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Home is where school is
Journalist Smriti Lamech and her husband made the move from Delhi to Gurgaon recently, determined to send their five-and-a-half-year-old to a school where he would be happy. "In Delhi, good schools are the privilege of the rich and with our middle class background we were not getting admission to any of the schools we wanted our son to study at, " says Lamech. "Moving to Gurgaon has meant that my one-way commute to office in Delhi now takes two-and-a-half hours. Living costs have all gone up and our social life is drab - how many times can you take the mall-movie rut? But it feels okay when I see my son having such a good time at school. " From a class of 50 kids with one teacher, her son has moved to one with 19 kids and two teachers. "I can see the visible difference that has made to his imagination and his spirit, " she says.
Vijay Agarwal is a property dealer in Ranchi. When both his sons managed to get admission to an engineering college in Bangalore, Agarwal was a very worried man. "I had heard so many stories about ragging being rampant in hostels that the joy of both the boys getting into good colleges was overshadowed by the fear for their well-being, " says Agarwal. When it was time for pre-admission counselling, Agarwal and his wife accompanied the boys to Bangalore and took up a flat on rent. The arrangement continues and Agarwal extended his business into the city. "For six months now, I have been dividing my time between Ranchi and Bangalore. My sons live at home and get to enjoy their mother's cooking. If all goes well, I may decide to keep my operation here running even after they finish college, " says the relieved father.
Parenting in India is evolving rapidly. Gone are the days when the father had no idea what class the child was in and just signed the report card while mothers regularly attended PTA meetings solo. In contrast, today's parents are completely involved in every aspect of their child's education, and put everything else in second place.
"Today, education is the great investment and everything else is transferable, " says sociologist Shiv Visvanathan. "We live in a knowledge society where a good education repays you a hundredfold, more than business or property ever will. It isn't surprising that parents have begun to invest in education over everything else. "
When Simi M was informed that her children had got admission to the Mumbai school she and her husband were keen on, the couple decided that she would move with the kids while he would continue working in Chennai. Was it the best decision ? Simi says you can never tell. "But it's a wellthought out one since the school is great and we own a house in Mumbai, " she says. Simi agrees that her husband misses the daily routine of putting the children to bed and getting them ready for school, but he's always there for important events such as school functions and the PTAs. "We work out our schedules in such a manner that he's here for at least 10 days in a month, " says Simi.
Kalpana Baishya has done more than shift from Guwahati to Kota for the sake of her children's education - she has actually struggled with depression while adjusting to a new city and culture. The problems were small, but added up to a lot: the vegetable vendor and the auto driver who overcharged her because of her 'strange' accent, the indifferent neighbours. She landed up at a hospital with severe depression and has just returned home. But if she had to do it again, she would willingly - it was the price to be paid for getting her children into the most sought-after coaching facility in the country. Her husband, an IPS officer, works in Guwhati.
Baishya is not the only one. Bimala Tripathi's husband works in a private Mumbai company and the family lived in the city for 18 years. In April last year, she shifted to a rented house in Kota to put her sons, Ankit and Ankur, into coaching classes to prepare for the IIT entrance exam. The decision was tough, but she stuck with it.
Being a stranger in a city without a single relative or friend can be traumatising. At one stage, Tripathi had packed her bags to shift back to Mumbai. Then she wondered how her boys would cope with the same set of problems, apart from dealing with the stress of studies. "Who would cook for them, nurse them in sickness and ensure that they spent their time well?" says the 40-year-old mother, thinking back on the questions that halted her steps.
Having worked in the paper industry for 21 years, SP Mishra of Gorakhpur had to shift professional gears to put his son Vivek in a coaching class. He picked up a job in a fertiliser unit in Bhilwara and moved with the rest of the family, including his 84-year-old father, to Kota. "My son's future is the most important thing in my life. Everything else is redundant and will fall into place automatically, " says Mishra, refusing to reveal much about how his family is coping in a new city.
BACK TO BASECAMP
Some parents made their money abroad but have now returned, bag and baggage, to swades - only for the kids. It was a settled, comfortable existence in San Jose California for IT professional Jignesh Sutaria, wife Nirali and their little boy. All of four, Stavya was doing very well at school. He knew his alphabets even as his kindergarten classmates just about struggled with them. That's how the decision to move back to India in 2009 came about.
The Sutarias were concerned that their naturally bright kid would suffer for want of a competitive environment. "It's not as if we did not appreciate the innovative and stress-free atmosphere inherent to the American system of education. But it's a competitive world. Why should my child not move ahead if he has it in him? At the same time, we wanted a school with an ambience that would give him the required mental and creative stimuli without pressurising him, " says the couple. The Sutarias chose the child-friendly Rewachand Bhojwani Academy in Pune for Stavya.
For several parents in Bangalore, exposing their kid to the 'personal touch' of India - as opposed to the 'clinical approach' of the US - was the best gift they could give them. "There is a lot of difference between schools in both countries, " says Vidya B G, whose child now goes to Delhi Public School in Bangalore. "In India, schools are so cooperative and the teachers so warm. The class teacher has given us her mobile number and has permitted us to call her anytime. I cannot imagine such a thing in the US, " says Vidya.
Of course, there's also the need to ensure that the child stays in touch with all things Indian. "My husband spent six months looking for a job in India and I trawled the net for a year searching for schools and consulting friends and relatives, " says Anjali of her transition travails. Her family shifted to Bangalore in 2009 to ensure that the children stayed connected to their roots.
WISER, KINDER, HAPPIER
For parents with a differently-abled child, sometimes moving cities for education is the only option. The Vermas (name changed) are both doctors and their teenage son Vedant was diagnosed with Asperger's Syndrome at an early age. Moving from Mumbai to Pune was a decision they took quickly and gladly. "In the early part of this decade, not too many institutions in Mumbai were empathetic or involved in the development of a differently-abled child, " says Vedant's father. "Today our son's condition has been re-diagnosed as merely an attention span problem. His current school promotes integrated education and has a personalised approach towards every child. "
Priya Singh (name changed), a government servant in Delhi, is planning to take two years unpaid leave and see if her autistic son will settle down better at a school in London. "I want the best for my child and the lack of good schools for the differently-abled kids in India make it impossible for my son to grow. If it works out fine, my husband and other son will move too, " Singh says.
Social commentator Santosh Desai believes this is the first generation of self-conscious parents. "Parenting in India was born as a concept only recently. Our parents didn't really 'parent' us, they just let us be. But for today's working couples, parenting has taken on a life of its own, more often than not becoming a third career, " he says.
By the time the kid is out of school, s/he is proficient in more than two languages, has trained and mastered a couple of sports, has discovered an 'arty' side, is socially-conscious and environmentfriendly, and has a fair idea of what to do after school. "Today a good school is also a finishing school, " says Visvanathan. "When a child exits school, s/he is a collection of brand names. It makes sense to package them well to ensure money, status and global mobility in the future. "
Desai doesn't entirely agree. "I think it is okay to think of all this after school, or probably even after graduation. There is absolutely no empirical evidence to prove that the right school will make a big difference to the child. In fact, just the opposite is happening. I believe putting one's kid in the 'perfect' school with 'perfect' teachers and a 'perfect' environment is just parents zoning into their own sense of preciousness. Most so-called good schools sacrifice basic life skills, " he says.
- Anubha Sawhney Joshi, with inputs from Kamini Mathai in Chennai, Kalyani Sardesai in Pune, Sruthy Susan Ullas in Bangalore, Sanjay Ojha in Ranchi, Rajiv Konwar in Guwahati, Bhanu Pratap Singh in Kota
FOR PLAY TOO
When Dubai-based Lakshmi Ramachandran initially enrolled her son Sandeep for squash practice, it was only to keep him fit. "Sandeep was asthmatic and a poor eater, so I wanted him to take up some sport, " she says. But he showed so much promise that the family decided to get him the best training possible. She moved to Chennai with him in 2008 so that he could train at the premier Indian Squash Academy (IAS).
Lakshmi stayed with her brother in Madipakkam, while Sandeep attended the academy. "We used to take two trains to reach the academy, " she recalls. Her husband chose to stay back in Dubai. Daughter Sandhya was already in Bangalore finishing senior school. She too moved to Chennai to join college.
The initial days were tough for the Ramachandran family that now lives in Purasawalkam. "My husband flew down seven times a year to ensure that we had settled down, " says Lakshmi. She has a packed day: by 6. 30 am, she is at the squash courts with her son. Once the practice is over, it's time to see the children off and head to the school where she works as a Montessori teacher. By 3 pm, she is back at home, ready to escort Sandeep to the IAS.
But the Ramachandrans believe that it's been worth the effort. Sandeep was the runner-up in the under-13 category in last year's nationals and is ranked No 2 in the under-13 boys' category. Sandeep, of course, is only too happy with the move. "I love squash and my school is very encouraging, " says the Class IX student of Lady Andal School with a big grin. "And since I really don't have time to spare, I don't think I am missing out on anything. "
Priya M Menon
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