An Ordinary Girl

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She stood in one corner –shivering. Her blouse was missing; her soiled undergarment lay near her feet.
“There she is!”, the teacher pointed to her near-naked figure. Her eyes were downcast and she definitely looked embarassed.
“ This has been happening for months now. This is the fifth time Mrs.Venkataramanan, fifth day in a row that she has er….”, the teacher fumbled, probably looking for a better word to be used instead of the more child-friendly – ‘potty’. I chose to ignore her and went near my daughter. Tufts of brown hair flew carelessly about her forehead, as if trying to hide her two guilty eyes. She smelt of vomit too.
“Did you vomit?”, I asked her softly.
She shook her head in affirmative and looked up for the first time. A sticky stream of dried-up tears bore witness to the turmoil that she had undergone.
“ Yeah, she vomited too”. The teacher by now had moved closer to us. She was not over with her complaint as yet.“Everyday this is not possible na ? “, she questioned in her faulty English. “ We are a small school. Our cleaning staff cannot clean her every day. And not a single day goes without…..”, she rattled off incessantly.

“We neither punish our children, nor do we beat them, then why does she do this? As soon as we start teaching….. Mrs. Venkataramanan, I think she needs a thorough check-up….may be there is some underlying health problem with her.”, the senior teacher intervened this time, trying to tone down the situation a bit. She knew me for a longer time, having taught my son as well.
“We had her medical check-up done – her reports say she is perfectly alright. And everyday we ensure it that she goes to toilet before she comes to school”.I tried to defend our parenthood; though I had lost count of the number of times I had offered the same explanation. By now I almost sounded like a robot.
While the two teachers continued to confront my explanation, I proceeded to change my daughter’s dress as quickly as possible. By the time they finished with their list of complaints –from being inattentive to not being able to write numbers in sequence to vomiting everyday, I was done and ready to go home with my daughter.
“Now if you permit me Ma’am, can I take her home ?”.
“Oh sure”, the senior one said.
“And try not to send her to school till she is completely well”, the junior one added.
I just nodded my head and picked up my daughter in my lap. She curled up in the cocoon of my lap instantly, resting her tired head on my shoulder.
Little heads popped out from the open door of the unattended nursery classes, giggling at the sight of their friend. I felt a nudge in my arm. I knew my daughter wanted to run away.

2

“ 4, 5 and then…..”, I prompted again. She stared blankly for a few moments and then slowly opened her lips to utter, “ 8 “. In that same instance my left palm landed on her cheek, leaving a faint pink mark.
“Whoaaaaa”, she cried out aloud. I couldn’t care less. I threw her books, her copies; I pulled her up by her hair and pushed her to the corner of the bed.
My husband came rushing in. “Have you gone insane? Beating a girl of four and half years for no fault of hers….”.
“Yes, I have gone mad. I can’t take it anymore. Every single day, every moment I have to face humiliation because of her”, I spat fire. “Why can’t she be like her brother? She has been an ill omen for me and our family. Just as I conceived her my grandmother died, you became jobless, I had medical complications….I, I…I just wish she was not born at all”. There was no stopping me; I spoke like a woman possessed.
It was then, at that moment, that I happened to look at her. It was an accidental glance but her looks froze me. She had long stopped crying and was staring at me with wide eyes. The pain and pathos in her eyes spoke volumes – it was the kind of look one gives when one discovers her only refuge crumbling into bits and pieces. Her eyes seemed to bear a single question – “You too?”.

3

That night I sat with my parents to talk about my daughter. I wanted to find out the root cause of her ‘strange illness’ at school. I just did not know how to solve the problem.
“ Her fear”, my father spoke slowly, “is the reason why she falls ill in school. “
“ I know that, I can understand that. Infact, just to get rid of her fear we take a detour on the way to the school so that she becomes happy. And the funny part is that she has never protested. She is one of those rare kids who happily goes to school.”
My father smiled. “It is not the fear of her school, it is the fear of failure that prompts her to fall sick. And it happens involuntarily”.
“ Does she pretend to be sick?”, I couldn’t help wondering aloud.
“At the cost of being humiliated? “, he laughed. “Not children! They may be naughty, inattentive and difficult to control but they are not complicated like you and me”.
He ought to be knowing; with years of experience as a social worker working in the field of education he had a fair idea about child psychology.
“ I am clueless”. I was ready to give up.
“ That is not a solution. You have to think what evokes her fear.”
“ Her fear of learning, may be”.
“ What kind of fear ? Does she have a learning difficulty ? Is she having a problem with her eye-sight or may be a problem with comprehending the words”.
“ Her god-damn memory! It is her memory which is the problem.”, I was exasperated. “She just cannot remember things in sequence – whether it is numbers or alphabets.”
“ So if remembering things in sequence is her problem, why force her to remember at all?”. The sheer nonchalance in his voice irritated me.
“ It is a school Dad – they have a system.”, I tried to reason.
“ Then de-school her…..She needs to be de-schooled. Non Formal Education system works and you know that very well. Learning is for knowledge, not for instilling fear”, he signed off.

4

So de-schooling it was! Her father went the next day and struck her name off the school register. And I was entrusted the role of home-tutoring her. Being a working mother with minimal patience I really did not know where to begin from. So on day one I sat with a pile of books and copies strewn all around me – contemplating the right method to teach her. She sat playing in one corner with her bag full of collections – clips, chocolate wrappers and pencils – she had a habit of collecting things of her choice.
“ Have you taken three clips from my collection?” , she asked while arranging her coveted treasures.
“No. Why ?” I asked her.
“ There were twelve clips and now there are only nine”, she replied, almost absent-mindedly.
I was surprised. She can count! This was indeed a new discovery. I wanted to test her again.
“ Ruhu, look here! Tell me – if you have six pencils and I give you four more, how many would you have?”
She kept her wrappers aside, looked straight into my eyes and took six seconds to spurt out her answer, “ Ten”.
I was dumb-struck! Fluke? I couldn’t believe my own ears. I wanted to try again.
“ And, and if your brother has eleven chocolates and mummy takes away four, then?”. I tried a harder one. She took six and half seconds to answer this one. “Seven”, she said softly. I clapped in joy! But how could she? She was not even taught to count in school.
However, it did not matter anymore, I had cracked the code to teach her in a way that she was comfortable in. My father’s words echoed in my mind – “Non-formal education system works”.
5

And for the next one year it was a challenging yet joyous experience for both of us. I understood what my father meant when he said that the functionality of learning was more important than the process of learning. So I taught her the method that she was comfortable with – instead of writing from 1 to 100 I encouraged her to do counting; I taught her word formation instead of learning from A to Z. She excelled in this and learnt to read stories earlier than her peer group.
But the real challenge was in tackling the people around – they were not used to seeing a child being pulled out of school. They had questions laced with sympathy – “Aha, so she couldn’t cope up with the studies?” or expressed their doubts about her abilities altogether – “There are special schools for slow learners….may be she should……”.
At times it did hurt and I would secretly wonder if they were right after all but every time I would give up, her bright eyes would try to decipher a new word. And I would be convinced that the right path are not always the easy ones.

6

“ Aha….so she is ready to attend a big school now! Do you like this school?”, the Principal asked my daughter.
She smiled at him; her eyes fixed at the jar of chocolates placed strategically on his table.
“Would you like one?”, he asked.
She nodded her head in delight. He pulled out two and handed those to her. Then he turned towards us.
“Where was she studying earlier?”
My heart stopped for a second. “A small Montessori school near our house”, my husband answered on our behalf. We exchanged glances. A half-truth for a good cause would do no harm – I comforted myself.
“ Hope she would catch up with the other students. Our standard is pretty high.”, he remarked casually while putting the seal of approval on her admission form.
My heart missed a beat. My own insecurities muddled my mind.Would she be able to cope up with other children in the new school? Afterall she hadn’t been going to a formal school for more than two years! What if her fear crops up again ?
But I knew there was no other way, no other option – we had to take a chance!

7

“ Good Morning!”
“ Mr. & Mrs.Venkataramanan ? A very good morning indeed!”, the teacher smiled at us.
“ How are you both doing ?”, she asked courteously. I was in no mood for pleasantries. It was the first ever Parents-Teacher meeting at the new school and I was curious to know the list of complaints.
Asking us to sit in front of her, she flipped through the series of report cards piled in front of her. How long? And why was she so quiet? I was impatient.
“Ah, here it is”, she pulled out my daughter’s report card. She had a routine glance through it and held it in front of me.
“Your daughter is a champion Mr and Mrs. Venkataramanan. At first she was very shaky; we were not sure whether she was able to follow her lessons. She is a bit slow in her writing. But we are immensely satisfied with her performance. She has done extremely well. Look at her marks, A+ in all the subjects”, her voice oozed with pride.
How much ever I tried to see the writings on the report card I couldn’t – the unruly barrage of tears would again and again put up an opaque curtain in front of my vision! I knew it would look silly if I cried but a drop managed to surpass the rim of my eyes nevertheless. I somehow managed to blurt a ‘thank you’ and got up.
Taking a few steps away from the crowd I hugged her tight while her father pretended to have something fallen in his eyes. She looked surprised. I put up my right hand in front of her.
“High five?”
“High five!”, she giggled and slapped against my hand. Her weak hand barely created a clap but it sounded like a thousand cymbals and trumpets playing together. To me it was the sound of triumph! It wasn’t about the grades,it wasn’t about her marks either.It was all about the victory of the extraordinary power hidden within every ordinary child!

__END__

Picture Courtesy: Pixabay.com

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16 thoughts on “An Ordinary Girl

  1. Pingback: An Ordinary Girl | Sunshine on my tea cup

  2. Oh Sri ..I can’t tell you how much you moved me with this story ❤ When I read the first line I was dubious about the next move..but the story kept me bounded 🙂 Loved the way you carried it 🙂 .You have touched a very beautiful subject in the world of educative competitiveness.. how much how ever we deny but in the little corner of our heart all of us yearn for super kids and forget that when we can't be super parents then how can we expect same out of our kids 🙂 And well said each child is unique in his or her ways ..it's just the matter of understanding the hidden uniqueness 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you so much NJ! I was apprehensive about sharing this personal story because it is neither a story nor does it evoke the necessary charm that is so wanting of a personal blog. But I still wanted to share my personal experience because I want more and more people to believe that education is more about learning AND in a way that one is comfortable with. And I am so glad I have friends like you who are there to strengthen my belief in less ordinary things 😉 Love you for this….

      Liked by 2 people

      • You know why I like your blogs their is some bareness and rawness in your work…you know beautiful work always comes from the heart 🙂 A writer always bare his soul in whatever he/she writes ..a part of you exists in your words 🙂 Keep writing like this dear 🙂 You are great in penning down your emotions 🙂 ..Lots of love ❤ .. Neerja 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Aww Sri.. Dumbstuck.. I should pretend that something fallen in my eyes too.. You almost made me cry.. and goosebumps.. I know how much a mother loves her kid.. and this piece of writing clearly makes me feel how much the mother suffered and the kid too..
    That “You too?” moment. It made a bang on my heart.. You bound me to the whole.. And at the end, it’s like.. I don’t know how much happy I am.. 🙂
    Love you alot..
    As always, You are awesome with words Sri..
    Waiting for the next.. 🙂

    <3,
    Nimz

    Liked by 2 people

    • I have always been an ordinary girl myself – many failings and many drawbacks but believe me Nimz, when you comment, I suddenly feel like a superstar! I get goosebumps when I read your comments and then I thank God that I chose to write. Else I would have never know such fairies as you 🙂 Thank you for making me feel extraordinary about myself, for rebuilding my trust in my abilities and for all your unconditional love. Love you too….. 🙂

      Liked by 2 people

      • For me.. You are my Superstar.. Even on my hectic days, when I see your post it’s like m getting rejuvenated.. It can make my day.. M grateful to God that I met you.. every ordinary person is extraordinary in their own way… 🙂

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  4. didi, i don’t know what can i say for you. it’s a brilliant story. i think it’s a new version of ‘tare jamin par’. you have depicted the child in the story with a great mastery. your narration always amazes me… kudos.

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  5. Through your story I revisited my daughter’s childhood. My child was a hyperactive one. Not that she disrupted everybody’s life or ruined their expensive article but I had to hear a lot just because she was restless. And you can imagine, how I took it out on her. The mere thought of it brings tears in my eyes. My daughter is now 21 and though she is very close to me, I think she hasn’t forgiven me for what she has gone through. I wish I could get your father’s advice at the right moment.
    And your writing? My words fail to express. My love and blessing for you always not only because you’re a talented writer but a wonderful, sensitive human being.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Nanditadi, I can perfectly understand how you must have felt. The anger that we have, the violence that we demonstrate comes from our helplessness as mothers. And frankly, in our society if anything goes wrong, it is always natural to blame it on the mother. My daughter still has a lot of problems and at times I feel helpless too. But then she is a struggler and I know she can fight back. Just yesterday she got her term results and she was among the top three in her class. As mother it did give me a lot of satisfaction but I too regretted the moments when I had been harsh on her! And I won’t dilute our beautiful relationship by saying thank you to you Didi…but would just seek your loads of love and blessings!

      Liked by 1 person

  6. As always, I loved this writing. I wish my parents had cared more about my education. For them or anyone to discover that I had a learning disability would have meant so much. However, both my parents and my two siblings had/have ADD as well and things were different back then. At that time, children were just said, with a chuckle, to have “a short attention span” which was considered unimportant. This brought up so many thoughts that I will have to put them in a blog.😊 Thank you for sharing your story.

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    • Thank you for appreciating and sharing your personal bit as well. It is so comforting to know that there are others who have undergone or undergo what we have gone through. And it is equally comforting to know that there are people who share your ideas, thoughts and belief. Thank you so much! I really look forward to reading a piece on similar issue from you!

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Srichandra, my dear buddy, as you always know, the basic difference between you and me is that while I am a late Dino in answering and leaving comments on the comments page, you are the first and foremost on it with your sharp critical bend of mind. Our camaraderie, reminds me of the age old fable
    of the tortoise and the rabbit, but in this case, there is a role reversal, the rabbit never does a silly thing like sleeping while the race is on, and the tortoise is toooooo sluggish for the race. Well, after so many days, I am posting my comment. Well Srichandra, this is a recurrent problem in today’s society which have surfaced through your mighty pen. The way you have addressed this issue, is simply superb. Just never stop scribbling these contemporary societal issues, think about them, write about them and do make us think about them….that’s you and me together. And perhaps a little add on: I myself was very much an ordinary girl who hated early years of schooling and still do now…..Love tons of…..

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    • Dear Mahua, Buddy…friends have no discriminations, no boundaries and that is the beauty of every friendship….I write quick comments that are hardly in-depth; your comments are late but insightful and deep in feelings….So the situation is mutual 🙂 I love you for what you are buddy!

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