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HindustanTimes Mon,14 Jul 2014
On board the exam express
Namita Bhandare
March 01, 2013
First Published: 22:10 IST(1/3/2013)
Last Updated: 22:13 IST(1/3/2013)

From the corner of my eye, I spy my daughter waving out to the dog, again. Normally, this wouldn't set me off on a state of panic. But with just a day to go before the Board exams start, this is no time to be playing with the dog. No time to be playing at all. Time only to sweat and swot.

To make matters worse from my perspective, Ananya has never taken a board exam. She's part of the first batch of students to have been exempt from cramming thanks to 'continuous and comprehensive evaluation' initiated when she was in the 10th grade.

Now, I am supposed to make her understand that this is the make-or-break exam that could determine whether she will make it to an A-list college or whether a percentage point will send her scurrying to some lesser place of learning.

Yet, for all my anxiety as a mother, I envy her cool. The frenzy and stress I am reading about seems to have bounced off her completely. Others aren't as fortunate. Roopak Kathpalia, a consultant with Delhi-based helpline Sumaitri (011-23389090) says the phone is already ringing off the hook.

"The exams are like a monster waiting to pounce. And the pressure is coming from parental expectation," he says. As parents we tell our kids we want them to be happy and well-adjusted. And yet, in our actions and words there's just one refrain: study, perform.

I am aware that the privilege that couches my daughter's education provides her with a cushion should she fall. She has not had to walk miles to attend school or fight for her right to an education or had to drop out because her school did not have a toilet. She knows that her family does not depend upon her job. She knows that she will not be married off in a year or forced to bear children who will repeat the same cycle.

It's a privilege that comes with a price. Material advantage and parental pressure are creating a generation of disconnected and unhappy children, writes Madeline Levine in her book The Price of Privilege.

"Between accelerated academic courses, multiple extracurricular activities, premature preparation for high school or college, special coaches and tutors engaged to wring the last bit of performance out of them, many kids find themselves scheduled to within an inch of their lives," she writes of affluent kids in America.

Yet, what she says also holds true of middle class India where education is seen as some magic key to a better life and where Topper is a channel that runs on my TV menu and where newspapers, including this one, carry helpful hints on 'cracking the boards'.
 
And yet, there is beauty in this phase of waiting for the exams to end. There is an aching fragility to this rare time together, parent and child, waking early, late night coffees, unhurried confidences interspersed with reading Keats' A Thing of Beauty. Never again is my child going to depend on me to this extent to help her with unfinished lessons, poems not comprehended, test papers to be timed.

In another few weeks, real life will reassert itself and I will be back to competing for her attention with Facebook and class get-togethers and movies with friends. In another few weeks, she'll be headed off to college, making her own discoveries, finding her own voice, taking yet another step away from the protective embrace of her parents.

It's a process that is inevitable and I'd be lying if I said all her young life has not been a preparation for it. 

So, I look again at my daughter so oblivious to the hard, long slog called life that lies just ahead. And suddenly all I want to do is protect her for just a little while longer. Suddenly, all I want is for her to play with the dog again.

Namita Bhandare is a Delhi-based writer. The views expressed by the author are personal

Twitter: @namitabhandare


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