Another year, another batch of fresh, anxious faces. The new batch arrives. You can make out the freshers from a considerable distance – running around in circles, dressed meticulously, mostly following a parent or an elder sister and always moving in tiny groups. They are mostly scared that they would miss out on a class, end up with low attendance or worse not understand what is being said in class! As most of us watch out of sheer amusement and sometimes irritation, their anxious scamper around the campus, we lose sight of one fact – this is all very new and alien for them. Exit school and enter college. Exit uniforms, walking in a line, having all classes in one room with teachers flitting in and out, and enter chaos! At least that’s what it seems to them. The coded time tables, running from one end of college to another trying to figure out where the next class is and then getting shouted at for landing in the wrong room. You might argue that they have to learn sometime don’t they? Well they don’t have to be shocked into learning anything today itself do they?
Some background check first. Majority of the girls (it’s a women’s college, hence the specific gender reference) coming to the institution that I am a part of, hail from nearby and sometimes far off rural places. The very fact that they are in a college is pretty revolutionary for some of them. I got a feel of the neverending struggle yesterday, when in the class, trying to be the cool teacher that I aim to be, I tried to strike a lame conversation with the bunch of students that trickled into my class. We got talking about future plans (well, I did say lame conversation!) A few said they wanted to study Law, another one said civil services, a lecturer, a few blank faces and three murmurs. I waved my hand for everyone else to quieten down so that I could focus on the murmurs. I asked these three girls sitting in the far corner (almost hiding behind others) to be louder. One of them bolted up reflexively to my call and I signalled her to sit and answer. Standing and answering doesn’t really increase the volume and then this was an informal talk. Anyway, another faded murmur and a little coaxing later, one of them said, “Haven’t thought of beyond college yet. As of now coming to college everyday is a fight.” That was confusing. Last time I checked, we weren’t in the middle of any war so where was the fight. I think they recognised the confusion written all over my face and elaborated, “We fight with our family everyday to come here. They don’t want us to study further, madam.” Silence. One look around the class, and it was clear that I was the only one shocked. All the girls nodded in grave understanding.
To read about the gender bias and denial of education to girls is one thing, but experiencing it right there in the dimly lit classroom was something else. For a few moments, the only sound that reverberated through the room was the squeaky old excuse of a fan. I quickly collected myself, and lauded them for their conviction, my mind still in shock. We shifted our conversation to their daily routine and very matter of factly they said, ‘we get up at 5 am, clean and cook at home so that we can come and study here.’ My mind flashed back to my college days when the story was …well totally reversed. Mom would try to drag me to college and I would resist with all my might coupled with a bunch of excuses to sleep some more! Stark difference. Damn, I wouldn’t do all that these girls do at home even now!
Quite a few students who come here are somewhat academically challenged having barely made it through school. They come here and sadly are sometimes branded as dim wits making it a convenient excuse for some to not put in too much effort with them. ‘There is no use working hard with them – koi fayda nahi hai.’ I have learnt now to politely nod, curse in my head at the sheer insolence and continue to strive to make to a difference. It’s an uphill task with lots of shut door but I believe.
There is a sad concept in our field called ‘self- fulfilling prophecies.’ Simply put, it basically implies that if you keep telling someone that they are dumb, chances are they will get de-motivated and give you a performance to reaffirm your misconstrued faith and give you a chance to be smug and say, ‘told you so.’ How can we forget our purpose here? Our purpose as a teacher is not merely completing the syllabus now, is it? It goes far beyond the typeset words of the books.
These girls reaffirm my faith in the profession that I have chosen. Many a times, I am questioned and sometimes ridiculed for how I am ‘wasting’ my life here. All I do is smile back. This is my reason. If I am able to be one insignificant piece of armour in their fight, I would consider myself successful. Year after year, I see them come here, mostly fighting their way through. Year after year, I see most of us losing patience. Year after year, I see some of us resolve to break the cycle, to prove the prophecy wrong and, believe me, we do succeed. The success might be a very tiny victory but it nevertheless rekindles the light. It makes it all worth it: The power cuts, the squeaky fans, the dusty, rusting benches – all of it, worth it. These girls are within ambsace of attaining their dreams. All they need is patience, belief in self and us as the encouraging guide and not as the mocking wall.
So call me a naïve fool if you please. Laugh me off if you have to. Wait for my enthusiasm to fizzle out if you want to. But this naïve fool is not letting go of her faith and she chooses to be a believer…. A believer of the Silent Warriors.