In the times of pandemic, life has not been easy. In fact, it has become more and more difficult. And I am trying to find innovative ways of engaging myself so that I don’t alternate between being a full time cook and a full time maid.
In the midst of all this confusion, on a rain drenched, sultry morning, I suddenly get a call from an old friend Arijit. He is my childhood buddy and the bond has remained strong over the years.
Arijit, apart from being highly academic, has immense passion for social work. As we grew older, he started taking up Adult Literacy programs along with his studies. Since we were both active in such a sphere, he used to involve me in assisting him in many of his sessions.
I must confess that I had enjoyed those sessions as we travelled into the interior villages, upcountry, interacting with men and women from different age groups, ever eager to learn. Their hunger for learning was insatiable. Sometimes Arijit and I spent hours on an end sitting on charpoys (light bedstead of woven webbing) with these villagers, teaching them spoken English or written Hindi or Bengali and fighting small insects, including mosquitoes. In return we got wholesome, home cooked food, tea and home made snacks.
Thus went our growing up years, amidst a passion and drive for educating those ever grateful souls.
But the highlight of the note that I pen is not about our yesteryears in novice teaching but about my one significant experience in the pandemic times. Let me elaborate.
Arijit is in the US, in a premier Institution with what he is best at, academics. He had started online teaching for those in metro towns in India and he thought of roping me in. I couldn’t have asked for a better avenue for spending my time constructively and thus agreed immediately.
He has some 250 students who have signed up for different subjects and it was becoming too much for him to handle. The age group is obviously lower and therefore ‘less manageable’, he warned me. I was to take up some 50 students online for 2 hours each and in 5 batches on different days. I had assumed that the manageability issue arose since the fees were nominal. But I was wrong. Students are focussed, ready to learn and question. They keep me alert all the time. They sit in groups, sharing computers and in pin drop silence. The grasp is high and the lessons finish quickly.
This story is about one of the students, an 18 year old boy named Anil, who is starting to prepare for the IAS (Indian Administrative Services) exams, which is still some years away for him. So English is a must and here he is. His father is a bus conductor and mother is a tailor. He has a younger sister who is studying in a local school. Like most parents of such children, his parents also naturally aspire for them to succeed in life.
Anil knows English. He is keenly interested in politics and he knows his history, much more than what I do. Fortunately, I was only up with English.
I was going by the Course module with the students, which was given to me. After a week, Anil wrote a mail seeking permission to speak to me. When we spoke, he said he was interested in reading non-fiction books and if I could refer some books for his reading. Assuming that his English would require some overhauling before that, I asked him to hold on for sometime.
But Anil was prepared. ‘Ma’m you think my English is weak’, he stated. I said yes, that’s what I thought. ‘May we have a teleconversation on Tagore, Ma’m?’ I balked. I knew my Tagore knowledge hardly qualified me to jump into a deep discussion. I declined and gave in to his request.
With this innocuous incident, Anil’s equation with me subtly changed. Taking him more seriously, I started to go through books, talking to my friends in Civil Services and suggested books to him. In fact, at times, I buy books online and send them to him through his father.
He rings me up every third day for an interaction on a subject of his choice, which he well prepares prior to the call. And I have to be ready for a discussion on it. We converse in English and if he doesn’t catch a word, he stops me and flips through his dictionary. But he never asks me.
The conversation is on Skype for over an hour and I find his internet holding on remarkably well. He attends morning College and is back for his classes in the afternoon. He works part time with the local traders, writing books of accounts for them. Before the day ends, he is at the akhada (arena), with his friends practising wrestling. Sometimes he sits down to tutor his sister Rani. In fact, I too have to tutor Rani at times!
Boys like Anil give me hope for my country. The dedication, the commitment to success, belief in self and seeking help without hesitation…I see a reflection of my image in him.
I am sure Anil will clear the Civil Services exams and I tell Arijit that we will visit his place of first posting.
There are many such boys and girls in India who have lofty aspirations and the drive to grow in life. All they need is some support. If we stretch out our hand, they are willing to come all the way.
The desires are small. Acceding to such small wishes gives me a lot of pleasure. Brings me peace and goodwill that is so difficult to come by today.