Sunday, September 1, 2013

Education on a Sunday morning

A Sunday morning. We drive to the fringe of the Asola-Bhati sanctuary, on the Delhi-Haryana border. As we park our cars, a knot of teenage boys pass cheerily by, heading in the same direction as us.

A few minutes later we catch up, and it registers, via the acute sensibility that we Indians have for class and place, that these are not boys from the adjoining Gujjar villages, but from an urban slum.
 "Where're are you heading?", I ask them.
 "To the lake."
"Have you been there before?"
"No, have you?"

When I tell them I have, a flood of questions follow - how deep is it? Can you swim? Can your children swim? Then, as I answer obligingly, the questions get more personal, "What do you do?"
That's a difficult one to answer under the best of circumstances, so I tell them one of the many truths, "I used to teach - English". No, not in a school-school, but in a private center, to teach English to adults.

"And you've retired now?"
"Then how do you manage for money?"
Another boy is slightly embarrassed by his friend's transgression of propriety and interjects, "Oh he must not be having any money problems. He must own his house."
I admit as much, and he says, "We pay rent."
The others chime in, "Yes, we too."

"So where is 'home'?", I ask. It is in the nature of Delhi that their parents come from every state in North India - Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan, Bihar, Madhya Pradesh.

"And your family?" they ask me. I tell them we're essentially Dilli-wallahs, though my parents came from Punjab. They nod. "And that's your son?", they point to my teenager, walking a few paces ahead, with family friends.

"And that girl with him? Which country is she from?"
Of Tamil-Swiss parentage, Mallika's origins would be difficult to pinpoint, so I am not surprised when they say, "She must be from another country."
I nod.
"From Bombay."
"And Bombay is another country?", I ask.
They look at each other, one nods, one shrugs...I let it pass.
"Actually, she's from Bangalore", I tell them. "Anyone know where that is?"
"Yes, I've seen it in the railway station - New Delhi to Bangalore City."
"And do you know where it is?"
"Which state?"
"Anyone heard of Karnataka?"
"Karnataka." A couple of them repeat the name, but it is clear it has little resonance.
"It is the capital of Karnataka."

We are approaching the lake, an abandoned stone quarry, now filled with rain water. Even though the water level is higher than I've ever seen, its still a good 100 feet below us, and the first viewing is always impressive. The boys hoot and whistle.
 "Wow! It must be deep!"
"Uncle, we won't swim in it! Are you sure you'll swim in it?"
"There must be dinosaurs in the lake."
"Dinosaurs?" I check the boy's face to see whether it is a joke. It isn't.
"Dinosaurs! Do you think dinosaurs still walk the earth?"
Not one of the boys is sure how to answer. I don't want to be harsh, so I say, evenly, "Dinosaurs disappeared from the earth millions of years ago."
They digest this. "And what about pythons?"
"Don't know about pythons, but I don't think this is the terrain for pythons."

Glad for the company, the boys splash around the shallows of the lake, while we do laps of its placid surface.

On the way home they talk of what they will do with the rest of Sunday. "I have lots of homework," one says. "Yes, I must study my Economics", says the other.

I don't dare to ask...

No comments:

Post a Comment