Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Waiting for 2020

And yeah well you thought that during the travails of raising children you'd have to deal with potty training, food fuss, tantrums for possessions, indiscipline et al. 

And suddenly, as you groan out of bed at 5 30 something in the AM, you realise that all the above mentioned struggles pale in comparison to SCHOOL - perhaps the biggest trial of raising a child.

Lets begin with the moment your little baby has to go to a school - and I am not referring to your neighbourhood Nursery cum Day cares or Play Schools. I am referring to those imposing buildings with rows upon rows of classrooms, where your five year old will walk in with a bag full of books and a head full of trepidation (not unreasonable ofcourse), where you hope she gets a 'sound' education (now what's that!) and where she will stay till she is out of school academics (12th grade) for good.

And you don't just 'hope' she stays there, you will compel her to, after the jostling-in-line for the admission form, the insinuating 'Parent Interview', the capitation fee disguised as 'tuition' fee, the scandalous amount you shell out as quarterly fees - you may even want her to grow old in that school if need be!!

And it does not stop with the rigmarole of admissions or annual book purchase insanity. Its an everyday affair.

It starts with the gargantuan task of waking up at unearthly hours (and putting 5 year olds through the ignominy too). There was a time when sanity prevailed and an average school day began at 9 am. Today my daughter goes to a school that begins its day at 715 am. Despite the fact that we live just one km from the school her average wake up time is 545 am. Can't imagine the ungodly hour children who come from above 5 kms wake up at!

And I don't necessarily blame the school for this. 

The management wants children to reach home at a reasonable hour to avoid the glaring heat of mid afternoons as well as give them enough time to complete (mountains of) home work. And play too! Of course! "Your child needs to play at least two hours everyday" teachers and principals will almost reprimand parents who stand up at PTA's and say that the children don't get time to play.

Look at a typical school day - after getting home at 2 pm, taking a shower to get the grime of the sports period off, a quick lunch, and/or maybe even a short nap, the child goes into 5 pm. A quick snack or cup of milk later, she sits down to tackle the home work for the day. By the time she is done with her home work its almost 730, almost too dark to play outdoors. 815 dinner. 9 pm in bed. 530 something am - the circle of life begins again.

Travelling time is another problem. A lot of children I know travel any where between a half hour to one hour to school one way! With good (are there any?) schools becoming as scarce as the rainfall in Pune, parents don't mind letting their child traverse the distance all for the 'sound' education!

Homework is another area that is demanding of parents' time, attention and patience. Its what fuels the fast growing 'tuition' industry (should be granted industry status actually) and gives parents sleepless nights. It is also what leads parents to tender letters of apology to the class teacher ("for not having completed her home work due to a severe stomach ache last evening"), contents that sound like a story book formula to 'get away with it'.

Ah such levels parents have to stoop to! And really what choice do parents have! Homework is fast becoming the teacher's excuse to wriggle out of her 'home work'!

Three pages of Math problems, writing an entire essay in Hindi, collecting pictures for Science....this is the kind of work my daughter has to complete in one evening! Time to play? If she does go out to ride her favourite bicycle for a half hour or play with her friends, we know that she will go to bed in tears because the homework is still just half way through. So she does what any 10 year old diligent child will do - quit play time.

Helping write an essay, mugging spellings or solving a math problem is fine. Its still the easier part I'd say. But its when children have 'project work' that most parents wonder why they don't just quit their jobs and take over child rearing as a full-time occupation. 

Working parents have it especially hard. Like this one time I remember my daughter wanted pictures of some dance forms, famous freedom fighters and carnivorous birds on the same day, and we spent close to an hour and a punishable amount of fuel looking for them store to store. 

Why teachers cannot inform parents of an impending project requirement on a Friday is still a mystery to me. My daughter is in class VI and despite repeated written requests and pleas, she still gets project work requirement at the nth hour. 

All the anger and contempt you feel for the teacher, the school, the education system and their lack of planning is confronted by the crying child who stands helplessly shaking her head as you ask her idiotic and mindless questions, "Couldn't your teacher have remembered it two days ago?" replying, "How do I know Mama?"

Project work requirement can also be very funny. When my daughter wanted seven match boxes we bought her seven. She promptly emptied the match sticks into a drawer saying "Ma'am said to get empty match boxes." Needless to say, it has been almost two years and we are still well stocked with match sticks!

The expectations of the school don't end with the daily home work or projects, the arrival of the child 'on time' in a 'clean' uniform (polished shoes, handkerchiefs, neatly pig tailed or pony tailed hair and of course, these days the sanitizers) etc. They also expect you to give the child 'healthy' and yet tasty tiffin/snacks. "Bread, Maggie, Chips etc are not allowed" reads the school circular.

Fair enough! I agree that children should not be consuming junk food and amongst their peer, they tend to consume anything you pack in - without a murmur. But again, its the task of making the parathas, dosas, poha or some such and having it ready by 645 am is the challenge.

As parents we have another 10 years of this rigmarole. Six for my daughter, ten for my son. By 2020 we will have the liberty to sleep beyond 6 am on a weekday. 

Until then, we rise, we awaken, we cook, we scream, we cajole, we dress, we run for the bus and we triumph!

For those parents who are in the same boat - hugggssss...

For those waiting to join the bandwagon - All the best! 

Sunday, July 11, 2010

The Art of Missing Mails

People miss emails.

Yes! They do. Often I send out a mail to someone and then HAVE TO send them a 'saral mobile sandesh' or SMS that I've sent them a mail!

Because people very often miss the mail and SMS me indignantly, "I thought I was supposed to receive an email from you"...which leaves me wondering - It could not have gone into their Spam since we've been corresponding regularly. When I re-affirm that I have indeed mailed them, they usually get back with a sheepish response - "Oh I missed it"...

No I-mean-it apologies either because they miss my next mail too!

And some lost souls actually never see the mail at all, even after the reminder SMS. "I'm so sorry I was too busy..." or "Yaar, my Inbox is full of mail... Its so difficult to see which ones I actually want to open..."

How busy can busy be? And are you an efficient professional if you're missing work related email, out of sheer 'oversight' or a cluttered Inbox? And an excuse like this is supposed to work when most mail service providers offer you the comfort of labelling incoming mail and assigning them to different folders?

If you're being cluttered with unimportant emails/notifications, why not 'unsubscribe' or block the senders?

And most of all, if your Inbox is cluttered with unnecessary emails, why club personal and professional together?

Yeah! I know! All prudent questions that most people I know often miss mails will respond to with a "Oh may be I'm just not as efficient as you'....as if that is supposed to make me feel any better!

Sometimes I am tempted to forward these people an article I wrote for a tech magazine once - Email Etiquettes, followed by a SMS - Pls chk mail. And even then I know that most of them will miss it :-)

So today I doff my hat to those really busy professionals, masters in their fields who multi task effectively managing successful careers, homes, and children, (in particular the Editor of a magazine and my darling friend Aekta) who NEVER miss a mail....and who always respond (even if its just a simple sentence or phrase - Will revert).

Now that I am done with my rambling, I need to go reply to my mails...

Friday, July 9, 2010

Lady in the burqa

I take my son to a remedial class twice a week. It's what we now term a mild form of 'learning difficulty' or dyslexia. In two years, we've sort of grown out of the discomfort of talking about it. I say sort of because we do sometimes get tangled in the 'why him' 'why us' kind of totally fruitless questioning.

When we began the routine two years ago, the last half hour of his one hour class would overlap with that of another young girl who would be accompanied by her mother.

I am not the type to make conversation with someone outright. Either that person has to acknowledge my presence with a smile or eye contact or I can just simply sit around doing my own thing. Even after smiles, it can take weeks before I initiate a conversation. If they start it I can jabber my guts out almost instantly. But take the first step towards establishing cordiality? Na! Thats not me!

Anyway, so while this young girl I later learned is called Fatima went in to the room to make sense of words, her mother and I sat in the waiting room together, without exchanging so much as a glance, forget words.

I would always be carrying 'work' with me - list of calls I'd need to make, a story I could possibly work on sitting there - anything that would help me 'utilise' this time effectively. I still do that.

She, I noticed would walk in with a clutch purse that always matched her outfits, a cell phone and a magazine.

Three times a week then, I would see her walk in, take the seat near the window, look out and talk to someone on the phone. Then she would flip through the pages of the Cosmo or Femina she'd be carrying as I would sit there clacking at the keys of my lap top trying to look very very busy.

Truth is I looked at her. A lot.

She wore the most outstanding salwar kameez combinations I'd ever laid my eyes on. Pasty pink kurtas with white churidars and carefully draped dupattas of crushed cotton - she almost always wore combinations that looked 'thrown in' together... Each 'meeting' left me enamoured by what she wore and how well she carried it.

After about eight months, the remedial class moved to another locality and the timings of my son's sessions changed too. Fatima was assigned another day of the week that did not correspond with our visits. We settled into a new routine with a new set of children and mothers we would meet every week - mothers I exchange a glance with but no more!

Imagine my surprise then when I walked into his class the other day and saw Fatima sitting in the waiting room. She's grown up a bit and smiled as she recognised me.

But I didn't recognise her mom. Because she was clad in a burqa (and I must mention here, that the burqa was a pasty pink, little pink flowers printed over it with a white lace.) It was a shock to see her covered from top to toe when I'd in the past seen her in sleeveless kurtas, minus the 'cover up'.

The fashionable clutch has been replaced by a regular "jhola", and she didn't flip through a magazine as we sat together on the wooden bench. Her perfectly manicured nails have been replaced by unsightly, unkempt specks of yellow. She's upgraded her cell phone to a touch phone though, I noticed.

I was tempted to ask her about the makeover. Why has she suddenly chosen to don the burqa? What happened to her lovely manicured nails? But didn't. Even though my curiosity was threatening to burst out of my being, I contained myself since it went against my usual policy - refrain from conversation unless spoken to.

We sat there, both of us, throwing once-in-a-while sideway glances at each other. She must have noticed that I'd probably noticed the changes - the burqa in particular. But she pretended to gaze at the clouds of dampness that had formed a pattern on the white washed wall in front of us.

In one hour, the class ended and all of us collected our kids, their home works and their bags, in that order.

Out of two classes a week, Fatima shares one with my son. Recently, due to my increased work load Harish has begun taking him to these sessions more frequently than I do.

So the result is that I don't see her often.

But when I do, I do miss seeing her ensemble, hidden as it now is under the pasty-pink-printed-flowers-white-lace-burqa.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

I wore
Matching earrings
All of my five
And four
Silver bangles
The pain
did not numb
my dressing sense