I was a scholarship holder studying in the best school in Andhra Pradesh – Hyderabad Public School. Until half way through class nine I maintained a record of being among the top three in my class. At that juncture, the engagement ceremony of my sister Gunjan, who is nine years older than me, was announced. For the next three months till the marriage was over, life was a crazy medley of rituals, ceremonies and functions. I missed school for quite a few days and even on the days I attended, I couldn’t study at home because of the chaos.
I worked hard at the last minute and appeared for my class nine final exams. When the results were announced I had slipped to the 12th spot. I was disappointed but was sure I would be able to make up. One month into class ten, I had an attack of malaria and then a relapse. I lost a month of school. When I joined back, I found my classmates had raced ahead and I couldn’t cope up, especially in math and science. In the first unit test, I barely managed to pass in physics. The teacher pointed me out as an example of what over confidence can do to a person. I was completely shattered. After that things started becoming bad to worse. There was some turbulence at home which made the situation even more chaotic.
Slowly, I started avoiding going to school. I would feign some excuse or the other. I just couldn’t face the ridicule of my peers and reprimands of my teachers. I tried my best to explain to my parents. While my dad was empathetic, my mum’s reaction was brutal.
“What will you do, if you don’t go to school? Sit in a shop and sell furniture like your cousins?”
“I shall appear as a private candidate.”
“Don’t talk nonsense. Why do you think we sent you to the top school in the state, paying a fee which we could ill afford – so that you could get the best education. And here you are after ten years suddenly waking up and whining that you don’t like your school. So what if you have done badly in a couple of tests. That is not the end of everything. You still have enough time before the boards.”
“Ma, I just don’t seem to understand what is happening in the class?”
“If you go you’ll understand. You have been sitting at home for three weeks moping. I won’t allow this. From this coming Monday you have to go.”
Monday was four days away. I started sweating. I couldn’t sleep at night. The very thought of going to school and facing the scorn of my classmates and the puzzled looks of my teachers as I drew a blank at every question was excruciatingly painful. On Sunday night I made a pathetic attempt to commit suicide by swallowing phenyl. Babuji caught me as I was raising the bottle to my mouth. He didn’t shout or yell. He simply enveloped me in a bear hug as I clung to him. Both of us stood holding each other, crying silently.
After this incident Babuji simply took charge of everything. He warned my mother never, ever to mention my going to school. He got me a new set of books since I was changing boards, looked for a tuition master and chalked out a time table for me. My mother and my sister never mentioned anything directly, but their oblique remarks and facial expressions indicated that I was a coward who had made a mess of his life. However, Babuji did not make me feel guilty even once. He was always at my side offering unconditional love and unobtrusive guidance.
For the finals exams he would take me to the centre and sit outside the entire duration of the exam under a tree in the month of May when the mercury was hovering around 45 degrees centigrade. When the results were declared I had secured a first class.
Even now I wonder how many parents would have reacted the way Babuji did. How many would have provided that kind of absolute support and how many would have played the role of an emotional anchor in a turbulent tide. When I think about the way Babuji reached out me and I am reminded of Cally Worden’s Words, “When my children are sad, mad, or frustrated I try hard to first accept and acknowledge what they are feeling…Because loving only the happy stuff is akin to only loving half your child.”
Let me share with you another example of how positive parenting prevented a child from wilting and helped her bloom and blossom.
My cousin Jay’s daughter Akruti was a good student. In her medical entrance she got admission in a college in Haldwani. She along with her dad and mum Geeta went for the admission. After paying the fees and completing the requisite formalities they went around having a look at the college and hostel.
In the evening Akruti suddenly declared she did not want to study in this college. Her parents asked her the reason and she said she hated the ambience. They tried to counsel her but Akruti was firm in her resolve. They took her out for dinner and a late night movie. The next day they even went for a bit of shopping. In the afternoon they once again broached the subject. Akruti continued to be adamant.
“What will you do, beta?,this is the only college in which you have got admission?” Jay gently asked.
“I’ll study from home and appear next year?”
“Do you have the confidence that you will make to a better college next year?” Geeta asked.
“Yes,” Akruti quietly replied.
Jay and Geeta had a chat and then came to a decision. They took the refund of the admission and hostel fee and left the same afternoon for their home town Bhubaneswar. For the next nine months or so Akruti worked like never before. Jay, who was a doctor and Geeta who worked from home, gave her complete support. They spent as much time as they could with her. Most importantly they did not allow their relatives, friends and other ‘well wishers’ to comment on Akruti’s decision. Akruti appeared for her entrance all over again. She did extremely well and got admission into one of the top colleges of the country. Jay and Geeta turned around a crisis situation by encashing the currency of trust that exists between a parent and a child. They believed in Akruti and this trust gave her the confidence and inspiration to come up trumps.
I would like to end with this immortal quote by Jim Valvano which sums up whatever I have discussed:
“My father gave me the greatest gift anyone could give another person, he believed in me.”