While in school, we used to get a dark blue diary at the beginning of each session (I still remember the smell of the rexine cover it had) along with a flimsy booklet called the calender. The calender had a yellow cover and was the most coveted of all school stuff because it had details of holidays and half-days in it. More importantly it also listed the dates of the various competitions which were held all throughout the year as well as exam dates. And I mention this because I remember once when I was in primary school, maybe the first or second standard, we had an “Action song competition” scheduled on a certain date. My mother being a teacher in the same school, I pretty much considered her the authority on everything that goes around in the school. I informed her about the competition and she made me rehearse an action song. To prove I still remember the words, and also so you get the so-called “full effect” here’s the song:
Oh, I have an auntie, an auntie Monica,
And when she goes out shopping,
They all say “Oh-la-la”
Because her hat is swaying, swaying to and fro,
Because her hat is swaying, swaying to and fro.
The next verses were sung by replacing the word hat with feather, skirt and bag and so on, and each time the verse was sung it was accompanied by a fitting action. I had to swing an imaginary bag, play with an imaginary feather, rustle an imaginary skirt and so on. If I may say so myself, I was quite a singer and an enthusiastic one at that. I practiced all night and the next morning, and even on our way to school my mother patiently listened to my relentless iterations.
In school that day we were given two periods off and lined for the competition. I think it had something to do with us being arranged alphabetically, but I was one of the last ones to perform. And as we sat down and the competition began, I realized that none of the other girls were performing action songs so much as just singing any song they fancied. I didn’t spare much thought to it, and even though I vaguely remember toying with the idea of going there and belting out one of the many songs I had mastered by then, when my turn came, I performed nothing but my action song, down to the last rustle. I remember feeling nervous, not because of my performance, but because everybody was looking at me like I was crazy. I had almost fumbled somewhere in the middle but I kept singing and dancing right till the end. Just because my Ma had asked me to do so. And in my eyes my Ma was never wrong. At that time it must not have felt like a big deal, but now when I think of it, it must have taken quite a lot of courage for a seven year old to do what I had done. Or maybe seven-year-olds don’t really know the concepts of the awkward and the embarrassing.
Needless to say I didn’t get a prize. Not even a consolation. My teacher informed my mother that because none of the other participants actually came up with an action song they decided to declare it just a singing competition after the event was over. I am sure I must have taken this to my mother. I am sure I must have insisted “But the calender said Action Song Competition Ma!” and I am even sure my mother had found a way to console me. Just like she always did.
I am sure my sister, who studied in the same school as I, would not think differently when I say that we led a somewhat different and at times difficult school life. Being a teacher’s daughter isn’t the easiest thing on a student. It meant being put under a microscope all the time. It meant listening to subtle taunts of classmates about being teacher’s pet. But most of all it meant having to stick to the right and going against the grain at times to do that. And all the while Mother stood by us. Pushing us to do the right thing, putting us through tougher ordeals because we were her daughters. I remember at times yelling out “You wouldn’t do this to any other student!” to which Ma would reply, “No, but you are my daughter“.
Sometimes I feel I am still doing an action song and making a fool of myself in a world where the rest are gracefully singing. Times like this, I can only think of my mother, and how she molded me and prepared me to go against the grain. For all those times you made me stand up for myself and for what’s right, thank you Mamma. And I can never thank you enough for teaching me how to perform action songs even when nobody else is. Just because it is right.