Auto-rickshaw wala

The bus stops in front of Bikaner House.

Its almost midnight.

Way past the ‘decent hour’ for any woman to be out in the city.

I alight after a thoroughly enjoyable 7 hours of journey from Jaipur. Right behind follow my almost-6-year-old daughter and my mother.

We walk a few steps looking around for the best mode of transportation that would safely take us home. We have barely made it to the exit-gate, in comes a herd of auto-rickshaw drivers encircling us..offering us to drop us home. “Madam, kahan jaana hai?” “Auto mei baith jao”

We have another 20-25 kms of travel yet to cover to finally reach home.

Each of them has his eyes firmly fixed on us.

Right then, a flurry of thoughts come hitting me like a curse,“So which one of them would end up molesting us tonight?”…

“What if one of them drags us to a deserted land and rapes us?”..

“Which one of them would eventually succeed in looting us..and killing us?”

No sooner do these thoughts creep into my mind than I clutch my child tightly and hold on to my mother protectively.

I look around to see whether I can find a cab for us instead. Yet again the crippling thought seeps in.

‘What if the cab-driver ends up knocking us off?’

“Dont be crazy”, I tell myself. There has been no untoward action by any of the auto-rick drivers that drives me towards such thoughts.

None whatsoever.

Each one is merely doing his job of convincing us, persuading us to sit in his vehicle so he can earn his bread & butter.

Then why worry?

Brushing those thoughts away, I, along-with my mother and daughter get into an auto. My mother, the firebrand that she is begins to argue with the driver about the outrageous fare he quotes.

Paranoia hits me yet again and I urge her to stop provoking him lest he harms us in any way. I keep chiding her,” Stop it Ma, this is not a safe time and place for two women to get into scuffle with a man. We still have a long way to reach home”. Of course I tell her this in Malayalam. I dont want his ears to get what I am saying lest he thinks we are helpless and an easy prey.

All through the auto-ride I am alert.

The auto-driver is driving at the perfect speed. He is cautious and minds his own business.

Yet. Every time there is a sharp turn or a delay in taking a turn my heart skips a beat.

Every time we reach a dimly lit road my heart skips a beat.

In my own crazy head I prepare and plan to fight him in case he brings the auto to a stand still in those unlit roads and tries to come at us.

Nothing of that sort happens.

We, then, reach a well lit road. Vehicles plying either side continuously. But not a single soul in sight.

I wonder out loud to my mother about cities like Mumbai where people freely move around till past midnight with no fear of safety. Or so I have heard, correct me if I am wrong.

Wistfully, I wonder if I can even imagine a similar scenario in my own city. I wonder if I ever will get to associate my city with safety and security without a shudder or cringe.

On the way I spot two girls standing at the side of a road, perhaps waiting for a cab.

Our auto-driver swiftly turns to give them a look.

And my scary thoughts go on an over-drive again.

“What did that look convey?” “Did he see prospective passengers in them?”. “Did he hope to fetch them and earn some more money and retire for the day with a content heart?”. Or. “Did he have any lustful intentions brewing in his mind?”

As these thoughts play havoc in my mind, I realize that the auto-wala has safely brought us home. I pay him and walk in to the safe confines of home with my daughter and mother.

All of this sets me thinking….

Is this what my city has come to mean? Is this the city where I was born? The city that brought me up, made me stand up on my feet? The city where I didnt care what I wore, but today I stand the risk of being blamed for my dressing if I get attacked? The city where I didnt have to think twice before venturing out, irrespective of the time or day, but today I have to keep my guard up even in broad daylight? Is this MY city where I stand the risk of being blamed for getting molested because I went to the bar? Because I wore a skimpy dress? Is this MY city where I am forbidden to move around after 8 PM lest I get raped?

Is this MY city where I dont even have the freedom to walk freely as I please?

Never have I felt so helpless and unsafe in my own city.

Happy Independence Day BTW

A genuinely concerned parent or an over-reacting one?

I really cant decide what am I being here. Whether my concerns are truly genuine or am I just being plain over-reactive.

Parenting does that to you sometimes, doesnt it? In your need to ensure the well-being of your child, parenting brings you to a juncture where you feel challenged into deciding which path to take so that your child feels reassured and best taken care of in the given circumstances.

Now it was only a few months back that I had praised Namnam’s teachers in her kindergarten for being wonderfully caring and sensitive towards her and helping her work on her confident self. And I stand by my opinion. I really do. I am hugely grateful to them for making my daughter’s kindergarten experience one that of immense fun and learning. And on her graduation day while proudly welling up at seeing her stride towards the stage to accept her passing-certificate, I hoped and prayed in my heart of hearts that she would be blessed with the same kind of teachers and environment with ample space to grow in grade 1 as well.

Theres no doubt that I am glad that I chose the particular school for Namnam because the principles on which the school is being run and the various programmes that the school has in place for its pupils convince me thoroughly as a parent that they would benefit my child in the long run.

But unfortunately I have not been getting a very welcoming vibe from Namnam’s Grade 1 teacher. I cant seem to agree very well with her method of approaching her students. Now I know I have no right to judge her for she has the humongous task of handling 20-25 kids at a time in her class. And I respect her and all the teachers for that because I know how difficult it can be to handle so many children with so many different traits and characteristics.

But the fact also remains that one of her students is my child. And when she comes home crying uncontrollably to say that her teacher wrongly taunted her of dreaming because she was not writing what was being asked of her, I am seriously driven to think if its something I should worry about.

What disturbs me is not that she scolded her. No I have no issues whatsoever with her scolding my child. She has every right to, if my child is in the wrong. I send my child to the school, thereby to her knowing fully well that they expect me to place the trust in them and that she will be their responsibility and if she misbehaves or does anything wrong they would have all the authority to correct her, be stern with her, scold her and even reprimand her if needed. But mock her? Taunt her? Now is that really a good method to get the child to adhere to you?

From what I could gather from Namnam, what upset her the most was that her teacher taunted her in a mocking way in front of her classmates. The best way I could think of to pacify her was to tell her to ignore and practice her writing at home. We told her that her teacher had to be given the same importance as her parents and that if she had scolded her for something, she would also commend her when she did something right. It was important that she didn’t begrudge her teacher.

A similar incident occurred with one of Namnam’s classmates, also a friend’s daughter when she was unable to finish jotting down some notes in her book to which the teacher took a swipe at her by calling her a ‘slow-coach’, after which all her friends kept jibing her with the term. She was inconsolable when she got home and recounted the incident to her mother.

Now I understand that taunts, jibes or pokes by friends and peers are a part of growing up, but is it really healthy when a teacher uses such a tactic to tackle her students? Wouldn’t the confidence level of the child take a hit if he/she is snubbed in front of his/her friends? Every child is different but if he/she is treated with the right kind of sensitivity then will it not make him/her secure and confident?

I dont know if talking to the teacher would help for I fear it may put my child in the spotlight which may counter-react. Or if I should just talk to the principal and address my concerns so he can take it up with the teacher without mentioning the particular ward’s name. But what if the principal brings it up with the teacher specifically mentioning my daughter?

Or maybe I am just over-reacting. May be this is just her way of teaching her children to become tough and more accepting towards criticism.

Maybe I should just leave it as a non-issue.

There are so many conflicting worries cropping up in my mind!