I work from home. For about 45 minutes every day, my office turns into a school. I am the student. My teacher is Sush (rhymes with bush), seven years old. Forty-five minutes is how long it takes her mother to finish her chores at my place and then take Sush to her school—the real school with teachers, books and homework.
First, I have to check her homework. When I gasp at the errors I find and ask her to correct those, she is very understanding. She gently takes the book back and tells me, “This is what my teacher wrote on the board. I like my tuition teacher better. Even she did not say this was wrong. Now, who gives me marks? Who gives me punishment if I do not obey? Shall we play some game?”
Our favorite game involves the map hanging on the wall. I have to name a place (“not too tiny, please”) and she would try to find it. To make it easier, I must name the color of the district. She does not take long to give up but only after giving it a last shot. She would come close to me and look me in the eye. “Are you sure you got that right? Please look at the name and spell it out for me.” It took me a while to figure out that she was not interested in the spelling but in my line of sight to zero in on the rough location.
I got her story books, but she was disappointed. “These stories don’t have morals.”
Is it necessary for every story to have a moral?
“Yes, because my teacher wants every story to end in a moral.” She throws me a few morals to connect to stories. Soon, she gives up. My stories are tolerable, but my morals don’t sound like morals at all.
After she takes the trouble to tell the story of the thirsty crow exactly as she has memorized it, my college-going teenage son, he of superior intelligence, dares to question the logic of the story.
“You know, Sush. Put in all the stones you want, but will the water rise? The water will settle in the space between the stones, you see. The crow will remain thirsty.” Her silence is condescending and revenge does not take long. How dare he question the wisdom of her teacher?
“Why do you keep tap-tapping your phone when you are supposed to be studying? You think the answer will appear on the phone when you are writing your exam?”
My son groans.
“And why can’t you sit down when you eat? That’s what this table is for, isn’t it?”
My son mumbles something about nagging grandmothers and disappears from the scene.
Her parents can barely read and write. Why doesn’t she teach them whatever she is learning?
“I am trying, I am trying. My mother has started speaking English just before she falls asleep. She says ‘good night’.”
When she stands next to me quietly, without playing with the stapler or punching holes in paper, she usually has something important to share. “Today, Abdul’s mother had come to school. All she did was complain about him. The teacher also complained about him. Both of them did just that, complain and complain. Poor fellow was sitting there.” She sighed.
“You know, Abdul has a good heart,” she added.
How can you tell if someone has a good heart?
“You just feel that. You talk to them, be with them. You just know. Your heart knows.”
I look up. She is not reciting from memory. She is serious. And yes, she is still Sush, all of seven.