day to find out if there was an art’s school near by where her school going children could learn to draw and paint on Sunday mornings.

‘Why Sunday mornings?’ I wondered. I did not have to wait for long to be enlightened. The children already went for karate and swimming classes on Saturdays and Sunday evenings were taken up by their music teacher. Bal - Vihar classes were also squeezed in to familiarize them with Hindu mythology and scriptures. In short the kids were busier during the weekends than on schooldays. I felt like asking them to rebel against parental ambition.

“ When do your children play?” I asked.

“ They attend cricket coaching after school three days a week and practice yoga in the mornings.” She replied.

‘ What happened to hop scotch and hide and seek games we played as children?’ I wondered. Those games had become redundant; as had the word building, ghost stories and riddles we took up when there was a power-cut in the locality. Our times were different and our games like us had perhaps become living fossils!
I tried to look for something to do in my free time and decided to teach a few school-going children free of cost in the evenings. Word got around and a mother sent her daughter to be tutored. The child wanted help in English and mathematics and I was glad to have found a student. I made her read the lesson in her English reader explained it to her as best as I could and asked her to answer a few questions based on the lesson.

“But these questions are not given at the end of the chapter.” Protested the child.

“I am asking you these questions to judge whether you have understood the lesson. They will encourage you to think for yourself.” I tried to reason with her. “You may write the answers at home but try to answer in your own words.”

I also asked her to look up the meaning of difficult words using a dictionary.

The next day it was the mother and not the daughter who came to me. I wondered if the child was ill. The mother told me that the little girl was unable to find time to look up meanings of difficult words and frame answers to questions. She wanted to know if I could please write out the answers to the questions given at the end of the chapter and underline difficult words, which she would look up, and note down for the child.

“But” I protested, “Why don’t you let the child work on her own? If we’re going to do her home work for her how will she learn?”

“She has to complete her History project by tomorrow. Her father is helping her to do it ” Said the lady.

I could not understand the logic behind the assignment of a project that the child could not work on without outside help. I wanted to ask her if the child was over worked and was missing out on simple pleasures that one derived by working on one’s own and the joy one felt when original work was appreciated. I felt outdated and unwanted. The world around me had changed beyond recognition, as had the rules of parenting. I felt a misfit in my surroundings.

Suddenly I seemed to remember something. Not long ago when I wanted to admit my daughter to a famous but expensive technical school my mother had made her displeasure known in all possible ways.

“ Why do you want to spend so much money on a daughter’s education?” she had said.
“She will not be supporting you after marriage. You may as well invest in some gold jewelry. After all, even with all that money you spend on her education, you still have to get her married. And you better teach her some housekeeping. As for your son, well his room is a mess at any given time of the day. And the kind of music they listen to is enough to drive one crazy.”

“Your times were different” I had replied. “Whether I buy gold or not I definitely am going to educate her. She will take up a job and invest in gold or diamonds as per her wish. That’s up to her. As for housekeeping she’ll pick it up when the time comes. Why worry now?”

I am sure my mother had then felt like a living fossil then very much the way I do now.

28 comments:

Anonymous said...

h.h.g.m.:

too good. i could not stop myself from laughing out loud. as they say in kannada:

'andige ade sukhaa, indige ide sukhaa'

i am sure that you are conversant with kannada, though you are a "tamil maami (or paati)", but for the sake of your other readers, here is a loose translation, "then that was happiness in life, now this is what is happiness in life." [i am sure others who are better at kannada can provide better translations]

- s.b.

Anonymous said...

i wanted to add this with my previous comment, but forgot. anyway, here is my best impersonation of narada ...

- s.b.

NZ said...

hehehe. The tuition bit reminded me of my dad - thats his fav passtime now after retirement as teaching had always been his passion. He hates spoon feeding too and the kids ( he likes to call them his kids )love him and his attitude. Only difference being the parents love it too as those kids are soooo much more interested in studies now. He has a gift of making studying interesting. Some of them have 'real tutors' at home to help them with their homeworks and stuff :-)

lovely post HGM !!

Something to Say said...

awe come on - u are the hippest-hoppest grandmom around! Dont call yourself a living fossil :)
And yes, I laughed really hard reading your account - so good to have u back - bet your computer problem has been fixed.
And i laughed more so because - i can see myself sending my son to 5 different post-school classes - just to assure myself that he is having all-rounded development. Probably my way of making up for the fact that I wasnt sent to any. Or probably my way - of keeping him off my back :)))

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Usha said...

I really feel sad when i rememebr our sc`hool days and the kind of life today's kids have. I remember when I used to work for an NGO that offered to go to schools and tell stories one hour a week to all the primary classes, the headmistress refused saying that their syllabus was already booked with so many activities that squeezing in one more hour is absolutely impossible!
The thing was that in our times even the 60% and 70% students had opportunities available but now you have got to be 90% OR ELSE.....
Loved your style as usual.

Kalpana said...

Might be, this is generation gap.

The Inquisitive Akka said...

That was a nice post!Times sure have changed!

Archana Bahuguna said...

A very good blog and you ve touched a great topic. I also often wonder in specially in my school life currently here or my job life (as a s/w professional a couple of years back) and try to answer those two questions - "What is the rush?" and "Where are we going?". And really, when I hear those 2 year old kids giving interviews to get into school, it sounds so bizzare! I think schools have completely forgotten what they were meant to be!

To tell you frankly, I think we need something like a war or a colonization or something, that just shakes us a little and makes us understand what is important and what is not important in life. Hope we do, soon!

Mahadevan said...

Today the educational programmes are so structured that the children do not have time to be creative and to be on their own to learn. The difference in approach one finds in every generation and therefore, the 'living fossil' syndrome would pass on from generation to generation.

TSSM said...

A superb write up. I agree with you 100%.

I have two sons, both of whom know only 3 things in the house apart from their homework:TV watching and playing on the computer.They play cricket within the four walls of hour house.

Any attempt from my side to pull them out, is met by my wife's stern look and sharp comments.

You are not fossilised. The pressure on children by present day moms' have crossed all the limits. You are the one who has retained the wisdom.Children are no more children but they are adults in smaller forms.

It may require a law with stringent action for violators to bring back sanity to the present day parents.

Reading your article was a pleasure.

passerby55 said...

Hi Preeta,

a very relevant post.

sad, the same story everywhere today.I hope someday we realise and return.

As usual a wonderful way to words.
Honest. And honesty is less paid these days!

thankyou.

Has to be me said...

thats a super post....agree with u but cant agree more with ur daughter cos I fall under the similar category!!!!
v,busy is it? not seen u visit my blog fr some time?!

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KB said...

great post! I loved reading it... Being just 20 years old, I wonder how my mom brought me up :D

Vin said...

ahhh !! you r not a fossil... u r a "hep" gmom.. :-)
I Guess with generations life style changes.. it is going to b more of technology... less of socialization as we progress...

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Hip Grandma said...

hi friends!
No my comp has mnot been fixed.The technician who usually fixes it has given up.I've called a hardware expert today.Hope he manages to restore it.I've come to a cybber cafe to check mails and go thro' your comments.Will read all of your posts soon.

artnavy said...

i feel like a fossil sometimes with even people about 5 yrs younger to me- tempted to say" in my time" but I resist.

tanilan said...

I'm 33 years old and have 2 sons. I totally agree with you though. I want my kids to be able to understand the questions they are being asked. I want them to play with the other kids in the neighborhood. I want them to grow up and learn the way my parents taught me.

I think sometimes my generations tries to find the easy way out of raising our kids. We are so into our kids getting into the right schools, having the right friends, taking the right courses...we have forgot to let them be children.

It's sad, but we have become a world of convenience.

Balaji said...

:o)

ha ha...it is funny. But what you are telling is true. This annoys me also. I should admit I am not married and do not have a kid, but i think that children should play when they have to play and should study when they have to and not when they are 2 years old. that is really bad.

the mad momma said...

:O) great post... was only recently telling someone that I dont understand why my 18 month old has to go to a playschool. i want him to play freely. and yet he will never get to meet other kids because THEIR mothers are sending them to playschool. so there is nobody at home to play with. if i want company for my child i must send him to those places. i dont want him to go for yoga, karate, speech or any other class either. i have a feeling he will end up rather backward !!!!

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Life Lover said...

Good one :) I especially liked the analogy: living fossil!!

Anonymous said...

Hello. Prompt how to get acquainted with the girl it to me to like. But does not know about it
I have read through one history
Each of you has your personal story; it is your history. Keeping a diary or writing your feelings in a special notebook is a wonderful way to learn how to think and write about who you are -- to develop your own identity and voice.

People of all ages are able to do this. Your own history is special because of your circumstances: your cultural, racial, religious or ethnic background. Your story is also part of human history, a part of the story of the dignity and worth of all human beings. By putting opinions and thoughts into words, you, too, can give voice to your inner self and strivings.

A long entry by Anne Frank on April 5, 1944, written after more than a year and a half of hiding from the Nazis, describes the range of emotions 14-year-old Anne is experiencing:

". . . but the moment I was alone I knew I was going to cry my eyes out. I slid to the floor in my nightgown and began by saying my prayers, very fervently. Then I drew my knees to my chest, lay my head on my arms and cried, all huddled up on the bare floor. A loud sob brought me back down to earth, and I choked back my tears, since I didn't want anyone next door to hear me . . .

"And now it's really over. I finally realized that I must do my school work to keep from being ignorant, to get on in life, to become a journalist, because that's what I want! I know I can write. A few of my stories are good, my descriptions of the Secret Annex are humorous, much of my diary is vivid and alive, but . . . it remains to be seen whether I really have talent . . .

"When I write I can shake off all my cares. My sorrow disappears, my spirits are revived! But, and that's a big question, will I ever be able to write something great, will I ever become a journalist or a writer? I hope so, oh, I hope so very much, because writing allows me to record everything, all my thoughts, ideals and fantasies.

"I haven't worked on Cady's Life for ages. In my mind I've worked out exactly what happens next, but the story doesn't seem to be coming along very well. I might never finish it, and it'll wind up in the wastepaper basket or the stove. That's a horrible thought, but then I say to myself, "At the age of 14 and with so little experience, you can't write about philosophy.' So onward and upward, with renewed spirits. It'll all work out, because I'm determined to write! Yours, Anne M. Frank

For those of you interested in reading some of Anne Frank's first stories and essays, including a version of Cady's Life, see Tales From the Secret Annex (Doubleday, 1996). Next: Reviewing and revising your writing

Space Bar said...

oh, yes! we push our children way too much. i have a six-year-old son; i don't send him to any extra classes, and i insist on findinng for him a school that does not believe in rote learning and/or homework. why on earth would i want him or regurgitate someone else's ordinary 'lessons' when he could be spending that time inventing all the wondeful things he does?

like someone said in the comments, it's really only a cop-out. we don't want to spend that much time or effort with our children anymore because of our busy lives and so happily hand them over to the paly school teacher, the yoga teacher, the cricket coach and the swimming lessons.

sigh....