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.

Daddy’s little girl.


Sean had to travel all over South Asia when Sahana was a baby. But the precious little time he had with her, there was no one else in his universe but his baby girl. I was relegated to the periphery, where I gladly retired for a while, looking in, smiling as I saw the two of them play, laugh, giggle, sing, tickle.

Every Saturday, Sean took Sahana with him to the American club to play basketball, swim in the pool, play in the playground, eat pizza and then return home in the late afternoon. Saturdays were my days off from child rearing. I was free to focus on myself, go out for lunch with girlfriends, read and realize, ‘oh goodness, I am not just a mother, I am a woman as well!’ But most afternoons found me hanging out in the balcony, craning my neck to see the cream Ambassador car that brought my baby and my husband home. I loved my ‘me time’ but in small doses.

Daddy was a source of joy. Mommy was needed for comfort and sleep. Our roles, in Sahana’s life, were very well defined. And we reveled in our roles. I was the story teller, the book reader, the lullaby singer. Daddy was the fellow climber in the jungle gym, the reassuring presence in swimming pool, the instigator in challenging hikes and creek crossings and lastly, the strong pair of arms when little legs got tired.

After we moved to United States and Sahana got a little older, Sean took her out on daddy and Sahana dates. Five year old Sahana got dressed up, walked up to the car, Sean held the car door for her. Strapped her in and off they went. There were nights of hot chocolates and incessant chatter, which I was made aware of later, by the laughing father.

The five year old is a teenager now. The chatter about ‘what ifs’ is replaced by debates – on everything under the sun, ranging from theology to the grungy sweatshirt that she insists on wearing to school. The date nights have been replaced by softball games and swim team practices, Shakespeare seminars and memory book committee meetings. There is hardly any time. Often, there are eye rolls and exasperated sighs and ‘you just don’t get it’ directed at dad. Often they come to logger heads because both are similar. But on rare occasions, when a few rational moments dawn on Sahana, she tells me:

‘Dad has really set the standards high for me! How will I ever find a man like him who will treat me like he treats you? Do they even make men like him any more?’

We don’t always consider what a tremendous influence we are on our young ones. Fathers play such an important role to shape the idea of what a man should be, as their little girls look up to them with awe filled, adoring eyes. Fathers set the tone for the behavior a girl should come to expect from her life partner. Fathers teach the important lesson of self worth to their daughters. They teach their daughters that they are not defined by their body shape, their hair style, their clothes or their looks. Mothers teach the same, but dads, being of the opposite gender have more impact on the little girl psyche. They are, instead, defined by their qualities and the values that they carry to adulthood. Fathers reinstate the faith in their daughters that they are important, they are worthy, they are intelligent and they have as much right to the air and sunshine in this world as their male counterparts. Fathers teach their daughters to throw like a girl and be proud of it. Fathers tell their girls to be confident of their worth, stand up against abuse and violence directed against them, to take risks, challenge themselves, go one step further. Fathers show, by example, that their little girls should expect to be treated with respect, kindness, love and she should give the same back in return.

At the end of the day, despite the eye rolls, despite the frustrated sighs, despite the heated debates, daddy’s little girl will always know in her heart that those strong hands that picked her up when her little legs got tired, are still her safety nets. Not just in swimming pools, or play grounds any more, but in the vast journey through a rugged terrain, that is called life.

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What I wrote in this blog, unfortunately, is not the reality. It is more what my idea of a father’s role should be. Sahana, and some fortunate ones like her, have a strong, positive male influence in their lives to boost their confidence and emerge in this world as confident young women, who are aware of what they deserve. They are also aware of the age old adage ‘do unto others as you would have them do to you’! If all men treated their daughters like the way they should be treated, it would be a perfect world. But they don’t, and it is not. Hence Tracy Chapman writes:

“Why is a woman still not safe
When she is in her home?’

Indeed! Why not? When? Isn’t that the million dollar question?