Sunday, May 1, 2011

It's everyone's world, after all.

Leading the crowd of worse things that cluster accusingly around my bed at 5am is a photo I took a few years ago. When I was working in the little village of Sulibhanjan, a woman invited me into her house for chai. While she was making it, my eye was caught by a sudden movement. The door to the outhouse was weathered near the floor, and a child was peering at me through one of the holes. To do it, he must have crouched so that his chin touched the floor. I laughed at the surprise of it. "See, your son is playing hide-and-seek" I said gaily, as I took a photo of him.

"He lives there", his mother told me. "He is mad."

Stunned, I looked again, and noticed the padlock on the door. As soon as I came to my room, I deleted the photo. It has been 6 years now, and that image still haunts me. It does not matter that I did not know. This was a boy who lived locked in a loo, and I had laughed at him.

I do not blame the mother; she did not have any options. But that child was in front of me all evening today as I listened to a lecture on inclusion and the right to education act organised by the Latika Roy Foundation.  As he tried to sort out the question of 'Whose School Is It Anyway?' (the title of the talk), Chief Justice Ajit Prakash Shah was passionate and informed as he always is. More than that, he was compassionate. "When you are my age, these things will no longer shock you" he replied to a student who was outraged that a woman would 'choose' to have her daughter beg in the streets rather than go to school; his voice hinted that these things would always sadden him. That was reassuring. The Right to Education Act is a step in the right direction. That is also reassuring.

My afternoon was not just reassuring, it was positively uplifting. I spent it playing and eating chole-bhature with the young students and almost-as-young teacher of Street Smart, a school conducted for street children near Astley Hall. Not inclusive in the ideal of a classroom where they would rub shoulders with 'elite' children, maybe. But it works. The genuine friendship between the students and their teacher was unmistakable; they studied, and more important, they had someone who cared for them.

My friends and I sneaked out of the lecture hall a few minutes early. On our way to the car, we justified our decision 'not really our field..we don't really have an opinion..what can we say..mumblemumble'. Five minutes later, we were arguing at the tops of our voices, gesticulating wildly, and slapping each others hands out of the way. At one point, my hands were tightly pinned down so that I would stop trying to interrupt. All this for a topic that we had decided we don't have any strong opinions about. The LRF lectures do that to one..

 The photo? while I deleted the one I talked about, I do have one of most of the family- sans the men who were selling their products, and one little boy. 


nadi said...

there is a boy who is locked in a loo

chicu said...

still there, yes. 6 years after I moved out. I don't know what to do.

Becky said...

Beautiful writing.