Ria is back home, after 5 days… she’s still the same impish mutt that she was 5 days back. Looking at her you wouldn’t be able to tell what all happened in these 5 days.
Tuesday evening we had a doctors appointment to get her eyes tested so 1730hrs we were sitting and waiting for Dr. Baramani to take us in for the eye exam. Sitting next to us an elderly lady corrected Ria when Ria pronounced poem as poyum. The lady corrected Ria and then told us she is a teacher of the english language, retired now but still not callous enough to let a poyum pass! I laughed uncontrollably, my own favourite ones were all english or history/civics/geography teachers in school. I also laughed because at the back of my mind I was processing “Ria Khan, got international first in the english Olympiad last year, topped her school this year in the same exam and gets ticked off for wrong pronunciation…. such is education, even when on the top of your game you never really are done! and this kid has just begun”. The lady went on to have a pretty meaningful and elaborate discussion with Ria about the poem Ria was talking about and the book she was trying to get me to let her read on the Kindle (the ugly duckling, I think). Later the lady introduced me to her son in law who is a Railway enthusiast but knows way more about the latest developments in the Railways than most Railway officers. He certainly knew more than me and I am a Railway kid, having spent all of my formative years in and around Railwaymen (as they prefer being referred to). So we finally had the test done around 1850hrs, minor change in power. I paid by card and got the receipt which I still have and it reads 1854hrs.
As we came out of the building Ria insisted that she wanted something to eat, so I slightly reluctantly agreed, as I am not a big fan of eating out. We crossed the road and walked in the direction of the nearby Dominos. I remembered that Sweet Bengal and a friend had earlier sent a message about the newly reopened Sweet Bengal nearby. Initially almost 5-6 years back the location was near the Bata showroom, anyway for some reason we walked towards the Dominos near Apna Bazaar. Ria said “chal Dominos mein hi khaa lete hain” to which I replied “naa re we’ll come to Dominos with Iru and mamma abhi lets find the sweet bengal and get some stuff there”. We obviously did not come across Sweet Bengal in this direction so I rechecked the messages. One of them mentioned “behind MacD”. So we walked in that direction now, deciding that if we didn’t find Sweet Bengal then we would go to MacD. We walked past MacD and surveyed the area, asked a security guard if he knew where the new Sweet Bengal was (he kind of looked like he was going to tell us to take a ticket and fly out to Kolkata). No one knew where it was so we walked back towards MacD. In front of MacD there was a dog standing, well just standing, right in the middle of the footpath. Ria has a deep seated fear of dogs so I took a bit of a detour to try and avoid the dog and started walkingd, like everyone else (there has to be a reason why dogs think the footpath is theirs…. because humans do not use these badly damaged footpaths).
About 10 metres away I sensed someone started their gear-less scooter (a white scooter, Activa I think). He gunned the accelerator and came straight for us completely out of control. The guy apparently was not used to riding an Activa, maybe he was more tuned to a geared motorcycle as he had absolutely no control of the scooter. Now in retrospect it appears as if this was all happening in slow motion but in reality it was all over in a few seconds. The activa crashed into Ria, I was holding her on the inside track away from the traffic but even so the out of control accelerating scooter caught her in the stomach and lifted her clean off her feet. I was still holding onto her left hand as she was being dragged along. All the time I was shouting “You IDIOT, you bloody IDIOT”. The bike did not stop, Ria was shouting “Paapu, paapa!” as she held on to my hand. There was a large Fortuner parked a few feet ahead and I was desperately trying to pull her out of this guided missiles nose as he kept speeding towards the Fortuner. A few others who were walking ahead and behind me also lashed out at the scooter trying to make him stop. It stopped upon crashing into the Fortuner with Ria pinned onto the nose.
I recalculated my damage estimates and quickly calmed down my nerves as I lunged and lifted Ria out of the gap which had formed now as people around started beating up the poor distraught guy on the scooter. As I looked at her pinned in the gap looking at me with large glassy eyes I sort of died, something died. I felt the question she was asking me pierce my heart. “What did I do to deserve this?”. She was just looking at me half crying half unable to comprehend what had happened and mostly in pain and looking at my face trying to ask and understand what was her mistake. I rushed in and picked her clean, lifted her in my arms and carried her over to the car standing next to the Fortuner, a Honda City. This had a flat top boot and that’s where I lay her down. On top of the boot I examined her for broken bones, crushed limbs etc. Thankfully nothing was bleeding profusely as I had imagined it would be. There was a cut on her lower right leg it was bleeding but by now I had already convinced myself that there is immense amount of damage so the cut did not make me flinch. Ria was complaining of pain in the solar plexus. I figured crushed rib cage. In one swift move I lifted her and jumped into a 3-wheeler which had magically appeared behind me on the road where by now there was a traffic jam. As I got in I shouted to the people who were beating up the activa rider to let him go. The boy jumped into the auto with me. Profusely apologetic he clung to me and kept saying “sorry uncle, very sorry uncle sorry uncle”. I told the driver to take me to the Fortis ER, the boy said “I’ll come with you uncle, I am sorry”. I was not really listening I was more distracted by the smell of alcohol that was coming off him. Obviously he had been drinking at the wine shop next to the Macdonalds. As we started getting closer to the place where I had parked the car I changed my mind and told the driver to take a u-turn and drop me at the car parking on the opposite side of the street. The boy immediately rushed out and fetched a bottle of water for Ria as she was asking for water. I opened the car and carefully lay her down on the back seat. As I did that the boy returned with the bottle of water. Ria was able to manage drinking which was a relief at that point. I tried paying the rickshaw driver but he folded his hands and said “sir I have kids too please do not do this please go to the hospital fast”. The boy clung to me again saying “sorry uncle sorry uncle, I’ll come with you I’ll pay for the hospital”. I patted him on his head and said “it’s ok you do not have to do anything, go”. I firmly pushed him away got in the car and drove away. I could not have handled any more cuddling with the guy who just broke my baby specially when this guy was reeking of alcohol. As I drove to the hospital I kept saying sorry to Ria and she said “no paapu it’s not your fault why are you saying sorry?”….. I just wanted to keep talking to her making her stay awake so I had her tell me the poem which she was talking about to the old lady at Surya Netralaya…. we discussed it all the while as I drove carefully to the ER. I’m Staying Home from School Today – by Kenn Nesbitt
At the ER at Fortis there was the usual red tape and laxity and as expected I lost my temper finally at the receptionist when he tried to make me fill a form before they would put the kid under an x-ray machine… that’s when a couple of technicians from the ER arrived at the front desk, spoke to the receptionist and things moved eventually. My phone had died almost when the accident took place so I tried calling Sonali from the guards phone at Fortis but that too did not work as signal at home is poor. Later around 7:20 when the ER doctors were fussing over Ria I called Sonali from the phone at the desk and we decided that she should not try to drive, rather take a rick instead. After a battery of tests (x-ray, USG, CT Scan) the kid was put into the ICU for monitoring pending emergency surgery….. The policeman who took my statement since this was a Medico Legal Case now kept asking me why I let the guy who caused this accident go? I could say nothing I had no reason to give other than the fact that I was too busy saving my kid to be even slightly concerned about taking revenge, righting a wrong or being angry with anyone. I had one single focus get her out of this any which way.
Five days on, we’re back home. Ria is on bed rest for the next 15 days and even after that for 45 days she’s been advised low stress activity. Essentially reading and coloring is all she’s going to be enjoying this summer vacations. I sent a mail to the school informing them of the incident and they were kind enough to tell us that based upon the performance through the year she was going to be promoted to the next section. As if the injury was not enough Ria contracted gastroenteritis on the 3rd day of stay at the hospital and that got everyone confused. Anyway after another CT scan it was determined that the liver abrasions were not increasing in size or intensity which implied that there was a very good chance of complete recovery with proper rest at home and that she could be discharged once the gastro is fixed. Since I have never really had any faith in the hospital system I decided that we wanted the kid home for recovery from the gastro as the injury bit was already addressed and the prognosis on that part is good provided she rests properly. Thanks to our family homeopath, Dr. Bhalinge, and valuable advise from Sangeeta another amazing doctor and our good family friend who came to the hospital to check on Ria and advised on how to address the gastro part better she’s getting better slowly but surely.
So yeah we’re back home. With time things will be perfectly ok and she will be able to swim and run and do all the things that she was going to do all along. I on the other hand will never be able to get the image of a beautiful, terrified baby stuck between two stationary vehicles staring at me with glassy eyes asking “what was my fault?”…..
A few hours back we were at a grocery store…. I said “no” to Iras’ question “can we get a cold drink?”…. then she asked “why not?”.. so I said “you have a bad throat”…. a little later she came back holding a bottle of pepsi says “look what I found, this is a warm cold drink”… what can I say…. I mean could’ve told her that the sugar also aggravates her throat irritation but then look at that earnest face… I mean do you really think I could’ve explained sugar to this determined young imp???!!!
At the checkout counter the shopkeeper says “card machine has gone bad, there is no network, so please pay cash”…. I checked my wallet and began rearranging the purchases to fall within the amount I was carrying… so Ria asks “why can’t we pick cash from the ATM”, I say “coz we’ll get notes of 2K and he wont have change then” so she says “lets go and try in the ATM I’m sure you’ll get 500 rupee notes”… we go to the ATM, well more like I get dragged trashing and bawling, and get mint fresh 500 rupee notes so Ria says “see, I am always right” so I’m like “yes yes all of you girls are always right”…..
later in the car Iras’ observation “I am always right about things like cold drinks and dida is always right about money”
Today Ria came down the steps of her school at dispersal time all beaming ear to ear. Some time back we had come to know that madam had achieved international first rank in the english olympiads . Today her medal, certificate and prize had arrived and she was presented with those during the school assembly. The fact that she had achieved something at such an early age is indeed commendable. The story behind the Olympic gold is what is really interesting and needs recording for posterity.
About 10 days before the exam I had asked Ria about her preparations, just in passing because I saw the book related to the exam in her room. She has been an avid reader and already has a pretty formidable vocabulary. The fact that she took up reading and, like her mother, loves to be with her books rather than socialize was a good thing to have happened…. both of us believe that you can never be bored in life if you love to read, there will always be a book that can keep you occupied. Thankfully the kids are picking that up and even the little one is slowly getting drawn to books. So yeah great vocabulary and yes all along from an early age she’s been a pretty confident speaker as well. Coming back to 10 days before the test, I asked and she said she’s done it all. Ok!! that was an alarming statement…. I am the sort of procrastinator who will postpone anything and everything till after the due date (have been meaning to write books all my life I guess it’ll happen from the other side of the grave) and if anyone asks me “so all done” my instant reply is “yes all set”….. chances are I might not even know what the guy is asking about! So suspecting that the guava hadn’t fallen too far from the tree I asked her to sit down and we had a talk. By the end of it we agreed to just go through the book, which has sample question papers, once before the exam just so we know what to expect. We did manage to stick to the plan and covered decent ground for the first few days but then once we had reached around 70% of the book the urgency sort of petered off.
So one fine morning my parents were visiting and Ria being the pampered grand kid decided to skip school to hang with dadi. I was like ok fine. We often skip school and go to a park nearby just so she knows there’s no pressure to perform at school and that she needs to go only if she wants to. So bunking is no big deal really. Note to the flabbergasted person reading this: try it, it works wonders for the kids, it does. Anyway so school bunked, breakfast done I sauntered into her room and again that workbook was there sitting on the shelf like a forgotten heirloom. I called out to her and said “you have just a few days till 20th for the exam come lets go over the rest of the chapters”. My moms ears perked up. She’s like “when is the test?” I said “it’s on the 20th”… so she says “what’s the date today?” I check my phone and I’m like “holy pumpkin risotto” (ummmm kaddu ki khichdi)…… I immediately called up the school and told them that we had forgotten about the test and wanted to know if coming in a little late would be ok (school starts at 8:20 and now it was already past nine). The receptionist said I’ll talk to the class teacher and get back to you, how soon can you reach? I said I can be there by 9:15. She called back as we were getting into the car “Ok mister Khan please come fast as the test has already started at 9AM”. My mom accompanied us to the school and I think all her appreciation for how calmly, safely and comfortably I drive and how I am the best driver among all the boys in the family went right out the window that day. I drove like a, well….. ok yes…. an idiot. We did manage to cover a distance that normally takes us 10 minutes in like 6 minutes but that’s still idiotic driving. Anyway so that was how she gave this exam.
The take away(s) from this story are many, again different people will take away different messages, some that stand out for me:
- if it’s meant to be
- if you like doing something and enjoy the process there’s a very good chance that you’ll get good at it
- a little bit of focus goes a long way
- always check the day and date when you wake up, your mom will not always be around to remind you
- kids learn from elders so if you are a procrastinator with no respect for time, social norms and formalities they will be the same. It’s a double edged sword so be very careful about what you’re passing along
- If she had not come first I would not have been writing this story but that does not mean I would be sulking. Test results, appreciations, scholarships, medals, achievement certificates are pointless if you know that the means were not just. If the child had spent hours mugging up the course-ware and gone and puked it all on the answer sheet to achieve a top rank I would’ve been repulsed in equal measure by the outcome. It would certainly not have earned her an ice cream. But this was sweet, this was just a reiteration of the fact that she achieved something on actual merit based upon her interests not because she slogged like an ass trying to learn by rote and achieve a target.
- She’s doing just fine all that we need to do is once in a while check in to make sure she has the required tools in place and is adequately stimulated. For instance I recently introduced her to Logo programming and she is on a roll, has taken to it like a fish to water. Again a logical extension of her inherent capabilities as both parents are superb programmers. Sonali has been encouraging her with craft and art, oh the truck load of supplies Amazon delivers for these three girls every month!!!
- The job for us as parents is to introduce them to what could be interesting stuff then set them free, let them explore and decide for themselves. Once they know they will follow through. Who knows she will be the one writing my books for me once I’m gone :)) finally end the procrastination!
- Oh yes most importantly, nothing is wasted ever, all the time, effort, energy, resources they will bear fruit in some manner or the other. You need to not keep checking the tree for fruit everytime after you water a plant or give it some sun shine. Similarly with kids and people you are invested in you need to resist the temptation to look for immediate results. Enjoy the journey, the destination if it arrives would be very underwhelming if you haven’t enjoyed the journey.