Khushi’s education


Khushi’s mother, Breshpati, has learnt to sign her name. Although she does not know a word of English, she attends every school meeting that Khushi’s school arranges. The meetings are in English. She signs her name, enters the hall, sits through the meeting without understanding a single word and signs out when the meeting is over. She goes because she wants the school to know that she is invested in her daughter’s education. Then she asks the parents of Khushi’s classmates what was said in the meeting. Her husband never goes because he cannot sign his name. He is embarrassed.

During my visit to Kolkata, I observed the routine of Breshpati and Khushi. Breshpati gets her daughter up in the morning, makes her breakfast as the little girl wipes sleep from her eyes. Khushi brushes her teeth, dons her clean and ironed school uniform, eats her corn flakes and walks half an hour to school with her mother in the heat of Kolkata. Breshpati then comes home, cooks for other people, cooks for her own family, walks half an hour again to pick up her daughter. Khushi spends the afternoon either drawing, reading or watching cartoon on phone. In the evening, Breshpati walks her again to someone’s house for tuition and practicing spoken English. She cooks for another family while Khushi works with her tutor.

Little 8 year old Khushi navigated online school through her mother’s phone for close to 2 years without any technological help from her parents. My parents, when they were alive, helped. But they have not been around since May of 2021. Today Breshpati sent me Khushi’s report card. She has been promoted to third grade. She got A+ in each subject. She has chosen chess as her elective. Her favorite subject is math. And this is what her teacher wrote in the comment section – she has “been consistent, has exceeded expectation and created a mark for herself. Truly commendable.”

During my visit, Khushi and I had some meaningful conversations. She talked, I listened. I listened to her telling me about how hard her mother works, how intelligent her mother is, how caring her mother is. The child is mindful of how her mother is giving it her all for Khushi’s success. That made me so happy. Breshpati left me a voice message about Khushi’s grades. Her voice was infused with happiness about her daughter’s success, about the validation of her efforts to give her daughter opportunities. I smiled as I thought how proud my ma would be today.

I failed as an Indian parent.


I knew right away that I failed as an Indian parent when my 16 year old son sent us a video of Greatest Recorded Speeches in American History. Along with the link was a short message “cool stuff”. Instead of math and science, both my kids ended up loving liberal arts. My oldest is a Shakespeare nerd, a poet and writer. She is one semester away from graduating with double major in English and Anthropology. My son loves history and is thinking of pursuing political science. While he is good with numbers and can solve scarily long algebra equations with relative ease he does not spend all his time solving word problems and doing science experiments. He listens to discussions and likes to discuss the pros and cons of issues. He despises the divide in political beliefs that polarizes this country and wants to find a common ground. As I looked at his message of the recorded speeches, there went my hopes of either of my kids getting a 40 dollar an hour internship in a tech company while finishing college and a fat salaried job right out of college. As an Indian parent, I am a total failure. I did not steer my children to exclusively math and science like a parent from my part of the world who told me she wished her child could drop world history so he could take another science course.

The title of this blog is written in jest of course and I am doing a gross generalization of all Indian parents when I say they push their children towards science. However, till date many parents from where I come from, believe their child should study science to get ahead in life, including my father. It was clear from early on that I was a lover of literature. Yet, when I passed my 10th, my dad insisted I take up science in my 11th grade. I believe he still dreamed that I will excel in math, physics, chemistry and biology, sit for Joint Entrance Exam and finally get into med school. In reality, although I enjoyed biology, I struggled in all 3 other science subjects. My grades, as expected, at my school leaving exam were dismal and more importantly, I was very unhappy. My self esteem plummeted and self confidence took a nose dive. At that point, I took a stand and declared I wanted to study English. A degree in English literature was not very promising those days but my parents let me pursue my choice, for which, I am immensely grateful. I was lucky enough to attend a university that was not simply an educational institution, it somehow molded my outlook and view points and helped me become the person that I am today. And while I am never going to be rich, I have a job as a public library worker, where I can use my education and be happy with what I do.

The truth is, when I see Ryan enjoying the greatest speeches of famous men and women, when I see Sahana quoting Shakespeare verbatim, when Ryan discusses difficult issues of life with reason and logic, when Sahana writes beautiful poetry my heart rejoices. They are the progeny of two parents who pursued liberal arts. Instead of building robots in their childhood or conducting fun science experiments or doing mental math, we read to them, talked about Sean’s work about helping vulnerable communities become self reliant through out the world. We did not give them a boost towards science in their early childhood. In retrospect, science may have even taken a back seat because their primary care giver, me, did not enjoy science. That is on us. We should have made more of an effort to encourage them to explore science.

However, as a lover of liberal arts, I am thrilled at their curiosity to learn more about literature, philosophy, history, political science. I may be biased but I firmly believe we need a section of lovers of liberal arts to hold up half of the sky so our compatriots, the science lovers can hold up theirs. And by complementing each other we strive towards completion. It’s just that the other half will do the balancing act with much more bank balance than we will but hey, money can’t buy happiness, right?😜