Kamini inhaled deeply and held her breath at the door, exhaling slowly through the mouth as she approached the teachers’ table. High school kids sweated differently; her nose itched at the overactive apocrine glands in the classroom.
Alarmed at the rising incidents of teen stress, the management had mandated a weekly dose of moral science for the senior school. Her track record of lifelong learning and a talent for seeing the larger picture had marked Kamini an ideal life coach and her day was well underway. “Our lesson today is on assuming responsibility for what we are and the person we want to be” she had barely begun, marker pen poised on the white board.
“My parents messed me up in the head Ma’am! I do not want to take the engineering entrance. I want to become a scuba diver” Atul was first off the block, his educated belligerence echoing in assessing eyes around the room.
Kamini put the marker down, falling back into her chair heavily; this filial blame game had begun to come up more and more. It sounded dissonant in a culture that venerated parenting, a mother’s role in particular. She skimmed the faces trained on her, “Are there others in this class who share Atul’s anger?” Shaily pushed her chair back tentatively, “Yes Ma’am, it bothers me to have my mother say she preferred being “my mum rather than a chum”. My friends have parents they can really let their hair down with.” A titter rose at this from the far corner where Bikram stood waving his hand, “Look, we did not ask to be born. I think it is criminal to bring children into this chaotic world and then want to control them completely.”
Kamini turned towards the sound of a throat being cleared; it was Kriti, the school head girl, “Ma’am, you have a social system so deep rooted in a judgmental hierarchy, it is easy to look for someone or something to blame!”
The ensuing silence was broken by a rude movement at the door. Shambhu, the Principal’s peon did not stand on ceremony with any of the staff, least of all with the teachers, “Madam Ji, Principal Sir wants you.” Shaking her head at the howl of protest from the class at this interruption, Kamini hurried to the lobby.
Taruna Kalra and her mother were standing stiffly outside the Principal’s office, ragged words clashing in low tones. “I feel repressed at home, I need space….there is too much drama already in my life” the young girl was shaking with anger.
The mother stood as though turned to stone. She had fixed her eyes at a spot on Kamini’s hair. Her voice was a flat drone, “I am numb. My chest feels like I have broken a rib. I did my best. I must not cry. You are treating me like I were an invisible, middle aged woman”
“Get yourself a life mother and stop worrying about me!” Taruna continued to lash out, stung and hurting. Kamini watched the parent splinter in slow motion and the daughter crack with an impotent fury; life could bring such pain. The two women dragged on the laden air, blinking rapidly to swallow the salt pricking their eyelids.
The parent moved first; Kamini stepping back to make way. At the sound of the summon bell from inside the office, Mrs Kalra broke stride and turned to look back at her daughter, “I love you but you no longer resemble me. You resemble your times!" Her daughter’s plaintive cry vainly tried to catch up, “Principal Sir is calling us inside and now you are making me feel really alone!”