Holiday homework

Paromita VohraI’m one of those kids who did not do too well in essay writing competitions. I did not win a year’s subscription to Children’s World where my prize-winning photo with Shankar was printed with my prize winning essay on ‘Children are the Future of the Nation’ (never mind if you’re under 30, you don’t have to get every reference in the world). Nor did I win several a glossy book of ‘Flags of the World’ for writing one thousand words on ‘The History of the United Nations’.

Illustration/Amit Bandre

I did not even complete my holiday home-work which required me to write one thousand words on ‘How I Spent My Summer Holidays’. Frankly I did not know how to spend thousand words saying, “read complete Nancy Drew series and miscellaneous Asterix, Archie comics and Chandamamas from Bharat lending library, made a racket during my dad’s afternoon nap and was punished with no mangoes for two days but Nani took me for ice-cream to Yankee Doodle every day” (Yes, I know you don’t know what Yankee Doodle ice-cream is if you’re under 30, but please, why don’t you just go do some good governance and leave me to finish my essay! I still have 400 words to go!).

I also knew that writing this truth — that my family had basically let me spend the entire summer vacation wasting time and ‘dreaming’ instead of improving myself in some wholesome way would only earn me teacher’s scorn and 2 on 10. Better to get 0 and skip the scorn.

Those days, summer holidays were supposed to be like that song which sadistically came at the end of Chitrahaar, depriving us of the last five minutes of fun: “Aao Bacchon Tumhe Dikhaoon Jhaanki Hindustan Ki.” You were supposed to go see the heritage of India with your parents, or to help your grandmother dry gourds to be authentically and acceptably Indian. The maximum travel I ever did was by reading Tintin in Tibet and if I had asked my grandmother how to dry the gourds earmarked for the prawn curry. I would have got one tight slap for acting smart.

I later learned that at least some of those adarsh kids (the ones who got highest marks) were simply lying about their exemplary holidays. They knew what the teacher wanted to hear, what would “work.” They simply wrote what was expected and forgot all about it after. Today they laugh at how I agonised about it.

So, yes, if you really never ever want kids to think about “Use of technology and innovation in promoting Good Governance”, having an essay writing competition in school is the way to go! Every kid knows what you want to hear, they’ll write it for you. Even better if it’s online because then their mummy papa can write it for them!

Meanwhile, I’m wondering what the minister is doing in the Christmas hols. Talking to the 7,00,000 Maharashtra government school teachers who were on strike on December 12 because of planned lay-offs? Trying to address the terrible lack of toilets and toilet-maintainance in government schools despite fund allocations? Or why the gap between students of private schools and government schools in their ability to do basic arithmetic has been increasing — from 14 per cent in 2009 to nearly 26 per cent in 2013? Figuring out how to attract better teachers to government schools? An essay titled ‘Vision Statement for A Genuinely Enabling Educational System?’

Or maybe not. Maybe all those good governance essays will have the necessary ideas for fixing our school system. I raise my glass of Christmas wine to that.

Paromita Vohra is an award-winning Mumbai-based filmmaker, writer and curator working with fiction and non-fiction. Reach her at

The views expressed in this column are the individual’s and don’t represent those of the paper.

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