Friday, July 7, 2017

Chhaya Panchbhai - story of a Selfless Teacher

Sahyadri Nagar is a small locality situated in the Chembur suburb of Mumbai. This, and areas like Vishnu Nagar, Rahul Nagar, Nagbaba Nagar, have a special significance. It was in this region that ‘Pratham’ started its work in the early 90s. Located on a hilltop, near to the Chembur – CST Freeway, this place boasts of many women who have created a positive impact in the process of educational transformation of this region. And lest we forget, their stories need to be told!

Chhaya Panchbhai is one such woman who lives in a small hut at the top of the Sahyadri Nagar Hill. A visit to her house involves a short trek on a narrow road that passes through a settlement of huts, whose occupants contribute largely to the blue-collared service sector of the city. However, her hut has witnessed one of the first Pratham Balwadis, at a time when both Pratham and the movement of literacy had just begun in this region. Revered and respected, she is fondly called Tai by everyone around.   
Chhaya Tai Panchbhai at home
Chhaya Tai recalls that in the late 80s and early 90s, there was no seriousness about education. Children skipped schools as they were at a distance and that led to dropouts. She had to convince the parents to send their children to her Balwadi. However the general 'mood' of the community was 'why to study, as such we have to do odd jobs', and hence initially no one paid any attention. 'Pratham', she says, made sure women became literate so that they spread the movement ahead in the community. The campaign then picked up, and soon many children and grown-ups learned to read and write. She then switched to conducting the library program in her house, and it added to more children coming to her and eventually borrowing books. She proudly said that many children got their basics right because of her guidance and now many of them, after completing their higher studies, have got good jobs and improved their living conditions. 

But what she said at the end was significant. Today, the school has become a part of everyone's life. There is no need to specially tell anybody that they need to send their child to school. If, whether to send your child to school was a question in the early 90s, then the question today is whether to send your child to a BMC school or a private school. This, I felt is a significant transformation in the region.

Chhaya Tai also told another touching story. There was a child named Amol who did not pay any attention to studies and to make him study; she used to tell him that if he studies he will be able to sit in an aeroplane. Years later Amol, after completing his studies, got an opportunity to fly abroad for work and had to sit in an aircraft. Days before his departure, he came to ChhayaTai and told that her Balwadi and reading sessions had made him sit in an aeroplane today. 

An emotional ChhayaTai could not control her tears as she narrated this incident and we all witnessed how these Balwadis have moulded people, but their selfless efforts are unfortunately unsung!

When we asked her where her students live now, she pointed in a direction and mentioned 'in the buildings' and stressed that she is happy that they now have a better life. However, she still lives in the same, small hut. Teachers are indeed selfless, and all they desire is a better life and learning of their students. 


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