ByÂ Pranietha Mudliar:
Place- Sasthapur Village,
(February to April 2011)
I had been meaning to pen down my thoughts about my time spent in my study area since a very long time but somehow the words wouldn’t flow out straight. I saw a lot of things and it somehow confused me. I went down to field with no pre-conceived notions. My advisor had warned me innumerable number of times to get rid of any biases that I may possess.
Happy… Simple joys
The NGO that hosted me also ran an orphanage. This is not any ordinary orphanage in the real sense of the term. The children who live here are either school dropouts, children who work as labour on farms or children who are just too poor enough to afford going to school. There are 25 boys here, ranging from 5 years to 14 years. The NGO trains them for a year and then helps them with admissions into primary schools. Girls still don’t have the privilege to be a part of such an institution as it is difficult to convince the parents that the girl child also need to study. It is indeed a luxury to go to school when one can rather contribute by earning wages by working on the fields.
The day begins for them at 5 am. They get up with a lot of clamour as all children do and start rushing off to start the day’s work. They have to clean the compounds, bring in the vegetables, wash the rice (in a huge cauldron like vessel), wash their clothes and then take a bath at the community tap. Then at 8 they start their breakfast after a quick prayer to Annadatta. Then it’s time for studies which continues till lunch time.
After lunch they have some respite from the rigor of their studies and they sit around trying to complete some math sums or just read- which entails keeping books in front of them trying to make sense of the strange little characters.
It was a pleasure to watch them play kabaddi one evening. Their smiles and their camaraderie made that moment for me magical. It took them too away from their strict and rigid life.
By 5 it’s again back to studies till 10 in the night with a short break for dinner. The kids are a disciplined lot. They obey their master who doesn’t refrain from using his cane liberally. They fear their elders and flinch when spoken to.
Prayers before dinner
I looked at the kids hard for 2 days before I ventured out to speak and play with them. I could only think that city kids are such a privileged lot and I was so thankful that I was lucky enough to receive the ‘benefits’ of living in a city and well, not a life like these kids.
On my last night I was invited to teach the children some English so that it would inspire them to keep trying to learn it. The logic being that an outsider would have greater impact on the kids rather than someone close harping about its importance day in and day out. I hesitated at first thinking that I didn’t in any way want to play a part in already burdening the children but after a lot of insistence I gave in and went.
It was 10 pm. The kids looked dead sleepy to me. A bunch of 5 kids were made to sit upfront because they were ‘better’ in English that the rest of the class. I mulled over what to teach such a lot because I was sure that hardly anything would make sense to them when all they wanted to do was sleep. Having no choice I started by telling them about seasons. The response was overwhelming. I could see no trace of their sleepiness and they were just so eager to soak in any bit of knowledge that came their way. Maybe the night was playing games with me.
In the classroom
The kids were very willing to sing songs so we started with Jack and Jill and Hum honge kaamyaab. And they just loved it. They followed the tone of my voice and the actions of Jack and Jill sent them into thrills.
Song singing-still looking fearful
Before leaving one boy who was ‘better’ at English asked me, “Tumchya sarka English bolayla kay karava lagta?” (What do we have to do to speak English like you?) That is when a lot of conflicting emotions hit me- I was so touched and glad that they have the hunger to learn and yet saddened by the fact that though the hunger exists, the opportunities were not going to be easy to come by.
I say this because they previous day in one of the villages I saw one kid in his uniform roaming in the village while the rest of the children were in school. I asked him why he wasn’t in school. Pat came the reply, ”Today I had to go on the field to work with my parents’.
Though these kids will be sent to school, there is no guarantee that they will remain in school. For most it will be back to the fields in the hot scorching sun and remembering a fading dream.
Photo viaÂ ProcsilasÂ via Flickr Creative Commons