Tuition lessons seem liked an obvious idea at first. “It is perfect for you, Amma.”, says Sanjana, “You don't even have to step out of the flat. You can have the classes when it suits you”.
There are always children in her apartment block who needed coaching in elementary Maths and English. Padmaja prefers primary school children who were better behaved and she didn't have to deal with parents of secondary school children who were constantly complaining about their performance in exams.
She makes little work sheets for her students for them to take home with them and return the following lesson. She writes down questions at the top, middle and at three-quarters of the page leaving enough space for their answers. She would be kind but firm with the children. No more than five students at any time, she assures the parents and it begins promisingly. Three students sign up in just the first week after she put up a small advertisement on the community notice board.
This will do for the moment, she promises herself. She could spread her attention evenly and make sure that they concentrate on their work. After all, what is the point of a tuition lesson if they could not have individual attention? The following Tuesday, she gets a call from one of the mothers.
“Padmaja teacher, my daughter Sailu...Sailaja sprained her ankle at school today. She is in a lot of pain and won't be able to make it for tuition today.”
“It's alright”, says Padmaja, “please make sure that she works on the test sheet I have prepared for her.”
The next week, it is her daughter Sanjana on the phone. “Amma, Tara has these raised spots on her back and chest”, she said. “Do you think it might be chicken pox? You don't have to come all the way here just for this. No, no, don't cancel your tuition class or anything. Okay, if you insist...”
It is chicken pox as Padmaja had suspected and her grand-daughter Tara stays with her all week while Sanjana goes to work.
The following week, only one child turns up for lessons.
Padmaja wishes she could be certain about it. But some times, she gets the feeling that she is being avoided. Like the other day when one of her students' mothers, the one who lives on the fifth floor, was about to get in to the lift with her but decided instead to take the stairs. Or that afternoon at the temple, when she spots another parent at a distance but before she could smile at her or give her a wave, the other lady abruptly changed direction and walked away.