‘I like going to school’

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A month back I had witnessed a session in Gariahat Centre and realized, for the umpteenth time, that the way children respond is unpredictable and it is this unpredictability that makes our work both challenging and interesting.

Angana Mandal, who has been volunteering for our project since the time it began, has visited and been to a number of Nabadisha centres. And the experience seems to have stood her in good stead. She selected a good story and then engaged the children in an interesting post story discussion. This really got them to open up and share their ideas with her.

Angana first narrated a story about a little boy who wanted a dholak but did not have enough money to buy it. However this lack did not darken his heart, instead he tried to help everyone he met on his way by giving them whatever he had and in return, as a way of expressing their gratitude, each of those people would give the boy a present. At the end of the story, the boy was presented with a dholak.

After the story, Angana asked the children what would they do if they wanted something desperately. One boy stood up and answered that he would trade what he had for the thing he wanted, but then Angana reminded him that the boy in the story did not help others and gave them what he had because he wanted something in return, rather he gave them whatever he had because he really wanted to help those he came across. At this another child shot off—‘I wouldn’t bother with this at all, I would simply snatch the object of my desire from someone who has it or shop lift it.’

This stymied Angana for half a minute but then she replied—‘Yes, that is a possibility, but don’t you think it is easy, can you do anything else?’ Another boy interjected—‘We can sell incense sticks for a month and collect enough money to buy the desired object.’ The boy who had wanted to shoplift chimed in, ‘Yes, I can raise Rs. 2000 in ten days?’ ‘Really, tell me how?’ ‘Why I would sell incense sticks worth Rs. 5 for Rs. 25 making a profit of Rs. 20. I would sell at least ten boxes each day and in ten days I would have collected the amount.’ ‘Really, I can’t understand the mathematics, explain it more clearly.’ The boy was a bit flustered but he explained the logic all over again. Impressed, Angana played mental math games with them. The excited children were sharp and quick at calculations. And were right to the t.

Later another volunteer asked them that if they spent their entire time on streets selling incense sticks when would they go to school? Boys wondered if going to school was necessary until a child sagaciously responded—‘How will we become respectable people unless we go to school?’ Again, our young friend joked saying that he couldn’t be bothered being respectable as he had a better plan ‘I will board a plane and kill some people off and steal their money and then fly away to safety.’ Our volunteers yet again exhibited sensitivity and playfulness—‘But what if somebody were to do the same thing to you while you were escaping with your booty?’ The boy was quiet for a while. Another boy offered that if one were to do something bad then he would get the same treatment at the end. Others too joined in saying that killing people isn’t a solution. Finally, another boy suggested that one could not neglect hard work, as it was the only way forward. ‘Say if I want a bat, I will work only on the weekends and holidays but will go to school on weekdays. And then buy the bat. Maybe it will take more than ten days but that way I can both buy the bat and attend the my classes as well.’ The little boy who had wanted to kill and rob people was still quiet. Then towards the end he came to Angana and said—‘I like going to school.’ ‘That is very good’ said Angana, feeling a bit happy with herself, but then the boy added, ‘I like annoying my teachers in the school’ and saying that he ran away leaving us all amused.