It was a hot day, with the tin roof adding to the heat inside. The children in the class were eagerly reciting a poem when the tinkling of a bell drew my eyes towards the window. It was a buffalo, followed by its minder, a girl of the same age as the ones heartily singing for my benefit. Some of the students waved out to her as she paused for a moment near the door. She should have been in the class too; just that she had to swap her books for the buffalo … one of those days.
I was a guest, a rare visitor from another world, far away, English-speaking, a world many of them would never see, not even on television because you need electricity for television. They knew I was there to “judge” them and they were determined to put in their best, complete with safety pins to hold up torn skirts and trousers.
I was squirming, not knowing enough of their language and not at all sure what made me superior to “judge” them in the first place.
Plastic chairs walked in on human legs, as small boys staggered under the weight of the chairs for the visitors. Two girls, who seemed to have forgotten to smile, worked the hand pump to draw water for tea. They entered the head master’s room with trepidation, carrying cups filled to their chipped brim.
The teachers were happy to see the boy back in class. He had gone missing for months, accompanying his parents as they traveled to another district for sugarcane farming. He was smart; at least on the days he was present.
It was chaotic to have two classes sharing the same room. But that was progress after years of learning in a teacher’s home, jostling for space with goats and cows.
The teachers did not complain about having to walk 2 to 5 kilometers every day under a blazing sun as they divided time between schools. Jobs are not easy to come by, especially when you are handicapped by education.
The students did not complain about the irony of learning good deeds and good words when a drunken father beat them up at home and the mother thought nothing of unleashing a curse every time she called out to them to handle another chore.
They did complain that I was going away too soon.
As I walked out, carrying the precious coconuts and shawls they had gifted, I cringed at the memory of the pride I had felt just the previous day. A corporate king had praised my presentation that painted a rosy picture of the services he was rendering to society. Those dazzling pictures and words would fetch him a few million rupees more in fresh contracts.
I had just woken up to the real world and smelt honest earth. They had served me endless cups of sweet tea and tall glasses of sugarcane at every village. Yet, a bitterness lingered, somewhere deep within.
Earlier published at http://www.wrisources.com/blog.html