Never be afraid to reach for the stars because even if you fall, you’ll always be wearing a parentchute.” Any Modern Family fanatic would’ve guessed it right! This is a quote from one of the protagonists, Phil’s book, ‘Phil’s-o-sophy’. While the quote might be funny, it is very profound and true with respect to Vidya and Rashesh Shah. It’s that comfort they got from their parents, and something they strived to give their kids. “We got the best education, thanks to our parents. And we wanted to give our kids just the same, except that when they were growing up the opportunities were a lot more. So, we had to work harder to be able to offer them the best,” says Vidya.
And yes, it’s no exaggeration — the beautiful song Do Deewane Shehar Mein from the Hindi movie Gharaonda by lyricist Gulzar would just befit the couple if you just replaced the word ashiana with paathshala! Vidya and Rashesh’s continuous pursuit of what education programme would best fit their children has pretty much kept them on their toes right from the day they started hunting for their first school. The IIM-A graduates did thorough research at every step, often moving around boards and schools to ensure they got the best of the best. “We learnt from the mistakes we made with Neel and rectified them with Avanti,” says Vidya.
Neel was in Bombay Scottish, ICSE, till Grade 6, and then moved to Middle Years Programme (MYP) in Ecole Mondiale World School and finally completed his 11th and 12th grade from Rugby School, UK where he pursued his AS and A-levels. “We felt that ICSE wasn’t stressing enough on reading, so we put moved Neel into the International Baccalaureate (IB) programme. I think the programme focused on learning through curiousity and actually doing things, which stood out for me,” explains Vidya. When it came to the little princess of the family, aka ‘Baby Shah’ as Rashesh fondly teases her, they directly put her in Ecole Mondiale World School. She continued till grade 7 and then moved into the Cambridge (IGCSE) through grade 8-10 and then finally the IBDP in her 11th and 12th grade. “IGCSE and IBDP are extremely focused and well-organised programmes, that focus upon the child’s overall development,” adds Rashesh.
Indeed, these decisions might seem trivial, but can have a profound impact on how the kids shape up. It also requires some level of diligence on part of the parents to understand the difference in various curriculums and what kind of system is best suited for the child.
And with the careers that this power couple was leading, managing the kids’ extracurriculars, PTA meetings and homework was no walk in the park. But, with meticulous planning and the perfect calendar system, they never missed out on their kids’ lives. “I loved English and History, so I would help them out with that and Rashesh can be very creative with teaching, especially Math so that was his forte,” smiles Vidya. From mental math to setting papers for their exams, they did it all. And the duo understood the drawbacks of the respective programmes that their kids were admitted to. “The IB system didn’t encourage memorising anything, but we still feel that one should know the multiplication tables till 20. I would set quizzes for her, and then she would negotiate how many she wants to do, and we would always argue about that,” Rashesh says.
While shifting schools might have been tough for the children, it worked very well ultimately. “The best part of the curriculum emphasises self-learning. There was no option of any spoon-feeding. Even with English, they didn’t teach grammar as part of the syllabus, it was all reading,” explains Rashesh. The grading system in these international boards is very different, yet no matter what parents say, grades do matter to them, and more than knowing their own kid’s grade, it’s the friend’s grade they are interested in. “My kids still joke about this, only when after I ask them and we are done arguing, I wonder why I behaved that way,” laughs Vidya. For primary section, the process for tracking progress was through colours; moving from a yellow to purple was an achievement. “Because of the way the course is structured, the kids needed no extra tuition support, which allowed them more time for extracurriculars,” says Rashesh.
As an eight-year-old, Neel went on his first summer camp all alone and later Avanti and Neel would go together for skiing, camping, mountain biking programmes too. “They picked up on social skills very early on because of this and stopped being fussy, because in the camp they had to eat what was given to them, it was all about survival!” explains Vidya.
While Rashesh and Vidya made all the school choices for Neel, the choice to go to Rugby to pursue AS and A-levels was Neel’s, and the duo was nothing but supportive. But Vidya had a serious ‘mera beta bada hogaya’ moment when he first came back from Rugby for his holidays. “The boy who refused to get out of bed for school was waking up on time. He had also found a way around not ironing his shirts — by simply wearing a pullover, no matter what the weather was,” she smiles.
Currently, Neel, 22 is completing his undergrad at the University of Chicago in economics and statistics and Avanti, 17 is in the 12th grade at Dhirubhai Ambani International School preparing to go to college next year. Rashesh laughs, “People praise our kids and talk about how mature they are, and how well they are doing, in those moments we feel, alright…so we’ve done fairly well!”
What best describes your parenting style?
Rashesh: I am very prescriptive, and Vidya is permissive. And over the years, I have become permissive and she has become prescriptive! When we go on holidays I usually like to make sure we get up early so that we can make the most of the holiday and the kids are always sulking about waking up early. Vidya, on the other hand is very easygoing, she’ll let them sleep late.
Full-time entrepreneur and father! How did you manage both?
Rashesh: Its all about managing time. We were hiring people at Edelweiss at the time, and sticking around till midnight wasn’t going to make the process any quicker, was it?
And Vidya, you were working till the last day of each pregnancy. Was it tough for you to get back to work?
Vidya: The possessive investment banker within me, couldn’t wait to get back to work. But then again, I didn’t want to miss out on spending time with my children. I often felt that maybe I should quit, that I should take a longer leave but Rashesh always cautioned me, that the more I delay the process, the tougher it would get for me to back to work.
One value or habit that you have strived really hard to inculcate in your children?
Vidya: Freedom is great, but there are certain boundaries that cannot be crossed. Another thing we are very particular about is routine. Once you set them into a routine, it becomes self-imposed and you don’t have to tell them what time to go to bed or brush your teeth — discipline is invaluable. Parents who harp about discipline might seem boring, but it is absolutely necessary.
What’s the harshest punishment you have given?
Vidya: Even verbal lashing was not easy for me. But when they were younger, it was sending them to the naughty corner — they felt very humiliated and would go with great reluctance.
Any anecdotes from the terrible teens?
Vidya: Neel couldn’t wrap his head around school timings. He would ask us, “Why do I need to wake up in time to get to the school bus?” I would dread going out for my runs on weekdays since I was worried that he wouldn’t get up and miss his bus. I was his alarm clock. Avanti laughs about how I don’t even bother to check on her anymore, since I’m confident she would never miss school.
Does gender play a role in how each of you discipline your kid?
Vidya: We have been conscious about treating them the same. But when it comes to Avanti, safety does become a matter of concern for me. I’m always more worried about her, than I was with Neel which is quite unfair. In fact, Rashesh is a lot more progressive even in terms of safety for both of them.
Were you very pushy with respect to academics?
Vidya: I was! (laughs) Neel reminds me about that even now. I would ask him how much his friends scored and he would always say, ‘Why do you need to know how much they got?’ Now, I look back and I can’t believe I actually behaved like that.
Describe the moment that made you feel, “It’s all worth it”
Vidya: Watching Avanti perform during her arangetram. She was only 15, and she trained post-school and then through her summer vacation, she was training like an Olympic athlete, non-stop. We were immensely proud of her.
Rashesh: Reading Neel’s philosophy essay comparing Plato and Socrates. I was glad to see how his worldview had changed and how his ability to put across an argument had evolved.
Has the generation gap made for an amusing tale?
Rashesh: Our sleeping time. Vidya and I are very early sleepers and early risers. We have dinner at around 7 pm and sleep by around 8:30-9 pm (if we are allowed to). And we wake up by 4-4:30 am. The only time we are up till 10 pm is Sunday nights. Often, Avanti walks in at 8:30 pm to find all the lights are switched off, and she says, “You guys are too old!” The kids are always up till 11:30-12 pm.