The Mad Momma has been going through some serious angst of late, of whether a high-end school is worth the rarified atmosphere. Dipali joined in at a tangent with her recollection of a privileged childhood.
And here are my two cents: from the way it felt, I had a very spoilt childhood. I was bought almost all the things I really wanted. We always had plenty to eat (too much, I thought, since I was a picky eater and didn't fancy most of what was on the table). I always had very pretty clothes. My brother and I owned good libraries of our own, apart from the books that the family had. We always had a car around, except for about three years, two in Hyd and a some months in Vizag, when we managed without. I usually had much more pocket money than most students in my class, even though any of them were from better off families. I also had a lot more freedom than any other girl I knew.
But you know, that's only how I saw it. There were plenty of things I didn't know and was too young to perceive. That whatever my parents couldn't afford to buy was either a gift from somebody else, or bought with money gifted to us, or I was tactfully convinced by my parents that it wasn't worth buying. And there were times when they spent a huge part of the family income on something that was very dear to my heart. Only because I craved it, not because I needed it or it was a good investment.
We didn't have plenty to eat. We ate very simple meals, and anything beyond chicken, eggs and the most basic fishes were rare treats. I was (still am) very fond of rice with butter, so difficult times saw us being served meals of just that. Then I thought I was very lucky. Now I know Ma was sighing with relief that the groceries could be stretched a little further.
Most of my nicest clothes were either stitched by my mother (who was a fantastic seamstress even if I say so myself) or put together out of cheaply bought cut pieces into wonderful designs by her and my aunt (Giga). Most people thought all my clothes were sent from relatives abroad. Ma and Giga would send a design to the tailor and Giga would embroider or add a button or two to the finished garment and the end result was a line of pretty dresses that were passed down to several cousins after me. I learnt to sew and embroider when I was seven or so and made my own dolls' clothes, accessories and later, even furniture.
We as a family started buying books only after we left Calcutta when I was nine. For the first time, the four of us came first in the spending of Baba's salary. We made the most of it. But even then, I remember how the new books were rationed by my mother. She would dole out a book per train journey or some such event, making a couple of purchases last me several months. To compensate, Baba used to buy us comics like Tinkle Digest. We were encouraged to borrow from neighbours.
When we lived in Cal, the cars were my grandfather's. (He also bought me my doll collection that I was justifiably proud of.) Baba's first car was our second-hand Fiat Emmy, bought as late as 1995, I think. That's only a dozen years years ago.
I asked for pocket money at the age of eight, and, intimidated by my own daring, named the sum of 25p when my father asked me to set a figure! Luckily for me, he decided to give me Rs. 3 and my brother Rs. 5. It was supposed to be spent on sweets or gifts for friends or saved up for special treats. Eventually it was increased to Rs. 1000 in class XII. I suppose I was naive but it never struck me that the allowance only increased with Baba's earning power. Somehow, our finances or lack thereof had never had a major impact in my life. The only times I was reminded that we had to careful of money was when Ma would go around turning off electric stuff, scolding us for our wastage. It's a habit she has now lost but it's passed on to me and I have environmental reasons to back up my parsimony!
And the freedom? That came with my parents being able to afford the books and the cable connection to open up my mind. Buying the clothes I wanted to wear. Having the security of a family car, should I need to be picked up/rescued from anywhere. It was a battle between my mother's wishes for me and my father's conservative ideas of what a girl should be like. (They both think they lost but I know I won.)
I've been writing "my" and "mine" because I don't know how Dada saw it. The older we get the more I feel that we had very different views of the years we shared. But I think it's all a matter of upbringing. Whether we had more or less, we always had enough to feed a guest, we always bathed with less water (or were asked to), we always saved all our new clothes for Puja, and we always counted the money we spent. This way, I never really knew when Baba got promotions and raises -- they meant precious little to my daily life. It didn't matter that the girls in my class were being bought jewellery and I wasn't -- I knew it was for their dowry and I was proud not to have a hope chest being made for me. If there was one thing my parents agreed upon, it was refusing to see marriage as an end (the end) for me.
Likewise, I learnt to share my pocket money with my friends and happily paid for those who couldn't afford our trips to Baker's Inn. I also learnt to not spend money when the people I was with opted for outings that cost less. My friends came from very different financial backgrounds but we all visited each other without a thought to how the meals, amenities etc. differed home to home.
It wasn't an ideal childhood but it was definitely a democratic one. And this is what I've been trying to say to MM all this while. I did study at one of the two best schools in town but it didn't guarantee anything. Sure, it was a small town, but a good portion of the students in my class came from filthy rich farming families. Nearly all owned land or at least their own home. But we never talked about it and indeed, I didn't even know all this until maybe the last two years of school. Yes, parents themselves are different now, and the kids they bring up may be far more materialistic than I'd like, but I can certainly teach a child of mine that an Xbox is less important than school uniforms and swimming classes. It doesn't matter whether he agrees, because I think in the long run he'd thank me for it, and I can wait for that.
Privilege is a matter of upbringing. I've seen friends of mine, rich beyond anything I can ever aspire to, tied down to their backgrounds, frustrated and unhappy. Their problems were the same as those of others from orthodox families from lower economic strata. And therefore, if privilege is all about what you feel you get rather than what you actually get, I personally think Brat's a very privileged kid. And he's lucky in that he has the kind of privileges that teach him to share his good fortune, to pass it on. He has parents he can take pride in; grandparents who adore him and have a rich history to give him; a comfortable home to bring friends to; and a loving sister to share his childhood. Kids are smart enough to know the value of these privileges, whatever they may say or express to the contrary. The Bhablet runs around strangers with open arms because he is privileged in having a family who think open arms are a good thing and that there is always a little love to be found. He is also privileged in having parents who would fight for his right to ask for love and expect it. An outsider might think his privileges are his expensive clothes and his flatful of toys, but his clothes and toys will not stay with him. Hopefully, this sense of love and security will.
Getting down to brass tacks, when selecting a school, I am thinking of the level of education they provide and how well-behaved their students are. How cheerful or not they seem. What their parents say. That really is all. If I can afford a school that will teach my son well, manners and morals as well as his studies, I'll be happy. I can teach him how to adjust to differently privileged kids, indeed, I consider that my job. Yes, I expect such a school in Cal will probably have mothers I can't identify with, but that's my problem and should have nothing to do with his education.
I guess MM, I owe you one, because I've been agonising over schools for a couple of months now and while my preoccupations are not the same as yours (haven't really gone into them here either) writing this post helped me sort out my own priorities.