“Bula, study time,” announced Purna. “Not now Mummy,” grumbled Bula. “I am playing.” “Well, you are at a higher standard now, so you need to study more and play less.”
Bula is eight and she studies in Standard III. I have a serious difference of opinion with Purna. I feel Bula should be allowed a lot of down time, I want her to love studies. Purna feels that every hour of her day must be packed with either curricular or extracurricular activities.
“Let’s run away,” I said to Bula. “Where to?” she asked. “Where would you like to go?” I asked her. “I really want to be a fairy,” replied Bula. “Ok we can go to the fairyland,” said I.
“Have you been there?” Bula asked eagerly. “Of course,” said I. “What is it like?” she asked. “It’s a beautiful place, full of pink and blue bubbles.” “Not purple ones?” asked Bula, as purple is her favourite colour.
“All the buildings are purple in colour,” I replied. “They are castles in the midst of the clouds,” I continued. “And all the little fairies, like my little princess, fly all about the place.” Bula had her wings and wand in her cupboard. She took them out, clipped the wings to her back and ran around the room waving her wand. “Ooh I am a fairy,” she cried excitedly.
Purna was watching the father and daughter duo with forbearance. But she could not take it anymore. “So, that’s the end of studies,” she said in exasperation. “As a father, you should encourage her to study.” “That is exactly what I am trying to do,” I answered. “No, you’re giving in to her fantasies. When her grades are poor, it will be all your fault. I am trying my best so that she stands first in class, and you are not helping me at all. Do you want her to fail? You are teaching her to run away, you know you cannot run away from problems. Then the problem multiplies. Be responsible, try to teach him the value of education.”
I understand why Purna is so preoccupied with Bula’s education. All her family has settled abroad, she is the only one languishing in India. She feels Bula must do well in class. Grades are important, and the earlier she learns it the better. If she doesn’t have a strong foundation she will find it hard to cope in higher classes. She wants to give Bula expensive tuition, because she doesn’t want to take chances. She must study science, and after class XII, she should get into IIT. Thereafter she should go to the States for higher studies.
“You have to grant children their wishes, even if it is in their imagination. Education is a marathon, it is not a sprint. Unless you inculcate in her the love for learning, she will stop learning the moment your back is turned. You cannot go on policing her forever. Let her enjoy her childhood. When she is ready, I myself will help her with her studies,” I said.
Purna and I had a love marriage. I am a poor village boy, while she was the daughter of a wealthy man. If her father was alive, he would never have agreed to our marriage. Unfortunately he passed away when she was very young. With three unmarried daughters, her mother was in a difficult situation. I too lost my father when I was young. When I met Purna, I felt an emotional connection with her and a friendship developed between us. Later, it blossomed into love. Purna and I ran away. Initially her mother did not accept me into the family. After the birth of Bula, and with a lot of persuasion from her sisters, she finally relented.
Time flies. My little princess is not so little anymore. She took the Class X examination and she is now in Standard XI. After the examination, Purna went to her school and chatted with the other mothers. All the mothers were bragging about the grades of their children. They themselves scored about 60 per cent or 70 per cent marks in their examinations. Their children have got 90 percent marks.
Arka’s mother said, my sister-in-law told me that Arka is a jewel. He has got excellent grades and he is a great sportsman. I will not take any chances, I have already got him admitted to a good coaching institute. She proudly announced the money that she has shelled out. The amount of scholarship is 70%. Arundhati’s mother is not going to be out done. Her son got a 90% scholarship. But the amount of money they paid is not very different. Pushpa’s mother said that she didn’t care about coaching classes and private tuitions. After school, she will send Pushpa to a foreign institution for graduation. The other mothers became unusually quiet, the amount of money she quoted has dampened their spirits.
Bula stands first in her class. Everyone asked Purna what her plan was. Purna said simply, “I don’t know.” “What do you mean? You don’t want to try IIT? You won’t send her for coaching? “ Everyone started to interrogate Purna.
Suddenly everybody felt that Purna was showing off. They thought that because her daughter is good at her studies, and her husband is so well placed, she finds it beneath her dignity to discuss future prospects with them. Such an idea never crossed Purna’s mind. She was a good natured simple woman. Arka’s mother commented snidely, “Your husband is a senior executive in a multinational company, his grade of pay is high. Then, why do you come to school on a bus? You should have a chauffeur driven car. At least you should come to school in a taxi.”
My office gives car loans. A lot of junior officers have their own cars. Purna had been on a taxi ride only a handful of times in her entire married life. At the workplace people laugh at me because I use the bus for transport. But I am not bothered by it. If anyone laugh s at me, I retort, “I am a poor man’s son. Technically I am an engineer, but actually I work with my tools, it is a blue collar job.” I know people say behind my back that I am a miser. My colleague Indra said once, “I visited his place last week. He was sitting wearing underwear, and had stacks of gold biscuits beside him.” Everybody laughed. I too joined them.
The next day Purna went to drop off Bula in a taxi. I was in the taxi too. We both got off, and I boarded a bus. The other mothers laughed and made fun of us. Neither I nor Purna was bothered.
Purna never asks for anything. If she asks for anything, I immediately try to give it to her. Once Purna was rooting for an expensive sari. I immediately bought her one. If the issue of a sari ever comes again, Purna herself says, he has already given me one.
However, she was somewhat upset about the flat. Indra organised a big house warming party when he moved to a new flat. Purna wanted a nice cosy flat with a balcony. She wanted to buy her own furniture and have a place of her own. I told Purna, “What is the issue with a rented accommodation? It’s only the three of us living here. I have bought a plot of land in the village. We will move in there. Let’s run away. The two of us will live there.”
“But, what about Bula?” asked Purna. I replied, “I will take care of her studies up to graduation. After that, I know she will be able to fend for herself.” Purna was surprised to see that Bula is quite happy with this arrangement. Purna did not believe that I would really do this. She thought it was preposterous. It is not that I am not caring, it is not that I do not do my duty towards my wife and daughter. But if I want to do something, I plan for it for years. It is very difficult to dissuade me.
When my mind was made up, I went to meet my boss at the office. This is the conversation that followed.
Boss: How are you?
Me: I am ok, thank you.
Boss: What is that in your hand? Are you applying for a leave? You’ve never taken leave before. Is it your Mother’s Annaprashan or your father’s Annaprashan? He laughed at his own joke.
Me: Neither sir. But now I want permanent leave. This is my resignation letter.
Boss: Don’t tell me! Did you apply for other jobs secretly? Where is your new job? Is it in India or abroad? If it is in India, confidentially tell me how much they are offering you, I will try my level best to match that.
Me: No sir. Do not misunderstand me. I am not using pressure tactics to hike my pay. I am really resigning from this job.
Boss: But you are only fifty four? What do you plan to do in future?
Me: I will teach students.
Boss: I see. You want to go back to academics. Well, a brilliant student like you, will be an asset for any institution.
Me: No sir. It is nothing glamorous. You may call it private tuition. But I will not charge any money for it.
Boss: You mean to say you will float an NGO?
Boss: I am at a loss. Please tell me what exactly has happened. Did you have a tiff with anybody at work?
Me: No, no. They are my best friends. I will miss them, I will miss the hearty laugh and the jokes we shared over the years.
Boss: Is anything amiss at home? Your wife and daughter, are they ok? You can take leave, as much as you want, the department will support you fully.
Me: No, nothing of that sort. I don’t think I can explain it to you. I really want to run away from this hustle and bustle of life. I want to live a peaceful life in the village. I will devote the rest of my days to the service of mankind. This will help me find meaning and purpose in life.
Boss: Don’t mind me asking, are you ok? Are you depressed or something?
Me: No sir, I am in my senses. I have taken this decision after a lot of deliberation.
Everybody in the office was incredulous.
Indra asked me, “I know you are a maverick. But, what exactly are your plans?”
I replied nonchalantly, “I will put the gold biscuits to good use.”
Indra: Have you turned religious suddenly? Do you plan to go to the holy places and give money to the Godman? They can buy marijuana with the money.
Me: Definitely that is a contribution towards a good cause, but right now I don’t have a religious bent of mind.
Indra: You can give money to NGOs. Many NGOs provide education to the downtrodden. I can give you some numbers. In fact, if they get the whiff of it, there will be a long queue of people in front of your house. They will come for donations.
Me: NGOs will spend the money for their own welfare. Or there will be mismanagement.
Indra: What did your wife say?
Me: She has agreed. She is my soul mate.
But it was not easy to convince Purna. She asked me,
“What are you saying?”
Me: Ok, let me repeat it once more, I am leaving my job.
Purna: you are leaving a secure paying job. How will we make both ends meet?
Me: I have some Investments
Purna: Will it be good enough for Bula’s education?
Me: I have told you Purna, I have enough money to support her up to an extent.
Purna: We are getting old. What will happen if we suddenly fall ill?
Me: I have provisions for that also.
Purna: Medical care, hospitalizations, they are so expensive these days. The cost is going up every day. How will you pay?
Me: I have provisions, up to a level. My father died in a Government Hospital in a free bed. If the worst comes to worst, I will have the same fate. I am not afraid of that.
Purna burst into tears.
Purna: I am the wife of a rich and successful officer. Do I deserve this?
Me: When you married me I had nothing. Ours was a love marriage.
Purna: But when I married you, I had a dream, you had future prospects.
Me: Ok, I see. You regarded marriage as an investment. Just as people invest in stock markets, you invested in me. I am marrying him so that he becomes a big officer one day. I thought you married me because you love me. Debashish, my colleague just got divorced. His prospects are bright too. You can divorce me and marry him. If you wish, I will write a recommendation letter for you.
Purna threw a pillow at me.
Purna: You are talking nonsense.
Me: You know me, Purna, I do not believe in extravagances, but I will always look after your basic needs. That is the promise I made to you on our wedding day. I will never fall back on it.
I am a poor man’s son. My father died when I was five. I have made my way into this world, because people went out of their way to help me. My teacher in school gave me free tuition. It was not what the students get these days. Their relationship with tutors is transactional. Teachers teach them to mug up answers. I got a proper education. Today I am an executive officer in a multinational company. But my teacher taught me how to think, how to live a purposeful and meaningful life. Life should not be measured in terms of money only. I have earned the money that I need for my comfort. Now, I thought to myself, “Let’s run away.”
Purna finally clutched at the last straw. She said, “What if you go to the village and teach children, but nobody becomes successful. Your teacher taught a lot of students, he devoted his life to his students, but you are the only one who succeeded.” I replied, “I’d have no regrets. I will have the satisfaction that I tried my best. Unfortunately my best wasn’t good enough.”
Purna and I shifted to our village home.
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