One of my favourite little people, my nephew A, became a 5th grader this year. Suddenly all the factual knowledge that I have accumulated over the years seems inadequate in the face of his voracious appetite for facts as well as trivia, for learning, for tidbits to store away in his mind and memory.
As a reader, I am proud of A. He reads voraciously. He reads children’s books, general knowledge books, children’s encyclopedias, newspapers, etc. During a recent family vacation that the family went on, A could identify every fish in an extremely well stocked and well maintained aquarium, even before his parents had time to read the name on the plaque. When my sister-in-law mentioned this to me, I was filled with pride and admiration for him.
Over the years, A and I have formed a nice tradition of learning between ourselves. “Do you recognise this car, Aunta?” he asks me, thrusting his dad’s well-thumbed copy of Autocar under my nose. The copy is his dad’s but the thumbs and fingers that have given the magazine that well-worn look within a week of its arrival in their house are his. The result of this careful study is that while I can identify only a few cars on sight, many of which are no longer even visible on our streets, he can identify cars just by looking at them, and can name cars just by a mere glance at a tyre, radial, dashboard, logo, etc. These days, one of his favourite impromptu games is hiding the caption beneath the image of the car and getting me to identify the make.
He gets the answer right about 95 times out of 100. Me? I get a 100% score. Wrong every time.
When A was a little child, I had devised a simple tactic to keep him interested in his meals. We would play Question, Question. I would ask him questions such as “Where is the so-and-so” and he would point at that object, by way of answer. And I would clap and keep score.
When he grew a little older, the questions changed to, “Without looking, tell me the colour of the walls in the kitchen,” or the colour of the bedsheet in the bedroom or even the colour of Mickey Mouse’s shirt on his brother’s T-shirt. His answer would be spot on and I would always be amazed at his powers of observation and retention.
Of course, I would always discourage him from asking me questions, fearing that I would end up displaying my lack of observation skills.
Even later, the questions changed to vocabulary and general knowledge. “Which vehicle has only one wheel?” “A unicycle,” he would shout excitedly. “Which vehicle does Santa Claus ride?” “A sleigh.” “What are the colours of the national flag?” and so on.
There came a time when I no longer trusted in my ability to think up questions on the spot. At one of our mealtime Question, Question sessions, I told my sister-in-law, A’s mother, that A was answering questions faster than I was able to ask them, and that soon I would have to work out a written question paper prior to visiting them.
Back home I am at the receiving end of a barrage of questions. At this point in time, La Niña, my daughter, is old enough to ask me questions. And she has so many of them. Some of the questions are so mind-bogglingly penetrating that I am tempted to leave the question unanswered, so that I can leave their beauty intact, not mar it by seeking to answer it. The questions are like a perfectly wrapped gift whose beauty comes undone the moment one peels away at the wrapping.
These days when I ask A questions, I am no longer the easy questioner I used to be. My senses are on high alert. I am a picture of the utmost concentration as I seek to come up with the perfect question, one that will stump him at least for a little while. But he answers my questions effortlessly, and says, “Aunta, I want a more difficult question.” I try desperately to keep up, but always it elicits the same response. “Aunta, I said, difficult question. That one was too easy.” I struggle to come up with a tough one. I am afraid that if his attention flags, he might want to turn the tables and ask me a question instead.
Who’s afraid of a 5th grader? I think I am.
Maybe I should get La Niña to ask him questions next time.
Cynthia Rodrigues Manchekar loves being mamma to 4-year-old La Niña and 18-month-old El Niño. A working mother, she enjoys writing short stories and poems and looks forward to being published someday. She blogs at http://cynthology.blogspot.in and tweets @Cynth_Rodrigues.