Monday, 6 June 2016

Learnings from the children - When the city meets the village.

This is a story that it aches to put down. As we were walking to the beach Sasi asked what that scooter with a box on it was. Sruthi told him its 'pijja'. I asked her what pijja was and she said it comes on TV. She explained that its bread with something sticky on it and cut raw vegetables and. She said it is very costly and it is not for 'us'.

Shravanthi said that she had tasted it. Then her mother Roopa explained how she had had it. Her husband Seenu was working as a watchman in KFC. In KFC every evening the leftover food is thrown into the wastebin and the workers are not allowed to have any to take away. Shravanthi asked her father if he could not get her some as he worked there. So her father contrived to meet a waiter in the toilet, the only place that did not have CC TV. The waiter pretended to throw a leftover peice from a plate into the waste bin and smuggled that into the toilet where Seenu collected it and brought that to the village for his children. And they tasted the coveted pijja.

We passed a glass walled shop called Woodpecker in Chennai. The village children wanted to know what shop it was. I said 'Furniture ...', and stopped short. In our village homes there are usually 2 mats. The homes are usually one roomed and need no more 'furniture'.
How do I explain furniture ? Do I need to ? We raced to the beach.

Sravanthi, "Madam, please get some photos 'washed'. I need to show to my friends in hostel. We are poor isn't it, and they will not believe that I had been to Madras."
"Why Shravanti, are some children there rich ?"
"Madam, some are very rich and proud. But some are so poor that they do not even have money for uniforms"
Roopa, her mother, put Shravanti into Class 6 in the SC residential school last year. Roopa is hardworking, but landless like many others in our village. Her husband works driving a rented auto. She goes for agricultural labour. She makes pickles whenever I can find her markets.

As I was coming from the bus stop home suddenly Sasi started digging furiously into his pocket to pull out some of the small money his grandmother Eashwaramma had given him for the trip. Then he want across and gave it to an old begger woman.
This unthinking giving is what is the basic of Indian villages. A giving that is so spontaneous that it is forgotten as soon as the act is done.

Yesterday I passed FabIndia, a fancy elite glass walled ethnic store that I usually do not go to as it out of my budget. I cannot enter that spotless glass an aluminium place with all my village children - they are too poor and ordinary and the gatekeeper I fear will not allow them in.

I hate these temples of Modern India - FabIndia and suchlike where the untouchables are kept out by invisble unbreakable glass walls. I also do not enter them.

On the way back, we decided to ‘lunch out’. This is a nice hotel. It cost 65/- a meal. My village children did not feel out of place. They were served a full plate of rice and rasam , and sambar, and some vegetables, a appalam, and a small cup of kesari. 15 of us 'ate out' happily today.
I would never try to make my children cross the invisible walls of hotels where a meal costs 200/- or even more. And their appearance and clothes will I know subject them to looks they do not need to face. In India such hotels should be closed. Or boycotted.

One well made item with rice is a feast. 

A dish of brinjals called 'nooni vankaya'. Two small brinjals per person with gravy, and a plate of rice. We seventeen of us ate to our hearts content with this saucepan of the dish. The children loved it. There was also some dilute buttermilk for who wanted as an extra.

Puff' time. The flakey potato stuffed snack.
A puff is 10/-. Love such things which are at a cost that many can have together. The togetherness lends its own flavour and taste.

Sasi, aged 11, (while walking down to the beach), "Madam, why are they bursting crackers ?"
Me (trying to be clever), "Why, because one bursts crackers, and one cannot cook them."
Sasi, "But one can sell them"
- Paalaguttapalle (Daliwada) kids in Chennai - asking when some absurd bursting of crackers was heard. In the city one gets used to absurd waste of monies.

Roopa is very dark, as are some people in our village. Roopa saw that all the goddess idols in the Ashtalakshmi temple were carved of black granite. Roopa said that the village goddess Gangamma and her sisters are also black. She said only the calendar pictures are painted with them white.

Today on the way to the beach I saw Sasi give some of his trip money to the beggers. I saw the difference between him and me in our way of giving.
He gives naturally and friendlily. When I give it is always with a part of me shrinking. Because in the begger I see a mirror, and I know that the reasons why he needs to beg, include me.
Many of my teachers have been my village children.

I saw she had a gash on her head, and she brushed it aside saying her younger brother had thrown a knife at her. Roopa later told me that last week her father in a drunken fit had hit her. She is dealing with utter poverty, a mother who gets abused by a drunk father, a younger brother who get fits - and she continues to study and stay in the top four in her residential government school.
I am glad I was able to keep her with me for a few days, and that she could eat well, see the beach, go to the temples. She played like a small child on the swings in the park we all went to. Some small happy memories to hold on to. In a life that will be hard.

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