School Days

May 28, 2009

May is drawing to a close and June is around the corner. That means, schools re-open here in Bangalore. And that means, a quantum increase in traffic volumes at 8 a.m.

Since I’m not working now and don’t have to join the millions making their daily commute to the workplace, the increase in traffic volumes is largely theoretical for me right now. But for how long?

I’ve just got the letters informing us that the eagerly anticipated day when the twins join their new school is set for 10 June. At first, they will spend only an hour or so at school, and parents have to stay with them. Probably in the second week, they will start following regular hours, 8.30 to 12.30. Then I’ll be spending much of my day in the driver’s seat – literally, unfortunately, not figuratively – with a 15 km round trip twice a day. Not only will the school time traffic suddenly be highly relevant to me, I’ll be part of it.

While the kids starting school means I’ll have a few hours of peace in the morning, which is not a given when Shaba-Aunty is home with the twins, it will also be good for the kids to get out. Last year, when going through the admission process, I kept feeling they were too small for school – but that was then. Now, I no longer think so. They can talk quite a bit now, and have become more socially-oriented: they look forward to meeting their park friends every evening – kids and adults alike – and cry out loud to meet other friends whom they see less frequently. And, keeping them occupied and engaged at home in the morning is full-time work. What’s more, it’s getting more and more difficult to tire them out sufficiently so they’ll fall asleep after lunch. Today they stayed up babbling and playing games for two whole hours, before finally falling asleep! School should take care of that, or so I hope. (How do parents (specially SAHMs) manage in those countries where school starts at age 6???)

So while I’m happy they’re going to be starting school soon (and honestly, the sooner, the better!), what I’m still not sure about is packing them off to school in the school bus. They still seem too small for that experience. Won’t it be scary, being in a bus full of big kids, no known faces around, being trundled around town for 30 or 40 minutes before making it to the only slightly familiar and less scary environment of school? True, there are two of them, and true, too, that other kids their age do it and survive, but still…

I don’t really want to be doing the dropping and picking up chauffeur service, though. It will certainly be fun talking to them on the way to and from school, but it is going to break up the morning in a quite disruptive fashion. Sending them off by bus means I get a whole five hours or so to do my stuff. Getting Amit to drop them on his “way” to work (it’s not really on his way) means investing in another set of car seats. Sigh. Problems, problems.

More interesting – and a bit worrying – is that certain memories that they form now can potentially last forever. Don’t you remember your very early days at school or preschool? I have vague memories of nursery, and even hazier ones of pre-nursery. I remember a friend from pre-nursery – or rather, I remember the name of a friend, and the concept of a friend as someone you did everything together with, more than the person herself. I remember howling my head off in nursery because a boy took my sketch pens and didn’t give them back. I remember another boy (or perhaps the same one) turning his eyelids inside out (boys are gross!) and scaring the hell out of me. I remember, strangely enough, the room that was the nursery or kindergarten room, and my seat in the room. I remember other things about the school, like the building and the grounds, and even the teachers; but those memories formed over the years, as I continued in that school till I was ten. But the earliest of my school day memories must date from a little over three years of age.

And now the twins are going to start collecting their own set of forever memories. I always loved school, my sister pretty much hated it. I wonder why that happens. It is so much easier to enjoy school than to dislike it, I hope I can help my girls to grow to love it and to build a set of happy memories.

On Childhood

October 30, 2005

Oh, the happy days of childhood.

Now, I am not one of those who believe that childhood was a period of unbridled bliss. I remember perfectly well the terrors and tears and finding out the hard way what was right and what was not, what would work and what would not, and who would tolerate you and who would not.

But then, it had its moments.

Most of those moments, the magical moments of childhood, were, in my case, spent in the garden. In those days we were in Chandigarh, and we lived in a sprawling (as I remember it) house with a rambling, overgrown garden at the back and a smaller, neater lawn in front. Apart from the flower bed of blood red poppies, the charms of the front lawn were lost on me. It was the back garden that I loved to wander it. Now that was a real garden – the sort you could get lost in.

It was lined with fruit trees on three sides (the house being on the fourth). Off-hand, I can remember guava (delicious when eaten under-ripe and often un-washed but sprinkled with black salt), mango (a huge spreading tree, lovely to sit in, under or behind), loquat (the only time I saw this tree or ate this fruit), lemon (or something like it), fig (I never liked the looks of this fruit but the tree was easy to climb), litchi (guaranteed to make you sticky in no time when the fruit was ripe), and chickoo (or sapota, which nobody else in the family would go near). There was also a gnarled old frangipani tree in the front, near the gate, with lovely, fragrant flowers, and a grape vine that climbed over the garage wall. A creeper near the front door had grown so old and thick and strong that you could sit in it like a swing. And there was a huge peepal tree near the kitchen door, which eventually had to be cut down because its roots were wreaking havoc under the walls of the building.

The cutting down of this tree was an event in itself. For several days after a truckload of men had come and sawn it down, the bole of the tree lay outside the kitchen door, roots sticking up in any which way. After they had cleared this away, I bravely decided to plant a loquat seed in the same place. Several days after planting the seed, nothing had happened. I think, in my impatience, I was expecting a full-fledged, fruit bearing loquat tree to be evident by then, which it clearly wasn’t. I dug up the seed, and found that it was, in fact, in the process of sending out a shoot, or something like that. I covered it up again, but nothing ever came of it.

At the back of the back garden was a hedge with a barbed wire fence behind it. It was not a very impenetrable hedge and we (my sister and I) used to slip through it with impunity. Of course, we had good reason: it was the only barrier separating us from the Rose Garden.

The Rose Garden was exciting for two reasons. One, it extended the boundaries of our little kingdom manifold, quite apart from opening up a vista of roses. Two, and more importantly, it contained the Ice Cream Stall. On innumerable occasions, having begged a few rupees from our parents, we raced down the garden, through the hedge and across the Rose Garden, straight to the ice cream stall with its tantalizing deep freeze of goodies.

Ice cream and fruit trees apart, I specially remember the April thunderstorms of childhood; nothing in adult life quite rivals the awe and thrill that these would generate in me. First, the wind would roar and howl, banging windows and doors shut and, as often as not, breaking a pane or two of glass. My mother would rush around trying to close everything before the wind got to it. There was quite a lot to close: windows in four bedrooms, a study, living, room, dining room, pantry, and kitchen; two sets of French windows; front and back door. Then, the clothes hung out to dry had to be whipped off the line before they became grey with dust and sopping wet with the rain that would soon follow.

Meanwhile, trees bent and swayed drunkenly, threatening to come crashing down. Dust and leaves were whipped up, whirled around and deposited everywhere. After a few minutes, new elements would be added to the action. There would be crashing thunder and lightening, and the sky would grow dark, cool and ominous. Then suddenly, a hush. Quiet. Stillness. Nature was taking a deep breath, waiting, waiting to unleash a torrent of rain with yet more thunder, lightning and gale force winds.

Amidst all this high drama, I would wander out of the house and roam among the flying leaves and moaning trees in the back garden. Usually, I was holding an endless conversation with my imaginary companions. And when the rain came down, in sheets and blankets, sometimes accompanied by hail, my imaginary friends and I would get thoroughly wet in no time at all and enjoy every moment of it.

That’s why I say that, at times, childhood was a wonderful experience. Nowadays, when it rains, I grumble about the mud and slush and the lousy drainage, am happy that my washed clothes are safe and dry in my tiny covered verandah, don’t have to worry about the windows, which are all closed, or the doors which are wooden. I stand in the covered verandah, warm and dry, holding a cup of something hot, and admire the rain from a safe distance. My imaginary friends have gone to distant places and the garden of my childhood years is nothing more than a happy memory.

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