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.
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.