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Dadiji’s School

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By Savitri Narayanan
“How much I work! The more I complete, the more work comes up!” Manisha said as she pulled out the vegetable tray from the fridge. Yatin found no need to respond as he closed the washbasin tap and dried his hands.
“It’s like running a race reaching nowhere! Don’t even know where I’m going! I am fed up!” said Manisha as she cleared the dinner table.
“What’s the matter?” asked Yatin, chopping the vegetables, “Tell the truth, who’s harassing you?”
After dinner, they were winding up the kitchen. Kartik and Munni were glued to the TV, having their fill of their favourite ‘Too Too Boy’ cartoon.
“What’s the matter?” Yatin pursued, “Any problem with your project?”
“Nothing like that,” said Manisha, “So difficult to focus on the meetings and work with the children around! They’re bored too, poor things!”
Manisha was a sales executive and her region was the Middle East. She had odd work schedules and quite a few online meetings. Glued to her laptop and phone, it was difficult to attend to Kartik and Munni, especially so when they fought.
“I know Manisha, same with me,” he continued, chopping the carrots as he said thoughtfully, “So much easier when you’ve an office to go to!”
Yatin was with an event management team. The way many events were scaled down, got postponed or turned virtual, he had new challenges to tackle. But Yatin never made a fuss and always chipped in with the household chores. Dishwashing, ironing, cleaning – he was game for any work. He was fond of cooking, too, but that was off limits. ‘You mess up the shelves,’ Manisha joked often, ‘with your touch the shelves turn topsy-turvy!’
“If only Maji would come over for a while,” said Manisha as she kneaded the dough. Preparations had to be done at night as, along with breakfast, the lunch too was cooked. Children could be hungry any time!
“It’ll be so good to have her here,” she continued, “And the children would love it too!”
Maji preferred to stay in their ancestral home in Haldwani. Having lived there for decades it was her comfort zone. Maji was reluctant to come to Delhi.
They often invited her to come over, to which her standard response was, “Why should I come to Delhi? You come here; let the children also know where they belong!”
When the children were born she had come with no fuss. She had stayed a few months, trained the maid and quietly gone back to Haldwani. Kartik and Munni were happy with the maid, Kamla, who came early and left only when one of them was home from work.
But during the lockdown, Kamla wasn’t able to come.
“Let me check with Maji again,” Yatin picked up his phone, “If she agrees to come, I’ll take special permission and drive down to Haldwani tomorrow morning!”
“Don’t wake up Maji,” laughed Manisha, “She must have read her Hanuman chalisa and gone to sleep!”
When asked in the morning, surprisingly, Maji made no fuss.
“Let me see how long I can stay,” she said.
Over the week, she settled in and integrated well. The children got along beautifully with her, so much so that they shifted their beds into Dadiji’s room. Their mattresses were spread on the floor while Dadiji slept on the bed but, soon, both would end up next to Dadiji under her quilt. Both Kartik and Munni got up early with no fuss as they were keen to do pooja and recite prayers with her.
“Don’t they have any studies?” asked Dadiji, “Even in Haldwani the children have online classes. They sit with the phone and study from the teacher; after that they do their homework. They have to send their notebooks to school and collect them after corrections….”
Manisha was surprised to see how updated Maji was about the goings on in the village and the children’s schooling. Past seventy, her mind was still young!
“No online class now, it is the holidays, Dadiji,” said Munni.
“And our tuition teacher cannot come due to the lockdown!” added Kartik.
“Such young children and a tuition teacher? That too in the vacations?”
There was silence around the breakfast table. Kartik and Munni quietly got up and went away.
“What to do Maji? You can see our life here! The whole day we’re at home but can’t keep an eye on the children…,” said Manisha apologetically.
Maji looked thoughtful as she watched Kartik and Munni standing around, not sure what to do. In brisk movements, Manisha cleared the table and took her leave, “I have a zoom meeting at ten, need to prepare!”
“I am free till 11,” said Yatin as he washed the dishes, “Will pick up the groceries and vegetables; share the shopping list.”
“Practice your handwriting – one page Hindi and one page English,” he called out to the children, “I will check before I go out; start now!”
“Such little children! Time for them to play and enjoy life! Swim, climb trees, go trekking, sing songs, dance – this is the age for that, isn’t it? Of course they must do some daily practice of their studies, but this is not the age for tuitions!” said Maji more to herself.
“Maji, you could be their tuition teacher!” said Yatin.
“Beta, don’t tease me early in the morning, go find a tuition teacher! There are plenty of young, educated people looking for an income,” she said.
“Maji, I am not joking,” said Kartik, “You can do all those things that a teacher can do. And the children adore you! See the way they sleep on their mats but end up under your quilt!”
“It’s time to chant the Ramayana!” she brushed him aside and proceeded to the pooja room. Kartik and Munni followed and snuggled close to her as she opened the book and chanted the verses softly.
With Dadiji around, Kartik and Munni slipped into a new routine. After the shower they would tell their prayers with Dadiji and have a leisurely breakfast. Then they did self-study for an hour while their parents were at work and Dadiji did her chanting. By the time she came out of the pooja room Kartik and Munni would be seated on their mats in Dadiji’s room. She told them stories from the epics and mythology and also stories from her childhood. Dadiji also sang folk songs some of which they learned to sing along. Mithila, their friend also joined them every day.
“Dadiji, you stay here only,” Munni said, “In the summer vacations we all will go to the village with you. Till then you stay here.”
“Dadiji, tell the story of Krishna,” said Kartik, “Where he breaks the mudkas!”
“And then tell the story of Dhruva,”, said Munni, “Last night I fell asleep so missed the end where he becomes a star!”
“Dadiji’s school is so much fun, said Mithila,” more fun than the real school!”