THE PARENTAL RAT-TRAP

 

There comes a brief period in my staid life when our house (me included) goes into a tizzy. That is the time when my daughter’s school happily obliges us with their internal “assessments”. These days since schools cannot officially conduct tests and examinations, they have rechristened it as “formative and summative assessments” – what we as children used to lovingly call “unit tests and terminal exams” respectively. During these few turbulent days, our whole household (with the maid and cook included) is not just stepping, but literally stomping on each other’s toes, which if were it not so frustrating, would have made a hilarious comedy! The only individual who remains calm during this whole drama is the protagonist – my daughter. In fact she remains so cool and unaffected during this domestic uproar that she could easily put a cryogenically frozen cucumber to shame.

It all starts with an innocent message from my best half informing me of the dates of the dreaded assignments. Lo and behold, our house suddenly gets transmogrified into a war-zone, with familial peace and sometimes even marital stability being ominously threatened. As the dates of these assessments draw near, the whole ménage goes into palpitations of epic proportions and remains in a comatose state till the end of it. On the rare occasions that I assume the onerous task of “taking up revisions” with my daughter, the accompanying aggravation gives me the amazing ability to dance the taandav like Lord Shiva; and during her turn my wife transforms from the docile and loving mother that she always is, into a modern manifestation of Goddess Kali with all the characteristic fiery attributes.

 

Make no mistake, our daughter is good in her studies and has never given us an occasion to grieve over her scholastic aptitude, but the disturbance and nuisance value generated during this brief period is enough to infuriate us no end. I remember when we were kids, and our mothers used to do such revisions, one mistake was enough to receive either a painful knock on our heads, or have a wooden ruler heavily greet our extended palms. Being knuckled on the head was a constant teacher and learning “by-heart” was our way of staying ahead in the class. As parents, my wife and I had made a promise to each other that, however grave the provocation be we would never raise hands on our child. So far we have kept this promise and thankfully our daughter has never presented us with an occasion to break it. As I understand, this situation is limited not to just our house. Most parents seem intent on creating a theater of the absurd by partaking in an untenable race towards a hallucinatory finish-line, just to ensure that their ward remains ahead of the rest of the class!

 

Though attitudes are gradually shifting, the “academic-excellence-is-a-must-to-do-well-in-life” mentality sadly prevails among Indian parents. I think we as parents are responsible for this deplorable situation that we currently find ourselves in. Our parents primarily believed in living their envisioned lives through us, and we seem to have just updated their thought process without upgrading our mindsets. So if our parents were trying to produce black & white photocopies of their own selves through us, we have just taken it to another level by trying to produce colour photocopies of ourselves through our children. Why do we continue to teach our children to do better than their classmates in studies rather than to be happy in life? Why do we teach them to give to more importance to bookish knowledge rather than to the omnipresent knowledge that life around us has to offer? Why has the worth of money become more important than the value of being content in life?

 

We may blame the Indian education system while parroting the standard line that children need to do well in studies to get a good job, which seriously is a no-brainer! Forget the Bill Gates of the world, but do we not have numerous examples of friends and relatives, who perennially warmed the back benches and aimlessly roamed the corridors of their schools, doing absolutely nothing that resembled studies and have now achieved unprecedented glory in life? Also, the opportunities and avenues that are now available to our current lot of children were unthinkable of during our times. For example, the mere mention to my parents of me pursuing any “non-engineering / non-doctorate” vocation would have been an aberration and anathema then. I have never regretted or fretted over my past decisions, and surprisingly I have done adequately well in my chosen profession. But who knows, maybe I would have done better in something that I was more passionate about; or conversely I could have failed spectacularly! But how would I know without trying? A quote from Andre Gide sums this up nicely – “You cannot discover new lands without consenting to lose sight of the shores for a long time”. In hindsight, we realize that our so-called “good-for-nothing” relatives and friends have achieved success only because they were brave (or foolish) enough to buck the trend and do their own thing. It may possibly have been their limited “academic excellence” that pushed them into thinking out of the box, but then have they not re-defined and refined our understanding of “the box”?

Reminds me of the cartoon depicting a teacher telling all the animals in the forest, including elephants, horses, camels and fish that they have to climb trees to clear their exams! Maybe that is what our Indian education system also endorses, but do we as informed parents have to blindly follow it? Why do we as parents fail to recognize or acknowledge the fact that each child is unique with distinctive skill sets and why not trust that our child has an ingrained aptitude to do well in life? Is it due to our own insecurities and lack of trust in our own capabilities as a parent? Many of you reading this may not agree with what I have said and even dismiss me saying that these radical thoughts are impractical if not impossible to implement. I accept all these critiques, and even agree that it is challenging to let go off our conventional beliefs, but if we are to make a better world for our children, then the time to introspect and clear the cobwebs of our minds is now…

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