Fatima Agarkar, an educationalist, co-founder of KA EduAssociates, and wife of former India cricketer Ajit Agarkar, has carved a niche for herself. Her enormous contributions in the field of education has won her many accolades. She has been recognised as one of the eminent women achievers at the recently-held Women Achievers Awards ceremony by Young Environmentalists Programme Trust in Mumbai. In a freewheeling conversation, Fatima and Ajit Agarkar talk about their style of parenting, their unfathomable love for cricket, education, their friendship with Sachin and much more. It’s a ParentCircle exclusive!
How long is this going to take Baba?” enquired the shy 10-year-old Raj, sitting beside his cricketer dad who was trying to make funny faces and tickle him to make him smile.
“Just a few clicks more. In return, how about extra reading hours?” came the swift reply from his mother, Fatima even as Ajit kept smiling. The little boy’s face lit up instantly.
Fatima turned to me and said “Raj loves to read. And, look, he’s happier sitting with his Baba, than with me. Baba’s little champ!” Spot on, she was. The father-son bonding was evident and extremely heart-warming to watch. It was equally entertaining to chat with the pair, sitting in their 19th floor apartment in the heart of Mumbai. Enjoy the journey over the next few minutes:
(To Ajit) You share a very special bond with Raj. We’d love to know more about the chemistry and also your style of parenting, especially because you and Fatima come from different cultural and religious backgrounds.
Ajit: (Chuckles) Oh, Yes! I do feel a special kind of connection with him. During Raj’s early years, I used to travel a lot (for cricketing reasons) and that was one of the things he couldn’t cope with. He was too young to understand then. So, in the last couple of years, I have made it a point to spend a lot of time with him at home. I don’t necessarily stick around him all the time, but the fact that I am around, calms him. He is growing up to be a very independent individual, a little too soon.
Fatima: Our idea of good parenting is open communication and mutual respect. We do set boundaries, but also create plenty of opportunities for Raj to explore, discover and grow. Though it does bother me to see him go through the consequences of a mistake, I know it will help him become more confident and self-reliant. We consider ourselves very fortunate. We have the opportunity to bring two different cultures to our home, and that gives him the best of both worlds.
What is the best thing about being a parent? Was there a defining moment that changed your life?
Ajit: (Jumps in) There are many! But, I remember this one time when I was in Pakistan, for a month, to play a tournament when both Fatima and Raj flew down to visit me. They arrived at Karachi in the middle of the night, and we were playing somewhere else. So, I took permission from the team to fly back a bit early to Karachi. When I reached home he was fast asleep. But, just as I got closer to him, he opened his eyes and gave me big bright smile. He was just two-and-a half months old then! That was one of the best moments in my life. Such moments matter the most.
Fatima: (Chips in) Ajit and I were elated the day we found out that I was pregnant. Just the feeling of knowing that we will be responsible for another human being excited us. And, like every couple, hearing his first heartbeat was magical - we were never the same again.
As for priceless moments, I’ll give you a list
- When we surprise him by picking him up at the bus stop, and his eyes light up seeing us
- When he does well in representing his school, and comes back running into the house to share the news
- When he makes a mistake and confides in us
- When he snuggles in bed with us, because a gory nightmare woke him up
- When he shares his ‘secrets’ with us
- Oh! And those unexpected pecks on the cheek followed by "love you mamma and baba"... we love such moments!
That’s adorable. You have a beautiful home. Do window panes get shattered here too? Ajit was known to shatter many a window pane in his childhood.
Fatima: (Pointing at the ceiling) The chandelier still bears evidence of Raj's early interest in cricket. Look, you can still see ball marks on our ceiling. Fortunately, our apartment complex has a beautiful pitch, and Raj gets to enjoy the luxury of space! Ajit's mum had so many complaints, she tells me, that she finally sent Ajit to Shivaji Park to play, just to keep the daily complaints from neighbours at bay!
How important is the aspect of staying physically fit, as a family?
Fatima: I'm married to a sportsman, who has spent his life dedicated to fitness. For Ajit, it was essential for his performance at a competitive level. But, even otherwise, we believe that a fit lifestyle keeps you injury-free, physically fit and generally equips you to be more productive. And, we can't stress enough as to how important it is for every individual to stay active, be it young or old.
Cricket is India’s favourite sport. However, when it comes to pursuing it as a full-fledged career, parents are still apprehensive.
Ajit: It isn't just for cricket. There is always a question mark when a child wants to pursue anything. But, I will be honest. Children have more defined opportunities today, owing to the emergence of leagues and different formats of tournaments available to make it as a professional sportsman.
Fatima: Whatever you choose in life, you will always make a choice that is laden with risks, and I believe the mind-set is already changing with parents treating sport as a profession. For me, as a mum and as an educator, I would look for scientific evidence in the form of skill, performance, passion, dedication and commitment.
You just spoke about your role as an educator. How important is formal education in a child’s life?
Fatima: Education gives you a chance to create, ideate and be a part of a change that you want to see in the world. It equips you with knowledge, experiences, expertise, and more importantly, the ability to adapt. Education is the real difference between harmony and disruption, and, if more children can have these valuable tools, we would have more problem-solvers, thinkers, and more peace in this world
(To Ajit) Like Sachin, you too were very lucky to be the disciple of Ramakant Achrekar. He is a living example of what a teacher can do to a student. Isn’t he?
Ajit: It was during a particular summer vacation when my grandparents started getting a series of complaints from the neighbours, as I used to break windows and other things (while playing cricket). So, my dad suggested I give cricket a shot. That’s when he took me to meet Sir. It all worked out really well. So, my parents share a major part of the credit too. Everyone knows that Achrekar Sir was always the first guy to reach the ground and the last to leave. He always said “You will have enough time to rest later in your life,” and he was 100 per cent right.There were days, when the Mumbai riots got really bad, but, he’d still pick us up at 5:00 a.m., to take us for practice. This used to stress my parents out. And though, there were only 3 guys on the ground, he would make us practise. Those were the things he did, not only for me, but for everyone.
You've always said that a sportsperson should pass on the experience to the next lot. The question, though, is whether the current lot is receptive to pieces of advice from the seniors.
Ajit: First, all that experience is of no use if you don’t share it with others. So, you obviously use it in whatever field you are in. That’s what we learnt in the Mumbai cricket team. When I started playing, there was first Sanjay Manjrekar and then Sachin Tendulkar. They had been there for years; so, it was much easier for me to learn from them. And, that has generally been the tradition in the Mumbai cricket team. About today’s lot, I am sure most guys are receptive. You won’t see anyone who really wants to learn, ever saying ‘Why is this guy giving me advice?’ And, this was one of the reasons why I kept playing Ranji Trophy.
Talking about Sachin, how big an influence has he been, not just in your cricketing career, but in your life too?
Ajit: Well, I think for me, he has been the biggest influence. I was a 20-year-old boy when I got picked as a Mumbai cricket team player. Soon, I got a chance to hang out with Sachin, who was already a veteran. While training with Achrekar Sir, we never met, as he was 4 years my senior. We barely knew each other then. He used to come for practice, but we never interacted. After joining the Indian team, we got along really well, maybe, because of our mother tongue and because we were both from Mumbai. So, I think we were very familiar with each other; our habits were similar, and these little things helped us to connect well. And, yes, the fact that we spent months together, thanks to all the matches, strengthened our friendship.
Your message to the parenting community . . .
Ajit: Raj is 10 right now, and has already started behaving as if he is 16. Like if we are discussing something, he also participates and says, “Well, that’s my perception”, and we respect that. So, we think it’s a beautiful age and we are actually looking forward to his teenage tantrums. We think it’s going to be fun. We plan holidays every year together and play some board games, and let me tell you we are all very competitive, though I usually win (chuckles). We try and give as much time to each other as we can. And I can actually see the difference in his behaviour. When one of us is at home, he becomes very relaxed. I guess that’s what every parent should aim to do.
Fatima: For all the parents out there, we just want to tell you that it’s okay if your child is making a mistake. But, please don’t be quick to generalise, don’t be quick to judge or assume things. Don’t go on a rant and give them life lessons. Just listen. And, if they are sorry, accept it. Most of all, don’t feel bad if your children make you look less perfect. Just let them be, because that is the only way they are meant to be.
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