On many nights, my roommate and I would be lying on our backs staring up at the ceiling fan, and chatting well into the night about what life would have in store for us. On one of those occasions, a shuddering thought occurred to us. “Nammaku porakardhukku padippae eralaenna…???”, and we instantly recognized it as a problem that would baffle us. For the tamil challenged that would read as – what if our kid is academically challenged? I remembered this all of a sudden after so many years, because the other day, I oversaw my friend’s daughter’s kumon homework and found myself saying two words that I never understood as a kid – “silly mistakes” and “carelessness”.
As in many tambram households, the first 21 years of my life was expected to be solely dedicated to the most important job of studying. “Padi.. padi.. padi”, my mother would constant harp, as I sat with my book in hand but watched the India Pakistan one-day match out of the corner of my eye. “How can you concentrate?”she would say as Nadeem Shravan’s music blared in the background. My father would come to my support and say that he studied quite successfully with AIR crackling in the background. “How long is your break going to be?” my mother would demand, as a 5 minute break from my exam preparation stretched to a half hour distraction. “What vambu?” my mother would frown as I smoothly became a participant in the backyard gossip exchange conversation. “Have you finished revising everything?” she would repeatedly ask on the day before the exam. If I confidently replied ‘yes amma’, she would say “Bring me your book, and let me see how well you have revised”. Sure enough, I would fumble and frown at every question she asked. “Poi padi” she would shout and off I went, stomping away with book in hand.
If all this was for the preparation, one can well imagine the scene when my brother or I came home with marks. Being a teacher’s child has it’s big minuses. My brother’s marks and mistakes would reach my mother’s ears and eyes even before it reached his. Any attempt on his part, to cushion the effect of poor marks by waiting to present it to appa and amma with some better marks would never work, because amma would be demanding on their ride home “So, heard you got your maths paper today??”. My school was more forgiving, and therefore my teachers never ran to my mother to squeal on me. My maths answer papers would scream silly mistakes and carelessness, because the teacher would have written it red and bold and screaming on the side of the top sheet. My mother would clench her teeth and ask “Won’t you check you check your paper before you hand it back?”, and I would look at the floor. How dare I tell her I was so bored at the end of the 3 hour exam, that all I wanted to do was hand the answer sheet to the teacher and walk out. Amma would play the “I am too mad at you to sign the report card” game every time. To this day, I don’t know if it was her way of letting me know I should have done better, or her way of passing on at least some responsibility to my father (like let him at least sign the report card, when I waste all my “thondai thanni” getting these kids to study). My father would sometimes play along and pretend that he was never going to sign on a report card that had such lousy marks (they weren’t all that lousy really..). Eventually, the next morning after making some false promises, and “I will next time”s I would walk out triumphantly, signed report card in hand. Appadi.. if studying was hard, writing exams was harder, getting that signature on the report card was truly the toughest ordeal of all.
Then there was the PTA meetings, where parents and teachers could jointly criticize the poor student for behaviour at school and home. My father only came to two parent teacher meetings. My mother stayed out of that – she didn’t want someone telling her “vaadhiyar pillai makku”, you see. The first time my father came along, I was in class 4, and the teacher politely said, she is so talkative in class, she will even make a stone talk if it sits next to her. That was some lesson, because the next time my father was informed of a PTA meeting was 6 years later, when I was in class 10, and I knew that pretty soon, there would be no more PTA meetings in my life.
So indeed, now that I am parent and I have so much trouble getting my daughter to eat even Rava Kesari, I wonder what I would do, if she did not sit in one place and study like the good girl her mother was.
P.S: Amma and Appa, don’t air my dirty laundry in public pleeezz!