It’s been two years and the Brat hasn’t got into a single decent school. I write this post in utter despair. The first year, I stuck to my guns. While others were wining and dining the board of directors and saving money to bribe, I said we’d get our child into school the right way, or not at all.
Of course we all know how that went. The Brat got into the terrible terrible school, got beaten up, lost his spirit, lost his love for school and became a scared, confused three year old. We pulled him out and spent the last year or so, repairing the damage done. But really – can you repair a damaged psyche like a punctured tyre? How long do the scars remain?
Anyhow – this year we threw our caution and our values and principles to the wind and approached people who knew politicians, we begged family and friends. We asked everyone we knew. We wrote letters, we stood at school gates every morning before we went to work, our eyes bloodshot and our bodies sagging against the gate post.
So many people promised to help. Many of them just didn’t bother. I realise that as conversation goes, its not the most interesting conversation to have. But I notice people will expect you to sit through their recital of how much of a bitch their boss is, or how this colleague screwed them over, or how they’re going through a bad relationship bump, but your problem of not getting your child into a school is somehow just plain boring and dismissed with “God, are you still whining about that? I am aware that I’ve lost a few friends over the last year because they haven’t seen enough of me. Because I am not sparkly, partying, picking up the phone for chats etc. But with the weight of everything that landed on us last year, the OA and I have really figured out who our real friends are. Those who actually showed up with food at our doorsteps when my knee couldn’t take the stress anymore. Who called in every contact and favour they had to help our son. Who offered to babysit our son while the nth maid walked out and our daughter was being rushed to the doctor.
But I also realised how glib and false the words flow. People shrugged aside our fears saying – oh God, you two look tired all the time. Or – don’t worry, I know enough people to get your kids in to this school or that. Or worse – just joked and shrugged it off because it didn’t even seem like a big enough deal to warrant a few minutes of serious conversation. I’m sorry to sound so bitter.
But when you’re an educated woman. A journalist with a well known company. When your husband is an investment banker and has two post graduate degrees to show – you sort of imagine that a basic education for your child is a given. That he won’t have to go to the local pathshala under a tree and get caned. But apparently even that is too much of an expectation.
The schools flout rules with impunity – 13 lakhs bribe for the top school – and never mind the fact that the fees are close to Rs 2 lakhs a year. A peon somewhere takes Rs 30,000 to change your points on the computer. The line between begging for a favour and actually doing something illegal is a fine one and the OA and I wobbled woefully on it for a long time before giving up yet again. This just wasn’t us. After the first political encounter we knew we couldn’t do anymore.
February 15th. Every single school list was out and this year we had two reasons to mourn. A son and a daughter who hadn’t got through any decent school after 18 applications. That night the OA and I took the weary three flights up to our home with heavy hearts.
A quiet dinner where neither of us spoke. We’d failed our children. Both of them. I look back on the board exams that I took 15 years ago. My fingers trembling. I think of the results coming out and my knees shaking as I saw my marks. Unwilling to believe I’d actually I passed I took an envelope and placed it under my name, following the row of marks because I couldn’t believe my eyes…
We did the same this time with our children… except that the envelope under their names didn’t give us any good news. The OA and I are not alumni, we’re not Delhiites, we don’t have national awards, we’re sadly, not divorced either (yes, single parents get marks for some strange reason!). We’ve failed in the single most important thing we owe our children – an education.
I went to the Brat’s nursery school the next day – and the principal agreed to keep him on one condition. That I take him for psychological evaluation to understand why he is a dreamer. I made the mistake of mentioning it to my parents and had a huge showdown with them. They were very upset with the principal’s diagnosis – at the notion that their grandson was less than perfect. God save us from enraged grandparents of the world.
I was so tired. So tired of defending him to the principal. Tired of defending the principal’s prerogative to my parents. Tired of the whole admission saga. The OA came home to a wife who was sobbing in a corner. I didn’t want to be a parent who lives in denial. I didn’t want to be the parent who labels her son either. I didn’t want to have to argue this with my parents because it is I who am responsible for getting him into a school and if the school has set a condition that they will only keep him after evaluation – well, I had no choice, did I? Beggars can’t be choosers.
In the meantime we applied to some other schools for any vacancies that they might have in KG this year and the Brat was called for a written test on a certain date. But before that, the psychologist’s appointment came up. She’s a well known child psychologist and we waited a month for an appointment.
Never having done this before we had no idea what to prepare the Brat for and just went with the flow. As we opened the door we heard an unearthly howling. The Brat shrank and we wondered again if we were harming him further. We entered to find a room full of people waiting and a terribly mentally disturbed boy prowling around the room wailing. He was in his late teens and he passed us, howling and screaming. The Brat turned grey and I made the OA take him out while I registered us. We then waited out on the road until our turn.
The doctor who met us was a lovely lady and she heard us out. I’d carried his artwork, his report cards, his diary with his weekly school report and evaluation and she gave us a lot of time. In the midst of this the Brat played in a corner. Putting together a tower, lying on a cushion, reading a book… She chatted with him and he answered her enthusiastically.
His problem, she said – is that he is very bright and he expects people to keep up with his chain of thought without providing them links. So they chatted about airplanes where he told her that he liked the MIGs and the AWACs – airforce aircrafts that most 4 year olds are unaware of. From there he moved on to the Hawk and the Heron. Then telling her that hawks also swoop down and carry away prey. On gentle probing he looked at her impatiently and said – “A hawk is a bird and it’s also the name of an aircraft.”
Which was basically the crux of the matter. His mind leaps from topic to topic and you’re expected to understand why it’s taking the path it is. His drawings aren’t the usual straight pointy triangular hills most kids draw. He wants to draw rockets and snakes and colours them wildly.
The principal in a conversation with me pointed out that he finds it hard to communicate with his peers because they talk of stuff he doesn’t know. Oggy and the cockroaches, Ben 10, the row of malls close to our home, Coke and Pepsi. I sighed as I responded to her. He doesn’t drink Coke not because I am a protective mother but because neither the OA nor I like aerated drinks and just don’t end up keeping any at home. He doesn’t watch cartoon network and those awful Japanese cartoons because he watches football with the OA at times, at others he watches his Disney cartoons like Bambi or Dumbo and a lot of Animal Planet and Discovery. He doesn’t go to malls because the OA and I love spending time outdoors ourselves. I love gardening and he loves planting rajma and watching it grow. How then is he to know differently? Maybe its our parenting to blame but this is our lifestyle and we’re being asked to change our core beliefs to fit in. Isn’t this peer pressure at the most basic level?
What next? Ask him to drink and drive because his classmates are doing it and he must be able to relate to them? do drugs because he’s got the be able to discuss the different kinds of highs with his peers? Weed as opposed to magc mushrooms? Have unprotected sex because it is cooler? I mean why penalise the poor kid because his parents are pathetically square?!
The psychologist spent an hour chatting with him and in the midst of it another big man threw open the door and barged in, stepping heavily on my foot so that I yelped. He sat down at the table with unseeing eyes and said in a childlike voice that it was his turn. I quietly got up and slid closer to the Brat who was looking at him curiously and getting worried. I started reading a book to him while the man’s mother and the doctor persuaded him to leave our counselling room.
At the end of the session the doctor said she saw nothing wrong with the Brat. Said she “He is bright and gets bored at the pace the school is taking – he hates repetition. Which is why he tunes out when they’re being taught things that they must repeat. His brain moves quickly from topic to topic and he expects you to keep up (which is something I do too – much to the OA’s frustration) – he won’t spoon-feed you the links.” She ended by saying he was an unbelievably lovable child.
She then gave us some questionnaires for his class teachers to fill out so that they could point out what they felt was the problem because she saw none. At this point the OA and I pointed out that we’d not wanted to sound like parents in denial but we felt he was being labelled and we didn’t want him to carry that label throughout his life.
Anyhow – the next morning was the entrance exam to a school we’d got a chance to apply to with a lot of difficulty. After much preparation we reached the school gate and the teachers asked us to wait at the entrance while they led the Brat in to the classroom where he would be tested. As luck would have it, the Brat just smiled sweetly, dug in his heels and displayed his Taurean bullishness saying, ‘Walk up to the class with me, Mama…’ I saw his point of view. After his last bad experience with big school he was terrified by the strangers, the huge buildings, the strangeness of it all. All he wanted was for me to walk him to the door of the classroom.
And the authorities stood their ground. They were not going to make an exception for him. No matter what. We wasted 45 minutes standing at the gate and I was by that time on the verge of suicide. Here was our last chance slipping away because my son was scared and the school wouldn’t accommodate a 4 year old. Gritting my teeth I begged the Brat to go in, grateful we weren’t alone or I’d have smacked him in despair. Finally the OA just said, ‘Babe, we’re not putting him in a school that won’t be flexible enough to understand that a 4 year old may feel nervous walking into a new school on the first day. We’re just not those parents. We believe in a different philosophy.’
Yeah, I thought bitterly, a philosophy that doesn’t believe in sending our kid to school at all, at this rate. And we walked away with a bemused Brat who wasn’t sure why he hadn’t been chastised for his stubbornness. Anyhow, the forms that his teachers had to fill had come back to us – full of praise for him. The OA and I looked at each other in confusion. What on earth? Why then had we been sent to the shrink? What need was there to put our son through that terrifying experience? Grown men howling, slippers flying across the room… .
Come report card day we were told that the Bean was sort of unofficially first in class (they don’t mark ranks on the report card anymore) and this inspite of being a good 6 months younger and coming in 4 months late. Something that makes a huge difference at the age of 3. The Brat too had made huge progress and was somewhere in the middle of class inspite of the learning and social disability scare. We spoke to the principal who agreed that all was well and the Brat and Bean could stay on another year.
As luck would have it, just then they got through yet another good school in the suburbs. And here’s the beauty of it. It was a school that called us in for interviews and invited the babies for interaction too. Because my kids delight in being contrary and driving me nisane, they were at their charming best. The Brat shyly and gently tugging at the head mistress’ arm to tell her how the wheels in an airplane go in as the flight takes off, and did she know that it’s called the undercarriage? And the Bean officiously walking around, reciting rhymes to anyone who would spare her a minute. The OA and I relaxed, sat back and let the kids earn themselves a seat where we had as parents, completely failed.
For years young parents have argued and fought saying that kids should not be interviewed. And the year the Brat started school was the year this rule came into force. As it happens, it was the worst thing that could happen to us, because there we are, non-Delhiites, with two bright kids, who didn’t get a seat anywhere because we don’t fit the other criterion.
They both got admission of course. Insanely expensive and yet, we had no choice. Thats when the practical questions began to sink in. How were we going to send them that far every morning? Were we, *gulp* going to have to move to the dreaded suburbs so early in life? I know I need atleast a year more at work before I quit and go back to freelancing because commuting from the suburbs as a journalist, was not my idea of a life. I have events to cover all over the city and the OA who is travelling more often than he is in town, would need an extra hour to get to the damn airport. Anyhow…
We went to their playschool to give our notice, get our refund, thank the Principal for her time and patience with the Brat who had blossomed. She congratulated us on the progress the kids had made and then gently suggested that we don’t move the kids. !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
The OA and I stared at her and then at each other in complete helplessness. Now what? ‘Well, the Brat had only been back here eight months and she didn’t want him disturbed since he’d recovered so well. The Bean can go anywhere she said. She’s a confident little thing and I have no fears for her.’ But we were certainly not going to send our 3 year old off alone to the suburbs everyday while our son went to school next door.
And so it is, ladies and gentlemen that we’re back at square one. The Brat and Bean stay on here. They go to school for this last year here (the Bean gets one more year if we want) and then the Brat takes tests next year to go to Class 1 in big school. And as I see his confidence grow I am happier with this situation than I was with him just getting into any neighbourhood school regardless of how crappy it is. I want him to get in on his own steam, because he is increasingly confident and bold. And a bright little button. I don’t mind if they interview him or test him. I know that another year of building his confidence and letting him learn at his own pace will give him the edge he needs to get into a good school, should a vacancy come up.
I know we have a shaky year ahead of us, wondering what will become of him, but as SRK said in some cheesy movie that I can’t recall – if it’s not happy.. its not the end. And this, ladies and gentlemen, is not the end.
Edited to add: Because this post wasn’t long enough to begin with *roll of eyes* I have to clarify something. I think the new Delhi government system of admission is brilliant. it works for a certain class that had nothing going for them. They weren’t the backward class getting resservation and they weren’t the educated class who made it through interviews and group discusison. Until now it was kids like ours who got into schools while my drycleaner and tailor’s children didn’t make it. Because their parents were not bankers and journalists and their kids didn’t go for personality development and abacus and kumon classes. I realise it is unfair that the children should pay for the sins of the father, so to speak. Why should they not have a chance to better themselves when it is what I want for my kids too?
The problem we face, is simply one of a shortage of supply. That is it. That and the fact that people are still faking papers and pulling strings to show that they belong to a certain locality (naturally around the best schools in town). This is India. No matter what the government does (take the Maoist issue too, if you want) – there will always be loopholes, grants and subsidies, reservation and help that doesn’t trickle down to those who really need it. We can’t blame the government for the system – just for the inability to implement it properly. We need to blame our own lack of scruples and corruption for it. Our willingness to aid, abet, bribe and jump the queue. As for my kids, they’ll get in somewhere eventually and they and I will be able to sing with Sinatra – that we did it our way. I am sure Kapil Sibal is going to do a fantastic job. My kids are probably just an unlucky couple slipping through the gaps. I cannot let another shoulder the blame for that.