Truth and Lies

December 8, 2010

Just before Diwali, Mrini told me one morning that she should wear a salwar-kameez to school that day. Since their salwar-kameezes were still quite new, I thought it was the novelty factor that made her say this. And since Diwali and one birthday party were just around the corner, I thought I’d keep the pretty clothes for those occasions and so I sent them off to school in shirt-pant as usual. As soon as we reached there, their class teacher asked them, “Why no salwar-kameez?” That’s when I realized that the suggestion for salwar-kameez had come from the teacher and the reason was that they were celebrating Diwali in class that day.

“I have to pay more attention to what Mrini says,” I thought. Mrini, of course, not Tara, because Mrini is the one who can be counted on to ferry information and instructions reliably from one place to another. It is another matter altogether, and quite a surprising matter too, that Mrini should have been the one to leave her school bag in school one day. That is behaviour one would normally expect of Tara. The difference, of course, is that Mrini was thoroughly embarrassed and abashed to have committed such a blunder, while Tara, if she had done it, would have been mightily indifferent and calculatedly unconcerned with such petty, worldly affairs.

Anyway, a week or two later, again early in the morning, Mrini said: “The teacher told me to take my notebook to school today.”

We’d bought Mrini a new four-lined notebook, so she could practice writing at home. She hadn’t started writing in class, at that time, but she’d been so keen to start that I’d got her started on it at home. Did her teacher want to see what she’d been doing at home? It sounded improbable, but I decided to send her notebook along to class anyway. Obviously, that meant I’d have to send Tara’s too. Tara’s notebook was an old, lined spiral-bound notebook. It was a great deal messier than Mrini’s because Tara wasn’t really interested in writing and was doing it only because Mrini was doing it. Both of them were equally thrilled about taking their notebooks to school, though, and they ran to show them to the teacher as soon as they reached. I spoke to her, too, and it turned out that what she wanted was new four-lined notebooks and square-lined notebooks (one apiece) to get the girls started with writing and numbers in class. Since I hadn’t got those new notebooks yet, she’d use these for a day or two till I got them.

It was on the whole just as well that I’d started paying attention to what Mrini said, because it was she who reminded me that 24th November was a holiday in school. Otherwise, in my usual negligent fashion, I would have wound up driving the kids to school and then wondering why the roads were so empty!

Then there was the day that the kids’ van broke down on the way from school to daycare. Instead of calling us and informing us of it, the van driver took it upon himself to borrow a two-wheeler from someone and drive the kids to daycare on that. Apparently, they reached safely enough. But when Tara told us of this escapade with the greatest delight, we would not have known whether to believe her or not, had not their daycare coordinator confirmed it. After all, Tara routinely tells us about snacks, toys, sweaters and other miscellaneous items being thrown out of the van window and all of that can’t possibly be true. I would not have credited either of them with the creativity of thinking up a motorcycle escapade on their own, but now that it had happened, it became a weekly affair if one were to go by their accounts. Daycare assured us that it had not been repeated and of course, we’d had words with the driver about it, so I’d be very surprised if it were repeated.

Although there are elements of make-believe in the kids’ conversations, I haven’t usually noticed them fabricate stories to gain some advantage. On the rare occasion that they do, it is so transparent as to not be the slightest bit credible. So, when Mrini told me that they had been told by their teacher to wear socks and sneakers to school today, something they love to do and which I very rarely allow them to do (for purely practical reasons – think, wet toilet floors + socks = yuck!), I didn’t for a moment disbelieve her. Partly it was the way she said it. As soon as I reached daycare to pick them up yesterday, she flung herself at me and announced with great excitement that it was sports day today. She went on to say that they would be running races in the big field outside and that they were to wear shorts and “home clothes”.

Despite the chilly (by Bangalore standards) daytime temperatures over the past few days, Mrini wore the skimpiest pair of micro-mini shorts she could find, while Tara settled for a pair of jeans that had gone short. They were ready a good 15 minutes ahead of schedule and could hardly wait to get their socks and sneakers on! Teacher had apparently told them to reach school “early” – at 8.30. I took this to be a general instruction by the teacher to all kids; our girls are usually in school by 8.10, but from what I’ve seen, kids continue to walk in up till about 9 or so. Mrini also informed me that the teacher had clearly said that parents were not invited. Only kids and teachers and akkas. Then she said that the sports day was going to be at some other field, not the one attached to their school, and that they were going to go there by bus.

Since everything she’d told me so far had the ring of truth about it, there was no reason to doubt this statement, except that it made no sense. If you have a nice big field attached to the school, why would you want to take a big bunch of small kids by bus to some other field? Sure enough, when I checked at school, it turned out that everything the kids had told me was true except for this last little bit.

Making up stuff is part of childhood. The girls love to play role-playing games and long ago they had started making up stories, including an entire imaginary family created by Tara whose characters still occasionally pop up in conversation at home. I don’t see any reason to attach any value judgement to their “lies” right now – the more so because they haven’t yet thought of using lies to get something they wouldn’t otherwise get (at least, not usually). So I don’t have a problem with their telling “lies” right now. My only problem is knowing which stories to believe and which to debunk.

Right now, I’m waiting to hear their account of Sports Day to try to figure out how much of it is fact and which parts are fiction!

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