I grew up in the eighties when life was much simpler. The options for entertainment had more to do with people communicating with each other in person than staying hooked on to their mobiles. All the nine houses on the street (para in Bengali) that we stayed at had neighbors who knew each other well, visited each other’s houses frequently and celebrated festivals together. My closest friend in the neighborhood came from a family where both her parents were working. Her father, Uncle K was also my father’s close friend and colleague. Despite the fact that they had full-time help to take care of her and her elder brother. I don’t remember an afternoon where she wasn’t having lunch or taking a nap at my place.
I studied in a primary school for four months before my parents applied for admission to the only Convent school in my home town. Unlike Tuneer, I loved going to school. In the first primary school, a few of the teachers happened to be the wives of my father’s colleagues. Because of their occasional visits to our house and vice versa, I was already familiar with the aunties that school never felt any different after I saw them in the classrooms.
My life at the Convent school started amidst turbulence. On the night before the scheduled date of interaction, my paternal grandfather passed away. As per his last wish, his dead body was taken to his native village for cremation and my father had to go for the last rites. The rules of the admission process had clearly mentioned that both the parents had to attend the interaction session along with the kid. Ma had lost all hopes of getting permission for attending the interview alone with me. But Uncle K took it upon himself to go to the school and explain the situation to the authorities. My friend and I both had our separate interaction sessions after Uncle K convinced the authorities that I deserved a chance. For him, I could never be his daughter’s competitor but her best friend.
Both of us studied in the same school but in different sections until she moved on to a different institution for high school. While we went ahead and made many more friends in school, I don’t remember any of us crying beyond the first day because we had each other. While there was competition in academics and extracurriculars, it was never reason enough to cut ties or devise strategies to beat so-called ‘friends turned into opponents’. My interaction with my core circle of friends went beyond the school boundary walls because their parents always made me feel welcome at home. A couple of months back, when I went to the birthday celebration of the daughter of one of my best friends from school, it never felt like we were meeting after two decades.
Last year, I met different kinds of parents for the first time after Tuneer started preschool. Until then I had never given much of thought to the kind of parenting examples we were setting while raising Tuneer. In fact, I had never even attempted to write any parenting article until then. I knew that I was the kind of clumsy mother who believed in having a lot of fun in this journey of parenting, even if it involved kinds of silly mistakes. In no time, my approach towards parenting had a reality check once I got to meet the following kind of parents –
- The ‘extra’ competitive ones – The kind of parents who wanted a monthly progress report for their preschooler (not kidding!). They believed that it was the responsibility of the school to start training the kids for interviews immediately (even if the child still failed to say his/her name properly). Their standard question in every parents-teachers meeting included ‘when will you introduce writing’.
- The ‘I will make others competitive as well’ kind – these are the people one must really be scared of. They didn’t just believe in being competitive but also considered it their responsibility to take up the roles of mentors to make the people around competitive. They judged everyone else’s choices while trying to influence their decisions.
- The ‘I pretend to be balanced towards competition’ types – These are people who actually considered every child a threat kept a track of their progress on the sly. But the kind of attitude they pretended to the word was staying unfazed towards competition.
- The ‘I am not bothered about anything’ kind – These are people who are either very rich or have a confirmed upcoming on-site posting. They realize that they have more important things to attend to rather breaking their heads on competition or education.
Even before Sr. T and I could discuss anything about Tuneer’s future schools, a group of parents strictly belonging to the second category already took it upon themselves to have an opinion of the list of schools which were suited to our educational qualifications and professions. When I expressed my reluctance to pick up the admission form of an elite school situated more than twenty kms away from my residence, a few of the parents couldn’t believe that I was ready to let go of the creme de la creme institution for a mere two and a half hour up and down journey. I soon ended up disappointing a few more by picking up forms from the new age schools which were too substandard to make it to their list.
While I escaped unscathed, one of the more simpleton mothers fell prey to this kind of grooming. Her husband who works in a very senior position in a Financial Management firm has made it a mission of his life to get the two and a half-year-old child admitted to one of the reputed schools located far away from home. The school has a ridiculous method of evaluation which involves the parents sitting for a written test of the English language. I am told that there are two tutors who come to his house these days – one has been training the child for her interviews and the other one is entrusted with teaching English to the Bengali medium educated mother.
It has just been a week of Tuneer’s new school. While Sr. T and I are still breaking our heads trying to figure out the process to help the boy settle down, I see a plethora of messages on the three WhatsApp groups that I have been involuntarily added to (one as per Tuneer’s class, one as per section and the other involving those availing the pool car facilities). There’s already daily discussions on studies (that are yet to begin), activities like crafts and sports (that the kids refuse to share details about) and queries on missing tiffin boxes and pencil boxes (the most entertaining ones).
At times I wonder how my parents managed to stay connected with the parents of students in my class. There was hardly any mode of communication than except meeting them personally. Unfortunately, we turned out to be more of a technology-led generation where the size of our apartments grew in size but the space in our hearts kept shrinking. When I look around, I see most people including me get comfortable with the idea of texting frequently, calling occasionally and meeting rarely.
Last weekend, I decided to fix this unsocial behavior of mine by inviting Tuneer’s first friend in school at home with her parents. The kids had been classmates in the preschool for over six months and they live just two building apart. Yet we never made any effort to connect until now. When I saw both of them bring the house down with things flying in all possible directions, I realized that these are the bonds that build relationships which act as the basic foundation for becoming a ‘human’ in the truest sense.
This is one of the few posts that came straight from the heart and probably that’s why it has very little humor quotient in it. I paused multiple times to analyze my own thoughts while writing it and I sincerely hope it makes you think as well. Please come back to read my next post on ‘V’ tomorrow. You can catch up on the previous posts here.