It has been twenty months since I started this blog. And it is my pleasure to announce that soniasmusings.com has been selected as one of the best blogs of 2019 as per Top Indian Blogs website. It is privilege to be amidst such august company and it gives me the much-needed motivation to work harder towards my writing goals. Thank you for choosing to be a part of my journey.
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The dictionary meaning of Yin and Yang stands as two complementary forces that come into play to balance and create something bigger and better. When I began writing this school admission series, I had mentioned the protagonist as my 3.6 yr old son Tuneer along with Sr. T and me as the supporting cast. Through the last twenty-four posts, I have written about our experiences and emotions related to this phase. Today’s post is dedicated to those who bring equilibrium to Tuneer’s life filling it with joy, love, affection and protect him from those who might be the reasons for stress and undue pressure (yeah me!). Introducing his lifelines –
1. Babai aka his father –
I have an exclusive post dedicated to this man and his adorable equation with the kid. Yet I need to reiterate the fact that the boy had the maximum escapade from my scoldings because of his father. According to him, there’s nothing that the boy could do wrong. It didn’t matter if the boy refused to answer any question, showed no interest in picking up English or denied his knowledge about my name. His standard reply to any exasperated statement of mine went as “But he’s such a sweet boy”. The apple of his eye is getting so sweet every day (read naughty) that I’ve started fearing for our enhanced blood sugar level (read stress).
2. Dadai aka his paternal grandfather –
Until Tuneer was born, I had always been a favorite of my father-in-law. He was more supportive of my decisions than those that were taken by his son. Equations changed between us the day he became a grandfather. His unconditional support towards his only grandson exceeds all limits. He refuses to listen to anything against the ‘innocent’ child. He was the toughest to convince about the interview preparation. As per him, any school that considered English speaking skills to be a selection criterion for nursery admissions deserves to be trashed by every single parent. According to him the fact that Tuneer could answer his name and recite a rhyme should have convinced every interviewer about his intelligence level. No amount of argument could convince him otherwise.
During one of our classes in B-school, I was introduced to the concept of 5Ws and 1H. While creating a blue draft of an entrepreneurial idea, we had to come up with a solution to the questions related to why, when, where, who, what and how. I was so fascinated by this streamlined process of questioning that any conversation related to the most inane of things had me asking queries in the format of 5W and 1H.
For instance, when the college canteen had managed to churn out yet another bland meal on yet another regular day, I walked up to the canteen manager and thought of bringing a direction to my pattern of questioning. So I asked,
“Who prepared this food?”
“Why is the canteen food always tasteless?”
“When was the last time that you served a meal that didn’t deserve to be trashed?”
“What will make you feel that it is essential to serve an edible meal?”
“Where do you see yourself next year, if the quality doesn’t improve and we refuse to let the management renew your contract?”
“How many more complaints do you need to take an action?”
The man was too stunned to even consider a reply. Before I could unleash another layer of 5W and 1H on him, my friends had dragged me away from the canteen. Needless to say, the canteen served an equally bland meal the next day. Just that the man at the counter went missing after spotting me entering the canteen.
This went on for a few more days before I found my next subject of interest in the form of SWOT (strength, weakness, opportunity, threat) analysis. Life eventually moved on from those classrooms to office boardrooms. The questions turned more relevant and job oriented.
It was only after Tuneer started talking that I was reminded of 5W and 1H once again. From blabbering gibberish to uttering first monosyllables and then broken sentences, the boy picked up communication very fast. Like I have mentioned in one of my previous posts, this verbose nature was reserved only for the house. For the world outside these four walls, he was a very shy and quiet child.
When I look back at my own childhood, I see a girl who always made her parents proud on the day of the final term results. Though my parents never pressurized me for studies (honestly, they never needed to!), my Professor father often spoke about how a good academic record acted as a catalyst in getting through reputed institutions and eventually helped in settling down professionally. I took his words to heart and went on scaling milestones until I did my first post-graduation from Delhi. The city taught me to live on my own since I knew my father couldn’t make those monthly trips anymore.
Two years later when I shifted to Bangalore for my doctorate program from one of India’s topmost institutes, I had finally unleashed the nomad in me. It took me eight months only to realize that I neither had the attitude nor aptitude to do research. My supervisor almost lost his mind wondering how I could manage to be so bad at even basic research. But the best thing about such a devastating incident (for my supervisor, not me) was that I dived into the corporate world with a job in a Market Research firm (without an iota of understanding what MR really was).
I worked for two years before the bug of MBA bit me and I went back to academics again. This was when I had turned twenty-six and my father was due to retire in two years. Life at corporate world post-B-school was supposed to be about savings, investments and settling down. But I was busy quitting, changing jobs or moving cities while the husband was busy studying further and doing his M.D. We lived our lives convincing each other that ‘Darr ke age jeet hai’(don’t even ask why!)
My father and father-in-law neither understand nor appreciate my whimsical nature. But my husband who probably believes in the importance of stability as much as these two defended every move of mine saying ‘creative people are never satisfied.’ After we moved back to Kolkata, our families had hoped that they would finally see us settling down. But luck has a strange way of playing spoilsport. Sr. T was posted far away from the Kolkata. And in 2017, I decided to go the solopreneur route to start this blog and take up writing as a profession with a two-year-old in tow. To cut the story short, we have successfully lost the plot to settle down.
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.
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.
Long before Sr. T and I were married, I had made up my mind about retaining my maiden surname for life. Education and work experience in different cultures supported my opinions by giving me a voice. Also, I must confess that I loved my full name. Sr. T was more interested in building a life together than my thoughts related to surname change. A situation of conflict never arose.
Because of our postings in Mysore followed by Bangalore, this never really became an issue. Residents of these cities often had initials as a surname. And people were generally the non-interfering type. So it hardly mattered to them whether I was Sonia C or Sonia B as long as they knew my name was Sonia and I was heading the branch of a Private sector Bank.
At times, individuals develop such tender love and affection towards their partner that they start swaying away from the original decisions. In my case, I took fancy to adding Banerjee to my full name after a year of getting married. Facebook let me do it without any hassles but when I wanted to get this changed in my bank account, I had to provide documents as proof. In about a couple of weeks time, reality had dawned on me in a harsh way. The paperwork involved in getting Banerjee added to my Pan card, passport, bank accounts, and other documents involved time, effort and non-transparent rules. Eventually, my practical brain gave a sane voice to my love-struck heart.
I must also mention a certain colleague who had kindly pointed out that the number of characters in Sonia Chatterjee Banerjee exceeded the number of boxes against the name section in almost all application forms. That sealed the end of any remote possibility of a name change.
We spoke about unsolicited advice yesterday. After the first school admission notice came out in September this year, suddenly my state of mind seemed to be in a state of permanent chaos. Amidst several other concerns related to the preparation for interviews, one factor that suddenly became a priority item on our agenda was to work on his ‘fluency’ in English.
In a typical middle-class Bengali household residing in Bengal, the usual mode of communication is in Bengali or Bangla, as we prefer to call it. Tuneer had started speaking quite earlier than usual and by the time he had turned three, his ability to communicate in clear sentences often led us in highly embarrassing situations for he often disclosed things that were only meant to be kept private. He spoke so much that often it would remind me of my late mother’s statement about how I was such a talkative child both at home and school. With Sr. T staying away from the city five-six days a week, my father and in-laws try to work out a schedule that ensures at least one of them being available in Kolkata at any given point.
Even if my convent education poked me to make an attempt to teach this boy a couple of important sentences in English, his Bengali-medium educated Doctor father kept laughing it off. With a retired Maths Professor as his maternal grandfather and a paternal grandfather whose knowledge on technology and current affairs always turns out to be superior to us, I was fighting a lost battle. If I ever even tried to teach him the answer to a simple question like “What is your name?” as “My name is Tuneer Banerjee.”, it would be met with protests about how I was creating unnecessary pressure on the child. Their preferred answer was always his full name only since no child was expected to answer in sentences. Though I had the sympathy of the paternal grandmother, the maternal grandmother had no way of communicating her opinion from her heavenly abode.