Sheela was studying in our school right from the primary. Her father was a simple stage artist. Just when she reached the ninth standard, her father suddenly shot into fame and he became the Superstar of the regional film. Money started flowing in and Sheela’s family moved into a posh Bandra locality. Ashish, the son of a car mechanic, was studying in the same class. Sheela’s father now serviced his car regularly in the garage where Ashish’s father worked. Though Sheela and Ashish currently studied in the same division, having failed in the lower classes, Ashish was nearly sixteen years old. Ashish had gone to Sheela’s house on one or two occasions for the garage bill etc. This familiarity after school hours started a new class romance. Soon, all the students and the teachers began to notice their sitting close in the nearer benches, exchanging silly comments and laughing. Seeing them hanging around after school hours in classrooms, or in the playground the class teacher reported the matter to the Principal.
The Principal sent for the parents but only the mother came as the father was busy in shooting. Principal and the class teacher talked to the mother in a very gentle manner as the matter was very sensitive one. The Principal said, “ You are allowing your daughter Sheela to carry a lot of money to school which is against the school rules. Since she is giving free treats to boys in the canteen, many boys are hovering around her all the time. Especially, the boy Ashish spends too much time with her in the school compound, which is not a healthy sign. Sheela is just fourteen and is at an age where she can easily be swept off from the realities. So please take care of your daughter and advice her tenderly, to be careful ”.
To their great shock, Sheela’s mother became annoyed and angry. She said rudely, “ Your school is a coeducation school. Boys and girls talking is just a normal thing. Parents must give their children freedom. Ashish is poor in studies and many times he borrows notes from my daughter. I fail to understand,how you are taking it with such a narrow outlook. You, teachers are unnecessarily blowing up this issue ”
The Principal now really lost her cool. She said “Madam, we are in school for 8 hours a day for last twenty to thirty years and are seeing children every day. All your children spend more time with us teachers than they do with you. Our girls and boys do work together in the drama, science projects, sports, debating etc. We have not put any restriction to boys and girls talking together. But when we suspect things may be going out of limits, it out duty to call it to your attention. We have given you sufficient warning. Then rest is your responsibility”. The mother just stomped out of the office. The principal looked at the crestfallen class teacher and said “We can only warn. Rest is the parent’s responsibility”
Very next day, Asish was shifted to another division which was two floors above Sheela’s class. The PT teacher, the school peon, and any teacher who had a free period started going around the long corridors, checking the corridors and empty classrooms to make sure that nothing untoward happened. We still saw them together occasionally post school. A month had passed quietly. Sheela’s class teacher was taking the attendance, as usual, that day when she found Sheela and two more girls from the class were absent. She completed her lecture and went to her next class. One hour after the school had started, the office got a call from Sheela’s mother saying that she wanted to talk to her daughter. The office assistant who took the call told her to call again after ten minutes, as the girl had to be sent for. A peon came to Sheela’s class and the children in the class told him the Sheela was absent. The assistant conveyed it to the mother when she called a second time.
By half an hour the mother came rushing to Principal’s room. Half crying she burst out,
“ Madam please help me, please please find my daughter” The Principal calmed her down and then the mother narrated, “Sheela left the house two hours early today, saying that there is some special practical for her. But now I find out that she has not come to school at all” The Principal send for the both the class teachers of Sheela and Ashish. They came to know that Ashish and two boys and Sheela and two girls were all absent today.
The Principal comforted the mother saying , “The children all would have gone out together for some movie or something. Don’t worry. We will wait till the evening. Mostly they will come back by then”
Sheela’s mother looked pale, anxious and frightened and looked as if she was keeping back some facts The Principal asked, “Did you have a fight with your daughter yesterday?” The mother now burst out crying and stammering she said, “Madam yesterday my husband brought home two lakhs of rupees and I kept it in my cupboard. Sheela had left the home today morning when I was not at home. When I came back the maid told me that Sheela has gone to school. Afterwards, I got ready to go to the bank and when I opened my cupboard the full two lakhs of money is missing Some of my wedding jewellery is also missing. Sheela is the only one who knows where I keep my cupboard key. That means she had gone with all that money” Now everyone was shocked.
Then the Principal said, “If this much money is involved we better call the police. Otherwise, your daughter will be in danger” The School called the Police and the inspector came to the school by ten minutes.
Luckily it was the last day of the month and the school had a half day working. All the students went home. But all the teacher sat in the staff room, worried stiff, about the safety of the children. One of the girls from Sheela’s class was hanging around, hesitantly in front of the staff room. One of the teachers spotted her and coming out of the room she asked her, “Monica, why are you waiting here after the school? Why have you not gone home?” Monica hesitantly said, “Madam, yesterday, when I was at the school canteen, Sheela, and her friends were standing there as a group, and talking something, and I heard the word, Khandala in their talk. On seeing me they stopped their conversation and drove me away” The teacher gave a big hug to a puzzled Monica and said “ Thank you, Monika, for the information. But, now you go home safe”
The message was passed on to the inspector. Then Inspector gave a call to his police station to inform all the hotels in Khandala to report if a group of school children, three boys, and three girls had checked into any hotel or lodge. The Khandala police station started their messaging. Just near the highway, there was a newly opened hotel in Khandala. The manager of the hotel had just given a police complaint to his nearest police station. He had informed that six school children had checked into his hotel without any elders and it looked as if they had run away from home. Requesting the manager to see that the children don’t run away, a team of PT teacher, Inspector, and a lady police got into the police jeep and moved to the said hotel. Another police jeep took one more male teacher and a lady police. They refused to take the mother to the hotel.
It was pouring rain and by two hours both the jeep reached the said hotel. Three boys and three girls were staying in two rooms and were in deep sleep and were more surprised than frightened when woken up by the police. All the three girls were taken charge by the lady police and three boys were taken charge by the police inspector and PT teacher. They were all driven back to the police station. When questioned by the lady police , Sheela said that Ashish had promised to get married to her. They were going to get married the next day in a temple and the two boys and two girls were their witnesses for the marriage. Sheela innocently said “We love each other. My parents won’t let me marry him. Once we get married they cannot do anything”
The police officer patiently explained “ Sheela according to the law you cannot marry before the age of eighteen and you are only thirteen. Secondly, marriages performed in a lonely temple , as they show in movies are not recognized as marriage. All marriages have to be registered in court.” Sheela was speechless. Just then , the other two girls broke down and said that they had no clue about the marriage plan. Ashish and his friends had just convinced them, to come for a one-day overnight picnic. To Sheela, Ashish had specifically told not to ask any questions to the girls as it would spoil his surprise ! The officer smiled sadly at these three poor gullible girls. She said “Sheela that boy would have taken all your money and would have disappeared leaving you on the road. That was his plan” Sheela now really collapsed unconscious. After a lot of discussions, the girls were allowed to go home with the strict warning with cash of Rs1,80000/– and jewels recovered from the boys. The three girls were asked to leave the school. The three boys were sent to the correction home. Sheela returned home to her parents with a broken heart and then left Mumbai.
Dear mothers, when your daughter steps into teens, become her best friend. Spend as much time as possible with her. Build up a strong bonding with her. Be always kind and gentle in your advice. If your bond is strong she will not hide anything from you. Secondly, make it a point to know her friends, both boys and girls and invite them home or take them out. Observe their interactions. Visit the school once in a way and meet the teachers.
As the girls reach the adolescence, the drive of sex hormone is much stronger than other forces. Adolescent “love” is all consuming , moving and compelling relationship than anything the children have known before. The experience is overwhelming and easy to get swayed by. Watch your kids doodles on notebooks, chats on phones and expression when they talk about the special friend. Instead of opposing it or ignoring it, discuss it non-judgementally and provide a listening ear. Explore the possibilities in detail so your child is prepared. Also engage them in serious physical activities like tennis, squash, swimming, dancing, judo. karate etc which would drain off the extra physical energy. But be closely aware of their schedules and where they are at what times.
This was almost 20 years ago. Today, from movies showing school children in love eloping from home we have moved to the world of the internet chat and meetups with online friends, cell phone WhatsApp connections. Valu systems have changes with just opness to dating and having a boyfriend for a tween/teen ..giving way to being open to sexual activity and relationships with “benefits” …there are many hungry wolves lurking around in the dark, waiting for their prey. Take care of your precious daughter before it is too late. Let us not assume that a young adolescent cannot make a sound decision in romantic issues. Let us empower them to be capable of taking care of themselves, encourage to think in advance about what they want to do and give clear information on sexual restraint and ethics.Then just be there for them through thick and thin.