An Aspirational Family


Kabita comes to look after my child leaving her own. My daughter is 7, her son 9. Mine goes to Calcutta International School, the first international school in the city (est.1953); hers goes to Hare School, one of the oldest (est.1818) and most prestigious schools of not only Calcutta, but Bengal. Srishti going to CIS is no big surprise – given that she came to Kolkata after her first 5 years in Amsterdam, where she went to an international school. Her very difficult transition from one continent to another 2 years back was thus made slightly easier at least on the school front. But Kabita’s son, Shayan, going to Hare School is really a big deal – given that she studied till standard IV and her driver husband till standard VII. It is her husband who inisted on it, she says, and it is where her son has been studying since standard I. He is now in standard III.

Kabita grew up in the Sunderbans and frankly detested studies. Her parents didn’t force it upon her. Third among five siblings, her match with her husband, Ajay, was made through an aunt. It was considered a very good match – a driver with a stable monthly income who lived with his parents and grandmother in a respectable locality of North Calcutta. She is now in her late-20s, but looks much younger, with an innocence writ large on her face that even 11+ years of marriage, domesticity, motherhood and life in the city has not been able to tarnish. She is of middling height, slim, with big eyes and long hair. This last won my daughter’s heart right from day-1. And the fact that she has a smart phone. They both watch videos on it on the sly – with all the excitement of a forbidden pleasure – despite the taboo I’ve placed on it. Or rather, because of it. Srishti can’t access my phone easily. Not to be deterred, she has thus made a secret ally of her nanny. And successfully!

But Kabita’s phone – like that of all working-mothers, across the class divide – is a very essential tool for her. For remotely tackling problems at home, exchanging texts with her husband, constantly checking on her son’s whereabouts. She has a lot to check on because her son has a choc-a-bloc routine. His school hours are from 6.00-10.30 am. But his studies don’t end there. In fact, that is only the beginning. After returning home from school, 11.00-12.30 is spent with a tutor (who is a college student herself). Another such instalment happens from 7.30-9.00 pm – this time outside home, at another’s tutor’s place, on the same street, where he goes alone. So at age 9, Shayan spends 4.5 hours at school & 3 hours outside it – studying! Every day, except Sunday. Mondays & Tuesdays, he also goes for drawing class – 90 minutes each, just before his evening tuitions. That is also in the neighbourhood, but is chaperoned by the granny, as it involves crossing a street. Besides study-tuitions & drawing classes, swimming was also on the agends last year. But logistics stood in the way – none could pick/drop him at the alotted hours. But Kabita is determined. Those classes, too, would begin – she told me the other day – once the school timings changed. A different algorithm of routines would then make it possible.

Kabita and Ajay are very clear in their minds as to why Babai has to undergo such a gruelling schedule from such a tender age. “Oke to manush hote hobe, boudi” (He’ll have to grow up to be an educated man) – she’d told me simply, when I’d asked. Admission in a good school was thus of paramount importance; and since they themselves can’t guide his education, they decided to hire teachers to do it for them. Right from primary school – a good start was important – both were on the same page on this. Costs had to be met somehow… hence Kabita’s joining as a nanny last year.

This is her first job – the first time that she has ever stepped out of home, outside the roles of a daughter, daughter-in-law, wife and mother. She would actually still prefer to be at home – as she can’t give any time to her child beyond getting him ready in the morning, picking him from school (both rushed affairs), and having dinner at night (when she is utterly exhausted for anything beyond functional talk). Also because this job imposes upon her a double labour – do ALL the housework (just as before) AND work as nanny. Her only respite is that she has genuinely bonded with the child she has been entrusted with. And having innocent fun with her charge in the afternoon makes it all bearable…!