THE LIGHT OF ANDAMANS | VOL 36 | ISSUE 03 | 01 NOV 2012
A Lonely School
By Sajan Gopalan
From Shoal Bay 15, where we stopped the car, it is a long walk to Shoal Bay 19. We could have hired a jeep if the rains have not made big dents on the way. But it turned out to be good because as we have learned later it helped us live the life of the villagers at least for a day. We will also find later that it was good that we forgot to carry the packed lunch of toast and omlette.
The sky was overcast and inside the forest path grew darker. It was slippery all throughout and all of us had a fair share of fall and bruises. There is no sound other than that of the footsteps. But eventually the silence gave way to the cacophony of bird songs. An orchestra in the jungle. Tall, white, straight garjan trees stood upright giving the forest an elegant geometrical pattern. In the darkness created by shadows we just missed stepping on a snake.
"It is the Andha Samp, the blind snake" said one of the bastiwallahs who were coming back after work and speeding ahead to beat the rain. It is not exactly blind, we learned later, just nocturnal. That is, it cannot see in daytime. A careless step would not have been fatal. But if bitten, the victim will have to be rushed to the hospital immediately. A tough task given the road, the rains and our energy levels.
Four hours of walk and we reached the Bengali Basti called Shoalbay 19. A colony that was formed fifty years back. They got electricity two months back. We were greeted by Dilip Dutta a resident of the basti for the last forty years. He asked us to come inside his house and arranged plastic chairs for all. Good hot milk tea gave us some extra optimism to complete the journey. Dilip has just bought a fridge and VCR after the arrival of electricity. They were watching some Hindi films when we reached.
In spite of being denied basic modern amenities, Dilip looked happy.
"Bahuth shanthi hai idar.." he said without any provoking from our side. It is a place of peace. And when he offered us lunch we didn't know what to say? Is it fair to ask this poor farm family to share their modest meals with a group of five urban holiday makers? Or will they be happy to get some unusual guests in the midst of all this solitude? Our modern mind could not come to a conclusion and we hastily declined and continued walking.
But the small basti had a wonder waiting for us. There is a small primary school for students upto class five. One student in class 1, two in class 2, one each in class 3 and 4 and no student in class five. For five students two teachers, one with a double post graduation, MPhil and PhD walk all this way every day to teach them the basics of language, arithmetic and civics.
This really made us proud of our country. This is the absolute manifestation of what is defined in the country's constitution as the Right to Education. But then it looked a little surreal too. Erratic rains may not allow the teachers to visit the school every day. And can there be more local solutions to these problems?
What made the whole scene more surreal was the four quotations above the assembly ground intended for these five primarywallahs. It reads thus:
"Learning is process of progressing behavior adoption" C.E. Skinner.
"Personality is clothed in habits, habits are garmet of soul" Klapper
"Environment is an external force which influences us" J.S.Ross
But the most favourite was from one T.P.Nunn( whoever he is):
"Suggestion is the adoption of another person's ideas unwilled by oneself"
This made us really wonder. Who could have been the most thoughtful administrator who found these arcane thoughts and decided to put in front of some impressionable young minds living detached from the scheming modern world, deep inside the forests? Whoever he is, he knows the mind of the child, to be sure.
We walked along and another two hours in the open hot sun made us really worn-out. Memories of the forgotten hot omelettes came back. In front of the weary eyes we saw a jack fruit cut in half as if it was just waiting for us? Who said God appears in front of the hungry as food? Here it is ripe fragrant jack fruit. But it is not our jack fruit and we cannot eat it.
"Let us walk upto Shoalbay 19 and on the way back if it is still there, we will eat it" Zubair said.
Another one hour of walk. Along muddy waters and dark forests ending in an aloof beach where we splashed water and lay in the cool sand.
By the time we came back to the spot where we located the jack fruit it was two thirty. And look, the jack fruit is mostly waiting for us to be devoured though a loitering goat has consumed part of it.
The next scene is the crude manifestation of the behavior of any tired and hungry modern man when he sees food. No decorum nor hierarchy will stand before it. We tore it apart with bare hands and ate it all. Like a stone age gatherer. It is all in the blood and habits die hard.
On return journey Dilip Dutta's daughter met us. I have completed Plus Two, said Rupali Dutta, a smart looking beautiful girl. She wants some job in Port Blair. Educated, she doesn't share the enthusiasm of her father in staying at a forlorn basti, how so ever peaceful it may be. Higher education brings higher levels of aspiration. And for her growth is moving to the nearest city.
I have no moral right to criticize her. Nor to convince her about the futility of project modernity! I have at her age left my little village and went to the capital town to make a living. Looking back I don't regret it. But I am not sure what this girl is going to confront and what job which I can condescendingly suggest to her. She may most probably end up as what we euphemistically call the group D service, that too in a temporary fashion. Life in a rented shed with no good water or air. Life is never going to be any better. But she can at least hope for some change. A hope that things will change forever.
If I tell her that this is all a mirage, I will be blamed for glorifying poverty. But can someone think of a local alternative? For example why can't she be given some basic training and put in charge of the five little students in the primary school which is just around the corner? Of course you don't need a double post graduate to teach them alphabets and numbers. This will give her better social status and a sense of accomplishment. The children will also like it that way. Their own Rupali didi coming as a teacher. Meanwhile she can continue her studies and complete her graduation. She can get the proper job as a teacher.
But to whom can I suggest this? After all, suggestion is the adoption of another person's idea unwilled by oneself, or whatever crap that means!
Rupali also seems to be in a hurry. She was not excited about our advice to continue studies and to get graduated. Life doesn't stand still in Shoalbay 19 either. Television has already come along with bright pictures of the large world outside. Rupali just wants to get out and engulf in the flamboyance outside.