I am not alone…

‘Good Bye! I waved blissfully to my school friends with a twinkle in my eyes as I deboarded the bus. Humming away to the notes of ‘let it go…’, I skittled my way to the doorbell, tapping away at everything in sheer glee! Yippee, no exams, holidays begin.

Ms. Monika, my most favorite teacher, sounded rather serious as she announced school closure today due to some Virus. Despite that grim look on her face, we couldn’t hide our happiness, “God bless the Virus. It gave us the holidays. No more exams! I am going to play, eat, sleep, watch movies and have tons of fun.”

These adults, aliens as they are, like to stay anxious. They have been calling it ‘dangerous’ ‘deadly’ and such other things… We learnt some new words, ‘pandemic’, ‘epidemic’, ‘contagious’ and many more, all thanks to this ‘Corona Virus’. My mother should be happy. Doesn’t she keep fretting about my vocabulary? It appears, they are calling it something else these days, ‘COVID-19.’ Have they started putting numbers on diseases, like they give us roll numbers?

Mumma has been anxious. Oh! well, that’s mostly her usual self during exam days, isn’t it? This time around she’s curiously paranoid about washing hands. Those sanitizers have suddenly appeared in every nook and corner of my entire world, in school, in the park and at home. The ‘vanar-sena look’ is the latest fashion statement, with everyone adorning curious masks over their nose and mouth, anxious adult eyes peering above them.

Anyway, I will play and play with my friends. I love the park below our apartment and the bicycles racing, the hide and seek and there’s scrabble and checkers and doll-house play and ah! so much more…

On no, mumma is not allowing me to go outside! She won’t even let me play at Arradhya’s house. It’s just next door! This is frustrating. My mother’s anxiety seems to be ongoing. Somebody tell her, EXAMS are OVER! She still says I should sit at home and read. Well, I do like to read, but then how much can I read? I already read all the new books I got. I have now learnt some more new words, ‘quarantine’, ‘social-distancing,’ and ‘lockdown’. 

Can’t I play with mumma then? But she is very busy and so is papa. Radha didi seems to have got some holidays too. So now, everyone is busy. They are not going to office, but they are very busy on their laptops all day! They call it, ‘working-from-home.’ Radha didi seems to spend barely an hour finishing all her work. I see her everyday fussing about the house. I miss her cheerful daily presence. Mom and papa are busy with cooking and cleaning too. I can’t help but notice, they are certainly way less efficient, as compared to Radha didi! They are missing her too. I can tell. 

I want to play. We tried playing some scrabble, papa and I. Mumma slept before we could begin as three playmates. She is always tired these days, what with so much ‘busy-ness’ (shouldn’t that be a word! I will ask Ms. Monika, but when? I am already missing my teachers).Just two turns and papa got a call. SSHHUSSHH he gestured, “Office”. Oh no, and that means he will be busy again… there goes my game of scrabble amidst everyone’s ‘busy-ness’. I miss my friends.I so want to be in school with my friends. Oh! the dance class, the music lesson and the drama workshops. I miss it all. Why did they shut schools?

I can play alone. I can play video games and watch TV. Even mumma is not stopping me now. I know she does not like it, but does she even know? She seems oblivious. Never mind, I have been with the phone since morning. Apparently, they are no longer worried about my screen-time! But I am bored to death with this. Let’s go round and round in circles in the house. That I can do. Ooops, ‘Stop it’, says papa. He is trying to work and I am not letting him concentrate. What should I do then? No one cares.

Oh, it’s already dark. I have been with videos all day. Why are my eyes hurting? I have a headache. I don’t like these holidays. I am sad. Is mom calling me? Forget it. No one has time for me. Why should I listen? Let me just stay in bed. I can keep sleeping. No, I can’t! It was a horrible dream I saw. Everyone is dead. Everyone is hungry. I am all alone. I don’t want to sleep. I don’t want to do anything… Is the world coming to an end? Isn’t that what they keep discussing? What should I do? I am scared…’

Yes, the world is changing indeed. We are caught amidst one of the worst global emergencies of our time. This is a war against an invisible enemy. The microscopic enemy has brought everything to a standstill and made the human race reflect and rethink. While we engage in news and grapple with the pandemic, we often forget that our children are listening to all the panic-stricken conversations. We are busy with working-from-home and the additional domestic chores have been added to our usual engagements. We had already been mercilessly infected with the Social Media virus. It kills precious time cells and eats into our thinking brain-cells creating amygdala hijacks with whatsapp rumour-news tools and tweet trolls. We keep combating it, but it’s helplessly addictive.

Our children are listening, observing, wondering…They are alone at home away from friends and social engagement with their age-group. They are alone, away from work-routines and engaging tasks. Social distancing has made it necessary, but the fact remains, humans are social animals. We need social human interaction. It is an integral aspect of our very survival. We need routines and organization to continue a healthy sanity of our mind. We need all of this to stay normal, to stay calm, to stay de-stressed. Our children need schools more than ever and thus, learning cannot be quarantined, even as school staff and buildings are.

Technology has thankfully made it possible for this generation of teachers and young learners to engage with positive learning amidst the pandemic. It’s indeed amazing to see how teachers have adapted and reinvented their teaching styles to virtual teaching platforms. Yes, necessity is the mother of invention and what we are witnessing today is not just invention, but compassionate engagement with real learning blended into the present environment. Perhaps we can call it ‘compassionate invention’ by a community of professionals that loves childhood and children.

Teachers are training themselves online into the use of Virtual tools and resources, designing plans for Virtual lessons, aligning students sitting at their homes to school routines through scheduled lessons and work-plans. Not just academic subjects, our children are also enjoying dance, music, art, yoga theatre and sports lessons through blended learning. In the magical hands of passionate educators, the world-wide-web also turns into a vast pool of marvelous resources and children are actively engaging in exploration and learning like never before. 

Everyone is trying. There are endless conjectures and various versions, but no one really seems to know how long? For how long would this war against the Virus continue? For how long would children have to stay isolated and confined to their homes? For how long can children be told to just read and binge-watch videos or isolation games?

What we now know is, this. Educators will continue their work undisrupted. This year will not be wasted for our learners. From life skills to science, technology, literature and music, our children will continue the balance of life and learning. 

This crisis may leave us with learning beyond measure as educators and learners. It may make us rethink the systems that bind and restrict school education. The ‘weapons of mass instruction’ may finally emerge as constructive harbingers of an enlightened tomorrow. The future is different and it calls for change. It calls for a metamorphosis and this is happening. 

It is one thing to have Remote Learning Programmes in schools under normal circumstances, while it is in fact quite another when each educator is also ensconced in a work-from-home lockdown situation with similar challenges as parents. Amidst this crisis, teachers have shown their sheer love for children. Sheer compassion is making them reach out to each child and make a difference…  

‘I had stopped smiling. I was mostly angry and upset.

I heard the phone ringing and ‘Hello Kaavya,’ said Ms. Monika over the call. A smile plastered my face before I realized. She wanted to speak to my parents and told us about Virtual classes, audible books, language enrichment, logical-reasoning task sheets and so much more…

I Am not Alone

I simply love it now, my virtual school. I wake up each day looking forward to the new challenges and experiences with my school mates and teachers. We laugh and play and share over the video calls. We learn, we dance, we chat and we exercise with the PT and Yoga teachers and we sing and engage in blissful dramatic improvisations.Yesterday, I played the dwarf from Snow White and today we are exploring characters from the fables. I have been reading some really interesting books and even listening to some. I have been recording and sharing videos with my teachers. It is so much fun. I am gaining more confidence in mathematics, as I have been solving those graded adaptive series of problems. The challenge increases each time I solve one. It’s like the levels in a video game. I am a confident busy girl. I don’t have to beg Mumma to play with me. I can play with my friends online. I set short-term goals with my teacher and strive to achieve these each day. I am at home, but I am no longer alone.

I am learning. I am growing. I am happy as learning is not quarantined…

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And we all fall down …

Remember the ‘ring a ring of roses, pocket full of …’ the jingle to which we fluttered about in circles of mirth. Ah those merry memories of childhood!

Now here we are exclaiming with a sigh, ‘My child doesn’t study’ ‘My child is a difficult teen’ ‘My child doesn’t listen’ and the bafflement of being a parent continues. It’s quite an endeared torture! one that we want to have and don’t want to have in equal measure. It’s an absent presence in the household. While we barely have the time or strength to deal with anything in the aftermath of work pressure and other mundane stresses of living, we continue to sigh and suffer as anxious parents.

Just wondering now, was I a perfect child? Did I always show interest in studies? Did I always listen? Did I question authority in sheer defiance? Well as for me, I just somehow scraped through school. By the time I developed interest in any subject, I had already passed the stage of learning the basics. I gathered, I suppose, as I went along. Life and career eventually turned out equitable. At each step along the way there were hurdles, challenges and misgivings. They may have been excruciatingly painful while each lasted. Some became stepping stones and some gruesome recollections. When I look back, they made for some interesting sequences in the drama of my life. I have ample stories to tell. Ample to brag and ample skeletons hidden in the secret cupboard.

Could my parents have protected me any better? They were always concerned and tried everything they could beyond the best. Our household always had the gloomy all-encompassing presence of worry for me and my brother’s education, our future. The constant struggle was always evident. Both of us had our goodness and our rough edges too. Inspite of all the love and guidance, we made our mistakes and lived through our share of troubles.

Nature gives us children, but not the ability to make their mistakes for them. We can talk, share, discuss, warn and encourage and most of all listen and love. We can cherish their dreams, rather than ours embossed on theirs. We can express the surge of emotions and let them have the free space to live and share their inner lives with us. But they will still make their own mistakes and learn their own way. They are here to live their life.

It’s sheer torture to see them making mistakes, we think we can stop them from; to feel helpless as they won’t listen, to feel disregarded as they stampede over our ideologies; to incessantly fight a loosing battle; to be resilient in the face of emotional upheaval; to feel most needed and no longer needed all at once… as we become an absent presence in the lives of our very own bundles of joy.

All religious scriptures preach, ‘Let go’ in some form or another. But oh the bane of attachment! It’s easier said than done. And yet, as parents our anxiety is not what helps. Our equanimity does. In multiple ways and for a multitude of reasons, we do need to learn to let go. To love and to let them live.

Don’t we all fall down… and rise again in the ring of roses?

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EXAM Exam Examination…

We are a nation in love with examinations. Not exactly medical examination but school examinations. We have invented some medical requirements around it though, over the years. Exam fever, stress and anxiety disorders, suicide attempts are some of the side effects. These can affect children, as well as parents fighting for their rightful place in the convoluted social circuit.

Beware of the neighbour’s kids, the best friend’s kids and the entire range of in-law kids. They are some of the most potent opponents in the exam game. Life becomes hell if they beat us in the game. Motherhood’s success stands questioned and Mr. Guilt, woman’s worst foe and closest companion, takes over with immediate effect. Yes, I get it. We’ve got to be competitive. That’s survival. Isn’t it?

Thanks to Lord Macaulay’s incredible gift to the Indian Education system, one of the many legacies of the British empire, we the post colonials, love white skin and prefer the familiar traps. Sheer familiarity makes the traps comforting. We resist change. The traditional has always worked for us after all. Who questions ritual? Who questions tradition? Those are just supposed to be followed blindly and passed on to generations…

So with good reason, our Id is merrily sacrificed for the insatiable satisfaction of our Ego. Ego guised nevertheless as SuperEgo, for everyone’s benefit (that policy applies on moral grounds!). I am sure Sigmund Freud would love this application of his theory.

I still remember walking back from the school bus stand that morning. It had rained. My 6 year old sensory organs couldn’t resist the temptation of jumping in the puddles, chasing the frogs, catching the earthworms and screeching at the discovery of various new creatures crawling the ground. The rustle of leaves, the soothing smell of mud soaked in rain water, the riot of colour all around, the washed bright green, the pink orange and red of flowers in bloom… Ah the exam was over.

My world had an accentuated bliss, until I saw my mother. My anxious mother greeted me with her favourite question, “How was the exam?” Trying to avoid further probing, “good” I retorted. Since times immemorial, there has never been any stopping of mothers. I had to be interrogated question by question by question… listed in that wretched rolled question paper for the Hindi final exam. She had made me rote-learn every minute piece in the Hindi syllabus puzzle. I rambled on with applicable answers to all the questions.

Among other things, it included an essay on the Cow, our sacred animal (a bit beyond sacred these days). I had learnt it with spellings and punctuation, all intact. Yes, I had been able to blurt it out on the answer scripts too. Only some pieces shifted places to my peril! My kiddo brain, fried in the oil of limited time left for the last question, mixed up the order. So the first sentence I could pen to paper turned out to be as follows, “Gae gobar deti hai.”

The rest of the sentences came back to me albeit in random order. My rote-learnt essay lost its organised structure. Holding a heavy head in her hands, “ab Teacher bhi number gobar hi Degi,” reverted my desolate mother. It was so simple she said, “why couldn’t you remember, Gae hamari mata hai…” She was clearly tortured to bits. She had worked really hard for my exam. I had let her down! For a few moments, the wonder of rain, the comfort of end to an ordeal, lost all its sheen. Despair took over, filling the air with guilt and self-doubt. Little did I understand the working of the human brain back then. My 6 year old sensibilities simply felt good for nothing.

Thankfully, I soon found my own ways to deal with the perennial exam struggle. Some things were taken for granted, some motherly and teacherly dramatics ignored, some anger absorbed, some rules adhered and some not. The creative curious being inside me found ways to explore learning on my own, while barely managing to sail through the school examinations. There were many allies in this beautiful journey. One of our favourite quotes became,

Gae hamaari Mata hai,

humko kuch nahi aata hai.”

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Those Piercing Eyes and Sharp Tongues

The school bag, latched to my shoulders, weighed painfully on my back like a heavy sack of rice on a frail frame. Fixing the tiffin box into one of its pockets, my mother’s sharp tongue rambled on, “Don’t write too slowly…revise properly before you submit the sheet…avoid careless mistakes…don’t waste time sharpening those pencils…eat your tiffin… don’t keep pulling at that cardigan… no playing in the mud… you collect filth on your clothes everyday…stop pulling at your hair…” I rushed out to quench the auto-rickshaw drivers’ honks at our gate. My ears were used to the unstoppable music of my mother’s tongue. That cacophony of commandments didn’t really expect much of a response anyway. It made for some foreground music to our morning routines.

School days are filled with routines and commandments, I suppose. Adults reign over our childhood lives with an unquestioned authority to command immediate obedience, dictate terms, pass judgements, often adding to the melodrama with scathing sarcasm. Our lives are quite literally governed by their approvals and disapprovals! Oh that sounds almost like slavery in the name of parenting a child! On the flip side, as a mother today, I don’t know who is the slave here? Unlike the slave, the child doesn’t always obey. Unlike the master, the mother is perennially guilty of not doing enough well enough. In this osmotic relationship, the overwhelming ingredient is love, thoroughly pure unconditional love. It transforms everything and this slavery to the child or slavery to the parent metamorphoses into a labour of love. No matter how sharp, irritating and nonsensical, the mother’s chiding commandments still form the music notes of childhood.

There is a similar slavery to be lived at the School as well. Commandments, rules and routines prepare us, quite adequately perhaps, for a work-life filled to the brim with the same. The survival rat-race leaves little room for anything else.

Yet, what still thrives, peering through the chinks in the routine, is the sweet rhythm of life itself. The attachment and sensitivity of an emotional life within us. The eternal yearning soul within us. It provides the balance, the sedimentary mix that blurs all the sundry segments of laughter and tears… Well, in gross terms, the flesh and blood to the bare bones of existence.

Thus, we make friends, we connect and we feel. I have often wondered, why school friends last forever. There is a raw innocence to those connections and I think that lasts forever. We learnt it all together. Back in school, when piercing eyes of parents and teachers and a variety of sharp tongues lashed out at us, we faced the brunt together. Our unity was exemplary as partners in crime. We possessed the precious diamond of prankster trust. We knew none would ever spill the beans of our forays into the forbidden.

As a little girl in Grade IV, I knew I could bare my heart and soul to Nirjhar. She would never judge me. I could slap her lovingly and expect sheer laughter in response. We could spend hours on end hanging half-strung on the branches of guava trees in Allahabad, chattering away in competition with birds. She was special. Simple and carefree.

There were others too. Richa, the tall girl in our class, permanently cautious, never seemed to agree with our carefree attitude. Nirjhar and I were often subjected to lunch-break lectures from Richa. I am sure Sir Francis Bacon would have named them, ‘On consciousness’. We needed to be conscious of our surroundings, conscious of what others thought about us, of how we were perceived by the senior students, of how to fold our legs to sit like elegant girls, how to respond and walk gracefully… I am still indebted to Richa’s lessons in umpteen ways. Back then, she was a pain of a friend with perennially judgemental eyes. Nirjhar and I hardly ever shared our little secrets with her. We wondered why she couldn’t be simpler, while she seemed to take pride in her maturity. Richa was the favourite with our mothers. That only made it worse. I think I finally understand you now Richa! The friend I still miss though, is Nirjhar.

Mother to a brat of a teenager now, I am still blessed with the commandments from my own mother. My disheveled hair still remains a case in point. So does every aspect of my lifestyle. This morning the phone rang at 7:00 am. There she was saying morning walks are good, one should rise early and so what if it’s Sunday… 😇😅

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