Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Educating Tee

Education is akin to religion for the great Indian middle class. Even as you are changing your baby’s nappy for the 25th time, fantasising about a good night’s sleep and dying to turn the clock back to your non-motherhood days, your family elders start making excited plans and knowledgeable predictions about your newborn’s future. Oh she loves tearing pages off the you think she will be an educationist? Doesn’t she look cute jamming her fingers in electrical sockets....she will undoubtedly be an electrical engineer. Look at her, trying to dissect the cockroach with her fingers....yes she will be a doctor. Unfortunately my daughter was a big drama queen and loved looking at herself in the mirror....nobody dared suggest her vocation based on that.

It is usual for parents, grandparents and everybody else still alive in the family tree to take the business of educating their latest addition in the family rather seriously, more so if you hail from the Eastern states. The grandma will insist on teaching Bangla limericks even as your baby drools. The grandma’s dad on ventilator will give you a grim lecture on the need to inculcate serious studying habits at an early age. The granddad will read out Kafka to his granddaughter, her baffled expression be damned. And you will let out an exasperated sigh and exclaim “Can I first potty train her please????”

I guess I was unusually casual and gave more priority to sundry things like trying to keep my baby from plunging herself in a bucket of water or dissuade her from sticking a pencil up her nose. One fine sunny afternoon, standing on our ground floor balcony, reality hit me with a loud thud. It was neighbour's barely two year old son confidently rattling off English alphabets and numbers, while his Mum proudly looked on. Try as I might, I couldn’t share her jubilation and before her bonny boy could move on to Greek, I mumbled an apology and ran inside. I have been a bad, bad mom. My Tee is a good six months older and all she does is play around with the jhadoo & karhai and yelp in joy every time she sees the maid mopping the floor. A bleak future awaits her and she will curse me as she scours utensils for a living.

Soon it was time for Tee to go to preparatory school and for me to join back work. I realized a little belatedly that our baby girl didn’t know a word of Hindi. The husband and I had made a conscious decision to speak to her only in Bangla, so that she gets her mother tongue right. No “come baby, run to Mama, sit...stand..” for us. But kids can adapt wonderfully. By the time Tee was four she was speaking fluent Bangla, Oriya (courtesy our maid) and functional Hindi. By the time she was six, she was speaking good English, but had forgotten her Oriya.

Most mothers take schooling more seriously than their kids. They may have had carefree childhoods and barely passed their exams, but they want to make sure their progeny turn into an Einstein or Bill Gates. They derive a vicarious sense of achievement from the trophies their children bag. I had a simple criterion – I wanted Tee to go to a school where studies are the last priority. I wanted her to go to the school I went to. From clay modelling, to rendering songs for the dead departed children of Hiroshima, to teaching pre-delinquent kids, to whistling at ward boys under the garb of hospital service, we did it all. And if we had time left, we studied. And strangely our academic results were great. I wanted her to have a childhood she’ll cherish and I wanted a carefree motherhood for myself

Tee did have a carefree childhood but our parenthood was far from stress free. In class II, her class teacher banned unhealthy preserves and peanut butter from their sandwich. All my mornings were fraught with anxiety, wondering which unsuspecting vegetable’s turn it was to get sandwiched that day. Her weekly hobby class with its long list of unusual requirements gave me endless nightmares. 25 ice cream sticks, three medium sized white pebbles, 25 pink feathers, and the dreaded list was unfailingly sent just the day before. As if it’s usual to have a flock of pink feathered birds who shed on demand. Or it’s normal for every household to have a collection of ice cream sticks, handpicked from garbage cans. The school’s fancy dress parties on its founder’s day had me on the boil. Fishing out accessories, running to the neighbourhood boutique to get fancy ensembles stitched. Since my sewing is more like a cobbler’s and my craft skills almost non-existent, it was the husband’s duty to create elaborate Red Indian head gears or make antlers for her butterfly avatar. Yes, dadhood is a lot of hard work too. We had our proud moments ..six year old Tee on stage playing the fretting Mom, complaining loudly about her son’s TV watching habit....shimmering on stage doing her Japanese dance and chattering incessantly between breaks, completely oblivious to the audience...

Tee sat for her first board exams this year and it coincided with my leaving my job after months of dithering. Most of my colleagues assumed it was for the sake of her studies. I didn’t want to disappoint them and happily nodded in agreement. I’ve had very little to do with Tee’s education. True, when she was younger I helped her out with her revision but as she grew older I just let her be. Did keep a watchful eye on her, nagged her once in a while but since she always managed good grades I happily maintained a safe distance. It was when I started spending time at home I realized how little she studied. During her preparatory leave, she watched television, read her many story books and when she got bored entertaining herself she would sit and study. I was alarmed and would often shed copious tears imagining her sorry results. Well I did shed copious tears and that too in full public view at the Langkawi airport, but they were tears of joy as my mother read me out her results. Tee managed to stun us all with straight A1s in all 4 majors. Sadly it has given her a license to shut me up forever. But it hasn’t stopped me from worrying and shedding more copious tears...what if she doesn’t get admission to any of the good college in Delhi....what if it is Dronacharya College in Bhondsi ....


  1. My little Nephew started his first day of Play School today. :) His world of clocks and football seems to have taken on a new meaning.

    This is going to mean a lot to my ever stressed out sis! :) Yay to Tee for having done things right!

  2. You are going to add more wrinkles to your face Mrs. Ray
    She did it and she will do it.
    By the way I believe it is not good to teach young children. And it is not just in studies. The parents forcing their kids. Last month there was a news report on some channel. A group of 8 year olds were breaking a record....skating for 38 hours non stop. There parents were there and they kept saying our children will make a record. And the irritatin kids on comedy shows etc. Is this not child labour?

  3. As i am full throttle in midst of the dreaded pinkfeathers,ice cream sticks,coca cola caps, 10-paisa coins, empty tetrapacks phase;
    I have realized that keeping a safe distance and maintaining relative aloofness from gyrations of education
    is necessary for sanity of parents and the kids.

  4. Aww! Congratulations to both, Tee and you! And I'm very interested in knowing which school is this. It sounds fabulous! (Well, obviously not when you have to conjure up 25 pink feathers in less than 24 hours. But for the children who only have to stick them in their proud books. :)) Just a thought: Did you dip 25 regular feathers (not that they are easy to find except relatively so) in pink paint and put them out under fan? :P

  5. Priyanka...Lol, ask her to chill an head Varsha's advice.

    Dear Prats, if you see the current generation, you will realize that it's the parents who labour for their kids rather than the other way round. We call it the labour of love :D

    Varsha...God, I look back on those days and shudder. And relative aloofness definitely helps.

  6. Ms. Ray, you did the best thing by not pressurizing or interfering in her study schedule yet keeping a mother’s eye on her ‘I know what you are up to kid, so no over smart antics’!

    Your post reminded me of my mum she never pushed me for studies and when I got my 12th grades, I knew I had made it to my dream college. I even refused to fill forms for any other institute and she was like Pallavi what if you don’t get it here and you have study in that Arya college for girls in Ambala…

    Of course I got the admission so what if I made it thru the second list ;)

  7. when i m reading ur my mind one song playing its " sari umra hum mar mar ke jiye.......jeene do jeene do " great job purwa !!

    Jai HO Mangalmay HO

  8. Carpe Diem..Naa, bought pink feathered shuttle cocks! And made a very late discovery that all her craft material was readily available at the bookshop!!
    The school...Springdales

    Pallavi...Oh... all Mums use the same tactics. For me the threat was LaxmiBai College and strangely it worked!
    And so glad you made it to your dream college :))

    Vish...It's a beautifully composed number.

  9. "you didn't know how to bring up your kid".says my parents ..."do this do that ..." School also another item " holidays loaded with homeworks , lunch menu list for the whole month". i think we parents in the process will become good chefs too.

    Am teaching my daughter the famous line "Teachers leave the kids alone"salam to Pinkflyod.

    So my daughter of 5 secretly told me that she is going to start a rock band and for my support i can become the drummer. ha ha salam childhood.

    Purba great going.

  10. Makes me think what my parents had to go through the times when my good grades slid down a bit! My bong parents did not spare me of the incessant nagging, though. Great post. Kudos to all parents for their efforts, and to you.
    Wishing Tee all the very best and to you to de-stress a little. Reading through the post, I realize that a copious flow of tears wouldn't be required from you!

  11. Thats why here kids are hardly mate to read and study for a few years , in pre nursery etc they jsut learn and do what they want to .. get devloped

    its a lot later that books come into action
    I have been lucky with my parents , they were strict but i was never pushed to anything as people do, I obviously have had lived in a hostel all schooling so they did not have that much influence ..

    Bit i do think too much pressure is put on the kids in india.. engineer bano, doctor bano etc etc well i am neither of them but i am fine and doing pretty well ..

    Kids these day are intelligent and its not jsut studies which is needed to make them a good human being, as your article says look She has done such a wonderful job.. SO WELL DONE TO HER.. and hats off

    Beleive in her i would say, and she would do wonders .. I remember me asking my dad to shell out 10thousand bucks to do this one year PGDCA course in computers he denied saying its no use , my granddad gave me , i joined as all the beatuiful girls came to the centre.. SO i too landed but best thing i did and I now have a excellent job

    SO believe in the kids ... So well done to you too and Congratulations to TEE.. god bless her


  12. "she will curse me as she scours utensils for a living".......Oh. My. GAWD. I snorted SO loudly !!!

    BTW, anytime you need pink feathers, just lemme know ! ;)

  13. The only thing you kids achievements do, is, set the goals for her, a little higher, so the next time..she does something that doesn't match up or higher to the earlier ones, there goes the earlier achievements down the drain. We in the same boat too! I guess all parents are.
    Nice to meet some parent who lets her child to be..we are trying to keep up with that same thought but, the pressure, from the society is another thing to deal with.

    Love your writing, the levity and humor with which you lay out a difficult situation makes it all the more appealing. Take care.

  14. Peanut Butter is uhm...unhealthy?

    Well good to know there are parents who derive some sense of pride through their kids' activities that don't get a grade at the end of the day...sigh.

    And I don't know if you actually meant the jamming fingers in the socket part in a funny way, cause I've seen it actually happen, my cousin who's six now....and I don't think Mashi was being funny......

    Apart from all that , I think Bong families put more(read unnecessary) emphasis on academics. Being brought up in Delhi, it's almost like my entire family suffers from culture shock when they meet my friends or I talk about running my own business some day.

    It's almost as if bongs compensate lack of sufficient fiscal resources with grades......

  15. //sundry things like trying to keep my baby from plunging herself in a bucket of water// This got me roll with laughter. Every 2 days, you can create this humor laced posts with ease. Awesome.

  16. scour utensils! pretty imaginative yourself, ms. mother-of-a-drama-queen. enjoyed it!

  17. Wow, amazing.. same thing happened to my brother, from his chidhood, he never listened to my mom. One of his teacher once seeing his nonenthusiasm in studies, had told my mother that he will never be properly educated. My kid brother is 6 years younger than I am and I had seen my mother panicking at this remark. Even then from his 1 standard till his engg, he did what he wanted. He wanted to do electrical engg and bingo did it. Now working where he wanted :o)

    But me I was kind of listening to my mom and her panicks and then was just 1st class student. Never reached Distinction grades. :-p

  18. Rk, I love your daughter's idea of a rock band. May I join too?

    D2,Nagging never helps. And thanks for the wishes~

    Bikramjeet, loved reading your life story. And you can thank all those pretty girls for the cushy job you landed.

  19. Sug....And how come you have pink feathers? Have you been up to something naughty!

    Gayatri...I think the happiness of our child should take priority over everything.

    Ujjwal...Thankfully I was born and brought in Delhi as well. And I have taught Delhi kids. Nothing shocks me anymore :)

    It's the bong's "antail" (imagined or otherwise) state of mind that goads their child to excel.

  20. Aditya...For me writing my memoirs and make them sound interesting is the toughest part. And when someone appreciates that effort - I can yell a happy yayyy.


    Sadly Bhawna, we equate good grades with intelligence. It is this mentality that makes parents go on an overdrive. And self belief is a rare quality :))

  21. Nice Post, Why cant you try posting in (English)?, they $$$$$ pay $$$$ for top rated articles everyweek !!. You get more visitors too !! Thanks

  22. lol!!!! that was a brilliant post!
    just the way to bring up fine human beings!
    power to you!

  23. Eeva...:))

    magiceye...I do hope Tee turns out to be a fine individual.

  24. Ah Tee is really lucky to have a mom like you. My school life was more like written, designed and directed by my dad..he was a strict disciplinarian and hence I grew up to be a really uptight kind of person. But it did have its share of perks..given I never had to worry about my grades. Always studied and did my homework on time. Mom is more of a carefree person...thanks to her my disciplined life of the past has flown out of the window for the time being. Also college makes you loosen up a lot. :))
    Lovely read as always.

  25. Very nice flow.Good article
    Very nice flow.Good article
    Very nice flow.Good article

  26. hey,

    your post got me laughing. the entire bit about imagining your infant kid's acts being a reflection on who he'll grow up to be...rings so true to me!

    i just have a new cousin in the family who is barely a year old, and every gibberish word of his gets translated by the elders into some gospel truth...

    i'm glad you've given your kid a chance to grow up and explore for herself, very few parents are willing to let go. i mean, must be hard, sure, but Indian education system seems to demand so much in terms of academics, it is a relief to see an occasional person concentrating on a holistic development of her child.


  27. Absolutely loved this one. Still laughing aloud. The L&M rushed in to find out if his wife had finally flipped her lid :D

    I am one of those mothers who never gave much importance to studies of the kids -- just let them be. What's more, I used to tell other mothers not to be on the case of their kids all the time too. I feel that children deserve to enjoy their childhood without having to worry about excelling all the time. I had written about my being a 'pathetic' mother who didn't stand over their kids' study tables, in one of the L&M posts.

  28. Wonderful.
    I had taken a refreshing break from blogosphere and i am back at right time to be treated by such wonderful discussion on your blog :)

  29. Samadrita...Wait till you get a job and move out of the house, you will truly evolve as person. And you"ll love it:))

    sanz...Each child is different and not all of them soar when given a free reign. But over-protectiveness, emotional blackmail and unrealistic high expectations never work.

  30. Zephyr...I just can't relate to mothers whose whole life revolves around their kids. All they can discuss is their kid's results, achievements.....Seriously, go get a life!!!

    Muddassir...Glad to have you back :))

  31. Congrats Purba..I am sure your daughter has inherited it from her parents...Being a middle class Indian parent,I feel education is the only way to success.
    My son wanted to pursue soccer and he is good at it. But I could not encourage him, knowing that he has to earn for his family.

  32. Raising a child is like learning and reinventing the self-full of lows and highs.

  33. I guess all mother's worry for their child no matter how well he is doing in life. I see my mom worrying consistently, to the point of it getting on my nerves. And if I complain, all i get is, "you will understand when you become a mother." Now who is to argue to that;/?

    Anyways, as far as studies go, by personal experience, I feel a child just needs guidance and encouragement now and again. It is better to let him adapt to hunting his own niche from an early age.

    I am glad you are not the typical nagging mom. It is refreshing to see that there are parents in the world with a wider perspective, who respect their child's decisions rather blowing the 'parents are always right' trumpet.

  34. I too believe in leaving them alone...each child has to find her own way about her studies...I allowed my first son, much to his dismay, to study on his own as soon as I found him capable of navigating thru lessons and school, ie the 4th standard!...and would help him with projects only if he asked for help...not even if the school complained!
    The second son has chosen cricket and hasn't written a single exam since the sixth standard!
    they all turn out just fine!...didn't we all?

  35. shit! cool parents exist! this what i felt as a 21yr old watching the paranoid parenting circus

  36. great writing.
    @ pooja,every parent is specially mother does nags her child for achievements.
    when I write a thing I will not tell my shortcomings.
    only the child can affirm this.

  37. Alka...It is a tough choice to make!

    Arpana...Raising a child is a challenging job :)

    Pooja...Think of it as parental concern and you will feel better. And parents may not always be right but they do happen to be wiser than us :))

  38. Nalini..."Leaving them alone" definitely helps keeping your sanity intact and the kids also try and behave responsibly.

    conditions apply...will go through this link.

    pramod...Nagging doesn't always help. The child stops listening to you and you are the one who gets all stressed up.

    And you are right, only the child affirm this.

  39. I am not really sure who benifited more by your hands off or trish.? Purba, when you get the time please check out the rsa talk on education that I posted to my fb profile.maybe Sir Ken Robinson reads your blog.

  40. :-)) I wish Trish all the best in life!!
    My daughter used to scold me whenever got less marks for being a lousy parent. Good news is that she will a doctor within a few years.

  41. today's kids are loaded more with heavy bags than fun at learning...
    reminds me of my mom how she was scared that I won't even clear boards after she saw my study routine...
    I am really glad for your daughter :) wish her good luck :)

  42. Menon...Maybe he should ask him the next time you go teeing off with him.

    Giribala...Wow, isn't that great!!! -not you being a lousy parent but your daughter doing so well :))

    Rajlakshmi...Kids nowadays know how to get maximum returns from minimum inputs.


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