When you teach a class of 65 students you hardly have time to notice the face of any particular child. But sometimes, even in that given 30 minutes of teaching, something in the face of a child catches your attention for no specific reason. Priya was one such child
On the first day of the school reopening, I walked into my new class of the 10th F classroom. As I gave a broad smile to my new set of children, Priya’s face caught my attention. She was sitting in the third row. The girl sitting in the front of her was a little taller than her and hindered her vision. She kept leaning left and right to look at my face as I was teaching. She was small built for her age, very thin but had a pair of unusually sparkling eyes.
Every class, each time I looked in her direction I found her eyes eagerly looking at me. As and when I gave them some problems to solve, she would try to solve it as fast as possible and would stand up to show the note book to me. When I wrote “Good”on her book, she would beam from ear to ear as if she had won a crown. By the end of the week, we both had developed an unsaid deep bond.
The next week Monday first period, as usual I started maths class . While teaching my eyes wandered towards Priya and I was a bit surprised.She was avoiding my eyes and was just keeping her face buried in her note book. Ten minutes passed and she did not give me a single answer. After a few minutes I found that she had put her head down on the desk. I went near her and asked “Priya, are you alright?” My voice startled her and she straightened up hurriedly. I was shocked to see that her eyes were swollen and her face was all red with crying. She could not answer anything, but tried her best to control her tears. I asked with concern “Priya, what is wrong? Are you not keeping well? Did anyone tell you anything?” She did not answer but her tears went on flowing. Adolescent girls can sometime cry for no reason. So I patted her gently and said “ OK Priya, go, wash your face. Drink some water and come. You would feel better” .Next day onwards the classes went on as usual and I was happy to see Priya was the same happy kid. A week rolled by and then it was Monday again. Priya was again crying. But today I just ignored her and went on with my teaching. Next day onwards, Priya was smiling and answering my questions. Next Monday the story was again the same. This was the third consecutive Monday, and Priya was crying in the class.
Now I was also the class teacher. Hence it was my responsibility to look at the overall well being of every child in my class. So I decided to solve this mystery of Priya’s every Monday crying. I went to the office clerk, Asha, who had the record of every child’s contact address, telephone number etc.
Just when I reached her and asked her “Asha could you please give me house address of the Priya Salve of ……..” Asha smiled and completed the sentence for me “Priya Salve of 10th F division right?” I nodded. I am always amazed at the tremendous memory of these assistants. They knew each and every child, their division, their siblings, their classes, their parent’s professions etc and still remember them even after the child passes out of the school. Without opening the big ledger of addresses ( In those days the computers had just come in. So records were maintained in big ledgers only) Asha said, “Priya lives just in the next block near the school building.“ Ganesh Sadan, third floor, house number is 4″ I noted it fast, and asked, “ What is her father’s name?” Asha looked at me with a surprised look and said, “ You really don’t know? Everybody in the school knows that!” Still perplexed, I mumbled “ Sorry Asha, I really don’t know. Is Priya’s father no more alive?’ Asha looked around as if she was going to tell me the top secret of the world and whispered “Priya’s parents are divorced. Both of them are fighting for the legal rights for the custody of Priya. As the case is still going on she is staying with her grandmother and her uncle and aunt”
I was a bit shocked. Forty years back, divorce was not so common especially in the middle class. Imagine a thirteen year adolescent girl, when her physical and mental growth is already confusing for her and when she needs the maximum comfort and love of her parents, she finds herself in a world of insecurity and conflicts. I decided to check on the grandmother. After the school I landed in their apartment.
Priya’s grandmother opened the door and as she looked at me with a puzzled expression I said “I am Natraj teacher from…” Before I could finish her face cracked into a wide grin and she said “ Oh Natraj teacher ! Please come in. Priya keeps on talking about you every day. I am so happy to see you” As I walked in she looked inside and called “ Shilpa, come here. See Priya’s, Natraj teacher has come” A young lady came out smiling broadly“ Namaskar, Madam. We are so happy to see you. Priya never stops talking about you. Priya had gone to neighbour’s house for playing. I will go and call her?” I said “No, No. I came to see you all only”.. and then wondered how to start this conversation
Over a cup of tea, the grandmother poured her heart out. She said “ Priya is the daughter of my elder son. He is a leading neurosurgeon and his wife works with a leading bank. I think she was just promoted to Vice President.Both are brilliant and accomplished in their fields but when they are together, it was always some argument or the other. I think after the first few years, they were staying together only for Priya. When Priya was eight year old they both fought a bitter legal battle and got their divorce. Both wanted the immediate legal right for custody of Priya. But since both of them had shifted to suburbs, on the basis of Priya’s school and convenience, somehow my second son, Shekhar and me have managed to keep Priya. and we kept her with us. My second son and his wife Shilpa really love Priya as their own and she actually loves to be with us only.”
“But the legal battle is still going. Both the parent are given the rights to see their child once a week. Thus Priya is compulsorily taken by the father and mother on alternative Saturday nights and is dropped back on Sunday. Though he is my son, Madam I tell you I hate him… from the bottom of my heart…every week they take her..but such selfishness, such disregard for innocent Priya.. making her life a hell” As she talked she broke down,wept bitterly. Shilpa rushed in and hugging her consoled her. I took their leave and left the house, feeling Thank god for Shilpa and Grandma
After two days I called Priya to my house on the pretext of helping me to make some worksheets. She came happily and was writing down the problems I dictated from some other textbook. After half an hour I closed the work and started talking to her generally about her favourite food, clothes etc. Then very gently I asked her,“ Priya when you go to your mother’s house on some Saturdays she must be cooking your favourite dishes. Is it not?” Priya suddenly plummetted into a dead silence.Then I asked her “‘Oh , then it must be your father takes you to your favourite restaurant and shopping when you visit him, Right?”
Unexpectedly the demure Priya, stood up and with gritted teeth screamed “Please teacher, please don’t talk about my father or mother. I hate them!!” Then she burst into tears and wept bitterly. I somehow managed to console her and then she said “Madam, I don’t know if my father is right or my mother is right. But I know none of them love me. When my mother takes me she keeps talking everything very bad about my father and how he had ruined her life and career. When I go to my father he talks everything bad about my mother and says her rude behaviour was destroying his life. None of them ever talk to me about my school or studies or my friends. They never ask what are my problems at school or my thoughts. Even if my mom takes me to the mall or dad takes me to restaurant ..the talk is always something against how the other parent is so bad! just pains me so much that why I don’t have a father and mother who would love me just like all other children in the school. After every visit when I come to school and I hear other children talking about how they happily spend their Sunday with their parents…. my heart breaks” I hugged her and said “Priya you have your uncle and aunty who are your real parents. They are taking care of you and are loving you like their child. Is that right? So forget about those two not caring for you. They are preoccupied with some bad things in their own lives now…so they are not able to feel your pain” She said“ NO Madam, I don’t want to see their faces. I don’t want to see them because it ONLY HURTS” I changed the topic and after sometime her mood changed and I went and dropped her at her home.
Next week, with the principal’s permission, we called a child welfare officer in our school and we teachers who were teaching Priya, put up our case to her. We explained that how in the pretext of court order the innocent child was feeling tormented by both the parents. We explained how it is important from the child’s point of view that she should be left in a happy and peaceful environment for the completion of the board examination. She promised to do her best.Meeting legal experts and Priya’s uncle’s lawyer they went to court. The court heard the version of the grandmother and brought an interim stay order on the visiting rights of both the parents till the board examination was over.Days rolled by and Priya never cried on Mondays. In fact, over the next year, the parents realized the child was happy with the grandmother and they anyway had too busy lives and careers to completely care for the child. Both the parent gave up the custody battle and the uncle adopted Priya.
Dear parents I am at a loss to to give any suggestion on this topic. In today’s environment the divorce numbers are increasing at an alarming rate. Everyone has a right to live their own life and it is better to live separately than living in a strained relationship. But will pen down the same advice I give my own children…