Prof. Yash Pal: the mind that illuminated millions of youngsters in India

Copy of Fully editable science poster - Topics physics and chemistry

Prof. Yash Pal came to my small world, or rather this school girl of class five entered the large world of his, one fine morning in 1991 through the  the TV programme “Turning Point”, aired by Doordarshan. His wrinkled face, milky white hair and childlike smile wiped out literally, all my inhibitions and fear towards the subject ‘science’. “Prof. Yash Pal…” I read the name that flashed beneath him on the TV screen with a bit difficulty. That was a brand new name for a rural Malayalee kid. But I liked that name…
Through Girish Karnad and Prof. Yash Pal, we kids walked to and through the magical world of science. I must have traveled a few years with him. However,  at some cross- roads, I missed him and slowly he vanished behind the veils of my memory… along with him vanished my interest in science. it became just another boring subject along with mathematics. There was no one around to inspire me to develop my interest in science.
Much later, while sitting in the M Ed class, Prof. Yash Pal suddenly reappeared. This time as ‘the man who changed the Nation’s Perspective on Education’. Yash Pal Committee Report, NCF, ‘Learning without Burden’…  The learned old man with an innocent smile from my childhood memories metamorphosed as a great educationist, scientist and visionary who was leading  a long journey,a “Maha Prasthan” to transform the nation through sowing the seeds of quality education and scientific temperament in the young Indian minds.
Today in this monsoon morning, when I see his face again on television, I realize that he is no more with us. It is a bitter truth… a painful reality… and that void will be felt more intense in today’s India which is spearheaded to a dark era filled with extreme nationalism, fascism, fundamentalism  and unscientific temperament.
Miss you, “Jnaana Vridha”…
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Happy Mother’s Day Dear Son!

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If the word ‘mother’ is the epitome of care, love, responsibility and nurturing, then, I am right in wishing my son ‘Happy Mother’s Day’ on 14th May. He is a mother to a puppy now.  The day we adopted Tito, our new puppy, my 8 ½ year old son got promoted as the mother cum brother of that pup. He declared himself as the ‘big bro’ of Tito and shouldered the duties and responsibilities to rear him up. Suddenly, from the youngest member of the family he got promoted as a ‘big brother’ which he really enjoyed. Right from feeding the pup, to taking him for walks, combing and cleaning him and providing him all the emotional support to get adapted to the new family, the ‘big bro’ was intensely involved. From that day onward, my little one became more mature and more responsible.

puppy-1806092__340I could find a lot of visible changes in his behavior. Suddenly he became more caring, more empathetic and more responsible. His thoughts and deeds became more compassionate and the care he had for his pet made him more considerate and empathetic a human being.

The role of a puppy in our nuclear family was not clearly defined till we owned one. However, now it is clear, evident and very significant! The young boy of 8 ½ years suddenly became a responsible brother.

Engaging with a pet would naturally reduce tension, anxiety and loneliness. Instead of sitting glued to a computer, a mobile phone or a TV, the child would naturally start engaging with a pet during his free time. The feeling of ownership would kindle a spirit of empathy and kindness in him. With the pet at home, the child is never alone! A pet dog would accompany him and render a selfless devotion which is strong enough to boost qualities or life skills such as kindness, sharing and caring mentality and sense of belongingness.  These are qualities which would support in the holistic development of the child. Further to enhancing the psychological wellbeing of the child, a pet could also contribute a lot to the physical wellbeing too. A dog or a cat is a good playmate. They would encourage the child to engage in various types of fun games such as chasing, playing with ball and walking or running along with them. The companionship shared among the child and the pet would also enable him to think of group games and activities which would invariably foster his creativity and imagination. Instead of playing a pre- devised game in the mobile phone or in the computer, the child would start to develop his own games where he will decide the rules and regulations. Such a game making process needs a lot of cognitive thinking and analytical reasoning. Instead of following rules and regulations set by another person, he becomes a master of his own game and learns to devise own rules and regulations which will enhance the feeling of independence, self- esteem and pride.IMG_20170511_102206

When the child is initiated to take the responsibility of rearing up a pet, he is also given an opportunity to learn how to look after another being. When the child is giving a bath to his pet or cleaning up the mess made by his pet, he is learning how to be patient, how to be kind and how to clean-up things. Here the parent may render a helping hand, but the child should be given enough work which can be possibly handled by him.

Growing up as an independent child in a nuclear family is not an easy thing. Harder is rearing up a child to be independent and self –reliant by parents who get very less time to spend with the child in their busy life. The anxieties on the possibilities of the child becoming selfish, moody, aloof, over dependent, less confident, more arrogant and the scepticism of the child lacking social and emotional skills bother many working parents. While interacting with parents during the counselling sessions, they share these worries and anxieties very often. One of the major complaints that they raise is the amount of time the child spends with mobile phones, computers and TV. On a deeper note, they are also aware of their inability to provide a better option for their children to spent their free time effectively. Neither are they ready to compromise with the life style which they are following and which provides very little ‘constructive interaction time’ with their children. As adults, the parents prefer to stick to their conveniences and excuses and thus are usually not in a position to bring in a radical change in their daily routine. Awareness about the possible psychological and sociological troubles the children might develop, makes the modern parents paranoid and that results in self- criticism and self- pitying.

A pet at home, to great extent, is a possible solution for such parents.  Pets have been identified as great stress relievers. Their loyalty and love can help in fixing the issues related to the lonely life of kids.  Pets can also be great guards. On the whole, a pet could add more happiness and comfort to any family, provided the members have love and  care for the pet.

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Why Totto- Chan?

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Totto- Chan

 

“Having eyes but not seeing beauty; having ears but not hearing music; having minds, but not perceiving the truth; having hearts that are never moved and therefore never set on fire. These are the things to fear”…. children, you may not understand it now, but someday when you grow up you will understand these words”. (Totto- Chan- 1981)

Thus spoke Mr.Kobayashi answering to a question on what should a teacher be afraid of recollects Tetsuko Kurayonagi in her world famous book Totto- Chan.

 

Tottochan is not just a novel on the childhood memories of a little Japanese girl; it is a Bible – a Bible of  Education and Developmental Psychology. It is a must read one for any practitioner of education and internalizing the noble concepts related to education and child development will enable them to form a strong basis for their practice . Unfortunately, none of the B Ed or Dt Ed syllabus prescribe this book. I have repeated the question “how many of you have read or heard about Totto- Chan?” at least fifty times in various teacher education programmes in and around the state of Kerala (the state which ranks as one of the best in Education and literacy in our country); very rarely I got to see more than 15- 20% of the crowd raising their hands in agreement.

The highly commercialized private education system cares least about the psychological well being of the teachers and students. They are focused on increasing the profit. The public education system is slowly vanishing or fading away which is most of described as ‘dying a natural death’. In such a grim scenario, reading Totto- Chan and reviving the inner spirit of educational practitioners could prove to be a practical solution.

So what is Totto- Chan or who is Totto- Chan?vxba004136

Well, I won’t tell the story and kill the thrill of reading.- My intention is to kindle the spirit of curiosity and thus compel you to read it.

So here are the hints which will leave you restless till you finish reading the last page of the novel.

  • Totto- Chan was dismissed from her school- she was in Class 1 and the reason for the dismissal… well, she opens and closes her study table in the class!
  • Totto- Chan goes to school alone! And her mode of transport… trains! Remind you, she is just 5!
  • On her first day in the school, her headmaster listens to her for hours… what’s there so much to talk? And how could any headmaster listen to a child for hours and hours!
  • Kobayashi master insists on ‘something from the sea and something from the mountain’ in their lunch! Geee… what’s that?
  • Swimming classes meant all kids swimming together in the pool … and almost all naked! Yeah… that’s against our ‘moral values’! It’s time to send a battalion of our moral police there.
  • Kids are scared of ghosts… and do you know what? Even ghosts are scared…
  • Ever heard of Eurythmics?
  • Oh! Forgot to tell you- an abandoned bogie of a train can be a classroom and a school can have a tree for a kid!

Aren’t these hints sufficient enough to compel you to search online or rush to the nearest bookstore for Totto- Chan?japanese-kids-lunch-box-24846099

Teaching kids (obviously a ‘lesson!) is a cake walk! Being with them, being one among them and facilitating learning in the most interesting and non compelling way is another magic. To master that art is not easy; but it is very much POSSIBLE. Totto- Chan takes the parents as well as the teachers to such a world of magic, where the learner and the facilitator share the same warmth of love, empathy, care, passion and compassion. To transform oneself from a teacher to a facilitator, Totchan is the best guide. Happy reading!

 

The Little Prince by Antoine De Saint-Exupery

The Little Prince

(….Excerpts)

  • by Antoine De Saint-Exupery

It was then that the fox appeared.

“Good morning,” said the fox.

“Good morning,” the little prince responded politely, although when he turned around he saw nothing.

“I am right here,” the voice said, “under the apple tree.”

Fox

“Who are you?” asked the little prince, and added, “You are very pretty to look at.”

“I am a fox,” the fox said.

“Come and play with me,” proposed the little prince. “I am so unhappy.”

“I cannot play with you,” the fox said. “I am not tamed.”

“Ah! Please excuse me,” said the little prince.

But, after some thought, he added:

“What does that mean–‘tame’?”

“You do not live here,” said the fox. “What is it that you are looking for?”

“I am looking for men,” said the little prince. “What does that mean–‘tame’?”

“Men,” said the fox. “They have guns, and they hunt. It is very disturbing. They also raise chickens. These are their only interests. Are you looking for chickens?”

“No,” said the little prince. “I am looking for friends. What does that mean–‘tame’?”

“It is an act too often neglected,” said the fox. It means to establish ties.”

“‘To establish ties’?”

“Just that,” said the fox. “To me, you are still nothing more than a little boy who is just like a hundred thousand other little boys. And I have no need of you. And you, on your part, have no need of me. To you, I am nothing more than a fox like a hundred thousand other foxes. But if you tame me, then we shall need each other. To me, you will be unique in all the world. To you, I shall be unique in all the world . . .”

“I am beginning to understand,” said the little prince. “There is a flower . . . I think that she has tamed me . . .”

“It is possible,” said the fox. “On the Earth one sees all sorts of things.”

“Oh, but this is not on the Earth!” said the little prince.

The fox seemed perplexed, and very curious.

“On another planet?”

“Yes.”

“Are there hunters on that planet?”

“No.”

“Ah, that is interesting! Are there chickens?”

“No.”

“Nothing is perfect,” sighed the fox.

But he came back to his idea.

“My life is very monotonous,” the fox said. “I hunt chickens; men hunt me. All the chickens are just alike, and all the men are just alike. And, in consequence, I am a little bored. But if you tame me, it will be as if the sun came to shine on my life. I shall know the sound of a step that will be different from all the others. Other steps send me hurrying back underneath the ground. Yours will call me, like music, out of my burrow. And then look: you see the grain-fields down yonder? I do not eat bread. Wheat is of no use to me. The wheat fields have nothing to say to me. And that is sad. But you have hair that is the color of gold. Think how wonderful that will be when you have tamed me! The grain, which is also golden, will bring me back the thought of you. And I shall love to listen to the wind in the wheat . . .”

The fox gazed at the little prince, for a long time.

“Please–tame me!” he said.

“I want to, very much,” the little prince replied. “But I have not much time. I have friends to discover, and a great many things to understand.”

“One only understands the things that one tames,” said the fox. “Men have no more time to understand anything. They buy things all ready made at the shops. But there is no shop anywhere where one can buy friendship, and so men have no friends any more. If you want a friend, tame me . . .”

“What must I do, to tame you?” asked the little prince.

“You must be very patient,” replied the fox. “First you will sit down at a little distance from me–like that–in the grass. I shall look at you out of the corner of my eye, and you will say nothing. Words are the source of misunderstandings. But you will sit a little closer to me, every day . . .”

The next day the little prince came back.

“It would have been better to come back at the same hour,” said the fox. “If, for example, you come at four o’clock in the afternoon, then at three o’clock I shall begin to be happy. I shall feel happier and happier as the hour advances. At four o’clock, I shall already be worrying and jumping about. I shall show you how happy I am! But if you come at just any time, I shall never know at what hour my heart is to be ready to greet you . . . One must observe the proper rites . . .”

“What is a rite?” asked the little prince.

“Those also are actions too often neglected,” said the fox. “They are what make one day different from other days, one hour from other hours. There is a rite, for example, among my hunters. Every Thursday they dance with the village girls. So Thursday is a wonderful day for me! I can take a walk as far as the vineyards. But if the hunters danced at just any time, every day would be like every other day, and I should never have any vacation at all.”

So the little prince tamed the fox. And when the hour of his departure drew near–

“Ah,” said the fox, “I shall cry.”

“It is your own fault,” said the little prince. “I never wished you any sort of harm; but you wanted me to tame you . . .”

“Yes, that is so,” said the fox.

“But now you are going to cry!” said the little prince.

“Yes, that is so,” said the fox.

“Then it has done you no good at all!”

“It has done me good,” said the fox, “because of the color of the wheat fields.” And then he added:

“Go and look again at the roses. You will understand now that yours is unique in all the world. Then come back to say goodbye to me, and I will make you a present of a secret.”

The little prince went away, to look again at the roses.

“You are not at all like my rose,” he said. “As yet you are nothing. No one has tamed you, and you have tamed no one. You are like my fox when I first knew him. He was only a fox like a hundred thousand other foxes. But I have made him my friend, and now he is unique in all the world.”

And the roses were very much embarassed.

“You are beautiful, but you are empty,” he went on. “One could not die for you. To be sure, an ordinary passerby would think that my rose looked just like you–the rose that belongs to me. But in herself alone she is more important than all the hundreds of you other roses: because it is she that I have watered; because it is she that I have put under the glass globe; because it is she that I have sheltered behind the screen; because it is for her that I have killed the caterpillars (except the two or three that we saved to become butterflies); because it is she that I have listened to, when she grumbled, or boasted, or ever sometimes when she said nothing. Because she is my rose.

And he went back to meet the fox.

“Goodbye,” he said.

“Goodbye,” said the fox. “And now here is my secret, a very simple secret: It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.”

“What is essential is invisible to the eye,” the little prince repeated, so that he would be sure to remember.

“It is the time you have wasted for your rose that makes your rose so important.”

“It is the time I have wasted for my rose–” said the little prince, so that he would be sure to remember.

“Men have forgotten this truth,” said the fox. “But you must not forget it. You become responsible, forever, for what you have tamed. You are responsible for your rose . . .”

“I am responsible for my rose,” the little prince repeated, so that he would be sure to remember.

“Why are you talking for him?” The Dangerous question that contributed to the deaths of Rohit Venmulas

“The plain fact is that the planet does not need more successful people. But it does desperately need more peacemakers, healers, restorers, storytellers, and lovers of every kind. It needs people who live well in their places. It needs people of moral courage willing to join the fight to make the world habitable and humane. And these qualities have little to do with success as we have defined it.”
― David W. OrrEcological Literacy: Educating Our Children for a Sustainable World

 

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“Is helping my friend or speaking for him a bad thing?” My son asked the moment he saw me at the ‘waiting yard,’ the place where I usually wait for him to pick him up after his school hours.

“Tell me, did I do something wrong by speaking for my friend?” Now that is a question.

“No… helping your friend is not bad… why?

“Ah… my teacher scolded me harshly in front of everyone. And she scolded the entire class too”

This is what happened according to the 7 year old.

He found his friend Abhi sitting in a corner and crying in the class. He was scared of an upcoming exam. Both Abhi and my son are new this school. Abhi has been born and brought up abroad and he finds it a bit tough to adjust with the Indian ways of ‘teaching and learning’. He was also scared to go to that ‘rather cold’ teacher with a request to postpone the exam for him. So my son took it on his shoulder.  He went to the teacher and said “Ma’am, Abhi is a new student and he finds it difficult to by-heart and recite the poem that you have given us as a test. So don’t give that exam for him” This literally made her furious. “Who asked you to come and talk for him? Why are you bringing his ‘petition or waqualath?’ Why can’t he come by himself? Who gave you the permission to talk for him…” and she didn’t stop with that public humiliation. She went on to scold the entire class and finally declared the exam cancelled”- well, purpose served!

This is a ‘NORMAL INDIAN CLASSROOM’ situation. Most of us have experienced this in our life. So we may wonder what’s wrong with it?

Well, my answer is “IT IS SUCH TEACHERS AND PARENTS WHO CONTRIBUTE TO THE DEATHS OF THOUSANDS OF PEOPLE WHO DIE IN ROAD ACCIDENTS WITHOUT GETTING TIMELY HELP, IT IS SUCH TEACHERS AND PARENTS WHO HAVE FORCED ROHIT VENMULAS TO COMMIT SUICIDE, IT SUCH PARENTS AND TEACHERS WHO HAVE CONTRIBUTED TO THE GROWTH OF OLD AGE HOMES, IT IS SUCH PARETNS AND TEACHERS WHO HAVE CONTRIBUTED TO OUR HOSTILE CHILDREN”.

Now does it ring a bell?

That Class 2 teacher has successfully managed to send a clear message to the 40 odd kids in the class on the need to be ‘selfish, egocentric, insensitive, numb, inconsiderate human being’ to survive or ‘succeed’  in the society! Now does it make sense? We are forcing the child to shed off all ‘human qualities” and be an insensitive machine which focuses on one ‘single mantra- SUCCESS’

 

S              Support

U             Uplift

C             Compassion and co- existence

C             Courage

E              Encourage

S              Support

S              Stimulate

 

Or as

S              Selfish

U             Unkind

C             Cruel

C             Compassionless

E              Egocentric

S              Self- obsessed

S              Self-serving

Obviously, the teacher has communicated the second meaning.

Will any child ever think of supporting his friend after this incident?

What is the ‘reason’ pointed out by the teacher? The child who is scared of the exam himself should come and talk to the teacher, and it should not be passed through an emissary. Let us examine her ‘reason’. Had the child been confident enough, wait, let me put it from the oppressed’s point of view- had the teacher been approachable enough or had the child been assured enough to approach her’ would such an ambassador ever had to pop up?

Had the teacher been trying to encourage the ‘child’s ability to stand up and speak up what one feels’ would she ever publically humiliate the other child who spoke his mind? Had she been thinking of teaching or dictating the’ individual’s responsibility lessons’, would she ever dare to scold the entire class for one individuals’ lack of confidence?

It didn’t end there, and the best is yet to come.

Naturally, I had to go and meet this ‘lady’ and so I went and met her. And this conversation happened.

Me:        Hi… Are you Ms. …?

Tr:           Yes. What is it?

Me:        Well, I am …’s mom and I want to talk about the incident that happened in your class yesterday…”

Tr:           No.. no… Nothing happened.  In fact I told the kids and they understood it

Me:        I am not sure what you told, but I am sure my son got it completely wrong.

….

Tr:           See, I am elder to you and your son’s teacher, so you should address me … miss

Me:        Well that doesn’t make any sense- you are my son’s teacher; and NOT MINE.

Tr:           Ah… umm… ok, I scolded your son not for coming and telling the other child’s problem, but for the body language and the tone he displayed- he had no respect in his tone.

Me:        That I am not sure, but you responded to the message he conveyed and not to his disrespectful tone; else you should have told that to him.

Tr:           It’s okay… I  have a class now.

Me:        I can wait.

Tr:           Err… nooo… but…

Me:         I hope you got the message- I am sending my son to the school to be interact with other human beings, imbibe human qualities and be a better social being- and I am least bothered about the scores and the exams.  I don’t have problem if he scores less or even fails in the exams, but I have a huge problem if he develop as an inhumane, egocentric boy. I don’t want him to be one of those thousands who would silently watch a bleeding person succumbing to death on the roads without lending a helping hand.

Tr:           Noo… you taking it very emotionally

Me:        Of course, I am… I am taking it emotionally and I want you to sense those emotions- both mine and my child’s. And also of  the kids who got the wrong message.

Tr:           okk ok… i got to goo

And she vanished!

Do I have to say something more?

If this is what’s being taught by teachers and parents, we deserve more and more old age homes, deaths on roads by sheer cold negligence and many more suicides and killings of ROHIT VENMULAS.security-771868_960_720

What can I talk to my son?

“My son wants me to talk to him always… but what should I talk?”

Vimal, My neighbor was worried. His son, 7 year old Manav loves to talk to his dad and listen to him too. Every evening he troubles his dad with en number of requests to tell everything that happened during the day..Manav  is a very eloquent child and just loves to talk and make others talk to him.

Vimal, on the other hand is a man of few words. He is quiet, introspective and observant. He doesn’t want to disappoint his son, but doesn’t know how to increase his talk time to his child.images

Many parents find it a bit difficult to select suitable constructive conversations with their kids. They either end up in baby talks or in extremely simplified and shallow conversations. We tend to underestimate the capabilities of our children. We hardly share glimpses of our day to day normal life with our kids- rather we take them to a make believe world. We present the natural real world with added hues and mild tones in front of them; else they just read out stories or sing rhymes and lullabies.

It is essential to prepare the child with all necessary inputs regarding normal and natural life outside the four walls of the comfortable home. Life is not always a cake walk. The can of worms also is part of the normal human life. Keeping the child away from all the difficult animages (1)d grim situations may make him vulnerable, naive and helpless in tough situations later in his life. At the same time, parents should be extremely careful while talking about the realities around him- it should not create a panic or trauma in the child. It should not affect his innate trust and belief in the humanity and in the world around him.

Talking about how your day was could be a good move towards this acclimatization process. In simple words if the parent could describe the entire day to the child, he will get an opportunity to experience it in a more natural way. when you share your experiences of your difficult times with the child, you are inviting the child to be part of your life. Such an open approach will reduce the possible ‘taken for granted’ mental state of the children towards their parents.

Duimages (2)ring such conversations, the parents could ask how the child feels, or what he would do if he were in your position. Thus instead of direct value teaching fables, you can let the child to be part of a problem solving process. Such constr
uctive conversations will help to develop the perception of the child to different environments existing outside the comfy home climate.

Try such normal conversations with your child and help him grow with you in real world as a normal kid.

 

 

 

Totto Chan

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TOTTO-CHAN The Little Girl at the Window By Tetsuko Kuroyanagi

(An extract from Totto Chan… for my readers… Happy Reading!)

Translated by Dorothy Britton

 

The Railroad Station

They got off the Oimachi train at Jiyugaoka Station, and Mother took Totto-chan by the hand to lead her through the ticket gate. She had hardly ever been on a train before and was reluctant to give up the precious ticket she was clutching. “May 1 keep it!” Totto-chan asked the ticket collector. “No, you can’t,” he replied, taking it from her. She pointed to his box filled with tickets. “Are those all yours!” “No, they belong to the railroad station,” he replied, as he snatched away tickets from people going out. “Oh.” Totto-chan gazed longingly into the box and went on, “When I grow up I’m going to sell railroad tickets!” The ticket collector glanced at her for the first time. “My little boy wants a job in the station, too, so you can work together.”

Totto-chan stepped to one side and took a good look at the ticket collector. He was plump and wore glasses and seemed rather kind. “Hmm.” She put her hands on her hips and carefully considered the idea. “I wouldn’t mind at all working with your son,” she said. “I’ll think it over. But I’m rather busy just now as I’m on my way to a new school.” She ran to where Mother waited, shouting, “I’m going to be a ticket seller!” Mother wasn’t surprised, but she said, “I thought you were going to be a spy.” As Totto-chan began walking along holding Mother’s hand, she remembered that until the day before she had been quite sure she wanted to be a spy. But what fun it would be to be in charge of a box full of tickets!

“That’s it!” A splendid idea occurred to her. She looked up at Mother and informed her of it at the top of her voice, “Couldn’t I be a ticket seller who’s really a spy!” Mother didn’t reply. Under her felt hat with its little flowers, her lovely face was serious. The fact was Mother was very worried. What if they wouldn’t have Tottochan at the new school! She looked at Totto-chan skipping along the road chattering to herself. Totto-chan didn’t know Mother was worried, so when their eyes met, she said gaily, “I’ve changed my mind. I think I’ll join one of those little bands of street musicians who go about advertising new stores!” There was a touch of despair in Mother’s voice as she said, “Come on, we’ll be late. We mustn’t keep the headmaster waiting. No more chatter. Look where you’re going and walk properly.” Ahead of them, in the distance, the gate of a small school was gradually coming into view.

The Little Girl at the Window

The reason Mother was worried was because although Totto-chan had only just started school, she had already been expelled. Fancy being expelled from the first grade! It had happened only a week ago.

Mother had been sent for by Totto-chan’s homeroom teacher, who came straight to the point. “Your daughter disrupts my whole class. I must ask you to take her to another school.” The pretty young teacher sighed. “I’m really at the end of my tether.” Mother was completely taken aback.

What on earth did Totto-chan do to disrupt the whole class, she wondered! Blinking nervously and touching her hair, cut in a short pageboy style, the teacher started to explain.

“Well, to begin with, she opens and shuts her desk hundreds of times. I’ve said that no one is to open or shut their desk unless they have to take something out or put something away. So your daughter is constantly taking something out and putting something away – taking out or putting away her notebook, her pencil box, her textbooks, and everything else in her desk. For instance, say we are going to write the alphabet, your daughter opens her desk, takes out her notebook, and bangs the top down. Then she opens her desk again, puts her head inside, gets our a pencil, quickly shuts the desk, and writes an ‘A.’ If she’s written it badly or made a mistake she opens the desk again, gets out an eraser, shuts the desk, erases the letter, then opens and shuts the desk again to put away the eraser- -all at top speed. When she’s written the ‘A’ over again, she puts every single item back into the desk, one by one. She puts away the pencil, shuts the desk, then opens it again to put away the notebook. Then, when she gets to the next letter, she goes through it all again–first the note-book, then the pencil, then the eraser–opening and shutting her desk every single time. It makes my head spin. And I can’t scold her because she opens and shuts it each time for a reason.”

The teacher’s long eyelashes fluttered even more as if she were reliving the scene in her mind. 3 It suddenly dawned on Mother why Totto-chan opened and shut her desk so often. She remembered how excited Totto-chan had been when she came home from her first day at school. She had said, “School’s wonderful! My desk at home has drawers you pull out, but the one at school has a top you lift up. It’s like a box, and you can keep all sorts of things inside. It’s super!” Mother pictured her delightedly opening and shutting the lid of this new desk. And Mother didn’t think it was all that naughty either.

Anyway, Totto-chan would probably stop doing it as soon as the novelty wore off. But all she said to the teacher was, “I’ll speak to her about it.” The teacher’s voice rose in pitch as she continued, “I wouldn’t mind if that was all.” Mother flinched as the teacher leaned forward.

“When she’s not making a clatter with her desk, she’s standing up. All through class!” “Standing up! Where?” asked Mother, surprised. “At the window,” the teacher replied crossly. “Why does she stand at the window?” Mother asked, puzzled. “So she can invite the street musicians over!” she almost shrieked. The gist of the teacher’s story was that after an hour of almost constantly banging her desk top, Totto-chan would leave her desk and stand by the window, looking out.

Then, just as the teacher was beginning to think that as long as she was quiet she might just as well stay there, Totto-chan would suddenly call out to a passing band of garishly dressed street musicians. To Totto-chan’s delight and the teacher’s tribulation, the classroom was on the ground floor looking out on the street. There was only a low hedge in between, so anyone in the classroom could easily talk to people going by. When Totto-chan called to them, the street musicians would come right over to the window. Whereupon, said the teacher, Totto-chan would announce the fact to the whole room, “Here they are!” and all the children would crowd by the window and call out to the musicians. “Play something,” Totto-chan would say, and the little band, which usually passed the school quietly, would put on a rousing performance for the pupils with their clarinet, gongs, drums, and samisen, while the poor teacher could do little but wait patiently for the din to stop. Finally, when the music finished, the musicians would leave and the students would go back to their seats. All except Totto-chan.

When the teacher asked, “Why are you still at the window?” Totto-chan replied, quite seriously, “Another band might come by. And, anyway, it would be such a shame if the others came back and we missed them.” “You can see how disruptive all this is, can’t you?” said the teacher emotionally. Mother was beginning to sympathize with her when she began again in an even shriller voice, “And then, besides…

“What else does she do?” asked Mother, with a sinking feeling. “What else?” exclaimed the teacher. “If I could even count the things she does I wouldn’t be asking you to take her away.” The teacher composed herself a little, and looked straight at Mother. “Yesterday, Totto-chan was standing at the window as usual, and I went on with the lesson thinking she was just waiting for the street musicians, when she suddenly called out to somebody, ‘What are you doing!’ From where I was I couldn’t see who she was taking to, and I wondered what was going on. Then she called out again, ‘What are you doing!’ She wasn’t addressing anyone in the road but somebody high up somewhere. I couldn’t help being curious, and tried to hear the reply, but there wasn’t any. In spite of that, your daughter kept on calling out, ‘What are you doing?’ so often I couldn’t teach, so I went over to the window to see who your daughter was talking to. When I put my head out of the window and looked up, I saw it was a pair of swallows making a nest under the classroom eaves. She was talking to the swallows!

Now, I understand children, and so I’m not saying that talking to swallows is nonsense. It is just that I feel it is quite unnecessary to ask swallows what they are doing in the middle of class.” Before Mother could open her mouth to apologize, the teacher went on, “Then there was the drawing class episode. I asked the children to draw the Japanese flag, and all the others drew it correctly but your daughter started drawing the navy flag – you know the one with the rays. Nothing wrong with that, I thought. But then she suddenly started to draw a fringe all around it. A fringe! You know, like those fringes on youth group banners. She’s probably seen one somewhere. But before I realized what she was doing, she had drawn a yellow fringe that went right off the edge of the paper and onto her desk. You see, her flag took up most of the paper, so there wasn’t enough room for the fringe. She took her yellow crayon and all around her flag she made hundreds of strokes that extended beyond the paper, so that when she lifted up the paper her desk was a mass of dreadful yellow marks that wouldn’t come off no matter how hard we rubbed. Fortunately, the lines were only on-three sides.” Puzzled, Mother asked quickly, “What do you mean, only three sides!”

Although she seemed to be getting tired, the teacher was kind enough to explain. “She drew a flagpole on the left, so the fringe was only on three sides of the flag.” Mother felt somewhat relieved. “I see, only on three sides.” Whereupon the teacher said very slowly, emphasizing each word, “But most of the flagpole went off the paper, too, and is still on the desk as well.” Then the teacher got up and said coldly, as a sort of parting shot, “I’m not the only one who is upset. The teacher in the classroom next door has also had trouble.” Mother obviously had to do something about it. It wasn’t fair to the other pupils. She’d have to find another school, a school where they would understand her little girl and teach her how to get along with other people.

The school they were on their way to was one Mother had found after a good deal of searching. Mother did not tell Totto-chan she had been expelled. She realized Totto-chan wouldn’t understand what she had done wrong and she didn’t want her to get any complexes, so she decided not to tell Totto-chan until she was grown-up. All Mother said was, “How would you like to go to a new school! I’ve heard of a very nice one.” “All right,” said Totto-chan, after thinking it over. “But…” “What is it now?” thought Mother. “Does she realize she’s been expelled?” But a moment later Totto-chan was asking joyfully, “Do you think the street musicians will come to the new school?”

The New School

When she saw the gate of the new school, Totto-chan stopped. The gate of the school she used to go to had fine concrete pillars with the name of the school in large characters. But the gate of this new school simply consisted of two rather short posts that still had twigs and leaves on them. “This gate’s growing,” said Totto-chan. “It’ll probably go on growing till it’s taller than the telephone poles!”

The two “gateposts” were clearly trees with roots. When she got closer, she had to put her head to one side to read the name of the school because the wind had blown the sign askew. “To-mo-e Ga-ku-en.” Totto-chan was about to ask Mother what “Tomoe” meant, when she caught a glimpse of something that made her think she must be dreaming. She squatted down and peered through the shrubbery to get a better look, and she couldn’t believe her eyes.

“Mother, is that really a train! There, in the school grounds!” For its classrooms, the school had made use of six abandoned railroad cars. To Tottochan it seemed something you might dream about. A school in a train! The windows of the railroad cars sparkled in the morning sunlight. But the eyes of the rosy-cheeked little girl gazing at them through the shrubbery sparkled even more.

“I Like This School!”….

“Why Should I Say Sorry to a Child?”

 

Till this evening, my weekend was a pretty monotonous one with the usual chores in the morning and an outing with my son to a nearby mall at noon. We went to a restaurant of his choice, had our favorite chicken biriyani, watched a movie and went to the game’s zone in the mall… Just a regular weekend of a middle class family in a metro.

And there I was with my son in the queue to board a mini roller coaster, when another small boy of my son’s age, on a small mechanized pony, came too close to us and almost pushed my son to the steel rail at the edge of the game zone. The young pony rider obviously had little control over that machine and it was his dad who was pushing and pulling it through the crowd. When sandwiched against the steel rod, my son made a mild cry saying “ouch… it hurts …” Within seconds, I was able to push that mechanized pony away and rescue my child. When I turned around after attending to my child, I saw that boy and his dad moving away as if nothing has happened at all. On their way that boy was bumping a few more people around. They all made faces and expressed their annoyance silently; but nobody voiced out their anger openly… may be scared of the father and son who looked like rich spoiled brats with a very nasty attitude.

I couldn’t take it at all. I chased them and demanded the ‘dad’ to apologize to my kid. He said he is ‘not going to do anything like that’… apologizing to a ‘kid’ was unacceptable for that ‘adult’. He and his ‘large family’ (with

three more adults and three or four kids) defended strongly saying that such ‘accidents’ are bound to happen in a public place. The very attitude of the adults made it evident why that boy was so ‘unempathetic’ and ill mannered. The mother (I couldn’t see her face for it was hidden behind a veil) argued in favor of her kid saying that nobody ever complained or questioned them even abroad when such incidents happened! Wow… now that is ‘an explanation’… this ‘bumping game’ seems to be a regular affair that the family enjoys! Since nobody ever voiced out their irritation and anger, they have been enjoying this ‘activity’ all these years! The dad and his brother (they resembled each other a lot; so I guessed them to be brothers) tried to defend the boy saying ‘such things may happen between kids and there is no need to say sorry”.  “Of course… there is a need to apologize. A child getting hurt by another child while playing (unintentionally) can be tolerated… but neither the child who caused the accident nor the parents ‘feel’ the guilt, and not bothered to accept their fault,  is another thing. Feeling guilty for a mishap caused by oneself is the minimum quality of being ‘human’. The six or seven year old child being insensitive to other human beings around him and his parents supporting the ill manners displayed by the child in the public place is a serious issue that cannot be simply neglected as a ‘child’s play’…” I fought back furiously.

The more reluctant they were to say ‘sorry’, the more adamant I grew. My son stood clam and firm, expressing his strong support through nods in agreement with me while I argued.

Our heated argument naturally drew a decent crowd and that family started to feel a bit uneasy; and I was not ready to leave without the ‘deserving apology’. Finally, the father of the boy managed to pull out some ‘courage’ to express his apologies in public. Without saying a word, silently I accepted the apology; so did my son and we walked away. Though I made that man to apologize, I did not feel happy or victorious. I was feeling sad and helpless for the ‘insensitive’, ‘unempathetic’ and ‘ill mannered’ children, reared up by irresponsible parents. I am sure the ‘dad’ or his family would not have understood the essence of my argument. He must be cursing me, the adamant mother who thinks herself as a ‘jhansi rani’, who pushed him and his family to an embarrassing situation in a public place.

Causing trouble to others and getting away without being questioned by showing off an attitude and power is a felony; more intense an offense, or rather a crime, is flashing an ‘adult ego’ and dispelling a child’s right to demand apology for being wronged by that adult. I had no other choice than fighting for the right of my child; and I am glad that I could at least convey a strong message to my child- the need to be ‘empathetic and sensitive to others’ and the need to be ‘humble enough to accept one’s own mistake and apologizing for that’.