FIRST PERSON by Maya Chandrasekaran

Come April, and kids all over the country throw aside their books and sit back to relax and sip their iced watermelon juice, right? Wrong? The final exams may be over, but the slog has just begun. No, I’m not talking about a summer job; I’m talking about that dreaded four letter word - camp, summer camp.

In summer, parents find themselves bereft of anything to do. After all, there are no exams to agonize over, lessons to take up, or tuitions to ferry their children to and from. And so, they look for an alternative, and one readily presents itself - summer camp. Here the children can take classes in accounts, computer awareness, electronics, chemistry and astronomy, and learn maths the fun way! Parents pore delightedly over advertisements that read, "Do you believe that school is not enough? Do you want your child to be more goal focused? Do you want to send your child to a unique development camp?" or "An intensive programme in career guidance and study skills." And if the camp offers some sort of diploma or certificate, or organises a competition at the end, replete with sponsored trophies, so much the better, isn’t it?

Whatever happened to lazing around during the summer vacation, when you lay in bed till ten o’clock, and then slowly emrged only to sit back and read a book, or saunter over to a friend’s house? When afternoon only meant catching the rays playing every game known to man, and evening meant a chance to go out for ice - creams. These days kids are too busy rushing from their art appreciation and elocution classes to "advanced computer classes", to know, let alone appreciate free time.

True, they’ll all be incredibly knowledgeable and talented. They’ll be a generation of over - achievers. They’ll be able to recite Shakespeare, tap dance, paint your portrait and explain the intricacies of aero - dynamics to you (all at the same time, too) but ask them to relax, and they’ll fall to pieces. "Relax?" they’ll look at each other in terror. "Is that even legal?"

And of course, parents enter into summer camp activities with a laudable zeal and enthusiasm. Mothers of opposing tennis players glare icily at each other when they meet at the supermarket; or if Priya learns to float before Pooja, at their swimming camp, consternation breaks out at Pooja’s house, and her father sits her down to give her a pep talk.

Picture this : a group of mothers sit together, chatting.

"My Rohit is going to four classes," one boasts, smiling.

"Ah, but he’s only receiving certificates from two of them," another mother pints out smugly. The first one crumples, defeated.

"Smruti isn’t joining any camps this year," a third one volunteers hesitantly. The other mothers look at her in shock. Then slowly, they start edging away. Who knows, someone as mentally unstable as that, might be violent and dangerous, too!

What with holiday homework, and rushing from one self - developmental camp to another, it doesn’t seem right to even call them holidays. Why don’t we just call them "advanced over - achievement time," and make all parents happy?

The other day I was talking to an eleven year old neighbour of mine. "So, Nita," I asked her. "What are you doing this summer?"

"Oh, I’m learning swimming in twenty days, and I’m taking part in five chess tournaments, and I’ll be learning networking in computers. And mummy says if there’s time, I can take an intensive course in French."

"Oh," I said, slightly overwhelmed. "Is it fun?"

"Fun?" she looked askance at me. She wasn’t quite sure what that word meant, but she made a note to ask her "vocabulary enhancement teacher" all about it!