During my second visit to the Prerna Hostel at Danapur, Patna I got the chance to be closer to Sudha ma’am and learn much more about her girls. What had surprised me in the first visit was their daily routine. They would wake up everyday to the ring of the bell at 6am. Reading the newspaper, doing Yoga and cleaning their hostel was how they started their day. A morning prayer and assembly followed by the day’s studies. At 3:30pm they started their library period, then some Karate and game time. After which they would freshen up for self study time. After the self study, they would all gather in the common room to watch news on the TV and then the night-time prayers …
Look inside their campus in this video:
I had presumed that this three-times-praying had something to do with Sudha ma’am, the founder of the hostel, being a nun at some point in her life. Her belief in God must have inspired such a routine which makes it much like a convent boarding school. But I couldn’t be more wrong. This time out of casual chatter came out the story of why these girls pray so many times during the day.
Every time these girls would stand in the small ground, all 150 of them clustered together under scorching heat, music-blaring surroundings or extremely cold mornings, the unison of their voices would make me clench my gut. I would not dare to take the 10 minutes lightly each time. Sometimes I’d join them and feel the power of their voices at the roots of my skin hair as well. It would be the energiser I needed before a long day or the motivation I’d need to start a night-time brainstorming session with the people I work with. The songs they choose for these prayers are always inspiring. One of them goes like,
“O ri chiraiya
Nanhi si chiriya,
Angana mein phir aaja re…”
Or something like this:
It was always about women empowerment, always about unity amongst women who might be fighting some or the other beaten norm in the society. Sometimes it was about God giving power to the girls to ward off demotivation, or humane ills. Again, these girls must be given these songs to learn, perhaps they had a prayer diary with all of them, of course all prayers were approved by Sudha ma’am or introduced by someone she trusted. But no! It wasn’t the way my school had been, where they gave us prayer diaries and the principal would announce page numbers before our morning prayers. The story was something else completely.
Once when there were only around 70 girls living in the hostel and Sudha ma’am lived in a room in between that of the girls … there was an incident.
Sudha ma’am heard some girls screaming in their rooms, following which many started screaming and screeching. She ran out of her room to witness the corridor filled with scared little girls who were crying, shivering or still screaming. She held one and asked what was wrong? What had they seen? Was their someone in the hostel? Were the girls’ in good health? Was someone hurt? Then she caught another with the same rapid fire, again with no answers. Another girl and another failed attempt. Then she saw a few people jump over from the short walls of the campus and approach Sudha ma’am hurriedly.
“We heard the girls screaming, is everything alright ma’am?”
She ushered them away with stories about how some girl must have heard something and thus the domino effect. This hardly assured her own self as the reason for the screams, but it seemed to vend off the neighbors. Sudha ma’am tried to manage the situation by collecting them all and sitting in the corridor all night. None of them would go back to sleep. Soon she got bits and pieces of the story and it was a ghost story. Some girls had heard the noise of two slippers rubbing against each other. Who could it have been at that time of the night? Of course, a ghost. That night none of the girls slept, except a couple at 5am in the morning. The next night, she was again summoned to the corridor by sleepless girls who wouldn’t agree to the bedtime. They were under no condition going to go to bed and so Sudha ma’am had to find a solution for that night. They all stood together in the small ground and sang. They sang songs about God, about power, about anything that would give them strength. It wasn’t Sudha ma’am, but it was the girls who would come up with their own chosen song. They chose their own prayers.
Till today they all sing before going to bed, they sing early in the morning and they sing anything and everything! Their teachers in class must have taught them an inspirational song about women empowerment and they will make sure to teach the younger kids and sing together in the assemblies. They learnt one song here in Himachal during their recent visit which goes like,
“Roru jaana meri ammi ae, roru jaana ae
Gilli danda na khelna, akkh phute o,
Akkh phute meri ammi o, akkh phute o”
“I want to go to Roru mumma, I want to go to Roru. I don’t want to play Gilli-danda, it might hurt my eye. It might hurt my eye mumma, it might hurt my eye.”
And these girls at Nari Gunjan, the day they returned to Bihar, they taught this simple fun song without much meaning to all the girls at the hostel and they were singing it in their evening prayers for a whole month! By the end of the month, there wasn’t one girl who didn’t know the song by heart, whether or not they understand the language. They sang it with much power and I still made sure to join them and sing along and feel that power too. Here is the back view of the thunderous singing by the girls at the Bodhgaya Prerna Hostel.