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The other side of the story - Naked Truth

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Naked truth

 

Kaluvakolanu Sadananda

The name of the place is Rallapalli, which would literally mean a village of stones.

 

Except for the ubiquitous boulders, not even a blade of grass as a sample of greenery, would be seen in that area. In fact, even the village is full of huge boulders. Among them, like Lilliputian brigade, there are small hutments. There are a lot of dried up trees around the village, like old men plagued by poverty, disease and hunger. Beyond them are the mirages, like tomorrows aspirations. Yonder in the distance, are the huge tamarind trees, symbolising the message of “Must live, even dried up”. This is the topography of that village.

 

Except for four or five small time farmers, all the others living in the village have come there, only looking for a namesake roof over their heads. If the nine inch stomach is the curse of god on them, the only properties they have are, their limbs. For those who believe in physical labour, city would provide food, but not shelter, isn’t it? That is why, those lesser beings, have taken shelter in the government wastelands of Rallapalli, two kilometers away from the city, and  not of much interest for the land grabbers.

 

Splitting the village into two, there is a road there, like a brush stroke on a painting. In the middle of the village, next to the road there is the choupal. The ramada next to it is the village elementary school. And, I am the lone teacher in that school.

 

The school has nearly fifty names on the rolls. Half of them never come to school regularly. They spend their time grazing their cows or goats, or keeping watch on the house because both mother and father go out for work, or looking after the baby brother or sister, or at best, loafing around the place.

 

One could be happy if atleast those who come to the school learn something. I was not lucky of even that satisfaction.

 

Like all the others, even I have a firm feeling that children if well educated, could lead a happy life. I am eager to toil and teach the children well and be known as a good teacher. So, I teach with all the sincerity. They appear to be attemptive while I do so. They repeat everything after me. Write the letters as per the model. But, can’t read or write by themselves. Then, how could one teach them math and geography etc.? The subjects would prove boulders held on those poor innocent heads. Could they sustain and stand that load?

 

I teach about fractions for a month and then ask a question. “ One by two, one by four and three by four! Which is the odd one out in this? Who would answer?” Excepting one or two all of them put up frustrating blank faces.

 

They look at the globe on the table with wide eyes and mouth agape while I turn it around teaching geography, but never can make out tropics from temperate zones or any other zones.

 

“Open the book and go to the lesson about freedom struggle!” The moment I say so, all of them together start yawning. I would consider myself great if I could teach them, simple reading and writing, leaving aside all this advanced education. Even that looks impossible. What could be done when pupils in class V can’t read or write? What is the use of any kind of exercise when their attention is not at all there for the task.

 

Children come to the school only for two hundred days in a year. Even during those days it is only for five hours that they spend in the company of the teacher. Maximum time they spend is not with the teachers but with the parents.

 

If children are to be educated, along with all other efforts in the direction, parents should have interest in the matter. Parents should observe them, and worry about them.

 

How then are the parents of my students in this school? They are unrelenting warriors in the struggle for life, day in and day out. All of them, stone worker Rahim sahib, Rickshaw puller Lokanadham, porter Munuswamy, quilt maker Dastagiri, dosa maker in the hotel Unnikrishnan, firewood cutter Katamaraju, flour mill operator Penchalaiah and the likes would come back from work very tired and long for a restful night. What do they care about their ward’s education?

 

In such a village and among such people, what is that I can achieve?

 

Philosophers say there are three ways for salvation. The path of knowledge,  the path of work and the path of devotion. One would follow whichever way suits him best.

 

I also followed a simplistic way out, jettisoning the heavy load called syllabus and teaching only alphabet, small words, two or three digit numbers, small additions and subtractions, small stories and other trivia. It was inevitable.

Though these boys are dull at the school, one has to agree that they are quite sharp at other works.

 

There is a boy nick named ‘Mayudu’. If a proposal is there to level the school ground which is full of rubble, it is this boy who takes lead. He gets the implements needed from home. Digs up himself. Allotting work to all the others, gets the job completed successfully. If the mud walls of the school building start chipping, this boy would never keep quiet. He gets couple of baskets and takes a few boys to the fields and comes back with red soil. Making the necessary mud paste he mends the walls with his own hands.

 

There is another boy by name Chakravarthy. He can never keep quiet if a bicycle is seen. He never thinks of finishing the home-work. However, if notices a bicycle parked, without any request, he starts cleaning it, and fixes the nuts and bolts which go loose, adjusts the breaks, checks up the wheels in near professional way and performs hundred other diagnostics on it.

 

“What can be done with you?, You never read your lessons! Never finish your home-work. I would never promote you to sixth class!” I shout at him.

 

He then says “ Who is going to the High school, sir? After finishing fifth, my father would put me in a cycle shop!”

 

There is another unlettered genius, Anjaneyulu. He always looks very bright. Once he did not come to the school continuously for a month. Reason was quite strong. That was the season of tamarind. With a bag on his shoulder, he roamed around the tamarind trees near the village throughout the day collecting the booty that was falling down due to the winds. He thus spent a month collecting tamarind, dried it himself, removed the skin, seeds, other unwanted parts and could sell twenty kilos of it in the town market. He could thus, buy new clothes for his sister and himself.

 

Similarly in winter he goes to the forest, collects sitaphal, and sells them. In summer his commodity is the tamarind new leaves.

 

I could sense his preferences and asked him to write the names of some fruits like tamarind, sitaphal, brinjal, mango etc. Though with a few mistakes he could write those names. He knows about the weekly markets of all the villages around.

 

“Anji! In what all villages is there a weekly market?” I asked.

 

“ Pakala, Penumuru, Damalcheruvu, Paturu, Airala, Kalluru, Pileru” He reeled out a few names. I wrote them down for him.

 

In a few days, he was able to identify those names when found on the buses passing on the road.

 

Digits and their positional values were never for his understanding. But when asked “a kilo of sweet potatoes cost a rupee and a quarter. We buy ten kilos and hand him a tenner, how much has he to return us?”, without hesitation he would answer, “Nothing at all. That squares up the account.”

 

But alas, the pen in his hand is a dumb one.

 

There is one last boy we have to speak about. That is Satyamurthy. He is no lesser than Brihaspati, when it comes to knowledge. If any father has to be happy to be a father, it is surely his one alone. Kondamanaidu is a small farmer.

 

“ Teacher Sir! How is my boy?” he asks frequently.

 

“What about him Kondanna! Unadulterated gold! He would be an asset to the area itself. Keep seeing!” I would answer.

 

People at home never ask Satyamurthy to do any odd jobs. He is left alone with his books and studies.

 

After the summer holidays, when schools reopened in June, I handed over the progress records to all those boys who finished class five.

 

Kondamanaidu put his son in the town high school. He also gave the boy a bicycle so that he goes to the school without much trouble. Naidu even told me that he proposes to engage a good teacher in the town to coach his son.

 

‘Mayudu’ who plastered the walls, cycle Chakravarthy, Tamarind collector Anjaneyulu – none of them were sent to the high school.

 

Meanwhile  I was transferred. I went to some other village in another corner. Teachers make their own world wherever they are. Twenty years elapsed. I moved about three or four schools. I never even peeped at Rallapalli.

 

Now, after such a long gap, I am again transferred to Rallapalli. I went and joined there. Now it is an Upper Primary school. Whatever happened to all those huge boulders, the village is grown a lot.

 

I do have the curiosity to find out where my students, tamarind Anjaneyulu, Satyamurthy the son of Kondamanaidu and the other boys are, and what they are doing. It was easy meeting some and finding about few others.

 

All those of my students were eking out their livelihood one way or the other. Some were pursuing their family professions. One or two were even engaged in some sort of jobs in the local firms. Those who had a bit of land were in the practice of agriculture. Few others were in petty trades.

 

 By the time Kondamanaidu could make his son a post -graduate and also performed daughters marriage, his landed property vanished into thin air like camphor, and only a hut was remaining. Satyamurthy remained unemployed for over five years and was giving tutions to a handful. His father was bedridden. The two buffaloes that his mother was keeping were the sole  source of support to the family.

 

The fellow who tended the school walls in the childhood is now a masonry mistry and is earning fifty rupees a day.

 

Chakravarthy who declared he would not go to high school and would run a cycle-shop, is indeed doing so. He is said to be so busy that, is unable to go home for food during the day.

 

 That leaves Anjaneyulu apart. What is lost! He is a king now. Starting with selling goods in weekly markets around, he is now running a big vegetable-shop in the city. He converted his fathers hut into a building. There is fridge in that house. A TV too. There are phones at the shop and the home. Anjaneyulu now keeps a pen in his shirt pocket. He also reads the Telugu news paper.

 

I went to see Kondamanaidu. After I introduced myself, he got up and sat in the cot with all the humility, as if he himself was my student. “How are you, Sir?” he enquired holding my hands in his.

 

“ Your words came right, Sir! My boy got his M.A. degree. How is it that  a fellow  with so much of education can’t find a job? If not today, tomorrow he would. You should talk to him , and give him courage, Sir!” he said. His eyes were bright like those of a saint who achieved his goal.

 

Similar brightness was missing in Satyamurthy’s eyes.

 

“ Of what use is this education, Sir? The proverb says all the studies are for only a morsel of food. We are forgetting that and are giving importance to the books. For seventeen or eighteen years, I was immersed in these studies and did not do a thing apart. Is so much time necessary to learn reading and writing? I have learnt to write the word ‘livelihood’, but could not find my livelihood. My childhood friends though never learnt the word, however, learnt to live by themselves. Between the well educated and the unlettered, there lies the difference. They know better that it has to be learnt only when young.”

 

“When professional graduates are going round in search of work, where are any jobs for the common degree holders? It has to be a clerk’s job. Or that of a teacher. Then, what  is the purpose of all these studies? Everybody should study, and all those who study should compete for that clerk or teachers position, and keep running around or fighting each other, waiting for the lady luck to smile on them? Is that the purpose of this education? Killing the creativity and the workmanship in the youth, and turning them into lazy lumps? Is there any use for such an education?”

 

“ Leave the technical and medical colleges alone. For the basic education needed for the daily life, primary schools and adult education centres are enough. For what use are all these mushrooming high schools, junior colleges and the degree colleges? If all of them are converted into vocational guidance centres, could there be dearth of employment and prosperity? I am really repenting why I pursued all these studies which can’t even feed me! Sir!”

 

While Satyamurthy was saying so the school bell in the village started ringing. Perhaps the bell is stone deaf! Otherwise it would have waited a while to listen to his words.



 

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Sri Sadananda, a teacher by profession is a top class story writer