Monday, December 28, 2009

Happy New Year!!

How time flies! It was as if we just celebrated the arrival of 2009 and we are getting ready to bid farewell to the year already. I am inching closer to retirement with just 2010 in between. I think I am going to miss work but then I also thought I could not handle life after my children left home. Did life change? no, it didn't. Missing them is one thing but getting on with life is quite another thing. As the saying goes-

"If you love someone let them go......."

Would children feel comfortable thinking of a teary eyed mother missing them all the time? No, I think they want us to lead a cheerful and fruitful life so that they can pursue their interests. Similarly, much as I love my work, the next generation will have to take over while I make a graceful exit.

Then that brings me to another question that bothers me. Am I leaving the place the way I got it? I am afraid not. Our college now boasts of a huge building and a library that has grown threefold. The size of my lab is thrice the size of the lab I joined. But to be frank the input from us is much less when compared to the time I joined.

What went wrong?

The priorities of students has changed. In my drawing room I have an expensive card wishing me a "happy teacher's Day" given by the Student's union. This was not the practice 25 - 30 years back. In fact Teacher's Day celebrations were limited to schools. These days students touch our feet before exams and after results. They never did so earlier. May be I look old enough to be revered in this manner but I do not rule out the influence of TV programmes as one of the reasons for this new aspect in the student teacher equation. I don't remember ever touching my teacher's feet as a student. But I am sure I loved and respected them in the same manner as the current bunch. Then there is the culture of saying 'bye teacher' after class. Luckily or unluckily we don't have girls saying 'Hi!' when we walk into a class.

My daughter says that the student/teacher relationship is very informal in USA and perhaps the trend is catching up in India too. Whatever be the nature of the relationship, whether cordial, formal or friendly, results should speak of a job well done. I am afraid that in our part of India the syllabus as well as teaching techniques are out dated and do not appeal to aspiring students. It is an open secret that deals are struck and money is exchanged at the time of a college teacher's appointment. The meritorious who expect to be selected on the basis of merit alone can laminate their certificates and place them in a showcase for all to see. If you expect to be paid as per the 6th pay recommendations you better learn the ways of the world! When the whole world knows these things how do we expect the kids we teach to be ignorant? So will the powers that be ensure quality teaching while we turn a blind eye to the appointment process? Is it asking for too much?

If quality is compromised then our students will say 'Bye teacher' and attend a coaching institute that helps them in their career and we can sit in empty libraries and labs welcoming the odd student who makes an entry by mistake.

No, I do not want to put you off with my ramblings. Those of you with young children, please see to it that your children acquire an education that encourages them to reason and think for themselves. Expensive school claiming to provide education at par with internatinal standards are mushrooming all over the place. These schools take their students to USA and Europe for excursions. But whether it is worth the trouble is something that needs to be checked.

So in the final year of my teaching career I plan to make a few resolutions-

1. I am not going to get angry with the student who wants to adjust her classes in college to attend a computer class or MBA coaching. The outdated syllabus that is followed in our college will get them nowhere and if she has a bright future in mind I have to adjust according to her timings or accept being ignored.

2. I will mentally prepare myself to respond cheerfully to the student who says 'Hi teacher' instead of the old fashioned 'good morning or good afternoon'.

3. When the students pulls a stool and sits down in front of me I'll try my best to forget the fact that as a student I'd stand in front of the staff room and ask for permission to submit my record work and it was usually the peon that came to collect my practical record. Even if I remembered it I'd keep it to myself.

4. I'll get used to the new dance numbers like 'pappu can't dance saala' and stop lecturing on how classical dance forms were more appealing when compared to the modern version which to my ageing eyes seem like an ill practised physical exercise. May be I'll sport a cooling glass to hide the disappointment in my optical/occular expression.

5. Twenty five years back I expected students to draw from the specimen provided. Ten years back I gave them my B. Sc and M. Sc records for reference. Five years back I stopped complaining when they copied diagrams from the text book unless they were highly objectionable. Nowadays I sign anything they submit as record work. Progressive evolution I suppose. Young aspirants to a lecturer's post be prepared to get photocopies of book diagrams as record work. Already we have students downloading matter for project work from the internet without putting in even the minimum amount of preparation but examiners are glad that the copied material pertains to our subject. In future you may have Biology students submitting project work in Psychology. After all all disciplines merge at a higher level don't they??

In short I'll try my best to accept the changes taking place in society as long as it is beneficial. I may crib a little and sound critical on an occasion or two. But I do understand that a society can never be static. It has to be dynamic and progressive and though it is okay to remember 'the good old days' it is never proper to expect what worked in our times to be appropriate now.

A Happy New year to one and all of you.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Changing parenthood??

I sometimes wonder whether the equation between children and parents is undergoing a very subtle change to the extent that one hardly notices it? I cannot help thinking of a past in which parents dictated terms and children willingly or unwillingly abided by their terms and conditions. It was not easy and one did revolt occasionally. But one generally muttered under one's breath and made faces when the offender was not looking but stuck to rules all the same. it was the practice at my mother's to gradually initiate daughters and daughters in law to house work giving them time enough to pick up the customs and ways of the family. Daughters were however warned that once married they'd have to listen to their mothers in law and unlearn whatever they had picked up in their own homes. At my husband's place things were different. Once the DIL arrived on the scene the mother in law took voluntary retirement from house work. Oh yes, she gave directions as to how things may be done, she'd do the marketting and stuff but it was the daughter in law who took whole and sole responsibility. I remember feeling that the arrangement at my mother's was better while my brother's wife might have felt that she ought to be given more responsibility instead of having to play second fiddle to my mother. The grass is always greener on the other side isn't it? anyway that is beside the point. In a recent trip to the south I met two unknown ladies who travelled with me by local transport on two different occasions. We had about 40 minutes together in the first instance and with Chennai traffic at its worst it took us nearly 75 minutes to reach our destinations in the second case. I've always noticed that complete strangers feel inclined to open up with me. But what surprised me that the problems faced by both ladies were astonishingly similar. Both ladies had married children and both felt that their daughters and daughters in law were using them and it was becoming increasingly difficult for them to cope with house keeping, looking after kids etc.etc. The second lady had an employed daughter in law but the first one's daughter in law was a home maker. With my own children in far off USA I often wish they were staying anywhere in India and I'd often say that I could have helped them out if it were so. It is again the question of grass being greener on the other side. Hearing the version of these ladies has set me thinking. Despite the facility of modern gadgets that are available is house work and the associated responsibility exhausting and would it be better to lead a quiet retired life cooking for just two people than to offer to help children and allowing them to take one for granted? I am unable to decide.

The second lady traveled with me from Velacheri to Chennai central. She was visiting her daughter whose mother in law was hospitalized and needed her mother's help at home. With a smile that kind of forced she told me that she had her own house elsewhere in Chennai and planned to leave for the railway station from there but her daughter had soaked dal and rice for idly and she came all the way to her place to grind it and store part it in the fridge for future use and leave the rest for immediate consumption.

"My daughter rang me up in the morning to ask if it was okay with me. I could not say 'no'. After all she can take liberties only with me".

Why was she rushing back to Erode to her son's place I asked.

"My daughter works as an Asst. Engineer with BSNL and she had taken a week's leave while I was in Chennai She has to resume work from day after tomorrow," she said. My grand daughter will return from school well before her mother returns from work. I cannot allow the child to remain unattended as long as I am alive."

It is okay to expect parents to help and I am sure the lady did her bit willingly. But I did sense a kind of frustration in her tone. I felt that the least her daughter could have done was to have arranged for someone to drop her off at the station. It was well past nine in the night when we reached the station and with a bag in each of her hands she did have difficulty in getting down at the station in the pouring rain. I was travelling alone and had my own luggage to take care of and could not offer much help. She spoke of her son who'd come straight from home to see her off.

For what purpose, I wondered. Could he not have picked her up from his sister's house and dropped her off at the station?

The other lady I mentioned got into a local train at Mambalam and was on her way to Ennore. She had to change trains to reach her destination. She had picked up stuff for her nine month old grandson from T nagar and was returning home.

"My daughter in law finds it difficult to shop with a small child so she asked me to get some readymades for him".

She then told me that she was rushing back home because her school going son would be back from school and would soon leave for his tuitions.

"Won't your DIL attend to him?" I asked.

"We don't stay together" she said. "She stays separately in the upper floor of our house and can barely manage to look after the kid. In fact I have another daughter in law who stays in Tambaram. I 've realized one thing. You can love your children and their better halves as much as you want. You do it for yourself. It is always better to be a little formal and cordial with them once they grow up and get married. Never take any liberty with them. My husband gets angry with me but I feel that as parents we cannot let them suffer even though their priorities differ."

There have been times when I miss my children particularly during festivals but is it possible that the parent children equation has changed even without my noticing it? Roles of mothers are no longer limited to cooking and cleaning. I've seen grandparents standing at bus stops to drop or pick up grandchilren. They gladly take on more and more responsibilities. I have no problem with that. But is it not the duty of children to make life comfortable for them? Like in the case of the lady who was rushing back to attend to her school going son was it not the daughter in law's duty to offer to attend to him? I can almost hear my daughter asking why the mother could not have asked her to do so. I really have no answer except that what is right by me could be wrong by you!

Sunday, December 06, 2009

Old age or second childhood??

I wonder why a perfectly balanced, normal person gets transformed into a cribber and complainer when old age and illness sets in. My experience with people in the last lap of their lives tells me that they become worse than children in their pre-teens and dealing with them can be quite exasperating. My own mother in law was quite a handful. I had two little daughters when she became bed ridden. I had never dealt with anyone so sick and there were times when I’d be at wit’s end. Pickle and rice with plenty of gingili oil was her favorite food item. Being diabetic she was always hungry and demanded food at odd hours. But I am glad that I was young and energetic and it was easier for me to handle her. Anyone who knew my mother in law would swear that she was never like that and it was only illness that made her act the way she did.

I now hear of another dear old lady in her 80s who is bent on making life hell for everyone around her. And I cannot believe what I hear. This particular lady was a very pleasant person till about two years back. She had a pleasant smile and was always good humored. I remember a conversation I had with her daughter in law some 20 years back.

“I really wish my husband was a little more helpful” I said. “He has to be told every little thing. When he sees me buzzing around can’t he just pitch in to help? If I ask him to dice vegetables he sits in one place and I have to give him everything starting from knife and cutting board to a clean piece of cloth to wipe the washed vegetables and a container to put them in.

“Mine is just the opposite” said her daughter in law. “I really wish he’d stay out of the kitchen. He messes up everything and I have to do it all over again.”

Deep in conversation we hadn’t noticed the lady sitting just behind us.

“On the whole, neither of you are happy with your husbands” she said in an indulgent voice. “For that matter, I must admit that I too found my husband ‘not so up to the mark’ on many an occasion. It is these little differences that make life interesting.”

I did not know where to look. After all, it was her son who was being criticized. But the woman bore no grudge and simply laughed it off. She was particularly fond of me and looked forward to my visits. Her grandchildren adored her and daughters in law loved her dearly. I hear that she screams at people these days. Her voice is loaded with sarcasm and no one, including her grandsons who are now married, wants to sit and talk to her. They accuse her of being deliberately difficult. Her daughter in law is now nearing 60 years of age and is herself diabetic. She is unable to stay awake at night but the old lady will not allow her to hire a nurse or attendant even for the night. Even when one was hired for a short while she shooed her off and the daughter in law had to wake up and come for her assistance.

I don’t for a moment believe that old people act funny just to grab some attention. They are perhaps highly insecure and feel left out. Or perhaps their internal system is failing little by little and they simply feel restless and are unable to express themselves. An infant acts difficult for the same reason but one does take a child’s behavior to be part of growing up. But when it is an ageing parent or a loved one in one’s care that throws a tantrum, we lose patience. There is one moving experience I can never forget and I wish to share it with you.

My father in law was hospitalized and his days were numbered. My husband was attending to him in hospital coming home just to have a bath and breakfast. I’d visit the hospital thrice a day, taking my husband’s meals from time to time and also to relieve him even if it was for a short time. The nurse had inserted a tube into his nose for nasal feeding but my father in law perhaps in his restlessness managed to pull it off. Reinserting it would be painful and it was very difficult for my husband to see his father in so much pain. The nurses, for their part, would get angry with him for not taking proper care pf the patient. All this upset my husband and he told a friend of his that he could take it no more and wanted to go home.

"The nurses and doctors are here to look after him. After all I cannot do much and may as well go home." He said.

His friend sensed that my husband was very tired and terribly upset. He pacified him and took him out for coffee. My father in law could not speak but in the 15 minutes that followed, he kept questioning me and all others present with his eyes if his son was upset with him and had actually gone away. I kept telling my father in law that he would not go home and would be back soon. And the relief I saw in his eyes when the son returned cannot be adequately described in words. He looked up to my husband for support and security just as a child would look up to its parent.

I don’t really know why some are patient and others throw tantrums when their health fails. But I do know that all of us going to reach that stage sooner or later and difficult though it may be, one ought to deal with an old person with patience and kindness. We cannot take away their pain or insecurity. All we can do is to treat them with the love and affection that they’ve always showered on us and if due to our busy schedule we are unable to give them the required attention at least let us not be critical of their behavior. Let us accept it as the second childhood in their lives and understand that if growing up was difficult phasing off is not easy either.