There was a time when she barely reached up to my knees. Her school bag and every other accessory had to be pink. Her heroines were three girls called “Blossom, Bubbles and Buttercup”. Like these “Power puff” girls she believed she could beat up all the “bad guys” …!!! She had a vocabulary beyond her years surprising her teachers with words that were too “old” for her. Yet, whenever we went to school for a PTA we were never quite sure what we would get to hear from her teachers.
As a single child living in an independent house with adults, school was her only source of social life. She loved going to school. But getting her ready for school was a different challenge altogether. She had to be made to drink her milk and eat her idlis before her school bus arrived. Every adult in the house from her grandmother to her mother and the various domestic help “akkas” were doing something to get her ready. As her grand mom fed her idlis, her mother would be tying her hair into two little horns while the akka would be trying to get her feet into her shoes. Those days the bus used to stop at the end of our road. So it was her dad who used to drive her there on his way to work waiting for her to board the bus while she embarrassed him by talking loudly and calling out to passers by. She used to be lifted on to the bus by very nice young man who the kids used to call “Kamal Anna”. He handled each kid very gently. This little girl always wanted the window seat . She sat like an adult with her elbow jutting out as Kamal Anna tried to gently pull it in. She was obviously a source of great entertainment for the older kids who used to engage in a conversation asking her questions for which she strung together unbelievable answers.
When the school bus stopped in the afternoon outside our gate, all the energy would have drained out of her. She would be fast asleep on the seat. One of us had to climb into the bus and carry her out as the “Ayah” handed her shoes and bag to us. Her pockets would be filled with strange things – pieces of toffee wrapper, stones, twigs, rubber bands, erasers….!!! One had to be careful to empty it out before turning in the shorts for wash. The springy hair would be out of the rubber bands and wet with sweat.
A few years later and she was jumping out of the school bus while her grand mother stood by anxiously shouting at her to watch out for the steps. I feel sad about missing those days because by the time I got home from work it would be nearing 7.00 PM. But she would be full of stories about her day. talking non stop as I drank my tea. I was never sure how much of what she said actually happened and how much of it was made up.
The fetish over pink had worn off. She was no longer interested in the power puff girls. Enid Blytons ,Roald Dahls and Judy Blume began to replace the Power Puff girls. I was glad that she was not into Barbie dolls. At this point we were wondering who were her close friends at school? I am not sure I know the answer even today. She was probably part of different cliques but never a permanent fixture in any one of them. However she was one of those few girls who got invited to all the boys’ birthday parties. So was she a tom boy? I am not sure. She got into a lot of scrapes with the boys punching them and breaking the glasses of the more studious ones. I was always a little nervous while talking to the parents of the boys. But strangely I have never received any complaints about her from them. Actually as a parent I think I got along better with the parents of the boys than with those of the girls.
Her hair was growing faster than her. Both her grand mothers used to marvel at the length and thickness - each one tracing it to their respective genetic lines. The challenge around getting her ready for school changed. Her hair had to be braided on time. What with me travelling a lot in my job, this was an additional skills set that we began to look out for while recruiting domestic help. Washing and drying her hair was a major weekend activity for me.
And slowly all of this also changed. She cut her hair. She started spending more time in front of the mirror often sacrificing breakfast in her quest to get that eye liner exactly right on her lids!! Moody silences replaced the non stop chatter. Now she was more with the girls in her class constantly talking to them over phone or texting them. Birthday parties these days meant movies and snacks afterwards.
Waiting for the school bus no longer means excitement at the sound of every groaning vehicle that changed gears. She says she can spot her bus from the special sound it makes!! She sits in the verandah reading some inane news articles on robberies and chain snatching before suddenly picking up her bag and saying “Bye !! The bus is here”. And sure enough the bus would be there at the gate!! As parents we have to now stay indoors and not show ourselves while she boards the bus ( “Please… I am not longer in primary school”).
There is no ayah or “Kamal Anna” now in the bus. Kamal is a sports instructor in the school and looks very different from the thin and lanky young man that he used to be. I guess I look very different too as the mother of a 12th standard student. I do not know how it all happened but I suddenly find ourselves facing her last day at school. As a parent I am going to miss the simple routine of school life.
As she jumped off the school bus today swaying to the music blasting into her ears through the ear phones, I tried to lock into my memory the picture of this sixteen year old in her school uniform. But instead what I saw was the knee high kid hopping and skipping up the drive way with her unruly curls framing her face. And again this knee high kid seemed to suddenly grow as tall as me pushing her nose against mine and asking me in a theatrical whisper “What are you thinking?” before bursting out into laughter.
I spend the evening looking through old albums and reliving each moment of her school life. I am happy and worried all at once. My little girl is growing up! I can see her slipping through my fingers.