Thursday, August 23, 2018

Those Entrance Exam Years


In the last four years, whenever I saw the newspaper headline saying 'Common Entrance Test results announced', I would heave a deep sigh of relief. Why? For the simple reason we were now out of this ordeal. I took sadistic pleasure in passing on the baton to the next set of parents and students!

However, I can never forget those two gruelling years when children had to decide on their professional careers and the preparations that they had to go through to get into a decent professional college. India, like many other Asian countries is highly competitive. (You can read about and watch the exam frenzy in South Korea here and here)What with lakhs of children appearing for entrance exams for admissions into one of the thousands of professional colleges!

This series of blog posts documents the process, the upheavals we went through when our kids were preparing for their entrance exams for professional colleges. Our experience might help parents whose children are currently in their 11th or 12th grades.

First up, do not expect this to be a smooth sailing, physically, mentally and emotionally. However, do not forget that the most important person here is your child. Let your child decide what their dreams and aspirations are. Do not force or expect your children to try and fulfil your dreams. This would be a highly explosive situation, which both parents and children will find tough to recover from.

Remember, your children at this age are also going through very rough times. They now think that they are almost adults and know what is best for them. They make their own decisions and do not like parents to tell them what they should or should not be doing. You can guide them and discuss the pros and cons, but the final decision should always be left to them. 

Getting back to my experience, once my elder son was clear that he wanted to take up Engineering stream, our search for coaching institutes began. Here, I have to tell you that the need to take up external coaching through one of these Institutes is completely dependent on the child's work ethic (the ability to be focused, diligent and extremely goal oriented) apart from the confidence to handle the exams on one's own. Wait! there is also another option. You parents can don the mantle of a teacher if you so had a dream at one time. Yes, I have heard of instances where the parents take a sabbatical for two years to coach their children themselves! You have to be good in core science subjects though. So the choice is yours.

Coaching Institutes are another story. The bigger ones have their own entrance tests to qualify for admission into these Institutes. What an Irony! And all this to help your child prepare for the entrance exam to get into a Professional college!  So we were elated when it was announced that the school in which my son was studying had tied up with one of the leading coaching institutes which would give coaching after school hours. 

Hurrah! We felt happy as the advantage was, that the venue would be their own school. Commuting would be nil. Also, there were so many children from our apartment, that we parents could take turns to pick up children at 8.00 pm when their classes would end. The only negative being that he would be spending almost 12 hours at the school! But considering other options, we all felt that was not an issue at all. On the D day, we wished him all the best. He gave his Entrance Exam and we all waited with bated breath for the results to be announced. Well, destiny had other plans for him I guess. All our well-made plans came to nought when he told us that he did not make it to the final list.

This spelt trouble for us. So we spent time googling various other coaching institutes, their success rates, the fee and of course the distance. Our research helped us zero in on one of the best coaching Institutes. However, we also discovered that even among the one that we had shortlisted the best Professors were at their main centre. Now, this was a good one hour's drive from our house during peak hours in the evening.

However, the first priority was to see to it that our son got through the Institute's Entrance Exam. We thought logistics could be worked out later. Much to our delight,  he had cleared the Entrance and had got admission at the Institute. We were relieved. He had made it and had crossed the first hurdle. Hurrah again! Little did we realise that this was, but the first step.

Thursday, August 2, 2018

The joy of letters

Today I got into the mood of clearing my wardrobe. How all those unwanted items get collected is still a mystery to me! It was as I was clearing the drawer that I saw it. I stood there gaping for a moment in a state of bliss. Very slowly I took it in my hands. Very delicately I unfolded it. As I gazed at it an aura of happiness enveloped me and memories flooded in my mind - what I had chanced upon was a treasure trove - the blue inland letters which I had received ages ago from my dear mom, dad, my sisters and my husband at various times of my life!

As I read through the letters I could not control the tears of joy as events and memories came cascading. There were letters written by me to my husband when I had been to my mom's house during the birth of our child, where I had recorded every minute detail of our baby, right from him twitching his toes to his angelic smile. Letters from my Mom and Dad, even letters written by my uncle and aunt who were not able to attend our wedding, but gave their blessings to us by means of writing a letter!

As I looked at these letters I could not but help look back into my childhood and teen years when letters formed the most integral part of our life. Getting letters were moments of joy. The moment the dear old postman would shout "POST" one of us would rush to get it from him and then proceed to sort it out. Letters which my mom got from her mother would be read loudly by her to all of us.

When Dad used to travel, he would write letters to us describing in detail the various places that he visited and took us on a virtual trip to Paris, London, Amsterdam, and many other places along with postcards of that place. Then would come the best part that we all used to wait for; the gifts that he had bought for each one of us. This would be read again and again by all of us with great gusto.

Then there would be in-house letters we used to exchange between us sisters. In fact, I had the habit of writing letters to my Dad where I found it easier to put across my thoughts in writing than tell it orally. I would then slip it carefully under his pillow when no one was around and just let the tip of the letter protrude for him to notice.

This might seem like a piece of paper but the emotions poured into this was immeasurable. There was love, sadness, helplessness, fun, joy - you name it, it was there hidden in these little blue papers. I remember all the times that I used to write letters I would take care that I used the best of my handwriting.

Every summer vacations, we were asked by my Mom to write letters to our grandparents. I recollect how we first used to write a rough draft of our letter on a sheet of paper, and only when we thought it was good we would copy the same onto the inland letters. This was to avoid scratching out words or sentences and to avoid grammatical errors.  Such was the care taken to write a letter! We would then wait with bated breath for the return post from them. My grandfather used to reply promptly. It was a sheer joy reading his letter which used to be written in impeccable English with absolutely no grammatical error.

But sadly even in my wildest of dreams I never thought that letters would become a thing of past, an obsolete relic, and hence never bothered to treasure these. Now I wish if only had I done it, I could have shown it to my children -  the letters written to me by their great-grandfather, If only..... I sigh.

Today when I ask my children to write letters to their cousins they say they will, but somehow never get down to it. Who would spend time writing letters when at a click of a button they could email, WhatsApp or Snapchat with anyone around the world?  It might be keeping pace with the times, but will it ever come close to this small blue paper called the inland letter or the long sheaf of papers enclosed in an envelope with love and care in every word that was written, bearing our name and address on it? I doubt.