Double As and one A+


There was a celebratory air in my home in Kolkata today. As I chatted with ma and baba this morning, right after “tora kemon achish?” (how are you all), I was informed Khushi’s report card is out and she has done very well in school. I saw baba’s face on the camera grinning from ear to ear, while I heard ma’s proud voice in the background, “She got double A in all subjects, A+ in just one.” By baba’s side, with a lovely gap toothed smile stood 7 year old Khushi, looking at me through the computer. My usual Thursday morning suddenly became festive.

She is a 7 year old little girl. Her successful report card for one semester may not seem worth celebrating to some. However, when one knows the relentlessness of her mother to ensure that Khushi receives quality education despite all the obstacles that is thrown in their path, one can not help but doff one’s hat in respect. Khushi’s mother, Breshpati, barely knows Bengali alphabets. She can not read. Once she had Khushi seven years ago, she made a resolution that her child will have every opportunity to education and resources that she lacked. She was employed as a maid early on in childhood so her two brothers could attend school. Her daughter, she vowed, would have a different life. Hearing the hope in her voice as she held her new born in her arms, I enlisted myself as a soldier beside her to help achieve her dreams for her daughter. The real work was done by her mother. Breshpati worked in people’s houses as a domestic help for livelihood yet ensured that her day afforded enough time for her to take Khushi to her tutor’s house for lessons or to her dance class or to her drawing class. Khushi’s birth in a financially strapped family was not going to take away opportunities from her – that was her mother’s promise.

Schooling during Covid has been especially challenging. Schools went online. It took Breshpati and my parents quite an effort to understand the technology. Little Khushi figured out how to attend classes before her grown ups did though. She attended school from our living room, neatly attired in her school uniform and did her homework with the help of her tutor, a lovely young woman who also comes from an impoverished family, and with the help of my mother.

Attending school

Every morning she sits next to baba as he reads the Bengali newspaper and tries to sound out the difficult words along with him. He helps her with the words if she stumbles. Ma makes sure her penmanship is good and her grammar is perfect. When we video chat with them, they proudly summon her to greet us in English. She asks us, “How are you?” And my parents marvel at her lovely English pronunciation. She recites for us sometimes and dances too. She loves performing and is a natural in front of canera. The adopted grandparents look on with unabashed pride.

When I heard about her good result, I asked my parents to buy her a gift to celebrate her success. Her mother chimed in, “No didi, don’t give her anything. Let us see how she does in her final exams.” We compromised on a chocolate bar while promising a bigger celebration after her final report card, which I believe will be equally good.

I am not sure what is in store for this little girl. Education is not the top priority in the neighborhood she lives in. Girls marry young and become young mothers. Her mother, however, talks of endless possibilities for her daughter. She tells her child she can become anything in life, just get an education. She lays out the only path available to Khushi that will be her ticket out of poverty. My parents and my family here are cheerleaders and supporters.

That little girl is surrounded by love and support. That may just be enough to see her through. She and her mother fill me up with hope.

Neighborhood grandfather


I consider reading as a means to freedom. Freedom of thought and freedom of expression. Reading takes you places that you did not think existed, reading introduces you to new ideas and lets your ideas soar. Reading sets you free. I was concerned my youngest child did not take to books as my oldest did. After many pushes and shoves towards books I finally realized that I can not shape him into any mold, instead, my job will be to expose him to new ideas via means that appeal to him and let him spread his wings on his own terms – discussion, research, news on television, non fiction books.

If you read my blogs you probably know, my young Ryan is a deep thinker. Since he was little his thoughts were different – he probed deeper. His teacher, in a recent meeting, reconfirmed our perception of him as one who thinks outside the box. Ryan seems to be an exception to my rule that reading sets one free. He has set himself free by observing, evaluating, thinking and reading books that appeal to him.

At dinner, the other night, we were discussing dreams. He was asked, “What are your dreams, Ry?”

“I don’t have dreams, I have goals.”

“Well, what is the difference?”

“You can dream but they don’t seem that solid. But you set your goals and you work towards achieving them. I set goals.”

Coming from an eleven year old, that sounded somewhat precocious. We asked him what his goals are then.

“My goal is to become a neighborhood grandfather.” He solemnly replied.

“Errr…what?!?! A neighborhood grandfather?!?!” His father and I exchanged bemused glances.

“Yeah, you know. I am going to be that grandfather in the neighborhood who is always there for someone who needs help, advice.”

“But you are just a child. Why are you jumping to old age and grandfather? What are you going to do in between?” It was hard not to laugh.

“No, no! There are many goals in between that. Being a neighborhood grandfather is the ultimate goal. Before that I will go to Stanford, swim in the Stanford swim team. I will open my own business and create lots of jobs. I will help a lot of poor people so they can have a good life. I will marry someone nice and have kids. And then I will become a neighborhood grandfather.” The fork rested on his plate as he got a dreamy look in his eyes. “Or maybe I will become a professional baseball player or an Olympic swimmer. I will be famous, I will earn a lot of money and I can help even more people that way.”

Dreams and goals got entangled at this point, but we smiled at our child as he dreamed on and set goals for himself. As I see my two kids grow up, I glance upon the innocence and beauty of childhood. I feel myself a mere observer and perhaps a chronicler of these beautiful times of their lives. I write them down judiciously so I can offer these moments up to them when they are all grown up. When asked about aspirations, a child mentions a profession – teacher, engineer, scientist…..
My child’s aspiration is to be a neighborhood grandfather. Personally, I think that is a superb goal. We need neighborhood grandfathers to bring back the human connection which we seem to be losing fast in our digital age. Grow up to be a neighborhood grandfather, child. Bring people closer. Bring them out to the porch again. Re establish the connection.