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.
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.
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.
It feels overwhelming to accept that I survived the A2Z challenge until today and reached the alphabet R. Last week Tuneer’s new school brought in a complete change of schedule for all of us. And then we had Satyanarayana Pooja at home last morning keeping me on my toes the whole day. the fatigue gave rise to a strong urge to skip writing for the day. But this series has become so much fun that I couldn’t resist myself from writing this last post for the week.
For more two and a half decades of my life, I had really not known what rejection meant both in personal and professional lives. Two numbers in my life have always been high – the digits on the weighing scale and my marks in most of the examinations. The former ensured that I never have any kind of distraction in the form of affairs until I went to college and the latter gave me the confidence to face those who tried to body shame me. When I faced the first rejection in academics, my skills to handle the same were underdeveloped. With experience, this has improved though I must say that I am still quite wary of any kind of rejection for the simple fact that I don’t know how to deal with it.
On the other side of the spectrum, there’s Sr. T. This man seems unfazed by both selection or rejection. For him, there’s always a way out and everything is predestined. Now how does one argue with someone who starts quoting verses from Gita at the slightest of opportunities? For Tuneer to be brought up by two such radically different people speaks about the kind of contradictory situations that the boy often finds himself in!
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.