By Vidya Jonnalagadda
Fear not, gentle reader, this is not a test of botanical definitions, or even an argument about why plant organs that are actually roots (like carrots) and stems (like potatoes) and fruits (like tomatoes) are all clubbed under the generic term ‘vegetables’. What this blog is about is my friend Neetu’s young daughter, Nishtha’s homework for school.
When Nishtha was in first grade, her Hindi teacher assigned the homework of writing names of five vegetables (sabziyaan). After consulting with her mother, Nishtha wrote simple words like aalu, matar, shalajam, and tamaatar. The next day, however, Nishtha returned from school angry and tearful, “aap ko kuch bhi nahin aataa Mummy, teacher ne teen sabziyon ko wrong diya!” A little investigation by Neetu revealed that three vegetables on Nishtha’s homework had been marked wrong because had not been taught by the teacher in class!
This was a couple of years ago. When I called Neetu today to ask if I could write about this incident on this blog, she had all but forgotten about it. Like her, you too might say that it was a small matter after all, no lasting harm done. But I have thought often about this incident; perhaps it affected me so much because I am upset to see that we are teaching our children that what they see and eat are not “real” vegetables unless they are on the teacher’s list (or in the textbook)!