Student- “भैया, अब्बु ना पहिले सवेरे सवेरे दूध और मस्का पाव खिलाने ले जाते थे!” (Bhaiya, abbu used to take me out early in the morning for milk and bun-butter!”) (with eyes wide open and tongue making slurpy noises while drinking milk)
Me- “अब भी जा सकते हो.” (You can go even now.)”
Student- “अब नहीं जाते!”(Nah, now we don’t go!)
Me- “क्यों?” (Why?)
Student- “क्या मालूम. अब आप लाना बंद कर दोगे तो आप से पूछेंगे थोड़े न की क्यों बंद कर दिया.” (I don’t know. Now if you will stop asking me for milk, I will ask you that why did you stop asking me for it.)
Me- “पर वो तो आपके अब्बु हैं न, तो आपका राईट बनता है उनसे पूछने का.” (But here we are talking about your abbu, and you have all the rights to ask him why.)
Student- “(Curled the lower lip downward explaining- I don’t know why!)”
Right before we entered this milk-shop, this student asks for a promise- “Bhaiya ye last time hai, haan!” while I just looked at him and smiled.
[The child’s mother had passed away. His father remarried and this led to a drastic shift in the child’s life in terms of social-emotional connection. Not that all step mothers are bad (the usual stereotype), but here the child is not being treated well. At times the child had starved all day for a piece of bread. The child is physically-socially-emotionally vulnerable.]
They are actually many. Despite immense struggles and inhuman conditions they have immense shine in their eyes. When they explain how Salman Khan did an amazing dhobi pachad in Sultan and how they want to do the same in real life, I get amazed at their desires. This takes me back to my childhood when I used to partake in organized fights in my school, when participating used to be an act of pride and winning an honor. Normal people call these children ‘defiant children’; I had been one and in many ways still am. For me they are just my students- no more, no less (though most of the times I am their student).
At times they accompany me home and at times I do the same with them. They run around me showing where everyone lives and how suddenly they come up with this analysis- “ऐ भैया आप पहिले हो हां जो फ्लैट में नहीं रहिते.”
Then they ask me about Bhaada (rent) and share a quick wisdom on how I am paying too much for the kind of place I am living in. They kind of scold me that I never asked for their help in finding a place here, they could have found a better place for me.
After working in Odisha, with a bunch a passionate friends and guidance of able teachers-mentors we were planning to found a small organization in order to work with government schools and communities residing in the most remote of areas. [………………] In the meantime many unexpected events unfolded and we realized that it is a good idea that before working with the system, first lets work at the grassroots of the same system (public education system) as a worker (teacher) and get firsthand experience of the bitter struggles, valor, cowardice, helplessness, systemic oppression, bright spots etc. of day to day life of a government school teacher.
These days as part of a much celebrated and criticized program Teach for India, I am teaching in a government school that caters to children from nearby slums. Why am I saying that it caters to nearby slums when the school has no such specific admission policy? Because the ones who can afford, they send their children to private schools, assuming that ‘obviously our children will learn better in a private school.’ What is left are those people who don’t earn ‘enough’ and yet strive for a better future and have an equally strong aspiration of success for their children. This clearly comes out during an exercise as part of a chapter in Geography on Human Occupations.