My son Meer has been going to playschool for almost three weeks now and so far the experience has been…well, I must admit, quite educational. No, I am not talking about Meer; he hasn’t yet started his tryst with books yet. He and the rest of his class are still busy with the same shenanigans that have been up to since the first day of school. I was referring to myself and the learning I have accrued as a parent. This, by virtue of my job of dropping my son off to and picking him up from school every day and the resultant interaction with some of the other parents during that time.
Two life lessons that I have learnt so far, firstly, equality is a one-dimensional concept and, secondly, poor people have no integrity.
Before you raise your eyebrows, please allow me to elaborate.
Equality is quite a one-dimensional concept. It means that when we say we wish for ubiquitous equality in our society, what we are really asking for is that on the socio-economic hierarchy, I should be allowed to climb up to be equal to or even surpass someone should I so aspire. However, should someone else wish to do the same with me, I must fiercely protest against it.
Let me explain how I derived to this theory. The school my son goes to caters to a lot of families from outside our township too. I guess it is a part of the company's CSR ideology. So, it translates into children from the nearby villages and slums going to the same schools as ours. This means that the girl who sits next to my son in his class is my domestic help's daughter, the kid I have often seen him playing with is our milkman's son, and my vegetable vendor’s daughter is also my son’s classmate.
And now I have learned what an intolerable infraction this is; thanks to some people who very generously share their wisdom with the uninitiated parents like me. Our kids shouldn't have to be around ‘those’ children just because we live in a township run by a company which wants to do its bit for the society! Surely there must be other ways to do that – ways which are less unpleasant (to us). What about all the bad influence ‘those kids’ will bring to ‘our kids’? What about the irreparable erosion of my social capital when people from the world outside this township get to know that my son is friends with my maid’s daughter?
Never mind the fact that those kids have cleared the same interview process like our kids. Also, I either know or can reasonably guess how much money these underprivileged parents make in a month. I also know how much it costs to put our children through this school. And hence I can easily understand what it must have cost these parents to put their kids in the same school as ours. They probably must have depleted all their savings. With that calculation, I can also assimilate the commitment these parents have towards their children's education. It is a wake-up call to me as a parent.
But nonetheless we still complain about how wrong and unfair it is that our children have to mingle with ‘their kids’.
If I can aspire to see my child going to one of the best schools in the country, why cannot the not-so-privileged parents do the same? If my dream is admirably ambitious, why is theirs’ just plain obnoxious and unacceptable?
Coming to my second life lesson – poor people have no integrity. It is not because they really don’t; but because we as a society don’t afford them any.
Let me explain with an example. If we lose a Rs. 500 note or an expensive watch, who do we suspect at first? The domestic help, right? Never mind the fact that she is a fragile, old woman way past the government stipulated age of retirement for any profession, still braving up to all the slogging just because how else would she feed herself and her bedridden husband? Or the fact that she has worked for us for the past five years, during which she has never ever displayed such felonious behaviour. Or the fact that, if only for a moment, we are able to see beyond the 'poor’ domestic help tag, we would realize that she might just be the nicest and most virtuous person we have ever come across. All those facts notwithstanding, she has to be the culprit because she is after all poor and needy.
We do not even dare to consider the possibility that we invited our newest neighbour for tea the previous evening, minutes before that watch was last seen; a person whom we barely know and whose larcenous eyes were darting around the house the whole time she was here. Or the easily conceivable possibility, that there is a huge gap between the wall and the mantelpiece on top of which we usually place that watch and spare cash; a crack big enough for these missing objects to have easily slipped through. The ‘stealing maid’ is an easier conclusion to draw, isn’t it? And it’s also one, which our collective predisposition as a particular stratum of society has trained us to draw.
Extrapolating the same theory some parents have concluded, that now a lot of things from our children’s school bags would go missing on a regular basis; expensive pencil and lunch boxes, stationary and so on. Why, even the fancy food ‘our kids’ will be carrying for lunch isn’t safe anymore! It might fall prey to the ravenous eyes of ‘those kids’ who do not get to eat all that scrumptious fare. And the injustice of it all is that although we would know who the perpetrators of those crimes are; we would never be able to complain against ‘those children’ for the lack of proof and/or for the fear of creating disharmony in the school.
I must admit, I am taking a little longer than I thought to digest all this wisdom. A part of me, a silly, inveterate part of me, keeps throwing puerile objections at me every now and then, making it difficult for me to assimilate my daily doses of this newfound education. But my educators are staunch believers in their philosophies stated above and persistent in their teaching and so I guess they’ll make sure I come around.
Although for the life of me, I cannot quite figure out why recounting all this right now keeps reminding me of this funny quote I read somewhere.
“I was born intelligent, education ruined me.”