There she was, late on a Saturday night, lying on the floor to catch better the light from the lamp overhead, colouring and stencilling in on a two-foot-by-two piece of chart paper, information about various kinds of rocks and their uses.
"Isn't this studying?" I asked my seven-year-old as I entered the room, bewildered that she was concentrating on this after having declined the sort of offer she would never refuse: to listen to the Kaiser Chiefs turned on very loud.
“Ohff, Baba,” Oishi said, drawing out the vowels, and flapping her right hand. (Translation: Don't make me say this, but you do know that I think you are being very silly, don't you?)
Chastened, I swallowed.
“This is a chart, Baba.” (Those elongated vowels again.)
“I want to see if they put it up on the big board at school. I'll show you once I am done.”
Once she was done, it looked rather striking. I could see that she was seeking opprobrium.
“It's really splendid,” I said. “Marvellous. You really are very good at this. I could never have done this. Ever.”
My wife turned to me, and gave me her here-we go-overboard-again look. (After all these years together, I have come to expect the look even before I have begun to go overboard. A certain kind of Pavlovian second-guessing, I suppose.)
I tend to rather let myself go when it comes to appreciation of what Oishi has done. No, I am not blinded; I often deliberately eschew objectivity.
It is a tricky thing. When one can tell that children are seeking your wholehearted appreciation, do you be rational (knowing that there is always scope for improvement and constructive criticism is backbone of genuine encouragement and children should not be allowed to be too full of themselves)? Or abandon objectivity (and go with one's heart because, very often, that is what they want to hear)?
I know what I do. I am not saying that it is any better than what I don't. But I have often wondered why I do what I do in these instances, and what the right thing might be.
Literature gave me the answer. I found it while reading the posthumously published collection of stories of one of my heroes, John Updike.
In one of the stories, a mother encourages her little boy to draw and paint and extravagantly praises his work:“She praised Lee's little drawings beyond, he felt, their worth—or, rather, she penetrated into that secret place within him where they were valued very highly.”
That was it. I hadn't ever been able to put my finger on it. But that was it.
The unqualified praise isn't so much praise as an attempt to acknowledge and enter that secret place in which a child holds in high regard her own creations.
Who but Updike could have sorted satisfactorily this out for me?