Nichalpur is a small village. It has a primary school. All of the nearby three villages had only one school that time. Just like everyone else in my village, from class 1 to class 5, I did my primary schooling there.
COME, GET A DOB :
‘When was I born?’, I did not know till I was 21. My mother could tell me that I was born on the day of Holi. The day was Tuesday and it was evening and a ‘puja‘ was being performed. Thanks to Kundli Pro, I was able to locate my time of birth on the time-line. It was March 25, 1986, Tuesday, Shukla Paksha Purnima i.e. Holi. So I share my birthday with that crazy monkey-god Hanuman.
I was put in the school early for various reasons. First and foremost one that we had a school in village. My mother says that I used to write something in air using my fingers well before I could speak and they took it as a sign of unusual desire to write. Besides, basic schooling is considered must for future-farmers by farmers for one must be able to do basic computations in market. But the true benefit of schooling is on the day of marriage interview when family member of would-be-bride come and ask the baffling question “Sade panch main se pone char ghataiye” (Subtract 3.45 from 5.50). If you can do this, you are married else you have got to own a lot of land. And if somehow you are able to pass High-school then a scooter is guaranteed in dowry, much better that a cycle and radio people used to get in older days. Those days, when someone was able to get these gifts of radio and bicycle in marriage, people from nearby villages would come, see and comment, ‘really big marriage!’ Opportunity cost of not going to school was way too much. Therefore my aunt took me to primary school and a problem cropped up.
The rule book said that below 4 years, no child could join the school. In my case no one knew my real age. With some pity on the part of Masterji, I was made 4 year old that day. June 05, 1985 was put up in documents. I was exactly 4 year and 1 month old when I was enrolled in standard 1.
Almost all the children in my village (all the villages in India?) go through this. There are 13 children in school who are born on July 07 – the day they took admission in a school. Well, it make sense – getting educated is nothing less a rebirth – at least for us. Almost all of us are born in either June or July – during the month of admissions. Few things have changed since then. Many children are fortunate to know their exact date of birth. Last time I helped a lot of them to find it out by asking their mothers some ‘festival’ like dussera, basant panchami, etc and then locating the date using Kundli Pro. Mothers usually remember the day! Fathers are useless in these matters. In fact, this word ‘date of birth’ was not known by many at out time. When the other ‘Dilawar’ of my village was being interviewed for marriage, some one from them asked, “Aapki is Date Of Birth kya hai?” (What is your DOB?). Six feet, he replied. He got married by the way.
TAKHTI, KALAM AND DAWAT
Paper was a luxury. In fact, I always craved to see a blank page and also write something on it. It is one of the least useful thing in my village. There was no use of it in my house either. My mother could not write or read. Father, though he held the record of writing high-school exam twice and failing it both the time, he did not write much except for his register which was gifted to him by one of his friends who was in a bank. He only wrote to maintain his accounts. It was a 300 pages register! It has been 19 years and still more than 50% is empty. It contains all the accounts of income of last 19 years. The only source of ‘knowledge’ were pieces of old newspapers in which local shopkeeper wrapped things father bought. Sometimes my mother used to take us to ‘nanihaal’. Mamaji is a graduate. He had his books neatly kept in his home which none of his children read them, nor cared to flip a page or two. Sometime he bought me some notebooks and pencils. I remember I did write something in them. Mother taught me two things well before I went to school. How to write ‘numbers’ upto 10 and how to figure out time in a clock. Thats all she knew.
In class 1 we were not allowed to use ball-pen, ‘dot’ as we called it. Our teacher believed that using ball-pen distorts handwriting. So he only allowed writing on a wooden slate by a wooden pen. Sometimes writing in ink by pen on paper sheet was allowed – at least in exam. And I must admit, I liked it. We used to buy ink, nib of the pen, and papers from Deepchand shop. I remember that he charged 50p for nib, 10p for a pen ink, Rs. 2 for copy of capital brand (24 pages), and Rs 1 for a ball pen, 25p for refilling it. Using ink pen and paper was a costly affair. My whole education in Primary school for 5 years cost my father Rs 6.75 in fees (15p per month fee) and may be 1-2 hundreds in books and papers.
Takhti is a wooden slate. It got a handle of its own. You have you blacken it by tawa black. ‘Tawa’ is a cirular iron disk on which we cook ‘roti’. Next ritual was to get a kalam. A Kalam is a wooden pen, made from Saruaa, a kind of Saccharum Spontaneum. Then you need dawat (ink-pot). Well, on takhti, you can not write in ink properly. Besides washing it off was a tricky thing. So you get Pindol (a clay – page 84). You make your ink-pot this way, with no artificial ink. So get you wooden pen, and your clay-made-ink-pot, and your wooden slate blacken by natural black and start writing क ख ग घ . Get a wet cloth and wipe if clean in one stroke. Takhti was the only property we had which could be stolen. Also, they were also used in fights. One hit on the head and there would be blood.
Till class 2, there were 2 books, one for Hindi and moral education and second is for all other stuff. With these four articles, 2 books, takhti and kalam, we learnt to write and read. Speaking in public was not appreciated. Keep quiet! Most of the teacher were ‘mangoos’, ready to bite at any time. Then there was Shiv Prakash Sharma.
He was transferred from some other school, He lives in nearby town Seohara– which has an average literacy rate of 48%, lower than the national of 59.5%. He became the dearest for us. His methods of teaching was incredibly different. I hardly read routine books – left nothing unread in library by the way. When he was introduced by old teachers, I was impressed. Just because he was from a town and not from a village. We always had a fascination for town Seohara. It was every child’s dream to go there and visit the bazar. And if are lucky, you could also see a light bulb shining. And if you are fortunate enough, perhaps you could remain there till dusk and see how electricity shines the darkness.
We did not have a proper building or any sort of furnitures save chairs and tables for teachers. Money came and eaten away by two-legged creatures, known and unknown. Fortunately books were useless for them and so it could see our tiny hands. This is only good thing I found in corrupt people, they just hate books. These books were amazing., from Sikoya tree to universe, Kabir to Methli Sharan Gupt, from amebae to dinosaur, from ‘math’ to ‘grammar’ – most of the subjects were available. Later two room building was constructed and all of the books could find a safe place now.
Getting books out of library to read was a problem. Fortunately, Shri Shivprakash Sharma was a tea addict. Twice a day he needed tea. It used to come from either my home or Headman home. Since my mother had a reputation in cooking and expertise in tea making, I was preferred. Besides my father used to buy only TajMahal tea. In fact, besides Tea he never bought anything of good quality. Soon he’d ask only me for tea and give me a rupee to buy namkeen while coming back from my home with tea. I knew that I have become the uncrowned king of the school. It was quite a nice thing to happen. He’d give compliments about tea and I’d pass them to my mom. She was happy, my father was more or less happy. And of course, I was the happiest. Now, I did not have to ask for permission to read books. I could go, open the box, and get all the books I needed, take them to home, read them, re-read them, re-re-read them, re-re-re-re ….. read them. Even in nights, if kerosene was not available, moonlight was there : at least for 7-8 days a once a month moon were at its finest. In fact, it was only moonlight which made two person from my father generation passed high-school. Even kerosene was not available those days. They got bit mad in their pursuit of education. So passing high-school was considered a task of epic proportion. Children were not encouraged to study and pass high-school. You see, one could get mad after all.
Kerosene is lifeline of school kids in village. Govt of India used to supply kerosene to its villages at subsidy (or call it incentive for studies, whatever you with). Dealers sell it in black market. They mix it with diesel at petrol-pumps. But still at least 50-60% would come to the village. There was no other way to buy kerosene. Electricity reached my village in 2003, a year in which I left my village. It was quite a night. No-one slept that night! Dogs were getting mad barking at bulbs. Old woman were fascinated. For next month, there was no quarrel in any home since most of ladies were busy talking about electricity only. Somehow this ‘jyoti’ from light bulb made them forget their life-long vows to do back-biting.
When we started going to school, there was a need for watch in my home. Before that there was no use of watch in my home. Calves were alarms for mother and father. Whenever calves felt hunger in early morning, they’d start mooing. Mother will get up, feed them milk and do all the work. Father will go to the fields. Then there were sparrows and desi mainas, infamous for their group-chattering. They were our alarms. And after an hour, the sun is out!
My mother bought a watch when she visited her mother place – and also a big packet of Parle-G biscuits. Now there was no need to make marks in angan to read the time when sun-light passes over them. There was a famous ‘pit’ in our ‘aangan’, whenever sunlight hit it, it was 2:30 pm. Mother cared about this time a lot. It was the time for that serial ‘Shanti’ on Doordarshan.
Muni Ji is (PS: was) a nice man. He has (had) two addiction, one is gardening and other is doubling his money using some tantras. A sadhu used to come to his place. Once he doubled his 500 into 1000. Later it turned out that the sadhu ran way with his money. That made him quite depressed and he chose not to talk about it. But his sorrow was visible in his garden, which was so near to the school. There were so many flowers. Sadabahar, roses, gurhals, dalia, fool-button, sunflower etc. We liked him, he liked us too. He behaved with us well perhaps to keep his garden out of children rage. His garden and school shared a common boundary. Since he was nice to us, we had to thank him. We used to pee in his garden to express our gratitude. The idea was mine. I read in a book that pee contains urea and urea is good for crop. Everyone was convinced that this indeed is a good way to say thanks. But sometimes too much of thanks was bad for few of the plants. Most of ruin happened due to our game of ‘pee the farthest’. It turned out most of us had the bladder of same capacity and we ended up hitting the same flower.
GYAN UNDER BANYAN
Buddha might have gotten his gyan under the banyan tree in peace. Our enlightenment was received in loud. There was banyan tree (Bargad) in the school. It was young, bigger than almost all other trees in village but smaller than great peepal tree which used to lighten itself by attracting fireflies during monsoon. Fortunately, no old dude had declared that he has seen a ghost on this tree else they could have axed it down. Ghosts and bargad are inseparable. Under its shadow, we learnt mathematics and grammar and abusive words, some very inaccurate and misleading lessons on sex by senior most students, the dim-wit Mantri and hyper-active Hargulal. Our whole summer was passed under this tree on patte. When I was in class 4, suddenly banyan tree got its mustache. And we got jealous of class 1 for we’d no longer be able to swing on them, but in 4 years these class 1 will enjoy them.
CHANT GINTI, CHANT PAHADE AND GO HOME
If the first ritual was to pray asking the mighty lord to bestow upon us the power so we can serve our motherland, the last was to memorise ginti (numbers) and pahade (tables). Under the banyan tree, we all sat and chanted loudly. So loud that the farmers in field would know that the time is 12:30 and its time to go home. When at home, I’d tell my mom what happened at school, how fast earth rotates around sun! She was happy.
|Seohara wale Guru Ji, Shri Shiv Prakash Sharma|
Till Shivparakash Shrma was there it was a Shantiniketan (house of peace). He never dictated from books and encouraged independent thinking. he’d send us to fields to collect leaves and bugs – which we loved most. Sometimes, He would ask us to form a group of two and to discover a paryayvachi (synonym) of some words came to our mind. Sometimes, he’d teach us advanced mathematical problems from grade 6-7. Most of the time, he just talked. I impressed him many times. My biggest achievement was solving the ‘egg problem’ from std 8 book which he could not solve when his son asked him. He was so dear to me and once or twice, I called him ‘maa’ in class, and class would burst in laughter. Examinations were no pressure but marks were appreciated. But not to the level which could push a student into depression. He never asked what we wanted to become when we’ll grow up. Perhaps the answers were well known. They are going to be farmers after all. Still he taught us, and taught us as well as he could. All of us enjoyed it because we did not know for what ends why we are studying. In my first 10 years of education, it never struck me why I was studying at all. Then I came into contact with town-students. None of my parents wondered if I will be able to become some else, and such views are very hard to realize by oneself. Perhaps, having illiterate parents is a bliss.
He retired in 2006. Now the school has a better infrastructure but useless teacher mostly from the nearby villages. They will come, chew pan, talk about things and go home. In villages, parents do not put pressure on teachers that they should teach. So they can get away with it. Neither teaching is considered as a profession of choice nor many like it (It a looser’s profession, isn’t it?). Though we were not the children of ‘padhe likhe log’, at our time, in per capita basis, our library was used much more that the library of IIT Bombay is being used. He no longer teaches but he is fondly remembered in my village as ‘seohara wale guruji‘.