Wednesday, March 27, 2013

The mother who drank her own blood

One afternoon, during lunchhour, I was teaching 6th graders while my 9th graders were out for lunch. I was sitting in the classroom and one of the 9th graders barged in and bolted the door. He said that she is going to come here too and she will harm me. On asking him who was out there, he told me that Laddoo's mom had come to take him but Laddoo was in school and she had refused to believe that. So, she was checking each and every room. She was on drugs, torn clothes and she was using lots of swear words with other staff members.

I came out. I saw a woman sitting on a bench. Her head was down, She had a fluid in her hand. That was just a water color tube which she consumes. All 90 children were standing in the hallway, looking at her, making fun of her, discussing what all she had said in past few minutes. I entered the office and asked her whereabouts. Managers told me that she has a legal right to take away the kid and that they were going to hand him over as soon as he returns from the school. I really couldn't do anything about it so I came back to my class and started teaching again. 

Almost an hour later, my student reentered and said didi stay here, don't come out. I did anyway. Apparently, laddoo had come back from school and just outside Ummeed when his mother was taking him back,, two of my students saw her beating laddoo on the road. They brought him back and hid him. When I came out, one of my students was ruthlessly dragging the woman out of the home. He was angry clearly but there was no excuse for his behavior. When I came out, his first reaction was "Didi you go back inside!". There were other female teachers standing there. He didn't say anything to them. I thought he knew that I would not approve of any barbaric behavior and he just doesn't want me to be a part of it.Of course, I stopped him. He went away. I started talking to the woman. She started threatening me. She said she will take her all clothes off. She took her pajama down and all my students ran away. By the edge of the tube of her fluid, she took out blood from her head, mixed with fluid and  drank her own blood with the drug. I was aghasted. Her skin was all burned and brusied. She was about to take her kurta off when a housemother stopped her and got her back the pajama. I used a very authoritative voice and said "You are going to sit down first, give me your fluid, have a glass of water and then we are going to talk." The only words she was able to manage and that were echoing in the home "Mera bachcha do!" (give me my son!). But I grew more authoritative and made her sit. Once she did that. I softened my voice and said respectfully, "I am going to get your son back but you have to promise me that you are not going to shout here anymore. This is a home of children/ Respect this home." I don't know what worked - my civilized clothing, my authoritative voice or my respect for her as a human, she grew quieter.

My students and all the small kids were all looking at us when I told one of the managers to get all the kids inside. I shouted at all my students, "get back into the room, the show is over." They refused to even move. Meanwhile, the student who had hid Laddoo brought him back. Little laddoo had a small icecream cup in his hand and tears in his eyes. He was so scared and numb. I told the woman that "We have got your son back and you will not shout at him. You are going to take him away happily. He is your son and is studying really well. He is going to grow up, become educated and make you proud. You are going to take him respectfully and bring him back." My voice had softened and I had started talking to her as a human not a drug addicted mother. By that time she had calmed down a lot. I looked at Laddoo and thought may be he won't come back ever. I was wondering about the vision I had for these kids and the reality of their lives. I was wondering what a disjoint this is, two worlds apart. And I have no control. All I could say to his mother was send him back as soon as possible and he should not miss his education. He is going to be very successful in life. Then I said to laddoo that "Be happy with your mom, enjoy your break and come back soon." He didn't say a word. I took them to an autowallah. No autowallah was not ready to take the woman. Finally one did only on condition that I give him my number so that he can ring if she creates any problem.

I was very emotional when laddoo left and without looking towards anybody else entered back into my classroom. I sat there silently for few minutes. I could not believe what had just happened. 

Later, I got to know from my students that they couldn't see me talking to such a scary woman and that was the only reason that they brought laddoo back. Their perspective was such kind of a woman does not deserve a child and that we should have never handed over laddoo. I could relate to them. Most of them have parents like that which had given them a very tortorous childhood and now when they are in their late teens they understood how cruel all of it was. And laddoo should not go through the same thing which they did. I told them that the way to treat that is not be hatred but by respect. I told them that the statement that "Laddoo is going to make her proud" will make her bring back. Every mother has a modest hope and she would definitely want good things for her child even if she herself is not able to give it to him. They agreed on this. 

I was a hero for all the younger children in the home. Four of them jumped towards me and said "Didi you never got scared, all other teachers did. Didi you were the only one who made her quiet. Didi, you know laddoo knows the way back to Ummeed. He is going to come back on his own even if his mother doesn't send him. He has done that before". A six year old could come all the way from connaught place to qutub minar. This was unbelievable.

Two days later, in the dining hall, I saw laddoo again. The field worker from Ummeed has brought him back and his mother didn't say a word against that.  Laddoo smiled when he looked at me. I hugged him tightly. I couldn't believe he was back so soon. He was calm and happy. I asked him how his mother was, he said she was good.

I looked at my students and reminded him power of good words and how much difference that they can create.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Aryans - men of honor

These past months, I have had most externally calm and internally thunder-bolting months of my life. I went to US to take my mother at my sister's place and meet my niece, most wonderful baby I have ever met. I quickly fell in love with her and it was time to come back, I was energized by her love, support of my family and generally a lot of good memories.

I came back to Ummeed on 28th Jan. Since then, my dad had another life-saving operation, my mom was confirmed with dementia by doctors in US and both my sisters and my jiju worked so desperately hard to support my parents, to make our family united in crisis.

My only priority despite the critical situation of my family till 21st March was success of my students in 9th grade. I had to honor the responsibility bestowed on me - to save life of my students or rather make it. I got to know my students more closely during this time. They told me horrifying stories of streets, railway stations, Tihar jail or parents. I have witnessed their disappointment towards their life before. This time however things were changing. I was becoming their confidant, their mentor, someone they trusted very very deeply.

I began at Ummeed in May 2012 and then till December spent more time in dwindling between hospital for my Dad/Mom and Ummeed, I was, in all practical purpose, not able to perform the way I always wanted to. But this time because of my sisters' blind support, I was able to focus completely on my work. By just making this clear to myself, I composed myself much better and stayed highly focused.

I took up an enormous task of designing a curriculum that was fun and interactive and at the same time makes my students capable of passing 9th grade with their head held high. I prepared every lesson with videos, ted talks, power points and worksheets that very rigorously scaffolded. This way my students picked stuff faster and I was more efficient in delivering it. My day began at 8:00am when I would wake up, eat bread omelette   draft a lesson, take printouts and head straight to Ummeed by 10:00AM. Most of my students left classrooms several times and I would wonder whether I was doing or saying something wrong. But I didn't move. They  came back in again, smiling, regretting the walk-outs. I stood like a rock for them, accepting them without any complaints, skipping my lunch or dinner almost everyday, just to help them cover what they lost due to their emotional instability. They were allowed to take breaks. But I didnt take any. In evenings, when they played volleyball for two hours, I would check the papers, worksheets, design another lesson or help one of the students.

The school had strictly said they didnt want students of Ummeed in their school because they are irregular and indisciplined and they are tired of making exceptions for them since April.  The school has  the first real academic experiences for my students but it didn't turn out the way they had expected. The teachers didn't believe in them, may be partially, which is counterproductive. I recall a day just before exams when my students said to me that if then one of the school teachers made him stand to answer, he know he would answer. He added that earlier, they would keep calling all of their names continuously  knowing beforehand that none of us would be able to answer  and other students would, those who take tuition from them. Despite best intentions of principal and school staff, my students have felt at the bottom and lowered self-esteem in the school. I had a larger role to play. Believe in them like nobody ever did. Believing on them was not hard for me. They all are most brilliant students I have ever met. But it was hard to show them that my belief about them is right and others wasn't.

We studied for almost about 12 hours everyday. I would come back at 11 PM in the night. fearing from Delhi streets not because what would happen to me in case of a scary situation but more fearful of  the fact how this group of young boys would react in case anybody dares to touch me. These were very unusual thoughts, making me more aware of the bonds that I share with my students. and how hard it would be to let this go.

The exams began on 14th March. I met my students at Hauz Khas metro station to wish them good luck at 6:00 AM. They all were scared and so was I. As the door of Metro separated me from my students, I felt my limitation as a teacher, that I just can't be there for them from that point. That beyond that point, I would have to submit them to the world. They all looked at me, smiled and I felt sadness that I would leave them soon forever. I smiled in return and cried all the way back to home. I have actually for the first time felt my students as my creations, their destiny will have a drop of my sweat.

By their third paper, we all became confident that they are going to pass. They told me that this time they are going to get things not as a beggary but with honor. Their final paper was of Math on 21st March. We worked harder and harder. On the eve of the exam, I got to talk with one student who six months before had outrightly rejected me as a teacher. His exact words were "Didi, don't mind my saying but you just dont know how to teach. The sweeper can teach us better than you " I was terribly hurt by the insult in front of the other staff members. But I didn't quit. I knew that I was a good teacher if not great and with noble intentions. And I am glad he got to see that. Just the night before exam, he apologized and said "if it not for you, I would have been back on the streets of Connaught Place by now. I have never worked this hard for my entire life. I am so happy that I am going to pass". He also gave me a note which said " Di, if you stay here till June, I promise I am going to work equally hard to finish my entire X syllabus. Now I know that I will go on to become an IPS officer".

I had earlier not known whether I would be able to go back to Ummeed once my students exam are  over. I had felt that I would have to take the baton from my younger sister who for past 9 months have been working from home, and with that guilty of wfh has worked harder than most of her colleagues who are at Bangalore. I am right now with my father but missing my students terribly.

If you ask me what kept me going - I would say just plain hard work, my previous work experience as a software engineer which in an unusual way taught me to work long hours. Some credit however does go to Bread Omlette, the cans of Guava Juices, newly-discovered multigrain maggi which were the two meals that I had and of course a 20-minute episode of Friends.

Most of all, what kept me going was the trust of my students and their love, and some beautiful words we shared which none of us forget till our last breaths.

And the fabulous news is not that all my students have passed but that they have become men of honor!