Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Battlefield of Education

“What is your name?” I heard a sweet voice from behind. I was cleaning my camera lens with the used cotton that I had kept it in my camera bag. I turned and was about to smile, “What is your name?” heard it again. This time it was not the sweet voice but a bit rough voice. “My name is Srikanth” I said. I smiled as my eyes met with 4 eyes of two faces that looked as if they are ready to meet with enlightenment soon. They smiled back. They started staring at me like the way they would stare at an alien. I was in my dirt smeared shorts, sticky tees, waist camera pouch and my shooter in the neck. “What is your name?” they asked me again. Very patiently (first time ever in my life showed that much patience) I answered “My name is Srikanth”. They looked thrilled listening to my answer. For that matter, even I was surprised as these village boys were talking to me in ‘English’. I was about to ask them their names, they opened their mouth and uttered “What is your name?” again. I answered with a loud and strong voice “My name is Srikanth, I am from Bengaluru”. I then said “Now tell me your names”. They did not open their mouth. They kept looking at each others’ faces like something strange happened to them all of a sudden. Then I asked “What happened?” Then I discovered that they did not understand my question properly. They did not care much about my question to them. The sweet voice again pierced my ears asking “What is your name?” For a moment I was shocked. This time I was not patient and was not violent either. My adrenaline pumped faster and felt something heavy hitting my head with the use of ‘English’ that I did not know. Yes I did not know; that they knew only that much to talk in ‘English’. I had to face the two faces with an artificial smile before tears rolled out of my eyes.
It was a village well-known and is in the history books of India. This was the place where the great ‘Battle of Talikot’ or the ‘Battle of Rakkasa-Tangadi’ was fought in the year 1565. Now the village is just called as Tangadgi which is on the north Shore of Krishna River. After three continuous days of touring in Hampi, Badami and Pattadakal; fourth day, we decided to visit Aihole during the first half of the day and then visit this small village. We wanted to visit this historic battle site since many years to perform a solemn ceremony that should be performed by every one of us. Harish, TS and I dropped our 33 drops of blood on the 33 stones lined up in 3 lines of 11 stones each. The meaning of this ceremony is that we mingled our blood with the blood of dead to express our gratitude for the fallen who made ultimate sacrifice for all of us to live our fortune. The number thirty-three is the size of one platoon in formation in army troops.

After our blood donation kind of activity, we were heading back towards our jeep parked at the entrance of the village. One of my friend had to attend to the nature call so he went behind the bushes. TS and I decided to wait for him while the rest of our gang headed towards the jeep. While we were waiting, TS had to get water from the jeep, so he left and I started taking some clicks from my shooter. As I clicked and taking care of my camera lens, I met these two bright faces. Somashekara was on his bicycle and Seetharama – the short guy was behind him. They did not know how to talk in ‘English’ except for that question repeated infinite times at me. Somashekara was in his 10th standard and Seetharama in his 7th. They both and all the children of that village were studying at the government high school in their village. I felt a little relieved when I heard that there is a high school in the village. While I was talking to them, they were not completely listening to me; they started staring at my lens and then at my round cap and then my sun glasses and then finally Seetharama opened his mouth and asked me to show him my camera. Somashekara being senior to Seetharama asked me the cost of the camera. I had to disclose in a very unwillingly low voice thinking of my credit card bills, “twenty-five-thousand-rupees”. They both wide opened their mouth and showed me their inner tongue as if they wanted me to click the photograph of the wild life inside their mouth. Somashekara kept asking questions at his level and Seetharama kept staring and listening to both of us.

Nimmornage rokka na en anthirri?” he asked. Meaning: “what do you call for money in Bengaluru?” Then I wondered how good their teachers must be in their school. And hesitantly I answered both of them that it is called the same rupee as they call it here. Somashekara did not believe. He said “my father has got some bigger rupee note that is available only in Bengaluru”; he also said his father has kept it in the showcase frame. I then took a great time in convincing them that it is the same and had to open my wallet to show them a few rupees. They finally got convinced and were feeling proud that they have seen what I have in my wallet.

For a few minutes, they did not speak to me, they kept talking to each other about 1 rupee, 2 rupee notes that they had at home. I interrupted them and asked them what is it that they would like to do after their schooling. They had no answer. I asked who their role model is. They had no answer. I asked them why are they even studying. They had no answer. Finally I had to make them understand what I am trying to ask them giving an example of a ‘Doctor’. “Ah… hmmm…I do not know” Somashekara said. Being a senior to Seetharama, he did not know the answer. Seetharama told me that he would not like to answer in front of Somashekara. Then I had to bend down and give my ears to him. He made some ‘…sssss’ noise in my ears and I finally got what he wanted to say. He said he would like to become a Policeman. I asked him loudly, “how will you become a Policeman?” Firstly I disclosed about it in front of Somashekara and he was embarrassed and feeling shy for that. Second, he did not know the answer. But he said if he goes to Hunugunda which is a bus ride away from the village, he can become a Policeman. I wondered what kind of basic education these bright kids are getting in the government school. In my mind our proposal for vocational training centre took a deep breath saying ‘let me take care of these guys’.
Finally, Seetharama could not resist. He asked me to show him my camera again. I took his picture and showed him his bright eyes captured in my lens. He was jumping out of joy that without looking into a mirror he could see himself so neat. He started shouting that made the other children in the village move towards the place we were standing. A team of small kids ranging from 3 years to 10 years assembled and started posing to my camera. TS came and stood as one among them while I was clicking a photograph of all the girls. I think TS felt shy realizing he joined the girls’ team and he left the scene to assist my other friend. Even those girls could not stop blushing after posing for a photo with TS. After that I made them dance, jump and play in front of me to take some good shots. They did all that I made them do. Every photo I clicked, they surrounded me to show the picture to them so that they feel good about it. I played like this for some time until my friend was ready to go and kept thinking of the divide that exists in most of the rural parts of India. Without basic education, basic foundation for livelihood, no one knows what their future is.

Seetharama made me click a number of photographs including a bullock cart and a man with two cows walking into the village. He noticed that I was giving some lecture to these kids and he came near us. In his harsh-regional-style-language, he told them not to become a slave like him in the future and showed me by telling them “if you study well, you will be like him”. For a moment I thought this is the closest divide which is not much of difference. The meaning remains the same that a man working as a slave in the village and us working in this IT industry as slaves. Except that our lifestyle is a bit different. Everywhere ‘Divide and Rule’ is dominant, but in a different context. I could not resist laughing at it myself thinking ours is a ‘Digital divide and digital rule’. But I encouraged both Somashekara and Seetharama to study well. And I told them “if any other alien like me walks into the village, they should talk to him in ‘English’ and they have to prepare for that moment from now on”.

Feeling proud, they both gave me stiff handshake. Like their question to me in the beginning, they gave me a minimum of 25 handshakes each. I then told good bye and gave handshake to all the kids asking them to tell their names one by one. Kalavathi, Shilpa, Soma, Bhavya, Munirathna, Kaveramma, Seetharama, Somashekara…and many millions of children are in the same helpless state in our country. Bridging this divide is a greater challenge in itself. Somewhere it has started, but not enough.
Is this the state of affairs with our education system?Any of the authorities listening? Those who are ruling the state listening? Can anyone help these kids to know what they want to become in future?


Narasim said...

It is the greatest tragedy of India that there is such a collosal waste of potential. It is a genuine tragedy because it need not be.

You did the right thing to keep them engaged and begin to open their mind's eye.

We need to focus on primary and secondary education first before we imitate and go to the moon. Going to the moon simply because another dictatorship wants to do it is the most absurd reason to do it. What is the big deal about going to the moon decades after someone else to find the same things. Our priorities are all screwed up.

Hope the children were listening to you and maybe some will take to heart your suggestion to keep studying and learn about the world.

My heart goes out to them.

Unknown said...

too good to create an awareness about the education facility exist in villages.

Raghu said...

It is too sad to note that many small and talented kids like the ones mentioned in the post are deprived of the proper education in our country. No doubt, Right to Education bill passed by the parliament is a good initiative by the Government. However, if the quality education is not imparted to all the students, Right to Education Bill will be of no use.

Sudhi said...

This is not a story of just one village but most of the rural places in India.

It is not enough to provide a school but there is greater need for increasing quality of education and providing best teaching staff.

India is not investing enough amount in Education. Government must consider education as an important sector and must give priority.

Hari said...

The reality is reflected well....

When some section of the society receives "First Class " education..Some are deprived of basic learning time as well..leave alone attending schools...Schools will remain concrete structures unless there is some new approach to this ....
We need to see how we can use one section of Children to balance the other section in addition to inputs from kind hearted teachers

SuZ said...

Apart from making us better individuals, giving knowledge and confidence, Education system can be solution for the unemployment problems of India.

Basic fact that we all agree upon is we need more investment in Education. Actually, the budgetary allocation we have for education is not that bad, but the implementation sucks, mainly because of corruption. One particular area that authorities need to focus which tends to be left out, is quality of Teachers. Primary and Secondary education teachers are not motivated in most of the cases. The most important reason is remuneration and are over burdened.

Teaching is not an easy job. One needs to be highly motivated, responsible, subtle and understand the students. It's not just how well you know the text books. By paying better we not only motivate the teachers but invite more people to take up the teaching job. When I say more people, I mean people who love to teach. I have come across so many people who love to teach but hesitate to take up teaching because of the monetary benefits. No wonder we face such acute shortage of teachers in rural areas.

Why would a person come to the city from his village if he has a chance to teach at his village and get paid 20-25k per month?

Vaishnavi said...

It is unfortunate that the poor remain poor and the rich become richer. It is a fad to say that 'children are the future'. What is important is to take effective steps to help them be the future. Your post gives us a glimpse of the dreams that these little children have. The child wants to be a policeman but doesn't know how. That's the tragedy. And whether anyone likes it or not, it's always children who make a significant difference in our lives, even if it's just for some moments. Just like they did for you.

Manjunath Byadigere said...

My father once told me that they passed the 10th std students if the english and hindi questions were written in the exact reverse way!That was 45 years ago and he came from a rural school.

Regrettably the situation remains the same after all these years efforts.

Basic education (and especially english language) has been overlooked for which millions of Indians are now suffering.Though its hard for some people to accept it,its a fact that English is the bread winner in lakhs of homes in India.I'm sure more people are regretful for not learning english than any other subject during their school days.

Education, like health is a basic right for which it has reached a state where we have to fight to get it.Individual contribution cannot be underestimated in helping the needy to overcome the present situation.

Nice post demonstrating the need for good education(esp. english) for the rural poor.

Samparka said...

I feel the standard of education is bad at both city and village... i dont think knowing english or some cool things in city makes students here brighter coz most dont know how to lead a life and very few go to the top .. the same way its the village .. they too know lot of stuff .. i guess we need to come up with something which has blend of both ... thats what is education for me ... i feel govt should ban all private schools .. thats the only way we will have proper education !! I know its not possible but thats the only way out ...