Magazine

I found my daughter again

The Blue Mountain School.  

It was around this time last year that I shut myself off for two months from all work, perhaps for the first time in the last 25 years.

I had visited more than 20 residential schools around Delhi, some alone, some with my daughter and some both with my daughter and husband. Many schools were eager to take her. In fact, one can always find enough schools which will take your child if you have the money to pay. Money was always a constraint but that was definitely not the deciding factor now.

My daughter had lost all interest in academics, she was almost at the bottom, and the school either did not have the time or the inclination to discover any other talent. In the absence of such a situation she had become a timid child with very low self esteem and confidence in her capabilities.

Withdrawn

Probably Father Cedric Prakash would still remember the lovely drawings that Seher made sitting in Prashant office at Ahmedabad every time she travelled with me to Gujarat. She hadn't touched the colours for years.

Her school had offered to continue her in open school system and allow her to come thrice a week for separate classes. I didn't mind the open school but was not ready for this ‘special' treatment. I decided to withdraw her. The principal, a good friend, asked me if I was sure; I told her that the school was good for ‘good' children. My daughter needed to be understood. She disagreed and I did too.

After almost a month of travelling to Dehradun, Simla, Ajmer, Alwar and many other places, I decided to rely again on the Internet revolution. During one of the search sessions past midnight I came across an alternate education school based in Ooty, Tamil Nadu. Too far, was the first thought that crossed my mind but the website caught my attention.

It was the most ordinary website, without any glitter, without any photographs of children taking awards from celebrities, it did not boast of excellent results and toppers in board exams. I found two tiny sepia photographs in which two different children were playing with clay. The website said, ‘If, as a parent, you are not happy with conventional schooling where education means only the quantity of information passed rather than the quality, then we should meet!'

I remembered Seher sitting in Father Cedric Prakash's office with crayons, drawing girls with long plaits and the happiness on her face when the drawing was done.

Her eyes no longer twinkled.

I decided to write to the school. I got a reply from Archana, the principal, and a long e-mail conversation started. We exchanged mails about us, about Seher, about the school.

Seher, Gauhar and I landed in the school in December last year for a visit. Seher joined the school in February this year.

We talk to Seher every Sunday between six and seven p.m. and she writes a letter every Thursday. Both my children Sahir and Seher have been shuddh non-vegetarians. The school is totally vegetarian. She says she loves the food.

Last Sunday when I called her up she told me she couldn't write any letter that week as she had been busy and had forgotten!

Sometimes she is in charge of washing dishes, sometimes she is helping in the dining room serve food, sometimes making musical instruments out of trash, sometimes rehearsing with a band of similar musicians, sometimes digging mud, sometimes spending hours in the library researching a project. There are no books, no classes.

Last term when I went to pick her up for the break, SK told me her understanding of science and maths is good. I simply stared at him in disbelief. For many years I had not heard a good word about my daughter. She fights with Shondeep (Sandeep) all the time, Archana is all-time favourite. Mallika says her English comprehension is rather good! Jaggu's reference usually comes when letters are posted to or delivered from home.

I can't decipher if she is telling me about her friends or teachers or the principal herself. She has sent me a poem written by her and has been doing theatre, learning Carnatic music, rock climbing, clay modelling, a workshop on painting. She has started drawing again, though she is only copying and not drawing anything on her own. During one of the Sunday conversations she told me that she has been looking at Michelangelo's paintings in a book. I no longer know if it is happening or if I am imagining this.

Opening up

During the vacation, she started asking me about my work. She visited Mewat villages with me; she took her Nani to all the museums. There was a slipping back too but she came out of it herself. We could talk to each other. At night we talked for hours about everything on earth from serious to nonsensical, we laughed, and we hugged each other and slept.

There are some questions which people like to ask. In which class is she? When will she give the 10t h board? What does she want to become?

I am reminded of the website again: “A mind that has merely been trained is the continuation of the past, and such a mind can never discover the new…the right kind of education consists in understanding the child as he/she is without imposing upon him/her an ideal of what we think he/she should be.”

Seher is discovering herself. She is learning to enjoy, to build relationships, to widen her horizon, to sing, to dance, to discover the joys of nature.

Blue Mountains School has gifted our daughter back to us.


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Printable version | Jul 26, 2021 2:41:18 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/magazine/I-found-my-daughter-again/article15685508.ece

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