I have always at wanted to do volunteer work. When I saw a mail saying that Pratham foundation learning lab needed volunteers to help teach English to BMC school students, I leaped. There was some backward and forward discussion, because my class ought not to clash with a trip that was planned or with my research data collection. The trip was cancelled and I was to teach in the afternoons so mornings were free for data collection.
So came my first day. It was a group of young students who would soon go to college, and wanted to go ahead in life with confidence, and learning English would help them to do so. I was as nervous as they were, as I was assessing them, and they were assessing me. All of their needs were very different and I wondered if I would do any good a job.
I decided to start with grammar on the second class, but two of the students did not turn up. But at least three did. One of those missing came for the third class, and he told me he found the grammar and dictionary stuff useless, as he just wanted to read and get done with it. I did not force him to pay attention. But when we were doing reading towards the end of a class, he could not pronounce what was taught at the beginning. I told him this is why its necessary to learn the basics. I don’t know if I helped him grasp the need or built an even higher wall. I do hope its the former.
The other employees offered to take me to Kurla station via a shortcut, and since I didn’t want to be rude, I did agree. These were women whom I admired because they could mix with the students freely. I know that with me, there was an invisible wall. The short-cut consisted of going over a gutter and through the back-lanes. It.It is a different world out there. I won’t pretend to be the first one to point out the contrasts of city life. We have all heard about the skyscrapers next to the slum.
But what I saw was my discomfort translated into tangible objects and sights. Because of Field Work from TISS, we have been taught not to show off when we go to work with people who might not be as economically and socially privileged as us. Some of my classmates agreed with it, others just pretended to do so to please the teachers. I was not sure why I myself followed this. I did not think we were at par with them, because regardless of how much we toned down, it was apparent that we came from different places.
Yet, that day, going to the station I realized something. It was not that just because we behaved properly with them, everyone else would. And the point was not to give that impression. Rather, it was to further the belief that they have in themselves. To grow that thing, that belief that pushed them to come to us, to come to an English class. To portray to them that kindness can exist. To portray to them that just like the gutter won’t go away overnight, to change their situation would not be an easy job, but the point is, the journey need not be unpleasant.
Even the by-lanes of Kurla can have trees that give shade, and whose leaves rustle in the wind.
Sophistication maybe owned by the upper class, but joy definitely isn’t.