On a sunny Monday, I entered the class carrying the same jhola and wearing my best ever smile. The kids joined me with a grin. A 16-year-old boy, 5ft 2inch tall, with broad shoulders, is currently studying in 9th standard. I remember how his eyes that have never gone up against the gravity, have gradually started to rise. He has come a long way from getting bullied to protesting against bullying.
During the ASER (Annual Status Education Report) baseline test, I asked his name using sheets with numbers denoting alphabets, with simple addition, subtraction, multiplication and division. There was slight movement of lips that I was unable to comprehend at that time. A teacher, roaming in the corridor, said, “Kya? Naam bata apna. Bolna nahi aata?” (Say your name. Are you dumb?). A voice that sounded distant, replied, “Mohan“. I remember myself judging him badly at that time. How could someone in 9th standard child could not even spell his name correctly. Moreover, he was unsure if 9 comes after 8. Mohan belonged to the beginner level in every subject as per the test scores.
In my 7th month of the Fellowship journey, when I still found him copying the numbers, 1-100 from somewhere, I felt ashamed that I left someone behind. “Where did it go wrong!”, I asked myself and found that while I was focused on the majority, Mohan was fleeing away from the class every day. He was ashamed of not being at the same pace with everyone else in the class. When others were moving forward, he was still stuck somewhere. He could surprise you by saying that if we add 5 and 2, the answer would be 1. I used to get excited every time he gives the ‘correct’ (as I perceive it) answer.
Now, he is overcoming his shame and emerging on his own pace, with his natural ability to flow that was being neglected earlier. Schooling, with its uniform and syllabus has taken away the heart from education. It may enlighten us but somehow fails to recognize kids like Mohan, or like me. The system always expects a tangible outcome, and if one fails to show any, he/she is judged by others’ perceived knowledge.
I am the first one in my family who came so far (Rural Rajasthan) from my hometown (Kolkata) in the quest of learning through a 13-month fellowship program, India Fellow. My family and relatives expected me to get into something more conventional, that would bring a better change in my professional life. It has been disturbing me for quite a while. Their questions on “what’s next?” keep hammering my inner peace, and I find myself drowning into the large wail where learning is a time bound process. Only the right fit can survive. Inability to let go and moving from one thing to another, has left me unsatisfied all these years. I’m not sure if recklessness is in my nature or if it is the outcome of a process that I’m yet to identify. I inherit the qualities of both the hare and the turtle but I am yet to identify with an animal.
Sometimes, I hope to be more patient with myself, and the rest of the time I wish I was able to not hold anything for too long and keep going through, with the faith in humankind.
I wish people get a sense of freedom by educating themselves, a kind of education that’s not bound in certified papers or classrooms. I wish for a system that lets one keep faith in Mohan; a system that doesn’t demand from the learner to keep running, leaving the hands of those behind; a system that lets one think freely and share one’s opinion without the fear of getting rejected; a system that does not only transfer knowledge but also acknowledges the values and ideas; a system that is believed to be a life-long process.
Mohan is now concentrating on getting the ‘right result’ but there are times when he gets confused and that’s when he is at his best. It is during such times, that I actually understand the meaning of, ‘taking a leap of faith’.
Me: 6 or 4, which is the greater number?
Me: Okay, where will you reach if you take 4 steps after 6?
Mohan: 2? 1?
Me: You will have to find it yourself.
Mohan taps the pencil 4 times on his hand saying, “7. 8. 9. 10.”
Mohan: “Daas, Kaw?!” (10, is it?)
He lets himself loose and lets the numbers take him around, backward or forward. After being lost for a while, he finds his way.
Each one of us is designed differently. We respond differently. Education helps us to understand the differences and work in harmony. It helps us to come out of our prejudices.
Someone who stopped going to a drawing class saying that the instructions suffocated her, may have only started reacting to instructions. I had the privilege to go for classes to learn different art forms and to discontinue all of them. I kept living my life as per others’ suggestions and not make any decisions. The fellowship journey is pushing me to break that idea. Now, my days are filled with decision making, from what to cook for dinner and how to spend the stipend to how to manage my time.
I don’t know if I will emerge as a good leader after the fellowship but I would have definitely forgotten the ‘influenced follower’ in me, and would learn to deal with ‘what’s next’. I will be able to think it through, to spend some more time with myself, to be courageous and take a leap of faith again. At the same time, Mohan would be enjoying his walk through the woods on the path less traveled. By now, both of us may have found the ‘right answer’ but to observe further change, we will need immense patience and an eye on ourselves, not just on others.
Wow, the way you have written this story, I feel like I am there and seeing Mohan counting. Having compassion and connection is important in everyone and people, especially teachers need to understand that.