Saturday, June 28, 2008

Confessions of a mother from the 10th fast lane

Kya aap Dasvi pass se tez hain?

No, no, this is not a new show on the TV. It is a reality, as old as the education system in our country. Then again it is more interesting than any show and has all the ingredients of a best seller. There is blood toil and tears sometimes for more than just that one academic year, the tension of the exams, excitement of the results, the thrill of achievement, the disappointment of falling short , the sorrow of failure, and occasionally the terrible tragedy of suicide. There are the heroes (without a gender bias) who conquer the mountain of merit lists and there are the villains who cheat and hope to get the seal of ‘tenth pass’. There are the eternal mothers or MAA, who make endless sacrifices and fathers who have noses to the grindstone in order to pay for the best extra coaching that money can buy.

There was a time when ‘tuition classes’ was just a whisper heard by those who were genuinely weak at one or another subject. One rarely mentioned that one was part of such a class for fear of being ridiculed as dumb. Cut to today and there are coaching classes that are as difficult to get into as IIT. They are advertised as loudly as any other consumer goods and market the classes as aggressively as a cola. Woe betides any who do not toe the line and skip coaching.

How do I know this? Well I was one of the teeming numbers just this past academic year.
A mother with a cause… mine to do or die, not to reason why. I was expected (so I was informed, by any and everyone) to support my son’s quest for the holy grail….er…Class 10 certificate.

I was advised to cut cable TV. It was not enough that my son controlled his TV viewing, we as a family had to make this sacrifice too was the earnest advice from a battle scarred mom, whose son had been going for coaching for two years and had scored 89% the previous year. So did I do it? Not at all… my son watched matches and movies and was keeping up with “star world” as the real world spun around at a dizzying speed.

During the X-mas vacations, one of my concerned friends called up to find out how my son was coping with the pressure. When I told her that he had gone out of town on a short break, she almost split my eardrums with a high decibel shriek. As if that were not enough, she proceeded to give me an earful on why I should have just kept him at home for the holidays.

Another mom gave me diet counseling. (It had nothing to do with me being overweight) ‘Nothing but simple home cooked meals’ she said, wagging her finger in my face. Keep him fit…. nothing wrong with that…… except that she also told me not to feed him too much at night. ‘Make sure he is not full, it will keep him awake’. Ah, so the secret is starvation. When I put forth this idea to my son, he agreed in principle that he should give up dinner, but asked me to stock up on chips and biscuits and snacks. Just what I wanted-- a junk foodie!
In a mothers meet, I was listening to tuition class stories being swapped. Thinking that I was a shy wall flower, one of the moms kindly tried to draw me into the conversation by asking me where my son went for classes. When I hesitantly told her that he was not going anywhere and that I thought the school was doing a great job, there was a shocked silence and you could have heard a pin drop. When one of them finally found her tongue, she asked me (in a tone reserved for a mentally slow person) why I did not force him to go, even though the school was good. On discovering that I was supporting the class boycott by my son, she stared at me, shook her head and hasn’t spoken to me since.

Being an outcast wasn’t too pleasant, but I stuck to my guns in the face of a lot of such advice – why I did not give him the latest wonder drug for memory, why I let him play, why I went visiting my mom, why I had any parties at home…..( the only other time I have heard so many suggestions is when my son was born and I was a fresh off- the- maternity- ward- mom). However, looks like I am with the “IN” crowd again. The phone has been ringing since yesterday, since I learnt that my son scored a wonderful 96.2% in his board exam.
(Incidentally this was my article in a pune mag Intelligent pune)

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