For as long as I can remember, I have been a talkative child. Not that anything much has changed over the years. If one happens to spot me in a group, the one speaking with the most animated expressions would always be me. Whenever Ma went for a parents-teachers meeting, there would always be one ‘not so pleasant’ comment about my desire to speak to everyone in every class. The return trip back home would see an angry Ma demanding to know how is it that I always had something to talk about, even in places where silence was the norm. My mother-in-law had once told me how the Banerjee clan was amused by this new daughter-in-law after watching our wedding video. I was found to talk to everyone despite the photographer’s voice in the unedited version asking me to please act coy or at least keep quiet.
Truth be told, I can still speak about anything under the sky. And I must credit my equally vocal Dad for passing on his garrulous genes to me. With time, I had learned to use this trait as an advantage by mentioning communication as my strength on the resume or in the interviews. And the places where this became my USP were my marketing classes in B-school and then, my Banking job that involved speaking to every potential client before pitching him a product.
Sr. T was no different as a child. He was often found talking about cricket and football with his friends in class. With time and getting into a profession that demanded a lot of restraint in his nature, he has turned out to be a man of very few words. But his personality undergoes a complete transition the moment he finds himself in the company of his friends. Suddenly his voice is often found to drown every other sound. My mother-in-law credits the Banerjee clan’s genes for this nature. She says that my father-in-law, who is quite reserved in nature is found in a different avatar amidst his friends and with his grandson.
With such a legacy behind him, it was but natural that the boy was expected to be talkative. Tuneer didn’t disappoint and started speaking in broken sentences much earlier than his peers. The house had started buzzing with his gibberish. Just before he started preschool, we were quite confident about the kid turning out to be an outgoing preschooler. Like I said in my previous post, first the tears refused to stop and next, the next feedback came from his class teacher. He didn’t open his mouth for anything except eating those tasty snacks served by the school. While I was happy about having priorities right about food, the part about not communicating was worrisome.
After a while, as he grew a little comfortable with his friends and teachers, he chose to speak as per his whims. But the voice was too low to be even heard by someone sitting beside him. What was really surprising was that the boy had a change of personality the moment he entered the house. The voice became louder and the tears were replaced by a sparkle in the eyes as he planned his next destructive move. We tried to help him socialize by arranging for play dates with his peer group. He refused to play with his friends and speak to their parents as well. The voice became shy and soft while he held on to his father demanding to be taken back home.
This became an issue the moment we started preparing him for the school admission interviews. His class teacher would often share her despair over his capability to grasp new things yet not utter a word about it when asked. The same family who had been protective of the soft-spoken nature of this boy were suddenly worried about his performance in the interviews.
‘What if he doesn’t open his mouth?’
“What if the interviewer can’t hear him?’
‘What if he starts crying on the spot?’
I actually wanted to tell them to find the solution since they were the ones telling me to stop worrying so much. Life was suddenly all about finding a survival strategy through these ‘what-ifs’.
I had no option but to start training him at home as well. The emotions ranged from scolding, threatening to take away his favorite chocolate to pleading with him to please let his voice be heard. I remember Ma requesting me to please keep quiet in classes after every parents-teachers meeting while in my case, the irony was that I had to cajole the boy to talk in front of others. I was also keeping a tab on the progress at school. He had finally started giving half-hearted answers By the time the first interview happened, I had already developed an anxiety disorder. My nightmares began with Tuneer not answering any question in the interview, despite knowing them all.
For the first interview, we had no idea what to expect. I had retorted to shuttling between praying to God and convincing the boy to speak. His father sat unfazed. since he already had a backup plan was to admit the boy in a school at his rural place of posting. On the day of the interview, the boy had almost decided to stay quiet. The moment we entered the cabin of the Principal, the interviewer tried holding Tuneer’s hand to lead him to the table where he was to be seated. The kid refused to let go of his father while saying ‘Jabo na’ (I will not go). I wanted to smack both of them at that moment.
It was only after the Principal offered him two mango bite toffees that he finally agreed to sit with the interviewer though at the same table with us. For the next 10 mins, he was asked multiple questions. The first two answers felt like Tuneer was mumbling to himself with eyes fixed on the bowl of chocolates. It was only after the teacher gave him two more toffees that he decided to answer all the questions except for his mother’s name. The expression on his face looked like that of boredom.
Very soon we understood that the only way to make him speak was through food and chocolates. Luckily, the remaining three schools had offered chocolates during the interviews which meant Tuneer opened his mouth to speak and then later to savor them. Also, the decibel of his voice depended on the kind of chocolate. For eclairs, it was just audible. For a Perk or KitKat, it was clearly audible. In the last round of interview of his current school, the boy stood at the door wishing good morning thrice to the Principal. His voice became louder with every wish the moment he managed to spot his favorite dairy milk on the table.
In one of my posts, I had spoken about how interviews had turned out to be more about gastronomic adventures post completion of the process. Tuneer had learned to equate the two. So the moment we came out of the school, he would turn to me and ask if we were taking him to a restaurant serving French fries or sweet corn soup. And we had no option because he was the Boss baby at that moment.
The day we finally got his admission done, Sr. T had expressed relief at finally getting done with these tiring experiences. To our surprise, the boy was on the verge of tears as he blurted out, “I like giving interviews. The schools give tasty chocolates and then you take me to eat my favorite things. I want to go for more interviews. I don’t want to study in any school.” It took us weeks to pacify him about the closure of interviews followed by the beginning of school.
He is still not happy about going to school and we are having meltdowns every morning these days. He keeps asking about when the interviews are expected to start again. He has gone back to being an introvert who hardly opens his mouth in class except when it is time to eat his tiffin. But the moment he enters the house, he is back at making me pull my hairs out with his 5Ws and 1H kind of questions (What, When, Where, Who, Whom, How). How I wish I knew how to shut the boy at home and make him speak in class!
I hope you had a good time reading this post. I will be back with a fresh post on ‘U’ tomorrow. You can read the previous posts in this series here.