Sunday, August 29, 2010

Truth, Love and a little Reality

I can’t sleep through it!!

(I am not writing this to portray the condition of education for poor in India in the 21st century or criticize our political system for that condition. Neither I planned to write this when I came back from my visit to a nearby Primary School‘s first medical camp.)

I was making a cup of strong sweet tea just to get a grip of things, I will disclose in my narrative which were haunting me like the ghosts had done as a child on hearing Nani ma’s horror stories.

August 28th, 2010 - I had volunteered for a medical camp at a nearby school (close to my office).The work assigned to us as written in the information received was to help the doctor write down the ailments of the very sick children, for the fact that we (the NGO organizing the camp and the school) did not have enough money to check all the students at school. As the camp was at 8:30 AM in the morning, I did not sleep rest of the night considering I reached home late after a friend’s party and wanted to make it to the camp. The reason behind my not sleeping was not that I was bursting with love for the helpless and poor ( though partly that idea was also in my heart) , but the fact that I had committed to come ,a decision taken because I wanted to meet the Organizers for getting to know about them and their work.

While I got ready in my branded Denims and Nike T-shirt, my brother asked me, “Why are you pouring the whole deodorant bottle over you, I think you are going to a medical camp and not a Who Smells Wonder contest. The only thing you might need is a Dettol hand wash. ” And I replied “You don’t know yaar, these areas are fucking dirty. I don’t want to catch a skin disease and end up with some mustard brown marks on my body; I got to complete a whole lot of work this week.” Amidst all this I was gorging over a heavily buttered toast which was being gulped down with a cup of cardamom tea.

After much hustle with an auto wallah to take me to the right place within the right amount, and lot of stoppages alongside road to ask passersby of the exact location, I reached the school premises. I had to confirm on phone from another volunteer whether this was the right place or not , simply because the only reason it could be a school was a picture of Mahatma Gandhi and a ‘I Love India’ slogan bolded across the gate. There must have been some more obvious signs for it, however owing to my negative knowledge of Telghu language (that’s the official and the most used language in the school and all across state) despite having worked in the state capital of Andhra for 2 years, I missed them.

To be precise and truthful (since I am naming this article on its lines) ,my first impression on entering the warandah classroom was “What the HELL,what is the need for this camp to validate who is sick and who is not , all of them look sick, underweight and deficient in all Vitamins (I probably have learned the name of in my 9th Std. Biology book) and the looks on their faces demand rather scream for some health care, if they know what it means correctly(it was more like –I want to survive happily).

After a quick conversation with one of the organizers, we headed for class I, with couple of sheets, pencils and essentials of a weighing machine and an inches tape.

The class strength without a balanced register (or allotted roll numbers) was 100, but only 50 something had turned out, reasons being unknown. It was a combination of a verandah (Class I A) and an inner dingy room (Section B) which collectively served as a single space for these students to gain the educational basics which most of us had gained sitting in well ventilated and fully lighted, healthy and spacious classrooms. I said “GoodMorning ..” and was greeted by an equivalent or more welcoming gesture. We fixed the inches tape on the wall, with the help of a sticking tape, for which a number of students ran from the classroom to the other compound just to impress out with their quickness. And they WERE quick; I realized looking at my own self. The process started, with the first one whose name was Allyama, or that is what I interpreted having the statistics (Height, weight combined in that order) of 45 Inches and 12 Kg. I was not sure 12 is a good number or not, I asked the teacher in my half English half hindi and .25% Telghu accent “ 12..Kgs..less>..chepundi>” , and she said with a laugh cum smile “NARMAL.. next Peru-E.Allyama..”. Whether it was my inquisitiveness or my engineering mind (which I believe for me functions only in CERTAIN situations), I searched for the so called narmal weight for a 5 years old and found it to be 17-19 Kgs. It’s not a big deal to have a deviation of +/- 5 from a base quantity, but not when the base is just double the deviation itself. I shrugged, cleared my mind, and having made a mental note to discuss this later with the Doctor carried on with some other students. Each one of them flashed a smile when they walked over to the weighing machine and I asked them”Peru..”, I could see them wearing clothes of different colors, some wore tattered school uniforms also, the other wore some worn outs and the better of the lot clothes which were bought for them. I remember my last Birthday, I told my mother over the phone when she asked me what will I buy for the day “I think a dress, and my jeans are also in rough stage (they were not that rough, there was a discount going on for that particular week in all the super class branded stores and I had made up the reason to buy another pair) so adding that and a couple of tops. But you will parcel me 2 suits na , so I am not purchasing the Indian lot.” I had never in my life felt that I had a lot of clothes or even for that matter more than the required number. So used to seeing things my way (which I always thought was the right way), it was difficult for me to even come up with the list of clothes that could help these children which I had in my closet and never wore.

My mind and body were losing the sync feeling as the roll numbers were making an advance and more and more children with the basic missing needs (some had skin pigmentation, others derma diseases, calcium deficiency diseases and others which I didn’t know the name of, but knew they shouldn’t be there) were coming for the statistics.As told by the teacher, only half of the actual lot had come (53 or 54) for the checkup; Midday meal serve as a great on catcher for these students to learn things at a place they refer to school but probably do not know the real purpose of.

My ultimate fall came when a girl named ‘Lakshmi’ came forward in her purple top and yellow patched skirt. She was a bit wet having come late and owing to the rain which was pouring at death fast speed from the open sky. I asked her to come near and stand on the machine; I looked down and looked again and stood up and then went back and looked again. I took out my spectacles and cleaned them for it had some foggy coating emblazed on it, and I stood and looked all over again.

“It’s 8 PM, 8 do you get it, you have slept over the day and most of the evening, it’s a Saturday, GET UP” the only word which I was clearly hearing among these was the Number ‘8’ or EIGHT. I got up, saw my brother’s face (he obviously did not like 8 for a different reason than mine today) and headed for a wash.

And then it came back, Lakshmi had actually weighed 8 Kgs, when I first looked down to check her weight , from every angle it had looked 8 and then I was convinced it was 8(that is counting the weight of her wet dress, I wonder what it would be…).

The smell of the tea reached my nostrils, nearly 10 hours had passed since my visit to the school and I was not able to come up with a rational explanation of the number 8.The fact that these children were the better of the lot, who at least had the bare minimum of rights imparted to all citizens of India. The thought that daunts me is that there is lot (which makes up for a large percentage of our future India) which still lingers for these basic needs. I have heard everyone around me(including Dhoodhwala,Ricksaw walah,My grandmother,people at work, sometimes myself…) tell at some time or the other ‘Is desk ka kuch nahi hoga , population is rising at a faster pace than that of Ants’ and now I wonder that the only way to combat this is by making a small effort , an effort from everyone who went to school, who has known the joy to write their own name for the first time, an effort from someone who loved to share, who still wants to share and care, and I end it promising to return to the school and not making reasons to sleep late on a Saturday again.


  1. Good Job Poorvi...But the fact is very few people in India think about this grave problem. If we could help in any ways it will be semblance of hope for them.

  2. This is definitely more than a quality narration because it doesn't sound artificial except your branded denim :(

    So what are the plans for the Lakshmi and her mild 8 kg weight. Are you planning to do anything?

    I hope you will be enjoying many more such volunteering work in near future.

  3. @Anjul - She was given Vitamin supplements that day itself. But yes a permanent plan needs to be in place , I was thinking to get a look into her background this weekend, but the issue I think is even money we give to her can go in vain if her parents do not support her in this.A better way will be to improve her diet at school's midday meal.

  4. yeah its a grave problem.. and its right in our face... best thing we can do right now is not to crib and do our bit ... you are doing just that .. continue the good work!

    and hope the children don't laugh secretly at your made up telugu accent ... :)

  5. Very thoughtful of you to pen down this....we so-called techies get so involved in the rat race for money,success,luxuries and what not....that we very often forget how much more blessed we are when compared to them under-privileged souls!

  6. I really want to know what you did for Lakshmi...

  7. We provided her medicines which were vitamin supplements for a 6 moth quota but I still wonder whether she takes it or not.