A humbling experience

Last week I was invited by the principal of Ela Sarawat School to be the Chief Guest at the farewell of their tenth class students. The biggest lesson I learnt, that we all are immensely privileged and we should be thankful for our education and opportunities we have got. Moreover, be humble about it. My experience to the slum school and their function was most humbling. Children can be happy and can still be innovative in most stifling environments, it is a miracle.

This school is located off the kachcha road at Malvani. Now if anyone remotely thinks India is a highly developed nation and a political and economic superpower, I request all to take a walk to this school and get a reality test. The stomach churns, lump in the throat and as one approaches a brightly coloured school from the front, by the time your autorokshaw has closed towards the muddy road entrance, the entire school and Junior College resembles a rather posh slum.

this is the most depressing part. The school is run by a trust that seems least interested to give any money to this slum school, that is how most Corporate Social Responsibility is seen in India. This school is a live example. As i recovered from being half covered by mud and tolerating the stench, I was asked to jump on a motorcycle to the venue which I was told was 10 minutes away. I was taken straight inside a slum. the roads were not continuous or well laid, with every plot that completed that part of concrete was patched by another and once the bike nearly skid. Goats, adults strayed in the middle, carts strewn in the middle and more stench of sewerage killed me bit by bit. It was a complete culture shock, to say the least.

We were made to sit in a duplex slum, the upholstery was rich for the environs. We later taken two storeyed above to a terrace, where there were no fans. a tin roof with all sides open and completely surrounded by slums. One clarification, these slums are concrete, tin sheds types. Obviously children and tots peeping up from their premises. Finally the trustee, member of a rich Muslim family that owns numerous colleges, institutes and buildings. For them, this school is a compulsion. I cannot even remotely imagine a school has no playground and the trustee, after much pleading gave Rs 2000/- ONLY to hold a sports day. I was shocked beyond belief. These kids will grow up into adults who have no medals or certificates to show their children and grand children.

As I inquired about the school results, I was given pleasant news, the school for 10th has 98-99% results and similar for junior college. Imagine for a school that caters to may be the first generation learners, living in complete poverty, to come out of their deprivation and limitations and achieve these results is definitely a huge achievement. It is way above the 90-100% individual scoring so-called scholars, who are rote learners, after numerous tuition and coaching. The school has zero extra curricular activities. The trustee has banned teaching or learning Music in this school. Now in this environment yours truly was invited. If anyone knows anything about me, I am law abiding, but love to break rules. Lived on the playground till I was forced out of injuries in my twenties, hence the information given to me about this school was difficult to accept.

The most fascinating part was as soon as we took our ‘prime’ seats, we were informed the teachers will be performing a skit. It may be the first time I have witnessed a farewell or any event in school, where teachers put up a skit. Must give it to them, talented lot of teachers with minute observation had depicted the behaviour of students. Students were thrilled to bits. This was followed by another round of some beautiful singing. 3 talented teachers- lady sang, 1 played guitar, other the piano. Now the lady teacher comes from strict, conservative Muslim family. She is immensely gifted but is barred from singing. She loves it and is her passion, so in such events the principal lets her sing.

Around this time I heard the teachers dedicate a song to one Imran, who is no more. I was told he was given wrong medication and treatment by a hospital after he fell ill and died. This is just 2 months before the board exams. This really is pathetic how the poor die only because of lack resources prevent them from even getting the right medicine. The tribute brought tears to the eyes of the entire class, where I was hopeful after seeing young boys cry. By god, I held myself back, it was that absolutely low moment for all.

I was further informed, these adult teachers had never heard of the word, trek. And contrast it to our lives, I began to go on hikes and treks from fourth standard. The principal took them on a trek in Thane district and now they are excited to go on more.

When we spoke, I was thrilled to hear from the students none of the girls were to marry soon. 1 wants to be a dancer, 1 a journalist. And I am eternally hopeful after listening to their dreams. They were happy, smiling, had song and dance time. Imagine open terrace, no great acoustics, no auditorium, no great food and still they had big dreams, were hopeful and believed in change. The staff and principal are immensely creative. They lit for us a candle of knowledge, painted pots, cards with personalised touch to make us feel special. I can only say this is one school where teachers are surely is doing a revolutionary job. They need more power and it only reminds us we take our privilege for granted.