Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Interview Blues

"PEOPLE who say that shyness is desirable don't know what they are talking about," said my husband. My four-year-old daughter Ambu, shy child that she is, had remained adamantly silent during her LKG interview last year.

This year my husband and I were trying to get her admitted into UKG in one of the best schools in the city. I decided that she should overcome her shyness. I learnt from my friend that the principal of the school encouraged children to be observant. She didn't ask them the usual inane questions. She would ask the child about what she'd seen that morning at home or on her way to school. In other words, she wanted children to be spontaneous.

I set about "training" Ambu to be spontaneous. I wanted Ambu to bowl the principal over with her intelligent answers. At the end of the interview, the principal would be so impressed with my daughter's intelligence that she would welcome her to the school.

What were the things Ambu needed to "observe" and talk about? What about plants and flowers? Yes, that would be a good beginning. I bought pots of chrysanthemums, zinnias, asparagus and balsam. I even contemplated buying poinsettia but was put off by the price. I taught her to say, "This morning, I saw red chrysanthemums, pink balsams and magenta zinnias in our garden."

I borrowed my neighbour's Great Dane puppies and taught Ambu to say, "I saw six Great Dane puppies this morning in my neighbour's garden. One of them was a brindled one." That would show the principal that Ambu could count and also that she had picked up difficult words like "brindled".

I taught Ambu to say, "This morning I saw my mother do her office work at home. She also made breakfast for me. I want to be like my mother when I grow up."

Training Ambu to make such "spontaneous" observations took a month. But now my husband and I were confident that this time the interview would be a breeze. There couldn't have been a more confident pair than the two of us as we strode into the principal's room, Ambu in tow. My friend had been right. The principal asked Ambu what she'd seen at home that morning.

We were on very sure ground. We'd prepared the child thoroughly for this. "Go on, Ambu. Tell the principal what you saw this morning," my husband encouragingly.

To our consternation, Ambu said, "Amma and appa had a fight this morning."

"Darling," I said. "I don't think you've understood the question. What did you observe this morning?"

"This morning I saw you and appa fight," she said doggedly. Turning to the principal, she said, "This is how it all began. Amma said to me, `Ambu you must do well in today's interview. You're a brilliant child like Kitchami thatha'."

"Kitchami thatha is my grandfather. He's mother's daddy," Ambu offered by way of explanation. She then continued, "Appa then said, `But she'll be even more brilliant if she takes after my father.'

"Amma said to appa, `Do you have to run down my family all the time?'

"Appa said, `I'm not trying to run down your family. I'm only speaking the truth.'

"Amma said, `My father won six gold medals in Maths.'

"Appa said, `My father won five gold medals in Physics.'

"Amma said, "But in qualities like patience, I hope she takes after me.'

"Appa said, `Patient? You? What a joke!'

"Then grandma said, `Stop fighting, the two of you. You'll be late for the interview. Everyone says the principal is a bulldog. You don't want to annoy her by being late.'

Ambu smiled at us and turning to the principal, she finished her narration with a flourish, "And that ma'am, is what I observed this morning." There was an awkward silence in the room. I was as red as a beetroot. My husband groaned in despair. I tried to salvage whatever shreds of dignity were left to us. I mumbled something to the principal about how nice it had been meeting her and took leave of her.

My mother-in-law was waiting anxiously for us. "How did it go? What did the bulldog ask the child," she asked us. "I did very well, paati," said Ambu. "I told the principal what I observed this morning."

"It was a nightmare," said my husband. The chrysanthemums and zinnias seemed to mock me. I retired to bed a nervous wreck.

A week later, a letter came from the school. "Why bother to open the envelope? I'm not interested in seeing the rejection letter," said my husband. I opened the cover. Inside was a letter, "Your child Ambujam has been admitted to the UKG class. Fees have to be paid before... " Appended to this was a handwritten note, "bulldogs have a sense of humour too."

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