As I look at that gorgeous baroque structure and I walk through those arches, it all comes back to me. I haven’t walked through these long corridors since twenty years, but everything seems familiar. My school jungle gym remains exactly where it was- garishly wonderful in its bright primary colours. The slide remains intact and I touch the scar on my chin, remembering when I had descended wrongly and managed to hurt my chin.
This was before the time when everything was child-proof. We didn’t have seat belts (forget car seats) and playgrounds had metal equipment that lasted eons. When you hit the ground, you hit the ground: gravel et al; no fluffy, cloud-like foam floors to protect you. It was refreshing to see that my school was the same. The kids were learning that they had to rely on their intuition and experience to know how far they could stretch their gravity-defying antics on play equipment before they got injured.
I remember the day my chin had split open: I was given some ice and First Aid and mom was called. She took me to the doctor. No lengthy investigation called for in my school, and no fury unleashed onto “negligent teachers” and “indifferent principals”. Even if my mom had been a crazy mom (and there were some), the school wouldn’t have entertained her nonsense. Sister Doreen would have just turned her nose up, a glint of disgust reflected in her glassy eyes, and told my mom that neither she nor her teachers had the time to entertain such an interrogation.
Maybe being overly approachable is a problem with our schools today. Children play. Sometimes they fall. They get hurt, even get scars. But the scars heal. Pain builds character. Why deprive them of that experience?
I walk into our classes. Our old desks are still marked with signatures scratched onto the wooden surface, hoping to make our school days and our childhood immortal, etched into the space we worked on. Those school days were wonderful! Not a care in the world: our biggest worry being whether mamma would send bhindi* again today in our lunch dabba* or whether Mrs. A would make us enunciate “v” (bite your lip) and “w” (round your lips) for hours- and if it wasn’t rendered perfectly, we would get an ear-shattering shouting which was equivalent to a slap on the face.
My school wasn’t washed with Lysol from top to bottom, we survived the summers in fanned classrooms (and non-fanned playgrounds in the afternoon). Mrs.A was our singing teacher who turned up in a kameez* sometimes having forgotten the salwar*, and we all hated her. I told my mom often about how much I disliked her, but she didn’t intervene and ask for me to removed from her class because Mrs.A was mean. As long as no one was physically beating us, our parents let us learn how to deal with reality: everyone wasn’t the same and everyone wasn’t going to think that the sun rose every morning from our behinds. Some teachers probably secretly wished they could plaster a black and blue mark every morning on my behind but didn’t because then my mom would have been knocking down the principal’s door.
It may have hurt my mom to see me sad- that a friend or teacher didn’t like me, but she let me learn that lesson: the lesson that I wasn’t God’s gift to mankind (which anyone growing up in a loving joint family may have been led to believe). And when that happened, she didn’t feel like she needed to remove me from that unpleasant situation, by airlifting me out of my momentary sorrow into her comforting arms.
Recently, I heard of a case where a mom asked her kid’s school to excuse her daughter permanently from attending a PE class where the child felt the teacher was partial and thought she was being picked on. It wasn’t a grave situation; just one of those all of us experience while growing up, but the school did it. I understand this happening if the child is being mentally or physically abused/ tortured, in which case the teacher needs to leave, but excusing a student from a class because they don’t feel liked by their teacher feels a bit extreme.
There are more than enough moms who get involved in their kid’s petty fights: I remember even when I was a kid, a friend’s mom would stop talking to my mom every time we had a fight. My brother had an ‘Aunty’ who would actually call him up and try to solve any scrap that he had with her son. Ok- so the crazies have always been around but the difference is that with new schools cropping up, they are willing to perform backflips to please the parents. Their Open Door policy may comfort us at first, but it’s also rattling! To know that every paranoid mother (with our ‘Hum Do Humara Ek‘* brigade) can go and demand whatever she thinks best for her-and YOUR kid!
Recently, my friend told me about a Jain mother in their school who demanded that on days when vada-pav is given to the kids, it should be switched to kela vada for all the kids. She had already been allowed to send her own tiffin on days when a Jain* option was not going to be provided by the school. Her rationale was that her child will be tempted while seeing other kids eat. It’s a valid point since kids want to do what their peers are doing, but this is the problem with India today! Just because I’m Marwari, vegetarian and a majority in Mumbai, should I want that everyone else should live like me?
We are so easily offended: by meat-eaters, by metal playgrounds, by immature toddlers who hit, by jokes, by opinions, by anyone that represents ‘the other’. We want to bring our children up in a safe environment- protected from any dangers, ‘the other’ representing the greatest danger!
So let’s all wait around while our schools and our government accommodate the majority’s opinion (hyper moms are the majority nowadays), and then we can live in our manicured gardens (balconies for Mumbai), with our saffron-washed walls, consuming milky chai and cucumber-chutney sandwiches (because a chicken junglee sandwich is just that- so junglee*) in the promise that “Achche Din Aanewale hain“.*
Dabba- Lunch box
Salwar Kameez- an Indian outfit, where the kameez is the top and the salwar is a loose pyjama below.
Jain- People who follow Jainism, and do not consume any vegetables that grow underground.
“Hum Do Humara Ek”-“We Two Have One (Kid)”
Junglee- Primitive, Animal-like.
“Achche Din Aanewale Hain”- “Good days will be here soon!”