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.