Ishaan has Hindi tuition twice a week. ‘Miss’ Vasanthi is his tuition teacher. She is an old lady, slim and grey-haired, and extremely serious about the progress of her wards. She is the only teacher I know who has chosen to take on just one child for each class (they last about half-an-hour). She says the kids fool around when they have company. She likes to concentrate on each child for only then can she see results. All of this attention and dedication comes for a princely sum of 300 rupees per month. Suffice to say I adore Miss Vasanthi – though she has expressed her dissatisfaction at my apparent indifference to the methods of teaching at Ishaan’s school.
‘What do you mean they don’t have exams?’ she gasps. ‘How will we know what they’re learning! And what about knowing where he stands compared to the rest of his classmates? And where are his textbooks and notebooks – doesn’t he bring them home? What! No homework! WHY?’
Good point, I murmur, not daring to admit that it’s for this very reason that I decided to put him in this school in the first place. Anyway, Miss Vasanthi (for that’s what we call her – tried Aunty, Ma’am, simple old ‘Miss’ – but nothing else suits her as much), has made amends for this by going out and buying Hindi textbooks and workbooks and notebooks and doling out weekly spelling tests. And of course – she sends back homework.
Now the object of all this devotion, is strangely enough, not as gung-ho as one would imagine. He’s got a minor tendency to avoid as much work as possible, and so, Miss Vasanthi’s homework was being dealt with in his own special way.
Miss Vasanthi called me. ‘He’s not doing his homework,’ she complains. ‘But you don’t keep at him – let him take responsibility and do it himself.’
So I dutifully took him to task, but did not ‘remind’ him to do his homework (ok, I did, but not as much as I would have otherwise) and he began finishing it on time. Or at least that’s what I thought.
Regina, my maid, who in our home is the equivalent of Mammy, accompanies Ishaan to tuition. She tells me a different story. So one time Ishaan decided to bunk class when I was away in Jaipur, and of course, no one thought of informing Miss Vasanthi about this (which is a sure-fire way to piss her off).
Anyway, come next class, and Ishaan’s begging ‘Amma’ as he calls Regina – who is his nanny, friend, foe, and confidant – to tell Miss Vasanthi that he was ill (‘I did have fever that day, no Amma?’).
He’s also scribbling away into a notebook, as they’re been driven to class in an old beat-up jeep by our gardener.
‘Then why were you cycling that evening? And is that your homework?’
‘Yes. But leave all that Amma…just tell her I wasn’t well. Please!’
Amma takes a deep breath. ‘Ok’, she says, ‘But just this once’.
‘Why didn’t he come that day?’ Miss Vasanthi asks.
Regina steps forward. ‘Err…he was not feeling well…had fever,’ she says.
Something sprints past them. It’s Ishaan. He’s heading for the bathroom.
Miss Vasanthi and Regina look at each other. They burst out laughing.
‘He’s quite a khiladi, eh?’ Miss Vasanthi says looking amused. Then, she drops the subject.
Amma goes down to wait, and Ishaan saunters out half-an-hour later: the worst behind him. He’s free as a bird, and is now looking forward to an evening of much cycling, fighting and general merry-making, that all little boys of seven live for.