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November 2015

posted 22 Nov 2015, 06:31 by Narssimhan Kannan

It had been more than a year that I had visited the school. I had, in the meanwhile, got entangled in various personal issues, was travelling to Bangalore every month by car with my daughter and our Labrador, staying in Bangalore for 10-15 days, later shifted to Bangalore for business, shifted my daughter’s college admission as she chose to continue her studies there, meeting my son every month (as I get access to my son on the 3rd Sunday every month), took vacations based on the dates my son gave (as he lives with his mother and I get 50% access during his vacations) & my daughter’s vacation dates and was juggling four different court dates (High Court, Bandra Family Court, Thane Family Court and the Mulund Metropolitan Court). 

But these were all excuses. I passed Pune at least 10 times in the last year while I drove down to and fro from Mumbai to Bangalore and not once did I stop at the school; why? – Because it was either very early in the morning (as we leave at 4 am) or very late in the evening (while we are returning from Bangalore). If we waited, we would have to drive in the night, or would have to stay the night at a hotel, and with our Labrador, it was not very easy. Pet friendly hotels are very rare in India, I have discovered. Anyways, it was my fault and it was eating me from within. So, this time, I resolved to go to Pune separately. Just devote one whole day for the school, nothing else. No other appointments. 

So, I booked my tickets and informed Mr. Bhalke that I was coming on the 5th of November. I reached by 10 and Bhalke had come to the station to pick me up. We left, picked up Dairy Milk for all the children and reached the school by 11 am. The children had been waiting for me. I first met all the children and every child stood up and wished me "Good Morning Sir!". I sat in every class for some time and spent time with the children. I enquired their names, what their parents did and also spoke to the teachers. While I was doing this, Mr. Bhalke was taking pictures of all the classes. 

I met every class and shared the chocolates with every child. I also shared chocolates with the teachers. Here is a slide show of me with the children sharing the chocolates. The children were elated. Some had not had a Dairy Milk ever in their lives so were asking their friends how to open it and eat it. Some wanted to take it home as they wanted to share it with their siblings. I have consistently seen the people who have very little sharing more than the people who have everything. I wonder why people who have more than what they need stop sharing? Is it why they have more than what they need? 

After the chocolates, it was time for some questions. I asked some of the students to tell me what they had learnt. Two very bright girls from the Marathi section started rapidly firing away the 2, 3 and 4 times multiplication tables. Then a couple of children recited some poems in both English and Hindi. Some taught me the English alphabet while some girls wanted me to learn numerals. I could see that the teachers were slightly nervous so I did not ask the children tough questions. The way they were reciting the poems was very endearing. I have tried to capture it in some of these videos.  
I started my career as a teacher and every time I get an opportunity, I seize it. I chose the 2nd standard class and started teaching them addition and subtraction. They had been recently introduced to the concept of addition so were a little confused when I talked to them about subtraction. But I used common, daily life examples like mangoes, eggs, and they immediately understood. They solved all the problems I gave them; simple problems but effective as they understood them immediately. I love it when children understand and grasp concepts quickly. It gives me immense satisfaction as a teacher.   
It was time for the children to leave. I was informed that their bus would be coming any time now. We thought that this was a good time to take some group photos with all the classes. So we assembled all the children outside and I took some pictures with them. It was quite sunny so we had to assemble all of them quickly and take the photographs and send them back to their classes so that the next batch could come out. Some of them were so tiny; their hands were as small as my palm. I sat as close to them as possible and asked Mr. Bhalke to take some snaps. Here are some of the moments we could capture. 

By the time we finished the group photographs the bus had arrived. We started helping the children get on to the bus. One tiny one was so enthusiastic about going home that he started running, fell, got hurt and naturally started crying. I and another teacher rushed to help him and tried to pacify him. His knees had got badly scrapped. I helped some very small kids into the bus and waved them goodbye. The children were continuously waving at me while the bus was leaving. Mr. Bhalke managed to click some good pictures with his mobile. 

After the children left, I along with Mr. Bhalke sat with the teachers and had some refreshments. This was the time for us to discuss the challenges that we had faced during this academic year. We were falling short of almost 10k every month and this was affecting their salaries. Mr. Bhalke was managing somehow but the deficit had grown to 97k. But luckily, by the time I was having this chat with them, only 32k out of the total deficit was remaining. I explained to them why this problem was happening. One of our chief donors had pulled out last year and thus, we had been struggling. 

I was slightly ashamed, as I had not done my karma well. But I let go of it as quickly as water droplets fall of the skin of a swan. I had to look ahead and complete the deficit of the balance 32k.  I returned to Mr. Bhalke’s house and had a nice lunch of jowar bhakri and jhunka. Jhunka and bhakri (made of different grains) is a representative dish of Maharashtra. The very poor make this regularly as they may not even have the money to buy vegetables. So they get besan and make jhunka while the bhakri (roti) is made of the grains they may grow in their fields. A typical accompaniment is green chilies and cut onions. I was served this perfect combination. 

After such a heavy and fulfilling (fully filing, pun intended!) lunch, I just had to snooze. One of the blessings that the Almighty has bestowed upon me is the ability to go into standby mode like a laptop anywhere, anytime. I invoked the sleep sub-routine and sitting on the sofa itself snoozed for an hour. By the time I woke up, it was time to leave. I had to catch my train from Pune station. Mr. Bhalke dropped me on his bike and I got to my train well before time. 

My return ticket was in normal 2nd class but fortunately my seat was confirmed. It was a window seat and in the direction of the train! What else could I ask for? I bought myself an India Today and settled down. There was chaos all around me. People had occupied the seats of reserved passengers. One family had come with a suitcase that could carry a human being in it. The husband was unsuccessfully trying to push it below the seat as he realised that it could not be kept on the overhead shelf as if it falls, the person below could be crushed to death or the shelf itself might break. His wife was forced to sit beside me and was not very comfortable, apparently with my manliness, so they shifted to the opposite side and exchanged their seats with another couple that had two children. The husband sat beside me while the wife sat at the end. Both the children were continuously whining and beating the mother. 

The journey was mostly uneventful except that there was chaos all over. People were standing between seats, pushing, fighting for place, children were crying, college students were talking, while some women were discussing tur dal. I was like a silent tree in the midst of rain, thunderstorms and a tornado, unaffected by all this but silently observing everything. My daughter came to pick me up at Thane station. Incidentally, she had also dropped me in the morning at around 6:30 am. I shared the entire day with her. She was happy and told me that how she and her friends are planning to go and spend a few days at the school teaching the children. I reached home by 10 pm. 

I shared the photographs of the day with many of my friends including an elderly colleague of mine through WhatsApp. The gentleman had recently retired in one of our customer locations, and had expressed his desire to do something for the service of mankind, and thus was quite interested in what we had been doing. After seeing the pictures, he remarked and I quote, “Frankly, I feel jealous of you. I am yet to meet a person richer than you. May God continue showering His blessings on you.” I did not know how to respond. I was speechless. I typed a reply of gratitude to him. I just could not say anything. But, later I reflected on the events of the day and truly realised how fortunate and blessed I was and I profusely thanked Him and quickly snuggled into the arms of my beloved, sleep. 

P.S. By the time this article was written, the entire deficit of 97k had been covered. Many friends helped us who would like to remain anonymous. I thank you all!