How cut-offs, lists and percentages are robbing our children of happiness

Seeds of tomorrowBy the time you read this column I would have spoken about and moderated a discussion on ‘How to make your passion your paycheck’ at a career and networking forum aimed at women’s empowerment. I am glad they called it passion and not hobby. It somehow seems more legitimate.

It struck me a few years ago that I had got to that place where I could unflinchingly write ‘writer’ in the box that said ‘occupation’ while filling a form, any form ranging from visa to child’s admission. I couldn’t earlier, even though I had decided a long time ago that all I like to do is write. So I would disguise it as ‘advertising professional’ or ‘journalist’ or ‘editor’ or ‘content creator’ or some such.

I remember vaguely talking about following your passion many times to various groups of students at the school I taught at last year. They were in awe that I had a Masters in Pharmacy and chose to write (or then, teach English).

I met quite a few really talented students. One girl doodled like a magician. Another was a dream with a guitar. A third wrote songs she could make a living off. A boy made the best origami lanterns. Another did water color with the most delicate strokes. A third knew every species of bird in the Sahyadris. Another made the finest batik art I have ever seen. There were pianists, sitar players, basketball whiz kids, cricket prodigies, poets, botanists, tabla players, singers and dancers.

Somewhere I think they all knew that while their parents were ‘allowing’ them to indulge in their passions for a while, sooner or later, they would all have to fit into neat little boxes. Being old enough to appear for their boards also meant being too old to pursue your passions as if they were your life.

June and July are months of lists for students. Lists of those who make it and those who don’t. Except you really don’t know if not being on a list can actually be a good thing for your kid in the long run.

When I thought back to my days of board exams and the results thereafter, I was on every list. And that was my greatest undoing. Because being on a list and walking away was not acceptable then. May be it was and I didn’t really have the courage to walk away and pursue what I thought was my passion. I then imagined myself as a vet, a dancer or a writer. I pursued none. Years later, through a very long and convoluted path, I was glad I could still go back to being a writer. But it was too late for the other two.

It’s been a long time since then but the boxes haven’t changed much. Admissions have become online, but the cutoffs remain relatively the same. Or as my mother would say, marks have no meaning anymore; they are being doled out like crazy. But the higher the marks, the higher the cut-offs too.

One of the dear friends I made through this column has a son who has recently cleared his 12th with much flourish and was at the crossroads. The choices were many. Media studies, business school, oceanography, design, architecture and more. The parents offered him many options, and did their bit of research to figure what would be best for him.

The child was of course bogged down by all the choices, applying for admissions and the pressures of masculinity from his alpha male father. He turned to his mother for comfort. He knew she would understand what was going on in his mind, and more importantly, his heart. She asked him what was it that he really wanted to be when he grew up. And he said, ‘I want to be really really happy when I grow up, mom!”

And I think that nailed it.

We are okay with happiness as a byproduct, but not as a goal, as Eleanor Roosevelt reminds us. This is why it took me two decades after schooling to reach a point where I could say with all honesty that I made my passion my paycheck.

We are often putting our children into little boxes, defined by the marks they get or the marks they didn’t get. So our children are forced to say that they want to go to business school when all they want is to teach origami, or study engineering when they would rather be ornithologists or take up media studies when what they actually wanted to do was study rivers. So a great saxophonist becomes an MBA, a wordsmith becomes a Chartered Accountant or a food stylist pursues law. And they lock all these little passions in littler boxes which may or may not be opened for a long time. And in some sad cases, will never be opened.

I know I am not good at giving advice and don’t know enough to do it, but try not to see your children as the boxes they made it into and the boxes they didn’t. Because there is a lot of them that will never fit into any box. And that is what will eventually make them truly, really happy. And happiness is a great goal for anyone.

(A version of this post appeared as my column in Pune Mirror on 29th June, 2015)


Lessons from a sling

In the beginning, it was overwhelming.

My new house on the hill. Becoming a teacher. Birdsong. The gulmohar shielding my house. The possibility of a jhoola on it. Or a hammock. The fact that I didn’t have to commute three hours a day any more. The fact that I didn’t have to wait until sundown to see my child after dropping him off in the morning. The fact that I didn’t have to jump at every honk, ringtone or ping.

On day four, after setting up home with my favourite things, getting the lighting, curtains and rugs right (it’s all that matters), I decided to lounge in my garden and make a list. Yes, I am a list girl. I love lists. They give me purpose, goals, order, direction, whatever you call it.

I was finally time-rich, though money-poor. I had to do ‘things’ with this precious, newly acquired time. Like run everyday (I bought new shoes). Do yoga. Start birding maybe? Write those pending books. May be 2000 words a day? I had planned for 1000, but then a friend told me it was better to set tougher goals, so I upped the ante. I had to bake more. I had to learn weaving, crochet, a musical instrument. I had to grow herbs, now that I had a garden.

And just as I was about to sit down to put these things on paper for posterity, my chair toppled over. Next thing I know, I had a dislocated elbow.

Everything that happened afterwards was in slow motion. The pain was excruciating and I let out my loudest scream down the valley. It was my first bone-related injury and I had no clue that a cast could be so debilitating. Days ran into weeks and nothing changed. Every night was agonising. My cast was a reminder that my body was asking me to slow down.

My list was out the window. I was ready to take each day as it comes. My sling became me. We were one.


Re asked me why I was wearing my bandage (his word for my cast) everyday. I told him it was important to rest my hand so it doesn’t hurt more. “Oh, your hand wants to sleep,” he said. Then he announced to all his friends that his mother’s hand was broken so she wouldn’t be baking any cookies for a few days. It really was that simple.

While I struggled to slow down, Re held my hand. I was a girl in a hurry with a child of leisure. There is a certain languidness with which he does things that I am still trying to get adjusted to. I had to remind myself that it was perfectly okay not to have items to check on a daily basis. That I should focus on what I could do rather than what I couldn’t.

Some days we have ‘fancy parties’ and our house has to be ‘decorated’. Re goes around draping chairs with stoles, dupattas and ribbons, the telephone with speckles and the walls with freshly painted rainbow strips. He is very particular about how we entertain and I play along. Some days, Rapunzel wants to wear Cinderella’s gown or wants her hair braided. Some days, Cinderella is tired of her glass slipper and wants to wear something different, something pink. Some days, the mermaid Maria wants to color her hair purple. Some days, Re wants to teach me the “Frozen‘ song, followed by the “Frozen’ dance. And I have to do it over and over again, at his pace.

He tried many things to assuage me. He brought a wand that promised to make my hand straight, to make my pain go away, He would open doors for me and hold them. Now, he watches the physiotherapist intently and tries to mobilise my wrist and elbow exactly as he does. He insists he can hear the heartbeat of my hand and thinks it’s working fine.

By week four, my left hand was so numb, it wanted to be held, just so it could feel something. When the cast was off, I didn’t realise holding my own hand would feel so good. Or rubbing my hands in glee. Or cupping my own face with my hands.

My handicap (although temporary) taught me how to live my life at the pace of my child. It taught me to sync my rhythm along with his. Mostly, our children teach us way more than we teach them. Mine taught me that life is too short to make lists.


(This post first appeared as my column in Pune Mirror on 28th July 2014)



48 ways in which you changed my life: A birthday post

Around this time four years ago, I was packing my bag. No it wasn’t that kind of adventure-laden bag, rather it was a hospital bag that I was packing, ticking off items in my little black book (still have it!), getting ready to give birth, annoyed that the child inside had already overstayed her welcome (yes, I kept thinking it was a ‘her’). Finally, a boy arrived, and I first thought I’ll return it, but then I chanced upon a curly top and a dimpled chin and I thought he could stay.



Four years later, I am still reeling under the shock that I am a mother. To a boy!  I thought I will celebrate Re’s birthday (June 23) with a list. I love making lists. So here’s a list of 48 ways in which Re has changed my life (for the 48 months that he has been in my life.) (Disclaimer: It’s not mushy)

1. I have my tea in seven installments. The first two are perfect in temperature.

2. My idea of alone time is sitting on the pot.

3. My baths have become longer, especially when you are in the house. I am okay with opening the door and looking at the drawing as long as I can shut it back on you.

4. I have begun to really respect silences. And people who don’t talk much. Or ask why.

5. My definition of bad hair days is changing rapidly.

6. When I say ‘I’, and the father thinks ‘we’, it makes me really mad.

7. When I say ‘we’ and the father thinks “I’, it makes me even madder.

8. I have learnt that collaborating with a good cop is a really bad idea, so I just don’t listen to your father anymore.

9. I never cared much about nighties, but if on any given night, you don’t want to wear them, I become obsessed with them.

10. I am on first name basis with Cinderella, Ariel, Flounder, Rapunzel, Chota Bheem, Maya the Bee and Tatonka.

11. I have begun to appreciate the joys of nakedness after watching Chota Bheem.

12. I sometimes see the music in whining. Yours and your father’s.

13. I mostly don’t.

14.  I have found the joy of saying everything in triplicate. No, make that quintuplicate.

15. I love schools and any place that will take me away from you.

16.  I love my parents much more now. Especially when I leave you with them.

17. I take it in my stride when my friends ask me about you before they ask me about me.

18. I am obsessed with baths. Not mine, yours. And your father’s.

19. I often dream of being marooned on an island, and feeling very happy about it.

20. I have learnt to lower the bar for cleanliness, order and punctuality.

21. I think folding clothes is a waste of time.

22. And ironing is overrated.

23. I can be friends with women I don’t give a shit about just because their kid likes you.

24. I have a point of view on parenting. It’s called “My way”

25. Each day, I find seven new ways in which your father is annoying.

26. I can spend an hour looking for a Barbie shoe.

27. Or a lellow colored kydayon!

28. I am constantly reading books on “How to tune off”

29. I use you extensively as arm candy. It always works.

30. I have started hiding things I really love to eat. Like mango gutlis and white chocolate.

31. I am excessively allergic to OCD. I can’t understand what’s wrong if the shoes are not aligned on the shelf or if the purple crayon is next to the yellow one.

32. I cannot stand people whose sentences start with “You won’t believe what my <insert name of child here> did today!”

33. My desire to ask my mother what I was as a child is overwhelming.

34. I need a drink quite often.

35. On good days, I want to trace my family tree.

36. I love my cousins. Especially the ones who’ve made babies.

37. I suddenly want my siblings to have babies, so that there is some equality in our suffering.

38. I am trying hard to be really annoying so you disqualify me as the object of your affection and move to someone else.

39. I look at my non-communicative cats in a new light.

40.  My love for you is inversely proportional to the time spent with you.

41. I love watching you sleep. It makes it seem worth the while.

42. I have bitten your cheeks several times while you were sleeping.

43. When someone says good things about you, I am very happy to take the credit.

44. It pisses me off that your curls look good even on bad hair days.

45. I call my mother. Very often.

46. I always say “lovely pix!” when someone posts baby pictures. Even if they are ugly.

47. I love doggy bags. It’s one less meal to plan.

48. I am becoming addicted to your hugs. Please don’t stop.