In this era of ‘Digital India’, booking a movie ticket, purchasing a product, paying bills or transferring money can all be done online. Sitting in the comfort of my room, I would usually feel that the world had decided to make itself available at my fingertips. As an erstwhile Banking professional, I strongly advocated the usage of online portals as a medium to save time and harrowing experiences of standing in a queue. Of course, there are people like my seventy-year-old father who have no trust in this virtual medium and still prefer to visit a Bank or the local market in person. But we belong to the generation of comfort-seekers and I had no clue that my life was going to become so offline dependent once the school admission season started.
The first school which came out with the admission notice (the interview in English only one) delighted us with the option of having forms available through both online and offline mode. We had assumed the rest of the schools in our list would have a similar process. It came as a rude shock when the next school (a new age school with world-class infrastructure and facilities) asked us to collect the form in person either from the school campus or a designated Bank branch.
The next school was even more difficult. We had to collect the forms from their school campus during a designated duration (three hours only) on any of the two dates mentioned in the notice. This school was famous for forms getting out of stock on the first day itself. For a 200 student intake, the number of applications always went to 2000. From what we had heard, the parents had to stand in a queue outside the school campus from as early as 5 am (I am sure this will remind you of the movie Hindi Medium starring Irrfan Khan or the Bengali movie Ramdhanu). Though the reality was not so disastrous, the number of parents standing in the queue on day one was more than to a thousand.
Even for the other three schools that we had decided to apply to, the process involved offline issuance of forms only. Like I had previously mentioned, with a husband posted in a different town, it was always me who ended up standing in a queue beating the hot and humid weather and hunger pangs. This seemed to be life’s way of getting even with me. The only time that I had ever stood in a queue until then was to get an entry in a restaurant in Bangalore over the weekend. What I hadn’t realized at that point was that this was just the first phase or beginning of standing in queues.
Nothing delights a foodie mother more than discovering her son’s growing love for food. But I am quite sure that this post is going to get a big nod of disapproval from medico father. Ideally, the post should have been written on luchi – a traditional puffed, deep-fried Bengali dish made from maida and white in color. Considering the fact that the boy prefers it deep-fried and slightly brownish made from whole wheat or atta, I can conclude that his choice is more akin to the national dish poori (I think poori deserves that status).
The first time that Tuneer was introduced to solid food, he rejected all kinds of food except anything that tasted sweet. So we tried tricking him into eating the regular dishes with a dash of sugar or jaggery in it. It didn’t take long for him to figure out the adulteration and we were back on the path of struggle to make him eat. On his first birthday, my mother-in-law prepared luchi from a mix of atta and maida with dum aloo as an accompaniment. His initial reaction was to refuse but once we could convince him to take the first bite, there was a glitter in his eyes that was enough to prove that there began a relationship that was going to stay for long.
During my childhood, luchi used to be a mandatory Sunday morning special breakfast. I would ask my mother multiple times on Saturday night about what kind of side dish she was planning to prepare along with the luchi. Honestly, it didn’t matter. I just needed to confirm that luchi was going to be the dish the next morning. I started waking up early every Sunday only to savor that perfectly round and puffed luchi with dum aloo, aloo sabzi or chana dal (Bengali favorites). And, if it was made on any other day of the week, it usually meant that either Ma had kept a fast related to some pooja or it was someone’s birthday. In the former case, the side dish with luchi was usually veg item and in the latter case, luchi was served with chicken or mutton kosha.
The scene was quite similar in Sr. T’s house except for meat that was barred in my marital home. As we grew up and started living in different cities, we had the option to explore a variety of cuisines eventually leading to evolved choices in food. The love for luchi had taken a back seat. Looking at Tuneer searching for frequent opportunities to have luchi, we were reminded of our own love for this item. While we humored him with homemade luchi once in a while (despite Sr. T ‘s lack of support), he craved for more.
In the first parents-teachers meeting held with Tuneer’s class teacher in May last year, the first line of the report read,
“Tuneer is a soft-spoken and sweet child with sharp observation skills.”
Until then, the family members already had experiences with his nature of observing things. He rarely adapted to new situations spontaneously or made friends with new people instantly. He preferred to stay at a distance noticing the happenings and then deciding if he liked it enough to get involved or preferred to stay away. Even in his preschool, he had no inclination to try anything new until and unless he knew the final outcome of his efforts through someone else’s performance. Yet when he finished his preschool in March, he knew the names of all his twenty-four classmates along with their preferences in things like sports or puzzles. It was a startling revelation for me. The final report card started with,
“Tuneer is a bright and sensitive child with a natural flair for keenly observing people and his surroundings.”
Other than the basics of education, my boy had well utilized his time at preschool to hone his hobby related to observation.
Growing up, I used to be a kid with chubby weeks (actually a chubby kid!). Random uncles and aunties would feel that they had every right to pull my cheeks while blurting out “Aww, so sweet!” or plant sloppy kisses on them. If my parents, especially Ma was anywhere in the vicinity, she would politely but sternly ask them not to do that because it hurt my cheeks. Well, consent and children were completely unrelated words at that time. But eventually, I turned out to be quite a gundi and very soon learned how to keep such people at bay.
Child molestation is the sad reality of every generation. There has been a steep rise in the number of such cases over the years with the level of violence becoming horrific, to say the least. I personally feel that even earlier, most of such cases were brushed under the carpet because the perpetrator, in most of these cases was someone close to the family.
The concept of consent was introduced to me quite early on in my family. My parents would often say that I had every right to stay away from doing anything that made me uncomfortable. Even at my in-laws, my husband grew up with a strong sense of seeking consent. So, it was but natural that after Tuneer was born, the same idea of consent would be passed on to him.
It started with me stopping people from pulling his cheeks. While a few understood the reason, others judged me as an overprotective mother. Once he started preschool, I taught him how it was perfectly okay for him not to give anyone a hug or kiss, if he didn’t wish to. Sr. T thought it was too early to teach him these things. But I was an anxious mother trying to give a blanket of security and a cushion of trust around my little boy.
My posts in the A2Z challenge started out as a fun-filled narration on my experiences related to school admissions. With time, I realized how my thoughts were peeling off layers of issues hidden under the security blanket of education.The moment a child is born, a doctor announces its gender to the parents first. And there begins the first step of discriminationbecause the birth of a baby girl is considered as a burden in a lot of families while a baby boy is a reason to celebrate even today. And from there on begins the set expectations from each gender.
I grew up in a household where equality was the norm. I have seen my father take care of the kitchen as and when required with the same expertise in which he handled his teaching job. Nothing was assigned to be a job based on gender in my home. But the world outside is never so kind. Glass ceilings are a harsh reality for women and I have faced such biases at various places of education and work. But if there was something that I had decided for my son, it was to raise him sans any gender discrimination. But the ‘well-wishers’ can obviously not let me have my way with the child without garnishing our lives with their opinion in generous doses.
As Tuneer learned to play, the first thing that he was drawn to was a kitchen set that I had purchased for him. It used to be his favorite set until recently when the love swayed towards a newly purchased supermarket set. But weren’t kitchens supposed to be a girl’s domain?To those ‘well-meaning souls’, it didn’t matter that the mother hardly entered the kitchen because what was important was to let the child know that he was expected to play with toys befitting a boy. Some went a step ahead and commented on how I was raising him as a girl. With a smile on my face, I would often reply as to how I was so proud of my MasterChef who already knew how to keep his foodie mother happy.
In every school class, there’s exists one kid who is always caught by the teacher for either talking loudly or laughing too much. Most of the time, the sarcastic comment that follows from the teacher is, “What’s the joke? Why don’t you share it with all of us here so that we can all laugh with you.”. The next step is usually to reach out for the diary to write a complaint. In my circle of friends, that kid happens to be me. Fortunately, I was saved from an overdose of complaints by my good academic track records. However, that didn’t spare me from Ma’s wrath when she kept hearing about the same talkative nature and laughing syndrome repeatedly at every parents-teachers meeting.
Baba, of course, was empathetic. My mother was a soft-spoken lady and it was the era when girls were expected to limit their laughter to a smile only. But my dearest father possessed one of the loudest voices in our family (also, he proudly attributes it to be a virtue befitting a Professor). So, for the two of us, there was hardly any occasion when we didn’t display our happiness or power of the vocal cord by going ha, ha or lol as the millennials call it now.
Though I drew criticism from certain people, my kind of laughter stayed hale and hearty in a way that my intestines hurt. People remembered me for that special kind of laugh. Once in B-school, the juniors were asked to describe one senior in just a single line during the fresher’ party in the girls’ hostel. To them, I was “the one who synonymous with the word laughter.”
This is my 11th post in the A2Z challenge and I already feel so exhausted. My fingers and eyes need a break from the constant writing and reading schedules. I shudder at the thought of the coming week when Tuneer is scheduled to start his school. I start wondering about managing daily writing with helping him settle down in the new environment! Desperate times call for desperate measuresand I decide to grab the bar of Bournville Dark chocolate (apparently purchased for the kid though he has long made his dislike for dark chocolate vocal) and finish it clean within minutes.
Well, this has been the story of my life for as long as I can remember. I eat when I am happy and I also eat when I’m worried. I don’t think my coping up mechanism towards any circumstance, good or bad will work until I savor some of my favorite dishes. I have been that rare kind of child who could never contribute to any conversation that had people speaking about the time when they were not overweight or when they were thin. The weighing scale always tilted towards the right ever since I checked it up for the first time.
When I moved away from home for higher studies, a lot of the acquaintances had expected me to return slimmer. The girls’ hostel of Presidency College, Kolkata indeed served food that could kill anyone’s taste buds. But two things happened soon – I discovered a foodie who is still my best friend and together we spotted the chat/samosa/cold drinks outlet outside the hostel. To cut the story short, I can say that I had been one of the most valuable contributors to the growth of this outlet in my three-year duration in the city. The story wasn’t any different in Delhi, my next destination in student life. Here the hostel food was equally delicious.
Sr. T and I belong to families who have a strong faith in the Supreme power. In his family, we worship the two hundred plus year old family deities of Krishna and Radha known as Shaam Rai. Despite the fact that both my parents believed in puja and prayers, my faith suffered a massive hit when I lost Ma overnight in 2011. I had stopped believing in God and refused to even pray for some years.
Our faith is often triggered by our own fears and insecurities. And I happen to be the kind of mother whose life is defined by her son’s happiness to a great extent. After Tuneer was born, I was back at our puja room although not whole-heartedly. I had made it amply clear that I still had unresolved conflicts with Her (my God is a woman).
Other than the grand celebration associated with Durga Puja in Bengal, my all-time favorite Goddess has always been Ma Saraswati. Every year Baba would perform the puja, Ma would make a lot of delicacies, the house would be decorated with flowers and alpana (hand artwork using rice and flour paste) would be drawn on the floor. I would finish giving pushpanjali and eagerly wait for the bhog prasad.
A part of the ritual involved keeping books in front of the idol during the puja and letting it stay overnight. In my house, it would mostly be a couple of Mathematics books(belonging to my Professor Dad), a few pens and my complete set of textbooks for that particular year. I had this strange notion that if I left out any book, that subject would end up not being blessed by the Goddess. Keeping rationality aside, I couldn’t afford to take the risk.
As an erstwhile Banker, the topic is lucrative enough for me to get distracted and start writing on the need for diversification of funds, tenure of and right time for investment. But a glance at the fee-book of the school where the boy’s future has finally been sealed brings me back to reality. We will have to make a visit to collect books (you read that right) from his school tomorrow and like any other cautious parent, I am keeping the documents ready just in case they decide to recheck if we have actually paid the money!. In my husband’s words, they might ask for proof of existing investment in education before deciding on a further amount of investment for education to begin.
Until recently, we were a dual-earning family with major areas of expenditure covering luxury travel, books, movies, and gastronomic adventures at multiple restaurants. Then Tuneer happened. Expenses were channelized towards diapers, baby clothes, baby carrier, perambulator, walker and so on. Next, I decided to follow my passion and ventured into a profession famous for not having a financial prospect (that too, at my age when most of my counterparts have been promoted to the level of AVPs in Banks). It didn’t bother much though. Primarily because Sr. T is usually supportive of my decisions (those that are not related to the child) and I was making some money for my own survival (since my idea of survival is about eating Momos for lunch and dinner).
But we came face to face with the expenses related to education when Tuneer started his preschool last year. Of course, a metro city meant that the expenditures were meant to be high but the one-time admission plus quarterly fee exceeded all our expectations. Well, it was just the beginning of our long-term investments in this field. Once the school admission brochures were handed over, we realized that the new age schools had taken the concept of development a tad too seriously by quoting an exorbitant amount in the name of development fee.
I have often spoken about my relationship with Sr. T. We grew up in the same small town in Bengal. We were batchmates studying in different schools, had labeled each other as arrogant based on other people’s perceptions and went on to study in Kolkata in two adjacent institutions for three years before I moved out to Delhi. We suffered heartbreak in our individual relationships coincidentally at the same time and finally got in touch through Orkut in 2009 when he was working as a Doctor in Kolkata and I was heading a Bank branch in Mysore. It took us very little time to realize that we were meant to be together and in June 2011, we became a couple officially (a detailed post on our love story is available here).
Our honeymoon period barely lasted five months before I lost Ma to pancreatitis. Our relation underwent a sea change as he turned out to be my Rock of Gibraltar in the most vulnerable stage of my life. The loss was irreversible but the pain became bearable with time. Eventually, like almost every other couple, we started having fights about my OCD to keep things in place (read books only) and his frustration at my refusal to give up on eating out every alternate day. But our similar priorities and outlook towards life made the foundation of our relationship strong enough to survive tough times.
This was until Tuneer popped out into this world in September 2015. Trivialities suddenly started becoming issues. The decision to run the AC at 26 degrees(as I wished to) against 27 degrees (his idea of a perfect temperature for a newborn baby) almost led to a war-like situation at home. The kind of diapers that were to be purchased for the baby (disposable v/s reusable) and the need of a baby carrier(his refusal v/s my insistence), were few of the many items that put us at loggerheads. Penguin Dads like Sr. T definitely deserve a shout-out but the truth is that a few of them also end up giving tough times for opinionated mothers like me.