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 with a lump in the throat and as one approaches a brightly coloured school from the front, by the time your autorickshaw has moved 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 of it. 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. After every plot completed and next began, the middle portion was patched by concrete with no guarantee of balance, since nothing is even here. Goats and adults strayed in the middle, carts are strewn in the middle and more stench from gutters will kill one, 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. Later we were taken to a terrace, where there were no fans! An asbestos roof and the four sides open, completely surrounded by slums. One clarification, these slums are concrete, tin roof-shed types. Obviously there were peeping tots from surrounding neighbourhood. Finally the trustee, member of a rich Muslim family that owns numerous colleges, institutions and more so buildings made an appearance. For them, this school is a compulsion. I cannot even remotely imagine a school with NO playground, but here was one. This trustee, after much pleading had given the principal only Rs 2000/- for the 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.
No extra cirricular activities which can hone their skills and help them discover them, in the first place.
As I inquired about the school results, I got the best news, the school for 10th has 98-99% results and same case 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 achieve these results is definitely a huge achievement. It is way above the 90-100% individual so-called high scoring, rote learners, who get these marks after numerous tuition and coaching. The school has zero extra curricular activities and 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 a law-abiding citizen, but love to break rules. Lived on the playground till I was forced out of injuries in my twenties, it was a challenge to reach out to students from this school to motivate and inspire them.
So the first rule I broke was to tell the trustee that he has a creative and a wonderful principal. Second rule I broke, to tell him sports IS important and third, to tell him it is amazing his school results have been laudable. I got polite nods.
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, depicted the behaviour of their students. 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.