Under The Banyan Tree, My Mother Told Me
Written by Nandini Sethi
I watched as little Mina sat under the banyan tree, blabbering to herself, explaining to no one how much she enjoyed her lunch break and that she wished to go back home to her father. Mina was an extraordinary young girl, only 7 years old, but full of bright ideas and suggestions. She was eccentric, and a lot of the kids found her funky sense of fashion and shrill voice to be weird. She didn’t exactly ‘fit’ in, but I was confident she would grow to be more socially skilled in the future. I knew I was her favourite teacher because once she was done with her daily ritual of talking to the banyan tree, she would come running back to class to repeat the same story to me.
This time, however, she seemed down and trodden, kicking her feet as she made her way towards me. “Is there something bothering you Mina?” I asked kindly. She shook her head, then she nodded.
“Mama was angry with me, she scolded me for not finishing my lunch,” Mina explained. “Oh, I see,” I nodded my head in understanding. But then I realized something wasn’t right. “Mama? How does she know you haven’t finished lunch? You haven’t reached home yet?” I intruded.
Mina gave me a confused glare, as if I had asked the world’s silliest question. “I was just talking to her. You saw me telling her.” I was taken aback.
“So that was mama you were talking to?” I asked. She said yes. “So, every day after your break, is that her you speak to?”
Kids make imaginary friends as a way to cope with loneliness: I knew that – it is one of the first lessons taught in child psychology. But never in my 35 years of teaching have I heard of a child talking to their parent outside of the house. It was odd, but Mina was a different girl, and I knew her habits were not something you would normally find in a child. For this reason, I didn’t think too much into it and let it go.
However, after that, it became harder for me to ignore her unsettling antics. While all the kids were colouring inside the lines, she made sure to colour everywhere but specified; she would take the stapler from my desk and staple girls’ hair and would even tease boys about their height. While all this was manageable from a teacher’s point of view, I decided that it must be brought to the attention of a parent.
The next day, I called up Mr. Raichand and scheduled an appointment with Mina’s father and mother after school. Up until then, nothing out of the ordinary happened. But I made it a point to follow Mina out during lunch and eavesdrop on the one-sided conversation she was having with no one.
“Yes ma, I promise I ate all the horribly cooked food you packed for me”, Mina said. That was a weird way to talk to a parent. It made me think: is that how they normally talk at home? Does Mina’s mother entertain such behaviour? Is it healthy to be so blatant? But then I tuned in to the rest of the monologue:
“No ma, Dhruv didn’t push me down the slide today, he is going to make a horrible young man.”
“I can’t believe what Tina was wearing – the pink pants with the green shirt was painful to see.”
“Yes, don’t worry, I will tell dad to coordinate better with the teacher next time.”
All these things she was saying, I noticed, were way beyond her years. Kids at age 7 don’t possess the ability to understand chivalry or judge outfits – that was all for teenagers to talk about. And what about the coordination? Why was that her responsibility? These were all things, I realized, I would have to bring up at the meeting with her parents. Mina’s mother seemed like one tough cookie to crack.
The shrill ring of the bell signified that the day had come to an end. As the students filtered out of the classroom, I signalled Mina over and reminded her of her parents’ arrival. She said she would wait outside.
I took a seat and pondered over all the things I would have to go over with Mr. Raichand. When he entered, looking a little worried and stiff, I offered him a glass of water and told him to make himself comfortable. I kept looking at the door, waiting for Mina’s mother to walk in, eager to see what she was like.
Mr. Raichand coughed awkwardly, “are you waiting on someone, teacher?”
I realized I was being rude. “Oh, I’m so sorry, it’s just that – well, there were some things I wanted to discuss with you with about Mina, her behaviour, and also her relationship with her mother.”
“Alright, please begin – just out of curiosity, what do you mean her relationship with her mother? Is that something to be concerned about?”
I explained, “Well yes, Mr. Raichand. Mina’s conduct in the classroom has been noticed time and again to be inappropriate, and I believe the root cause comes from things happening at home.”
“Why is that?” Asked Mina’s father, looking wildly concerned.
“Well, every day after lunch Mina goes out to have a talk with her mother, and if that isn’t weird enough, the things they talk about are not something a normal 7-year-old would say to their parent.”
“What?” He interrupted.
I divulged further, “That’s why I wanted Mrs. Raichand to be part of this meeting, will she be joining us?”
He didn’t say anything, just glared at me with a look of horror in his eye.
“That’s not possible.”
“Mr. Raichand, whatever your equation with your wife, personally I believe it is in Mina’s best interest to include both parents, you see-”
“You don’t understand.”
I raised my eyebrows in questioning.
“Who is Mina talking to?” Mrs. Raichand asked to himself more than to me.
“Like I said, she is talking to her mother, and it seems she is carrying on the conversations she has been having back home.”
“It can’t be. You don’t understand.”
“Don’t understand what, Mr. Raichand?” I asked angrily.
“Mina’s mother has been dead for 6 years now.”