“Eyes filled with pride and heart with love, as I saw the hands move from heart to head telling the story of India’s destiny and how Thy’s name rouses the hearts of all states and echoes in the hills of Vindhyas and Himalayas mingling in the music of Yamuna and Ganga, chanted by the waves of Indian Ocean.”
It is a beautiful building, looking huge from outside. The moment you enter, you step into a big courtyard from where one can see all. Every time I come to Bajaj Institute of Learning, there is something or the other happening in this space. Sometimes, there are kids playing badminton, or practicing their dance for Independence Day or mocking at one another, just like any school. Maybe kids are not so different after all!
But on this particular day I experienced the space like never before. I was awestruck and astonished as I had never heard National Anthem and National Song so loud. While there were only 100 students and hardly anything to hear, it didn’t seem silent.
“I’ve studied MBA, and I used to volunteer here before. My husband is a Brigadier and on his foot, serving the nation. Who knew the fate of nature; my daughter happened to not have the ability to hear. Today, by Lord’s grace she’s studying in an institute and since she was born, I’m a full-time volunteer here.”, says Vani* ma’am; as she talks about her life journey. I once got an opportunity to interact with these kids while we installed ‘Plastic Gullaks’, in their premises. The best way to include the audience is by asking questions, is what I’ve understood till now; and my presentations are mostly about intriguing the thought process. So the presentation I had prepared, which I used in the other school before here, had a question on one slide and me talking after the students in the second. I was now skeptical to how this would turn out here.
I was so wrong! Glad I used the same presentation, and didn’t change anything (part of which also included me not having enough time before the presentation). Many hands would start moving as the questions appeared on the screen. Turned out this bunch had the maximum questions I’ve ever seen any audience ask. They had so much to tell and hear! Thankfully, I had Naveen Ji (senior staff at Waste Warriors) with me that day and I could re-direct a few questions to him.
As the assembly parted, it was a zero period and in about 100 seconds, the space transformed into badminton court. Groups of small kids were being led by a few senior students. I followed them and watched them playing kho-kho, volleyball, cricket, and with ropes in the ground. A group of small kids were learning to dance on great beats and a few went in to play table tennis. As I was standing in a corner and watching kho-kho, Pavan* called me as he had seen me a few times in the school and wanted to talk more. He asked me what brought me here today morning and taught me the alphabets A-I in sign language. I was in despair as it looked like the conversation could’ve gone forward only if I knew the sign language.
As I went ahead, there was a conflict as someone was hit by a cricket ball. The big boys were asked to stop or else, they probably wouldn’t have. They came up with an amazing way to still play cricket, where they would stand in a circle, and one would hold the cricket bat in the center. The sports teacher came and told us that they came up with this method, as they wanted to play cricket.
Ms. Avantika* tells me about how the teenage students here are more likely to have mental health issues because of their non-acceptance in the community, and that they have weekly counseling for all elder students. They come and ask sensitive questions about their feelings and hormones that arise during this age. It’s difficult for them to communicate with their parents, as most of their parents don’t know sign language. She also tells me about the difficulties they have to face once they leave this space and the limited job options that they have.
I once recall referring to them deaf and dumb in a conversation with Ms. Vani. She stopped me right there and asked me the meaning of dumb. They’re not dumb. They’re mute because listening and speaking are interrelated. They’re as good and no different than you and I. At that moment, I felt that I should shut up forever, and better think twice before saying anything. It made me think how we take the nature’s invaluable gifts for granted. Bajaj school gives its students bilingual education and they are as ready for the world as any other student. The question is if we are ready.
*Names changed to protect identity