Lil M is a 3rd grader in my bus who is the most notorious of the lot. She audaciously complained about the bus support staff and me to her mother, when we chided her for trying to squeeze under the seat of a moving bus. The mother, truly doting, confronted us at the bus stop, while ten pairs of pre-teen eyes from the bus watched in amazement, not to mention the strange mob that gathers anywhere in this country and serves no real purpose. When I explained the scene to the mother, and we asked Lil M if it was true, she answered in all innocence “But I’ve done it only like five times, aunty!”
The pink-faced mother walked away, after asking me for my entire biography.
Anyway, Lil M has been testing me and my boundaries since that little episode. After a very tiring Independence Day Celebration in school, I sat in my seat, on the way back home. The following conversation ensued in the bus.
Lil M: Aunty, (pointing under her eyes), your eye liner.
S: (quickly tries to rub it off, while wondering if it has been this bad all day)
Lil M: Not above, Aunty. Below. Here.
S: (tries a little more, with no luck again)
Lil M: Aunty, I think you have dark eyelashes.
S: Awwh! Thank you, dear! (That is a compliment I’d never gotten before)
Lil M: No, No! Not eyelashes. Aunty, you have dark circles. That’s what you have.
S: (Sniff! Too soon!) Hmm! I know. I’ve had it for some time now.
Lil M: You know you should drink a lot of water every day, Aunty.
S: I doooo! I drink about 3 litres a day.
Lil M: Do you sleep enough? I think if you sleep well, they will go away.
S: You’re right! I haven’t been sleeping well enough, I guess. I should try that. (Mental Note of Bucket List items: Get beauty tips from a 7 year old – Check)
Day over day, I am surprised by children and their intelligence. Especially when working with the little ones, the ten year olds; I always walk in assuming they know a certain something and nothing more. And then they go out and surprise me.
The following happened today.
VSing, after correcting his partner’s dictation answers: Aunty, That’s a bad word in her dictation answers.
S: How can that be? We aren’t doing bad words here, are we?
VSing, moving closer and whispering his softest: Aunty, You asked us to spell ‘prone’. She’s written ‘porn’.
I do not remember when I first learnt that word, or when I truly understood the meaning of it. But, I am definitely sure it wasn’t in 5th grade, when I was ten.
It got us talking in the staff room about how children these days have too many sources for information, resulting in their innocence being snatched away earlier than normal. I can imagine a situation where this child read the word in a book that he was reading, or heard it in a movie/series that he was watching, and got curious about what it meant. A truly progressive family would have parents that are approachable enough for this child to ask them about it. In which case, he wouldn’t have associated the term ‘bad word’ with it. Which makes me think that the child resorted to other means of identifying the meaning of the word – the mighty dictionary, or better yet, a more knowledgeable sibling or friend.
And that second alternative worries me.
What worries me more is my acting casual about his observation, and moving on to the next ‘good’ word in the dictation. Should I have used that time to address the taboo associated with the word? But would it have been too early for these young minds? As teachers, we always talk about how the best time to give children sex education is when it comes up naturally in the class discussions. Was today one of those natural ways? Did I miss an opportunity to tell them about sex in the right way?
Mr. Vats cried in the first English class that I took in his grade. Why? Because I wanted the class to sit in 3s so that they could share a textbook, and I didn’t let him pick his partners. It was very evident that this child was much more sensitive than a normal 11 year old boy. I was curious to know more and was keen to make a personal connect with the child.
I had a little chat with him before snack time. He waved at me from outside the staff room, on his way to drink some water, and we walked out for a chat by the amphitheater. I appreciated him for a wonderful homework done and he blushed. I asked him who helped him write at home and he said nobody, unless he asks his mother for help. I told him how his classwork versus homework difference surprised me. He blushed again and told me how he hated writing.
He showed me a brilliant quill pen that he had made himself from a long feather that he had collected during their field trip to Melkote. He drilled the inner hole further, taped a fine nib to the tip and walked around with an ink pot. He promised to make me one if I found a nice feather that I liked too. But he warned me to stay away from porcupine quills, because they were useless, with just the poison in them. I nodded and we promised to try harder at writing during class hours. He promised and walked back to class.
I stepped into class and Mr. Vats had his notebook open and ready, spic in the first bench, and a brilliant smile on his face. His quill pen and the ink pot were right next to the notebook, ready and willing.
Aunty, I truly missed you and Ankita last Friday.
But we met last Friday, no?
Yes aunty. But after class. That’s when I missed you.
My stomach is paining, aunty. I am not lying. It really doing kodaboda.
OK! Go to Jessi aunty in the infirmary.
(Back later) It looked nice and pink, aunty. So, I drank it thinking it will be nice. And it tasted yucky.
These three little boys are extremely curious about everything in life and wandered into my gated house searching for my six year old dog. The oldest is 10 and is the responsible big brother and the youngest notes, “Even I am 6 yrs old“, when I tell him how old the Scotch is.
As I sit them on the sofa and bring them an apple each, they stare at all the gadgets in the house with awe.
“How much is the TV, akka? Must be very costly no? Oh! Small computer! Oh! It’s called an iPad? How much does it cost? Must be a lot of money no? Nice mobile (cell phone). Look! I managed to unlock the phone. How much does it cost, akka?“
I fend off their inquisitiveness with answers that I believe are appropriate for their age. As the oldest and the youngest pet Scotch and enjoy their apples, the middle one wanders off to more apples kept at the puja area.
[It’s customary for most Indian households, especially Hindus, to have a little temple in the house; a collection of idols and pictures to bless the house. These idols are traditionally worshiped by lighting lamps and incense sticks and with offerings of flowers, vermilion, rice flakes or money.]
He carefully stares at the many colorful idols on the various sections and his eyes eventually rest on an idol that has been recently worshiped on. He fixates on an idol that sits smack at the center of a small podium, and has mounds of Rs. 5 coins lying around it.
“Why is there so much of money put there, akka?“, he quizzes me, while settling back on the sofa.
“It’s for the God. My mom must have done a puja with the coins.“, I respond.
“But, God already has so much money. So, why are we giving him more money?“, he retorts, catching me off guard.
“Umm…I…don’t… How old did you say you are, again?“, I ask my quizzer.
“I am 8“, he responds, ” and Mani anna is 10. My mama came home drunk last night and threw quite a fit. It was very funny, you know!” and he continues to munch on his apple.