Rustic lessons

Her innocent eyes filling with tears, she said, "I know why you refuse. I am Harijan."

I have been inspired by none less than the late Mother Teresa who, I read, would take the Christ’s injunction, “As you did it to the least of these brethren, you did it to me,” quite literally. Motivated by this ‘saint of the gutters,’ I decided to take a day off to do some NSS (National Service Scheme) work at the NGO ‘Dream-a-Dream’ which has as one of its pet projects a residential school, Ananya.

So, one bright winter-scented morning, a group of us volunteers boarded a Winger van to take us to the venue, a village-like hamlet. All of us adults had a desire to do our bit for the unfortunate and possibly make a difference so the simple village folk could benefit from us — as we would from them!

Once we arrived, our team leader divided us into groups where our duties included teaching (that was given to me as I was the only teacher in the group!), running simple errands for the grown-ups in the village and talking to the aged and the infirm to mitigate their palpable loneliness. After lunch, we planned to show the villagers a few videos on health concerns, a concept almost alien to them.

I breezed into the small, dingy, make-shift classroom where about 20 boys and girls were sitting crammed on threadbare mats. Nevertheless, their young faces beamed with an optimism towards learning, and that is what we wanted! I introduced myself as a teacher, passionate and in love with teaching, who tried to use examples, concepts and anecdotes related to the mindset of the students. So, with them, I promised to use village-related examples. I was to teach addition and subtraction and I genuinely wanted the concepts I taught to stay with them.

“Suppose, we have three cats, of which one gets attracted to a curtain and starts playing with it, how many cats are not playing?” Pat came the reply of a sprightly young girl named Arohi, “Ma’am, there will be none. The other two cats, too, will start playing since they are copycats!” Everyone giggled at this, for Arohi was obviously a keen observer of animals!

As the morning wore on, I explained more theories, my mind seeking, exploring and scanning further examples I could offer. There was fun and frolic involved, too, in the sheer amount of mathematical problems I gave them which they wrote down and solved diligently. By the end of the problem-solving marathon, they looked exhausted but also heartened and grateful.

Finally, as we were to break for lunch, Arohi approached me tentatively and asked, “Ma’am, why not come to my hut for coffee?” Not wishing to trouble her and her mother, I quickly declined. Her innocent eyes filling with tears, she said, “I know why you refuse. I am Harijan.” Immediately regretting my words, I joined her for coffee. But for the rest of the day, I was quiet and introspective as her words, tearful and poignant, reverberated in my mind for a long time.

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