Tuition travails

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’.

They enter.

‘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.


The things we talk about.

Every family talks about different things. And the best way to find out what you talk most about is when you are on holiday: on a long drive to somewhere fun, when you can do not much else – but talk.

All it takes is a few road trips to see what makes each family tick. I remember when we were growing up it was all about how important family is, and how much we siblings need to stay united and help and support each other – blah, blah, blah. The fact is that we were going through a lot of personal turmoil during these years, which makes it easy to understand why our parents kept at these boring lectures. Which, not surprisingly, paid off in the long run.

Of course people don’t talk about the same thing all the time. But there is a pattern, a theme, that tends to repeat itself more often than others – that becomes apparent during long journeys.

One family I know discuss religion, spirituality and the like. These things are important to them and this reflects in their conversations. Other  families discuss work, business and life’s hard-earned lessons. Their struggle to make a good life for themselves and their children is apparent in what they choose to talk about.

Yet others take in everything that they see – nature, animals and bird-life, wind-mills, cars – and point out interesting things to each other and their children. Others play games, sing songs or read aloud.

Our family is young and our interests are evolving. Topics range from filmi gossip; to bitching about our pet peeves (or people); to work, aspirations and dreams for the future. After the kids arrived, it is also increasingly about what we can do to cement a set of values we hold dear: into the ones we hold dearest.

The kids get bored of course with all of this, so we throw in a few rounds of  ‘I spy’ or ‘Name, place, animal, thing’ or some nursery rhymes or songs to liven things up. And when everything gets too much, we give up and hand over the latest gadget that they were angling for all this while – and shut them up.

And that is the thing. It is so tempting to get the kids to -Keep Quiet! – when you’re on the road for eight to ten hours. To keep them busy without having to hear them argue with each other every few minutes or ask ‘How long more?’ for the 100th time. But after this sudden epiphany, the husband and I are determined to try. The kids have no idea about what’s going to hit them on our next road-trip. But it will be their turn in a few score years when they have their own children (to bore).

It’s our turn now, and by God, we are going to make the most of it.

There is no one way.

Tiger Moms are all the rage. In case you haven’t heard of them yet, here is the low-down. A Chinese-American mother of two wrote a memoir about her ‘tough parenting’ techniques which shocked and awed a whole lot of people, who are either horrified by her extreme measures (she made her six-year old practise the violin for six-hour stretches – without a toilet break) or have embraced her with a passion – American children apparently need tough love; now that the economy is in a recession.

And the Pussycat mom? Well, she is at the opposite end of the spectrum. She has a healthy sense of her child’s self-esteem (What do you want for dinner? I always let him decide) and believes her child is one of a kind and hence not comparable to anyone else. This mother accepts her child for what he is, warts and all; and believes in nurturing him so that he may find himself.

Unlike the Tiger mom, who sees herself reflected in her children and in all that they achieve – or don’t.

So what do we choose to be? And how will these choices affect our children? Continue reading

Those wonderful words

Laila repeats back exactly what she hears. ‘Damn thing,’ she says, watching me struggle to open the door, cursing under my breath. ‘Ram thing, sweetheart.’ I do some quick thinking. ‘I was talking about a thing called ram.’

Another day has me explaining just what a ‘ruddy’ phone is. But I think she knows. Just like I did when my mum would suddenly let fly a torrent of abuse (that little swine, bloody dog etc) that stopped innocent people in their tracks and gave us kids a considerable amount of pleasure. Don’t get me wrong. My mother is one of the sweetest people this side of the planet – except when you made her mad. Or hungry.

A dear friend was driving his little boys (4 and 6) to school one morning, when he was abruptly pushed off the road by another driver, nearly giving him a heart-attack. ‘F…ing idiot!’ he yelled, as he swung back onto the road. Very soon a soothing chant began to make itself felt – ‘ idiot, f…ing idiot’ – just as school loomed large on the horizon.

Not for nothing is my friend a cool guy. Very soon the little boys were bundled out of the car and on their way in, their little mantra changed to ‘schuking idiot, shucking idiot.’ And as nothing was heard from the authorities thereafter, we can assume that it turned out ok.

But the best story of all is this one.

D’s four-year old son had recently discovered the F word. Reprimands and threats didn’t scare him much (he is very much an old chip off the block)and decided to show-off his new vocabulary at school. Now D works at this same school and was promptly summoned by the teacher with this piece of heartening news – ‘I am sorry to tell you this, but R is using the F word in class’ – while Mr Carefree ran around the school yard with not a care in the world. While she looked out at him, her little boy who loved a dare and was generally an unputdownable, loving creature, she was hit by a brain wave. R was due his inoculation. In a matter of minutes, the little man was in the car and off to the doctor’s to get his ‘punishment’ – the much-hated injection – and came back a chastened and wiser being. End of story. End of all cuss words.

So while I honestly think it’s the cutest thing when my three-year old casually asks for ‘the bloody cotton,’ it’s not very funny when ‘shit’ falls out of his mouth with equal ease.

It’s tough watching one’s mouth. But it’s tougher watching your kids, not watch theirs.

p.s. My son just spelt the ‘f’ word out while trying to spell phat in Hindi! And this from a boy who hates spelling. Then when reminded that only adults use those words (if at all), he wants to know why God made them!

You can’t fight Santa.

Ishaan has been asking for a bey blade for the last two months. This new thingie with a fancy name – is nothing but a fancy top! – and has managed to rock the world of every six-year old boy.

For once in our lives the husband and I laid off.
We calmed down.
We talked about it.
We planned our strategy.

And no bey blades materialised like most things normally do.

To say something in our defence (as you must have realised by now that the kids have LOTS of toys and other useless junk that they never use), we are fortunate to have family far and wide, bringing gifts and presents for the offspring out of love and affection.

Ok, understandable.

We also tend to buy the kids stuff on vacation, where they end up buying at least two things every time we travel!

Which is touch wood, often.

So all this adds up to a considerable amount of stuff and before you know it your kid is showing off and boasting about – get this – not his latest acquisition – but his fathers!

This led to banning the purchase of anything ‘bey-blade’ until the upcoming birthday – all the way over in June.

Good for the character. All of ours.

Of course just as things were sailing along nicely, along comes our most generous and loving Aunty M from New York – who promptly buys cute little (grand) nephew exactly what he’s been deprived of.

Sigh. What is a parent to do?

Now he sleeps with the damn thing under his pillow.

So whilst the original big idea of ‘making him learn-the-value-of-money’ etc has been rather unceremoniously washed down the drain, we now have a little boy who has never taken such good care of anything.

You win some, you lose some 🙂

p.s. We told him this was the present Santa had meant to give him all along. So no present under the tree this year. And I was feeling smug.

A few days later more friends arrive laden with toys, clothes – and a watch – another thing he has been really keen on for some time now, and whose purchase I had delayed till the 8th birthday!

In the face of all of this I am tempted to think that Santa lives and breathes and is watching over us after all.

You just have to believe hard enough.

Merry christmas and a Happy New Year. And thank you for sharing this journey with me over the last few months. 🙂

‘The Checklist Manifesto’ by Atul Gawande, is a decent read.

Here is a book after my heart. It explains and convincingly proves the role of these little (and as the book shows, not so little) lists that can supposedly better everything – from reducing rates of infection in hospitals, to flying a Boeing safely, to giving you an edge in the world of investments.

An easy read that gives you a ‘dekho’ into the world of medicine, construction and aviation. A short book – it’s racy and interesting.

Continue reading

Bessie Cow makes new friends

One morning Bessie cow was walking around the village. It was a lovely day. The sun was shining and a cool breeze was blowing in the trees.

Bessie cow suddenly spotted some dogs playing down the lane. They were running around and having fun.

She could hearing them barking – Bow, wow, bow, wow, as they played together.

Continue reading

Bessie cow learns to throw garbage… in the dustbin

How this story came to be – In my mind Bessie cow lives in a little village in Madumalai and her real name is Basanti. How the kids laughed when I told them this. So Basanti cow it is – though her pet name is Bessie, and thats how we address her in our stories. 🙂

On another note, Laila has been happily rolling down the car windows and chucking tissue paper out the minute she finishes wiping her nose with it. All my threatening/cajoling/explaining didn’t seem to have any effect. So Bessie cow came to the rescue. And I must say it has made it easier for me to remind Laila to ‘keep the ‘kachda’ (garbage) in the car and not dirty up the city’. She mostly listens.

Continue reading