By Dr.Rukmini Banerji
More people joined our conversation. We had moved to the verandah outside the hall. The Pratham volunteer was now sitting on the floor and children were crowding around her. I think they had begun to play a new word game. “She is very good” I said to the Headmaster. He did not look surprised. In a matter of fact way he said, “We chose a very good volunteer for our school. One of the best. She is Hira”. Indeed, in her quiet way she sparkled as a diamond as she worked. As a young girl she had been a student of this school and in fact her mother was a member of the school committee.
Some years ago, early one morning I went to a school in Kamrup district in Assam. The school was set in an open space off the narrow village road, just beyond the naamghor (village temple). School had not yet started but lots of children were already there. A Pratham volunteer was busy with children. Like many other schools in upper Assam, it was one big hall. There were a lot of children already busy with reading and writing activities. Girls with neatly tied ribbons in their hair and boys freshly bathed and ready for school. Mothers had come to drop children off and were chatting in the courtyard outside. From the number of children who were already there, it seemed like almost all the children of the school had already arrived.
The volunteer was a young girl, shy with adults but very good with children. Her name was Hiramoni. She moved amongst the group – gently helping some and encouraging others. Children were doing writing exercises on the floor. First, they made a list of words on a given topic and then each wrote sentences. Together the whole thing became like a small essay. The children quite enjoyed writing. From the speed and the enthusiasm with which they wrote you could tell this was an activity that was a favourite. Soon the entire floor became full and overcrowded with words and sentences.
A gentleman came to the door of the hall and gestured to one of the children. I asked him what he thought of the early morning activity. He smiled and his son smiled as well. They both enjoyed this extra hour before school. I got talking to the gentleman. It turned out that he was a government school teacher. He lived in this village and so his son went to this school but he taught in a school in the neighbouring village. He liked coming here with his son before he went to his school.
I looked around at the well painted hall and complimented the people standing there. One of the lady teachers said to me. “It has to be good. We made it”. This teacher too had been a student in this school many years ago when she was a girl. And over time had worked hard to come back to this school to teach. She showed me a room that had recently been built for the midday meal – it was already looking dilapidated.
The room had been built by the department. “We wanted a nice good room for our children” said the teacher. “And so we all got together and put in some of our money and then the school’s money and built it. All the labour was from the village too”. As she spoke it seemed that this was the most natural thing to do. Of course her child studied in this school as well.
The bell rang. It was time for actual school to start. I still remember the day – it was a day in early September. Teachers Day.