My Girl Scouty
How It Started
It all started with the book 'To Kill a Mockingbird'. I was in high school then and the book was in our curriculum for board exams. We were made to read the book page through page, dissect every sentence, follow the grammar, and literally memorize the story. Despite all the tediousness of learning, the book made a lasting impression during my formative years, especially the little girl Scout Finch, that has persisted in some way or the other to this day. I still consider the book as one of my best reads, notwithstanding the formidable library that I have gathered over the years, stacked with some of the best authors and books that time and opportunity have offered.
Scout Finch was the daughter of Atticus Finch, a lawyer, who stood up for a black man that was wrongly imprisoned by a predominantly racist white society. She came out as a brave little girl who understood right from wrong, and pursued what she considered the true path in right earnest. I wished then that if I ever had a daughter, I would name her Scout. That would be a rather uncommon name in a country where most girls were named after mythological goddesses like Durga or Sita who normally dominated or killed demons that were invariably males, but then who cared? I was growing up at a time when Bob Dylan was singing Times They're Changing amid a Hippie culture that avowedly disowned everything conventional. I thought my favoring the name Scout was iconoclastic, nonconformist, non-mainstream, in line with my preference and not mere submission to societal wishes.
Time went by. I graduated as an engineer and went to work at a place where I met my future bride. She was studying to be a doctor then, and we had to wait until her graduation a couple of years later to get married. Within two years of our marriage, we were blessed with a child-a daughter! I remember my wife coming out on a gurney from the OT in anesthesia-induced stupor, though aware enough to clutch my hand tightly upon seeing me through half-closed eyelids. I told her then on the arrival of a daughter in the family. She clenched my hand tighter and said in a hoarse voice, "I had always wanted a daughter." That's how our Scout Finch was welcomed to the world, a gift to be cherished until our last breath. In a way, we were both rebels since the overpowering desire of most parents then was to have a son, an important progeny to carry forward the family name and spread the family tree in a tradition-bound country. But it was our lives. If we were happy with a daughter, the rest were relatively unimportant. One daughter, one life, one decision, one progeny. Nothing more, nothing less. Scout of our dreams was there to be cuddled, loved, tutored, nurtured, molded, and left to make the world her playground. That's how she came to us.
Her Early Years
Scout started having many names by the first year of her life. Her aunt named her Rabia in memory of a Sufi saint and poet who was born in the Seventh century in Basra, Iraq. Her grandfather named her Moloise in memory of Benjamin Moloise, the South African freedom fighter who was executed by the apartheid regime and had famously said at the gallows
"I am proud to be what I am…
The storm of oppression will be followed
By the rain of my blood
I am proud to give my life
My one solitary life."
In all this overwhelming confluence of literary geniuses, I somehow forgot my Hippie fascination at being unconventional and wanted to name her Mrinalini, but that name didn't sustain since by then the family had decided to name her Sangbreeta, a Sanskrit name meaning a person with the utmost self control. Of course, her nannies called her differently in names that sounded relatively easy and endearing to them, but they mostly called her Buchun. She now is known by the easier nanny name Buchun, the official Sangbreeta, and I am the only one left calling her Scout as a reminder of my Woodstock, Joe Cocker, Dylan and Baez days, and my fascination with that little girl character from the book.
Well, Scout, her early years were nondescript and rather ordinary. That was, she ate poorly, slept late, studied averagely, ran around, played doll games, giggled, cried, laughed and sulked. She had few friends while growing since we stayed in a hospital campus where there weren't many small children. What was rather out of the ordinary was her passion for public speaking, which we mistook for simple child blabber and tried our desperate best to mainstream towards studying. Though she did that, there remained within her a fire to orate that sometimes manifested itself through various elocution awards that she got home. We thought that was routine, and somehow never realized the potential within her.
She passed high school, sailed through college, and then went to Europe to pursue a master's program at an esteemed university on scholarship. That's where she blossomed to be what she is today.
Just Do It!
There was a secret we both shared on her exam days in senior school. I would stand a distance away from the house when she would leave for school, wave my hand and say 'Just Do It' or 'Impossible Is Nothing' that were famous ads those days. She would look up and smile, and then re-immerse herself into the textbook of whatever exam was happening that day, as a last minute catch-up. Those evenings we would go over the question papers, and would invariably find that she had answered most correctly. So 'Just Do It' caught on as an inspiration tool between us in the subsequent years, at least until she was with us.
After completing her master's, she got a job that she wanted, not any job that was offered to her. With time to spare during weekends, she began pursuing her passion for public speaking in right earnest. She joined the local Toastmasters club in the town where she lived, represented them at the district level, then regional, and subsequently national level. Well, it has been two years in a row that she has represented a nation that is not hers to begin with, where English is widely spoken and understood, in a language not native to her, and both times she has been awarded as one of the best speakers and evaluators in Europe. That little Scout of yesteryear has literally proven that 'Impossible is Nothing' if passions are nurtured and pursued in right earnest. She believed in herself, and 'Just Did It.'
Where The Mind Is Without Fear
One of the greatest bards of India, Rabindranath Tagore, had once written a poem "Where the Mind is Without Fear.' It reads as follows.
'Where the mind is without fear and the head is held high
Where knowledge is free
Where the world has not been broken up into fragments
By narrow domestic walls
Where words come out from the depth of truth
Where tireless striving stretches its arms towards perfection
Where the clear stream of reason has not lost its way
Into the dreary desert sand of dead habit
Where the mind is led forward by thee
Into ever-widening thought and action
Into that heaven of freedom, my Father, let my country awake.'
The poem basically was written to protest against British rule in India then. Later on, it evolved to signify protest against any form of injustice. Scout's last lecture 'Without Fear' for the newspaper The Diplomat was a tribute to the poem, and emphasized the power of the free soul to face all hurdles and conquer all adversities with the power of the mind without worrying about the consequences.
Life Lessons Learnt From Scout
Sangbreeta, Mrinalini, Rabia, Buchun, Scout-whichever name you decide to call her by, has proven that the power of dreams is far greater than the ordinariness of submission into a molded humdrum existence. As parents, we have realized, albeit late in the day, that a child's dreams need to be nurtured and not thwarted. If we as parents can think beyond the box and not crave that our children follow rewarding conventional careers to ensure their stability and financial security, who knows we can perhaps have a few more Einsteins, Mozarts, Shakespeares or Jungs in the future. We need our children to follow the wind of their thoughts and not be blown by the wind of nothingness. We need to listen to them carefully when they are young, and identify traits, talents and characteristics early on to help them develop that and pursue their dreams. Scout is just an example. If there is a child yearning to do something differently, let that child be encouraged to pursue individuality rather than being chained to a lifetime of ordinariness. After all, a life is meant to be lived in happiness with fulfilled dreams instead of the dreariness of a simple nondescript existence.