Sheena wasn’t sure who was attending school for the first time – she or her daughter, Miti. She was nervous that things would go wrong, and Miti would cry and kick up a fuss on her first day at school.
Worse, Sheena imagined Miti clutching onto the doorframe of the classroom and bawling her head off (as she had often done when she was a new-born baby) while her teacher tried to drag her in.
And even worse, Sheena also imagined the disdainful looks that other parents whose children had prior experience in attending pre-nursery classes might flash at her.
The week before school re-opened, Sheena brought Miti to the kindergarten several times to prepare her for the event. They couldn’t enter the grounds as the school gate was shackled with iron chains and the prune-faced Ghurkha wouldn’t let them in.
So, they stood stoically in the blistering heat to soak in the atmosphere. Twice, they even stood in the pouring rain to do this – Sheena, carrying an umbrella with Donald Duck motifs all over it, and Miti, in a pink raincoat. Miti marvelled at the large, spacious grounds (where chickens and ducks wandered freely), the wooden seesaws, the red and yellow slides, and the monkey bars (where children could climb or hang and act like monkeys for the day).
“Relax,” said Sheena’s husband, Vijay, trying to cheer her up with ice-cream every night after Miti went to bed.
Sheena tried. But she simply couldn’t get rid of the fluttering in her stomach even as she stood on her head yoga-style and chanted the Gayatri mantra.
The night before the big day as Sheena tucked Miti into bed, she tossed aside the usual bedtime story book and decided to tell Miti stories of her school life. Other than the bad experiences, Sheena couldn’t remember any good ones.
So, she exaggerated. She told Miti wonderful tales of teachers handing out stickers and sweets when she got her spelling right and could recite the multiplication table by heart.
Sheena never told her that teachers could be really mean, too. They would pull your ears or slap the back of your head or pinch you if you talk back to them. And even scratch your cheek with their gold necklace (as hers did) if you were a little too talkative for their liking.
She didn’t tell Miti about the nun (at the convent school she attended) who called her and other students “goat” when she was feeling screwed up. Her daughter would find out just how nasty teachers could be in her own good time, Sheena thought.
The next morning, Sheena grumbled at Vijay for not accompanying them. It seemed his office meetings were more important than the welfare of his child. She wondered aloud why women had to bear the most responsibility when it came to looking after kids and even told him that she would pray hard to Lord Shiva to be born as a man in her next life. But when she turned around, he was gone.
Sheena and Miti set off for school (after Sheena’s numerous visits to the loo). When they arrived, there was a horde of mothers with their children mingling and yakking away like crows.
Sheena frowned. When mothers congregate, you would be guaranteed to hear them bragging about their kids’ recent achievements in piano, ballet and swimming classes. She wasn’t going to be one of them.
She fished out from her bag a couple of minty sweets that had gone sticky (they had been in her bag for a year now) and gave one to Miti hoping it would calm her daughter’s nerves.
But Miti refused the sweet and pulled her hand away from Sheena’s grasp. “Don’t hold my hand so tight.”
The school bell rang and the class teachers streamed out into the courtyard holding large, blue placards across their chests, with class names such as, “strawberry”, “orange” and “apple” written on them. Miti was in the “strawberry” class, so Sheena shepherded her to her teacher.
“Bye-bye, Mother,” said Miti.
Sheena gulped, she wasn’t ready to let go. She told Miti that she’ll wait at the school canteen for a little while more before heading home. But Miti was already busy chatting with another little girl.
Three hours later, Sheena stood outside her daughter’s classroom waiting for the dismissal bell. It rang shortly after. The door opened and the children, on seeing their parents, dashed out like crazed monkeys let loose.
“How was school, dear?” asked Sheena as Miti jumped into her arms.
“Oh, I had so much fun, I wish I could have started school long time ago.”