Anupam Varma Putting the Ghost of Competition to Rest April 10, 2015

Many a time I read blogs where people write all their life’s problems and claim it’s the problem of a very close friend in distress. This time, this problem is actually that of a friend, for I don’t have a daughter, as mentioned in the piece below.

My daughter gave me a tight hug as I reached home from office. She had scored an ‘A’ in her English test. As I made myself comfortable, all my worries forgotten and my tiredness gone, she rushed to her room and brought her test paper.

Sitting in my lap she went through every question, showing every check mark, every ‘good’, every ‘star’, until my eyes fell on the top right of the paper. That portion of the page seemed thinner than the rest of the paper, and the surface looked eroded. I then found erased pencil impressions behind her name.

As I carefully looked down, I realized, to my horror, that it wasn’t her handwriting at all. My daughter, all of seven years, had so cleverly tried making a fool of me.

It is said competition is good for ethical behavior in the long run, because it promotes growth and raises incomes. But my daughter’s ethics were literally out of the window.

I called for her mother.

“Mummy’s not at home. She’s gone to the market,” she said.

I sat back on the sofa, head in my hands, observing the little girl. There was not the slightest hint of fear in her eyes, not the slightest worry that she’d be caught, and not the slightest sign of regret at what she had done.

“Should I confront her,” I thought, “or should I just wait for her mother and then plan the further course of action?”

I decided to wait.

She could sense that I was not in a good mood anymore and asked me what happened all of a sudden.

I chose to remain silent.

Minutes later her mother came home, shopping bag in her hands and anger and desperation written all over her face.

“We need to talk. You don’t know what happened.”

“I know.”

We sat silently for some time. Both of us knew what the root of the problem was.

It was us. It was her fellow students. It was the parents of each and every one of her classmates. Everyone wanted their child to stand first in class. We were not different.

It was not long back when we had fumed at our daughter for getting a ‘B’ in Hindi. It was made clear to her that such performance was not acceptable.

We had to find a way out. We couldn’t let our daughter do this. We had to get the fear out of her mind. We could not burden our little angel with the fear of stiff competition that lies ahead in her life. She was just seven, and we had to let her be so. We had to let her enjoy the life as every other kid did.

We called her. The clever little girl that she is, she knew she would have a lot of questions to answer.

She approached us slowly. I being the more lenient parent, she sat next to me, head down, waiting for anger and scolding to rain.

Her mother spoke first. She told her we had discovered the forgery. And she told her we were not angry. And we actually were not angry. We were worried.

We told her how much we loved her and how we wanted her to do well is school. But we also explained how important it was not to cheat, and how important it was to perform to the best of one’s abilities. We assured her we wouldn’t get angry or scold her for a poor performance. She wept. We tried our best not to.

But the issue was only partly resolved. The next day we went to her school and explained everything to her teacher. After a while, we knew what to do.

Every child, no matter how he or she performed, was to be given a ‘A’ or an ‘A+’. There’s a huge sense of competition among kids, and every child wants his paper to be graded higher than that of others. With this approach, things were likely to get under control.

This grading, of course, was only meant to make the kids happy. The actual grading would be done in the report card, unknown to the children.

There were to be no comparison of grades now. Each student was to be judged more on the basis of handwriting, cleanliness and creativeness.

The results were there for all to see.

She was now more at ease with her studies. The fear to excel had vanished. We, too, could at last breathe easy.

She now spoke more of her friends, the games she played at school, the stray dog she wanted to keep, the cartoon heroes she wanted to become.

The ghost of competition had been laid to rest.

Avatar for Anupam Varma

He is a journalist who loves reading, number-crunching and driving for miles and miles in his free time. A big fan of psychedelic rock. Loves to eat and is open to experimenting with cuisines. Aspires to be like one of his short-story heroes: Anton Chekhov, O. Henry and Mark Twain.

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