For some unforeseen reason we had to move from Mumbai to Pune, last year.
One day my daughter Ahana came back from school very disappointed, sad and angry. The entire day she was in a very bad mood. After I returned from office, my wife Amarja, told me about the situation. This was the year we had shifted from Mumbai to Pune so we realised that she was probably missing her friends back in Mumbai. After dinner I sat down to talk to Ahana to find out the reason for her unhappiness and to see if I could pacify her. We started chatting about her new school, which as I told her, also happened to be my Alma mater! I shared some of my school stories. She wanted to know how I had commuted to school. I told her I used to cycle or take a bus. But that was after i got to 7th standard. Until then it was the school rickshaw. To which she asked, “not in a van?” I said “no”. She thought about this for a bit and then said, “From tomorrow mom will drop and pick me up from school!”.
This made me realise that there was something that had happened in the van that was bothering my daughter. It was almost 11:00 p.m. and the next day she had to get up early for school. But it was important to find out the real reason for her disappointment without disturbing her too much. So, although it was late I still decided to take her for a short drive. When we got back I asked her about her problem. That is when she told me how the kids in the van teased her and that she did not like traveling in the van. I empathised with her but knew that she would have to learn to overcome these small hurdles positively and proactively. So, I told her that she should learn to make friends with this new set of children and how these friendships would last her a life time. I gave her examples of some of my friends. I told her how being a new traveller in the van it would take her some time to settle in, as the rest of them had already formed groups. She just had to be patient and continue to be friends with them. That she would find herself in similar situations time and again and would have to deal with new faces and personalities So she should learn the art of making friends no matter what the odds “.
By that time, it was almost 12:30 a.m. I thought she was convinced. But she was still of the opinion that she wouldn’t travel in the van the next morning.
This made me wonder about the reason behind her insistent and strong “NO”. So, I dug some more, although this was not the approach I liked. With so many unfortunate and horrific incidents being reported in the media regularly it was hard to ignore some bad thoughts running through my mind and being protective for her. So, I asked her where she sat in the van and who all sat beside her. She said she sits at the back of the van every time and not on a proper seat and there is no rotation done. Kids who had been travelling from previous years had already permanently fixed their places. I told her it was OK and that a few months down the line when, she would be good friends with all the others in the van, she was sure to get a proper seat and someone would definitely exchange seats with her. But she said “no”. That “NO” was not going from her mind! and I had to remove it somehow.
Finally, after some more specific questions she said that at the back, where she sat, all the school bags are hung and are right in front of the faces of the kids sitting at back and that caused suffocation.
Of all the obvious possibilities that an adult can think of here came the real reason for not traveling in the van!!
Later in the week Ahana’s mother ensured that the bags were moved down or away from the faces of kids sitting at the back and an open passage for air and ventilation was created. This simple solution to what turned out, fortunately, to be a not very serious problem changed things all around. Now she loves going by van and this year cajoled us to avail of the van facility for our younger one.
Conclusion: We could have forced her to go in the van or stopped her van facility assuming the move from Mumbai to Pune to be the reason for her unhappiness or accepted other prima facie evidence as the cause and that would have been a superficial, shallow and totally wasted effort on our part. The 3-4 hours of dedicated, mindful conversation with my seven-and-a-half-year-old daughter, Ahana, not only gave her new thought processes and helped deal with both external and internal factors but also helped us understand how she feels and thinks. Through this patient and long conversation, she has become more open to sharing information about things that affect her and not just switch into an angry or withdrawn mood. It has given her confidence in our relationship and herself.
By the way, next day we didn’t send her to school as it turned out to be a very late into the night conversation! But now, no matter what happens, Ahana is determined to go to school in any available mode of transport, with any friend – old or new!