I stopped at my usual spot, the roadside tender coconut stall, after a particularly strenuous yoga session.
Now, this coconut stall is owned by a family – a husband, a wife and a little girl – and the wife has become a good friend of mine. I have been frequenting their stall for many months now and akka has been really sweet to me.
It was only recently that the little girl plucked up the courage to come talk to me. And might I say, she is such a chatterbox! She would run up to my car window and peep in. She would bombard me with questions like – What is my name? Where do I work? What does my job entail?
Sometimes, she asked really difficult technical ones too: What was the light on my stereo used for? How do the a.c. vents work? How did it feel like to drive a car?
She was a proper little girl who wore her school pinafore, and had her hair down in two plaits, with the tails ending in matching ribbons and all. When I (occasionally) asked about her, she would demurely reply with single-worded answers.
I could see adoration in her eyes wherever she spoke to me. I recognized it because I have had the same look in my eyes, countless times.
I could tell that she was at an impressionable stage in life, and my words could influence her.
One day, I happened to ask her “Do you go to school regularly?” She replied, “Yes.”
The next statement at the tip of my tongue was “Nithya (name changed) , you should study well in school. You should study really hard, okay? Studies are very important.”
A lot of you might not understand what is wrong about this innocuous statement. I’ll make things clear.
Why did I assume that only studies can help her? Why not arts? Or sports? Why didn’t I ask her what she was interested in, before concluding that she had to study well?
Heck. How did I assume that she was NOT good at studies?
And that was my big revelation. Thankfully, this thought hit me before I could give the poor girl a lecture on studies.
Disclaimer: I’m not against education. In fact, I’m a firm believer in primary and secondary education for kids.
I simply assumed that she struggled with subjects at school. I simply took it for granted that if she didn’t pass her tests, she wouldn’t grow up to support and uplift her family.
When I break it down, my intention to encourage her was right. Her parents were doing their best, sending their only daughter to school while lumbering in the hot summer selling coconuts all day.
Yeah, I have to encourage the little girl. But I had no rights to steer her into a path she wasn’t interested in.
The biggest mistake I made was to assume the proverbial ‘big sister’ role and begin a lecture even before I knew this girl completely.
C’mon. I had only known her for what, 10 days, and I never bothered asking her what she ‘liked’. What if she was an artist? What if she was the next super singer? What if she was really good at sports ??
Of course, as a responsible adult, I do have the rights to tell her about the importance of education. But I should do it only, and I repeat, ONLY after getting to know her better.
We are at the edge of a paradigm shift. A Court denied alimony to divorcee woman because she is empowered to find a job for herself. There are celebrities who prefer ‘single motherhood’ over marriage. And then, there are young entrepreneurs and young creatives who prise themselves away from the society and blossoming on their own, in their niche.
It is awesome that we are sending kids to school and providing them with basic education. That’s amazing. That’s progressive. That also means that in 15 years, those children are going to hit the cul-de-sac of graduation – engineering. Then where’s the progress?
It is really important to identify an individual’s strength and do our best to encourage that. We have got to ask more questions. We probably have to ask a million questions before we can get close to an answer. But these million questions will help us in the long run.
Nithya and many more Nithya’s are quite shy. They hide their superpowers in their tiny little pinafores and their tiny little ribbons.
I’m going back there tomorrow and figuring out who Nithya really is. I’m going to understand her better through her likes and dislikes and get to know her dreams. And then, I’m going to give her my big sister lecture.