As I turn the key to open the door, I hear some commotion inside. Sonny dear shouting at the top of his voice. It’s 8.30 pm; what is he doing so loudly at an hour he is supposed to study? As I enter, I hear my mother roaring: “I don’t want another word. I have told you two pages of handwriting every day. That’s it.”
I stifle a grin. If there was a Nobel Prize for worst handwriting, my son would win it hands down. Poor Maa, a former schoolteacher and still a firm believer in the theory that handwriting reflects a man’s true worth, has been trying in vain for some time now.
I peep into his room. What was the duo up to? The boy is slouched in his chair, elbow on the desk, palm cradling his head. Granny sits nearby, staring intently. One look at his posture and I think Maa can forget about the exercise, at least for today. He sits still, pencil tip touching the notebook. But he is not starting to write anytime soon. I can almost hear the buzzing sound as his little brain goes into a search mode.
“You mean to say I can’t speak another word now?” Innocent enough question from a seven-year-old. “No, you can’t. Keep shut and do what you have been asked to do,” snaps the now-impatient granny. “Are you sure I can’t speak my mind out?” He tries again cockily. He is testing waters.
I know what is coming and I almost feel sorry for her. Please Maa, don’t fall for it. It’s a trap, engaging you in question after question, till his time is up, or you are bored enough to let him go. “No, not a word,” she thunders again.
And then it comes. “The Constitution of India grants freedom of speech to every citizen. You are curtailing my rights.”
Bang! The kid has done it once again.
And before my poor, old, taken-aback mother gets her speech back, he is shooting, “You people are oppressing me. Curbing my right to speak, like dictators. Do I have any right in this house?”
Right, freedom of speech, oppressing, dictators? Huh! Not part of the daily vocabulary of a Class III student. As always, I have only myself to blame. He was going through the newspapers some time back in search of his precious Sudoku. He had scanned the headlines in the process and asked me about Gaddafi. And sure enough, I had explained what dictators were all about, how they oppressed people and curtailed their rights. But how was I to know the little devil would use the same missiles against us hapless souls?
As I enter the room and try taking charge, I see Maa collecting her thoughts. “As a seven-year-old, the Constitution of India grants you only two rights — freedom from child labour and right to education. Nothing else.”
Was it? What about freedom of speech for children? I don’t want to know. I stare at my mother in admiration. Her frail body language speaks volumes of who is in charge here. “And to enjoy your rights, you also have to ensure that you don’t abuse them,” she continues.
Bull’s eye! I felt like clapping.
“What is abusing your rights?” he asks. His narrowed eyes give him away. The guy senses he is being cornered, but doesn’t see it coming. “It means when you have a right, making use of it to the fullest — for your good and the society’s good. Not misusing it for your sake.”
“Like?” He never learns. I now feel sorry for my little one.
“Like you are doing right now; abusing your right to education. The government has granted you the right to be educated. Be grateful, exercise it, do not misuse it. There are thousands of children in this world who don’t get that opportunity, and that means taking your studies seriously. Only when you are educated you can grow up to be a responsible citizen. Then you can exercise your freedom of speech wisely.”
Defeated and deflated, the little one buries his head into the job at hand. Maa turns to give me her everyday “O, you are back” smile.
I am relieved. One more day gone in the life of a hard-pressed-for-time, often-helpless mother of a hyperactive child. One more day when I didn’t have to tackle him.