Whenever there is a stressful and ticklish situation to be dealt with, I always put myself in my father’s shoes (size 9) and imagine how he would have gone about it. For, my father had an interesting and tactical approach, in that whenever there was a problem or issue confronting him, his strategy was simple: He chose not to tackle it. By this simple methodology he was able to smartly solve very many problems, including the most stressful one of bringing up children, which in his case was my brother and I.
This was also the comfortable working pattern of most parents till one cataclysmic moment in history when all of them took a wrong turn and decided to actively involve themselves in rearing their offspring, especially in matters relating to their school and college education. Considering the situation the world is in today, this must rank as the single biggest blunder of mankind after the invention of 24-hour news channels and employing the likes of Barkha Dutt in them.
I strongly suspect that parents of that era astutely adapted their working style from the functioning of the government. Remember how the Punjab problem was solved? Terrorists were demanding a separate Khalistan, and to drive home their idea they were killing people by the dozens almost on an hourly basis. But the government of the day was stubbornly steadfast and equal to the occasion as it went about its essential business of doing not much of anything. It is also quite possible that the government was so carefully unconcerned that it might not have even known that Punjab was festering. Eventually it came to a situation where the impassioned terrorists were simply bored with their chore that they decided to do something else which at least had a chance of eliciting response from others.
It is a plan that might as well work in Kashmir if only the authorities don’t botch it up by their overzealousness of trying to reason out with the ultras or holding peace-talks with them. If the government is faced with the question, ‘what about Kashmir issue?’ its response has to be, ‘yes, what about Kashmir? And while we are at it, where is Kashmir?’
This simple expedience will ensure that the troublemakers will shift to a place where the authorities at least know which part is where.
Getting back to bringing up children, the situation today is such that school and college education fear parents more than it possibly can the students actually undergoing them. But it wasn’t the case back then, when parents’ lifelong commitment for the education of their progeny started and ended with enrolling them in some kindergarten school. After that it was the bounden duty of the children to ensure for themselves quality education. If they didn’t, too bad. If they did, not bad. But either way, parents didn’t notice. For, it is quite conceivable that some of the parents hardly ever noticed that they had children in the first place. That alone can possibly explain why some of them ended up having brood whose number qualified for a special delimitation exercise and earmarking of a separate electoral constituency for them.
Parents chose the school for their child to be enrolled in after extensive and rigorous research done by way of walking down the nearby street and looking for a building with the signboard ‘school’. This was such a taxing exercise that parents were sapped of all their energy for the next 12 to 15 years and hence couldn’t make any more meaningful participation in their children’s education.
Parents and teachers meetings happened regularly whenever the duo ran into each other in the nearby market. During those moments, both the parent and teacher struck to utmost decency and etiquette by not discussing about the life and things concerning a third person who was not around —– namely, the child/student concerned.
Whenever a child didn’t go to school for a few days at a stretch, parents will niftily pick out that the child is either unwell or the school is closed for summer vacation, in which case the examinations must have been over and it is time for holidays.
Talking of holidays, parents also brought a even more wonderful laissez faire plan when dealing with summer vacation plans for their children: Since holidays were anyway fun for children, why dilute that by taking them to distant lands under the guise of vacation trips, was their essential approach. This worked wonders in limiting travel-related accidents to a minimum. This also kept at bay the emergence of new airline companies, thereby there were fewer complaints on flight delays and in-flight food, which like today, was insufferable then too.
Since every one was busy having fun and being happy doing practically nothing, history books said, peace reigned. And then, summer camps came into being. As history books would not say this, we will say: History of humankind has been altered forever.
Then there were colleges. College education, parents then understood, was very important in moulding a person’s life. It was not something that could not be treated casually. This meant parents had to remain even more hands-off than they did with school education. So parents had even lesser clue in which college and in which stream their wards were in. But diligent parents kept track off what their son or daughter was studying by noticing what they were carrying to college: If it was a steth and a hideous coat, it must be for medical. A T-Square and khaki uniform meant that an engineer or bus conductor was in the making. A single notebook and a casual demeanour was all it took for education in the science and literature groups.
The one great advantage of being in science and literature streams was that the students did not have to pay any attention to what was being taught as the subjects hardly had any relevance to real living. Fortunately for them they could all be accommodated in an organisation that continues to have no connection with reality and human condition: Government.
Governments have remained doing what they have been doing all along, which is pretty much nothing. So why did the parents change from pro-active nothingness to no purpose activeness? I blame the summer camps.
(My weekly column for the publication)