My father says I cried a lot on my first day in school. But I doubt I would’ve cried as much as I have over the past week, trying to get Kattabomman admitted in pre-school. I think in those days it was called LKG.
Today, from what I can make out, LKG has been split into five sub-categories: playgroup, pre-nursery, nursery, post-nursery, and Margdarshak Mandal (MM).
MM is for retired toddlers who other toddlers consider too old to be their playmates.
For quite a while now I’ve resisted pressure to start sending Kattabomman to pre-school. Delhi, as you know, is full of bad people, starting from the very top. And Kattabomman is still too small. He is as helpless as the Election Commission and as vulnerable as Indian democracy. I don’t want to deliver him to the ideological apparatus of the state a day sooner than I have to.
But last week, my wife came to know that Delhi’s top schools will close their admissions for 2020 in late 2019. Plus they all prefer kids who have been to pre-school over those who haven’t. This meant we only had a few months in which to prepare Kattabomman for the admission process. So, off we went — my wife B, me, and K — to check out the playschools in our neighbourhood. Once we’d established that they were all equally hopeless, we settled on CrocoKids.
According to the manager — let’s call her Sephali — CrocoKids was inspired by the example of a famous politician who, as a kid, killed a 30-foot crocodile with his bare hands, travelled forward in time to roast it on LPG gas under the Pradhan Mantri Ujjwala Yojana, travelled back with the croc-meat on a bullet train, and served it free to 56 poor people on the banks of the Sabarmati in Assam.
Charity or cleanliness?
“Do you also take care of toilet-training?” I asked. As a patriot, I always put Swachh Bharat first.
“Yes, of course,” Sephali said. “We also provide lunch-training, fine motor skill development, personality development, confidence-building, chest-development, communication skills with a special focus on jumla-delivery, and a 360-degree training programme with guaranteed admission to medical and IIT ji.”
“Who is IIT-ji”? I said.
Before Sephali could answer, B butted in. “What about your hygiene protocol?”
B is an ISIS-level fanatic when it comes to cleanliness. I’ve no complaints though. After all, it was our mutual interest in Swachh Bharat that ignited the romantic spark that brought us together in the first place.
“We are fully hygienic,” Sephali said. “We use Palmolive soap here.”
“Kattabomman is only used to Johnson Johnson,” B said.
“Sorry, ma’am. There is only Palmolive in CrocoKids.”
“Maybe they have a tie-up with Colgate-Palmolive,” I said. “It’s the pedagogical-industrial complex.”
How about Johnson’s?
“Can we send Johnson’s baby soap from home, along with his lunch and water bottle?” B wanted to know.
“Nope,” Sephali said. “We can’t have special treatment for just one kid. Palmolive is an excellent brand. Even Kapil Dev uses it.”
“That was shaving cream, not soap,” I said.
B turned to me. “I don’t think this will work out. His skin is very sensitive. I can’t have him suffering under Palmolive care.”
As B and I were weighing the benefits of starting K’s pre-schooling versus the risks of exposing him to a strange and unfamiliar brand of soap, Sephali banged on the table.
“Are you guys SERIOUS?!”
We turned to find her glowering at us. She tore into us, as if she was Modiji and we were Congress.
She charged us with the heinous crime of “helicopter parenting” and how we were about to ruin K’s future.
Her tirade only ended when I agreed to part with three months’ salary as admission fee, which was inclusive of annual charges, activity fee, technology charges, tuition fee, books fee, transportation charges, cow shelter fee, GST, and a soap fee that was twice the cost of a bar of Palmolive soap.
Monetary transaction done, we were about to leave when Sephali thrust a 20-page form at us. Apart from the usual private details that the Aadhaar surveillance complex extracts from everyone, the form also wanted to know our vision for Kattabomman’s life and what we saw him doing 25 years from now. Thankfully, it wasn’t tough because it was a multiple-choice, objective-type question paper.
Among the choice of professions listed were obvious ones such as doctor, engineer, prime minister, Arnab Goswami, etc. But unlike every parent I know, I picked for K the one profession that has the brightest future in India: Chowkidar.
“Excellent choice!” Sephali, for once, seemed pleased. “You know, main bhi chowkidar!”