Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Schooling

Caught up in the tangled mesh of our own lives, we forget to cast a glance at those whose lives are dictated by squalour alone. This one has been composed from the point of view of a teacher employed in a school meant for slumchildren. No, this is NOT inspired by Slumdog Millionnaire, far from it. These are true incidents that my mother had been fortunate/unfortunate enough to experience.

Ila was late to school, very late.
She scrambled in during the third period.
Of course she had to be punished...
She deserved it.
So, she was made to stand in the sun for another period.
In the recesstime she came down
Pleading for leave to go home early.
Imagine the impudence!
"Of course NOT!" declared the principal.
She went back, scowling.
Next day, once again Ila was late:
She limped in during the third period this time
Her hair dishevelled, messaging her arms.
"Do I deserve a punishment again?" she asked.
She got late the previous day cooking for her father,
And was due to serve him tea early in the evening.
She was late coming home, and so, punished once again.
As we looked away in shame, she asked a second time
"Do I deserve a punishment now?"

Piya's father was a drunkard.
Her mother left with another,
Her father married another and turned Piya
Out into the street.
That first night she had spent there
Like a harlot without a job.
She came next morning to bid farewell.
From that night she had a job...every night.

I was late to school one day.
I saw a woman waiting outside the gate, agitated.
When asked, she exploded:
"That bitch, who studied in your goddamn school,
Has stolen my husband...."
And then she broke down:
"I have children...fathered, and fatherless."
I hurriedly went in and informed the parents of the girl
To come and collect their ward;
Lest a fight should begin on the streets,
Bickering over the claims of love and lust.

Brihaspati was the schooltopper,
But her mother married her off
At sixteen...
"excellent groom...no dowry".
The "excellent groom" returned her daughter
When he felt that she could not mother an heir.
Brihaspati was back in class:
tears in her eyes,
horror in her heart,
no vermillion to add to her insults,
only the customary bangles.

And then there was Sheetal who eloped with a boy.
She stammered so we wondered how she ever expressed her love.
And Manisha, the orphan, who serves as a domestic
And studies by her salary.
And so many more that stayed together under
The rotting roof of the school a few hours daily.
The school taught me more than I could ever teach.
My schooling- extended beyond my school-life.

Year after year we merely look on...
hearts brimming with intentions of helping, yet helpless.
With fruitless hopes that forever keep us going
Even when it's disconsolate, hopeless.