‘Mama, shall I turn off the AC?’ asked her son Dhruv.
Driving past the big gate of the school, spotting a shady place, Preeti parked the car. With the sun high above them, the scorching heat of April was unbearable. Walking past the pathway they entered the cool interiors of the school building, heaving a sigh of relief. She watched Dhruv walking beside her in an unusual silence. Pretty weird though, she enjoyed it. There were no chatters. The questions on whys’, whats’ and hows’ drifted to a far off land, only to return a little later.
At least some moments in a day, I deserve the calm and peace, she had said to Madhav. And occasionally when he returned early from work, she would go for a long walk to breathe some fresh air as tending to Dhruv’s emotional needs always left her frustrated, draining off her energy. Today, there were no grumbles in the morning when she woke him up. There weren’t any chases to have him brush his teeth, have his bath, and comb his hair. He had dressed up all by himself without reminders. It was like a dream coming true for her. Her twelve-year-old had suddenly grown up. But now, his unusual silence started to worry her.
‘Come on dear, I know you have tried your best.’
He looked at her and smiled.
‘Mama, you are happy, right?’
‘Yes Dhruv. I am really happy. And don’t worry, let’s face it. I am always there with you.’
The genuine concern in her voice and the warm affectionate smile gave him the extra energy. He nodded. And then suddenly shot her a quick glance questioning, ‘What if I get 90?’ 90 of what? Is it the Chocolates or the Biscuits? Though she understood what he referred to, she had always questioned, in an attempt to correct him. But today she did not. It was his scores, he was referring to.
‘Wouldn’t that be amazing?!’
His eyes widened, ‘But is it possible?’
‘Dhruv, you should know that because it was you who wrote the exams. You think it’s possible?’ He did not respond. Sliding into silence again, he walked in the direction of his class room.
‘Hi Dhruv, pass or fail?’ Came a voice from a distance, as they entered the room.
‘Pata nahi yaar, abhi aayaa hoon.’ Dhruv responded. Waving lightly at his others friends, he sat on a bench, next to his mother.
Preeti preferred to wait for the crowd at the table to dissipate so that she could discuss with the teacher about Dhruv’s progress in detail. More than his scores, it was his behavior, she was concerned about.
‘So, is it going to be 90?’
’80?... 70?.... 60?’
Her attempt to make him feel comfortable did not work. There was neither the restlessness in him nor the laziness, which was way too unusual. No fidgeting too, she noticed. Things were really shaping up. She had struggled for three long years to reach to this day and it still continued. Watching him closely, she wondered, how unpredictable life was. Destiny she had said, eleven years ago when she saw her eight-month-old, Dhruv for the first time.
Eleven years ago:
‘Ruchita has a baby sister and Shaalu has a brother. I want one too.’
That was not the first time Poorvi was demanding for a sister or brother. The trimesters, the sleepless nights and the changes in their lives were something Preeti was not ready for. And more than that, it was the break in her career, she could not stand. Adoption, she felt was the better option. Madhav happily agreed when she mentioned it to him. That weekend, Madhav called up an orphanage. They were relieved when they received an assuring response. Embracing the decision, they kept waiting for a favourable response, which they knew would take some time.
But, by then, Preeti had conceived. With the unexpected changes of life, their plan of adoption faded away as Ishita was born. Ten months went by unnoticed. And on one pleasant morning they received a call, reminding them of their long forgotten decision. Somehow, they could not step back and they proceeded with their new responsibility.
Their heart beats raced as they saw a woman behind a closed glass door, walking towards them carrying a sleeping baby. The tiny creature squirmed in her arms. Preeti’s eyes filled with tears of joy, holding the eight-month-old baby. A sudden overwhelming emotion engulfed her. She ran her fingers on the tiny feet. The little body wriggled and went back to sleep in her arms. His curly black hair framed his calm face. She fell in love with the child.
In the following month, on one auspicious morning, as they sat before the consecrated fire, Dhruv was gently placed in their arms. Holding him carefully, eyes brimming with tears, she kissed his little forehead. Their third child, a son, was born. Madhav and Preeti promised to protect and love him forever. As the days passed, Dhruv got used to the new faces and environment. He had started recognizing everyone in the family. His eyes would brighten and become wide when he would see her.
He zoomed through every phase except speaking and would never turn to her when called. She felt there was something amiss when it continued. His unresponsive trait started to bother her. It’s just the way kids are, the elders in her family said. With the clock ticking on a regimented march left…right…left…on and on, days turned into weeks, weeks into months and months into years, whizzing, cramming up so much, leaving her with no time for breaks or no time to waste. Dhruv, had grown from a toddler to a school going child. Up until now, life sailed smooth.
Naughty, teachers simply pegged him in the first few months. Talkative, distracted, picks up fights, followed in the next few months. And in the next couple of years, his violent tendencies and disruptive pattern increased. His inappropriate demanding and clinginess, hoarding food or gorging on sugary foods was notable too. He persistently questioned about nonsensical things and chattered illogically. Days dragged with more and more unexpected events happening. Dhruv’s shoelaces would go missing and would be found in his bag or sometimes stuffed in his pockets. Books would go missing. Text books would be crumpled and torn pages stuffed in his bag, note books scribbled. Covers of books were ripped. Erasers broken into pieces, some stuffed in the water bottle; sometimes small lead pieces of the pencil and pieces of paper were seen in the lunch box. Lids of the lunch box would go missing. Sometimes, books would have the food stains. Dhruv’s attitude raised the eyebrows of all teachers when compared with Poorvi and Ishita.
‘Oh, is he your brother?!’ they would say.
Poorvi expressed her embarrassment before Preeti one evening.
‘He is your brother, Poorvi. He is naughty, but we have to help him to become a good boy. Being his elder sister you have to support him, baby.’ Preeti said.
Getting him to do his homework, complete his notebooks and restricting him from playing to avoid the complaints became more and more difficult. With Dhruv’s inability to fit in with the systematic life style of the residents around, and with incessant complaints pouring in, they realised that this was not a simple problem anymore.
Finally, sending him to a boarding school would be the best thing they decided, heaving a sigh of relief.Eight, though they felt was a too young age to be away from the parents, it was inevitable. He would soon change with the strict discipline, they believed.
One month elapsed. Regular phone calls had set into her evening routine. When they visited him on weekends, there seemed a new change in him. He looked reserved, as though he had grown up suddenly. For her, it was a positive change. She was thrilled about how he was growing up. She wondered what impact surroundings could have on a child, so much so that her arrogant child had become a well-mannered boy in a matter of days. She pictured an improved version of Dhruv, mature and dignified, soft-spoken, smart and confident.
After returning from a long tiring day, she prepared a cup of tea and reclined on her easy chair. The evening sky started to hover with the dark clouds. Lightning flashed and roars of thunder followed. The rain started pouring down in heavy torrents. It continued until past mid night.
Waking up to the sound of July rains lashing against her window pane, she rushed with her morning chores and headed to work. She hadn’t called Dhruv last evening. She suddenly felt a pain thinking how disappointed he must be. Her mind kept returning to his thoughts. Past instances flashed her mind. But now, everything seemed to be going so well. She kept thinking of how composed he was, how he carried himself during their visit. Her phone rang.
‘Can you’ll please come tomorrow morning? We need to talk to you’ll.’
It was a call from Dhruv’s school. There was no mention of the reason.
The frequent heavy rains cast a dewy look on the school, tucked in the dark woods, away from the hustle and bustle of the town. As they reached, they were led to a spacious room. The subject teachers and the housemaster occupied one side of the room and on the other side sat the headmistress, an aged lady. Preeti was sure that they had to face a marathon session. One by one as they spoke Preeti kept nodding listening to the unending complaints – about the torn books, about his incomplete works, about his fights, about his missing books…. Those were not something they had not expected. They had been very clear in mentioning about Dhruv’s disruptive behaviour at the time of admission interview and had got a convincing response.
‘What do you think about your child?’
The lady’s direct question baffled them.
‘Well, he is mischievous and lacks discipline,’ Preeti responded.
The lady replied firmly. Dhruv was called. He walked in silently and stood in one corner. He was not his usual, cheerful self. He had not rushed towards his parents. He had become visibly frail. There was a pleading look in his eyes with deep held sorrows. The Principal walked in and without any preliminaries, he had straight gotten to the point, ‘We don’t need such kids here. If he doesn’t know how to behave, take him home.’
‘He was missing from the dorm all night,’ the lady took over.
‘Yes, the whole night. The child seems to be troubled…’
There was a pause and then looking at Preeti she said, ‘Why don’t you refer him to a good doctor? I mean a psychiatrist or a counsellor?’
Shock, fear and uncertainty, all pervaded Preeti at once. Struggling to hide the tears that rimmed her eyelids, she took a deep breath. She felt defeated as she analyzed the situation.
‘We don’t need a child like him in our school. Please take him back.’
The principal repeated the harsh words. Preeti could not stop thinking, How could the little mind think of it? What had made him think of escaping? And where would he go? Was it the strict schedule that made him think of escaping? He must have tried every opportunity he had and this time, he had succeeded. She shuddered, imagining him walking alone in the dark.
‘I need to talk to my child alone. Kindly excuse us...’, Preeti abruptly got up from her chair, took Dhruv’s hand and stormed out of the room. A part of her wished she could go and reach out to the clock ticking cheerfully and turn it back, when everything was just fine. She did not want to give in and take him back with her only to suffer the same old embarrassments. But deep inside, she trembled hearing the big word, psychiatrist.
He clung to her as she hugged him.
They failed to sense his detached and excessively withdrawn attitude. No one could get on to the bottom of the concealed fear. His soul brimmed with fury and the grievances. He was falling prey to cruelty of misfortune. The fear of abandonment and loss had reawakened in the little soul.
As she drove back, Dhruv’s reaction to various circumstances surfaced in her mind — his agitation to every little thing, his denial, his flinching face, his stutter, his illogical thoughts, and the admonishing. Is it the deep hidden bruises in the little soul taking its toll? She wondered. Is he wearing a mask of the list of so-called good behaviours just to please me? Gradually, it began to dawn, it was not the insensitivity but her ignorance that was getting exposed in most of the situations.
‘In any case, let’s visit the psychiatrist,’ Madhav confirmed.
‘Sure, but let me come out with my plans first.’ She said confidently.
Quitting her job was first in her course of action. And then was to seek an admission for Dhruv in a nearby school. Next was the visit to a psychiatrist.
Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, the child psychiatrist scribbled and prescribed some pills, explaining the symptoms to them. But, with the medication, the situation grew from bad to worse. Second opinion, they thought and the detailed report mentioned nothing about ADHD. And then, they felt they had to go for a third opinion.
‘Madam,’ the young pretty lady doctor said, ‘Google for the information,’ she continued,
‘Type, how to handle a forgetful child, or how to deal with a difficult behavior of a child.’
Preeti sat across the table nodding to whatever she heard, just for the sake of hearing. By now, she came to know what had to be done. After all he was her child.
‘No more consultations and no more regrets.’ She said to herself, as she had stepped out of the room.
Patience, persistence and consistence were the mantra, Preeti realized. His established ways of seeking attention had to be altered. It was not an easy task. It was quite obvious for him to hang on to his previously successful behaviours. As days rolled by, she had brought in some small changes in his routine. Listing some points, she put up a chart in his room for reminders. Family rules, dad time and mom time had to be followed strictly. She introduced some new creative approaches to keep him motivated. Mornings were for his academics and evenings for games. Games too were specifically chosen to enhance his memory and focusing ability.He is a slow learner. Please be patient while you deal with him. Punishments lower his self esteem. Please don’t compare him to other kids. He is not a perfect child. He needs lots of care, attention and love, and appreciation than the yelling. He is not a bad boy only that his few traits vary from the norms. He is not lazy or naughty. Her requests with the teachers always went on deaf ears. It was her sole responsibility, she had learnt.
After three long years, things started shaping up. The academic year had come to an end, tired to the core to have him study, she had come up with a simple solution that did not require any of her emotional investment. No study, No play…...
And she stuck to her words, not letting loose her will for any of his please’s or sorry’s or requests or for last chances.
Now, sitting next to him, she almost could hear the drumming of his heart.
The teacher’s voice from across the room jolted her from her thoughts. She looked around. There wasn’t anyone except the teacher who was now waiting for them, with a sheet in her hand. Up until now Preeti had been calm. But as she rose, her heart raced. It was Dhurv’s future. He had tried his best in the last few days.
She said, with a smile pulling out his report card. Looking intently into his eyes, the teacher continued, ‘Just because your mother had requested for one last chance, you were promoted last year. Remember?’ Silence drooped for a few fractions of seconds. His face went blank as she said, ‘But I cannot promote you this year.’
Preeti looked at him, her eyes, brimming with tears. However, she could not hold it back and it rolled down her cheeks, as the teacher spoke softly,
‘Because you have done it Dhruv.’
They drove back home.
‘Let’s go out for dinner tonight.’
‘Sure, you decide the venue’
‘Mama, Did you inform Papa?’
‘Let me give him a surprise in the evening.’
Door bell rang. He ran to the door.‘Papa…’ he said handing him the report card. He stood beside him, studying his scores for the second time. It was now he realized what he scored was not even nearing to 60.
Hindi, Kannada, Math and Science - C+ (Marks range -30 to 49)
English and Social Studies - C (Marks range - 0 to 29)
A cold sigh escaped from his lips as he waited for his father to remark.
‘Just four days before the exams you have held your books. What if you had taken your
studies a little more serious?’
He turned his face and looked at Preeti. As always she understood what that look of his
‘Well ....’ Madhav said, ‘There’s someone waiting for you at the door.’
Before he completed the sentence Dhruv ran to the door. As he opened the door, he stood
breathless at the sight of the new gear bicycle. Was it a dream, Dhruv could not believe his eyes.
The cycle straightaway went to his room only to be gazed in admiration for the rest of the evening.