Megma, ten thousand feet above sea level, a sleepy village shrouded all the year round by envelopes of misty clouds, lies right on the border of Bengal and Nepal. Cavorts by Meghma the toughest stretch for bikers leading to the popular trekking paradise – Sandakphu. Megma or Meghma (Megh meaning clouds) boasts of a lone school Saraswati Mandir and an indomitable man with a mission…..
The man strode the steep mountainous roads with a purpose and an agility which belied his age. He was sixty one and still going strong! Sturdily built the smile on his lips left a silken glow to his eyes and whenever he roared with laughter the cloud draped peaks of Meghma echoed his child-like joy in countless booms. At the age of four he had nurtured a dream which he lived his entire life. It was a simple wish which had become his mission….to spread the light of education in every humble home of remote India. He had never quantified his achievement but devoted the best part his life to the crumbling edifice of Saraswati Mandir. Now retired, he still attended to the myriad jobs, from administrative to teaching, involved in running the school, however, obscure and uncared for the same might be.
The Odds :
He could see the two roomed brick house with thatched roof standing proud not afar. It always reminded him of an aged patriarch who had seen much of life yet refused to succumb to tortuous times. The walls desperately needed a coat or two of paint. When the clouds burst in anger the roofs leaked and the wild wind seeped through the loosely cemented brick wall sending a numbing chill down the bodies of those twenty odd little children who dared to dream with him – of getting to know the letters! There was never enough in those three class rooms which he and Neela ma’am managed to keep going – the rooms were sparsely furnished, the desks and chairs creaked and shook, the blackboards had lost colour and cracked from side to side a long time back, the chalks had reduced to stubbles, there were no picture charts or basic visual aids for the children to ‘see, learn and relate to’ and above all the scarce stationary, a basic necessity of the teacher and the taught, were perennially in need of replenishment.
The children had understood poverty before they could know the alphabets. Putting up at higher altitude they trekked around 2.5 km. each day to reach their “abode of enlightenment” sometimes shivering in biting cold and at others soaking wet in tireless downpours. Remember Ekalavya who had to give away his thumb as gurudakshina to Dronacharya? A price to pay for privileged learning? These children pay their prices too and a very heavy ones at that. There are days they go without meal and when the pencils turn into stubs, which their tiny fingers can barely clutch, they practice the alphabets on the ground and put a handful of pebbles outlining their achievement – milestones do we call them?
Yet when the tiny hands hold a roughly sketched painting of Maa and Paa and a little child reading a book by the fireside or a pair of charcoal eyes lit up in excitement when a sum is done right, it is then that a few droplets of rains prick the teacher’s seeking eyes.
The Brave Hearts :
Meet the brave hearts Chandra Kumar Pradhan and the ever smiling Neela ma’am, who against all odds, are unobtrusively making monumental efforts to keep the light of education burning in the tough rocky terrains of remote Meghma!
Chandra Sir joined Saraswati Mandir at the age of 19. Having retired last year as the principal, he still continues to be associated with the school, teach the children and even extend private tuition, all free of cost coupled with a warm smile and loving heart. Neela ma’am helps with the basic supplies. Despite the insufficiencies and scarcities, twenty children pitter-patter their way to the school every day with a happy smile and heart full of expectations. What new are they going to learn today?
My School Days :
For us schooling is just that part of life for which our parents have bothered more than we have had time to worry about. Six plus and a chocolate-coloured bus would stop at the door-step to take me to the wondrous world of nursery. With growing excitement, I climbed the ladder – from prep to middle to high school. In the beginning of each month, the fees were deposited without fail and come May brand new books and note books found their way to my study table. Those were the golden days – free and fanciful – of exploring and expanding horizon with Science and History, picking up newer ways of solving Algebraic equations, gorging on more books in addition to what was enlisted in the syllabus or kicking dust in the sprawling school grounds and getting bruised in the volley ball court. Today, I see the next generation working harder preparing for exams, deciding on academic career, scanning the list of prestigious institutes for admission, surfing through the net for a bank of unlimited and easily accessible information and referrals and persevering for a better tomorrow.
While urban education is more about competition and preparation for higher pursuits, in rural India it is more than often a question of fundamentals. Is the midday meal being regularly supplied to the children? Are the teachers really taking their classes seriously? Are the village households motivated enough to send their children to school? Is the community gender sensitized? The issues are innumerable and obstacles at times insurmountable.
Against this rural backdrop, it does not take much imagination to figure out the stupendous efforts put up by two undaunted souls – Chandra Prakash Sir and Neela Ma’am – to keep the bell ringing!! And never forget the children, who brave the steep inclines and inclement climes to reach Saraswati Mandir each day on time.
Will Chandra Kumar Pradhan’s dreams ever come true?
The Bigger Dream :
Notwithstanding what lies in store in the future, Chandra Kumar dares to dream. As he shuts his eyes, the mist clears over a sprawling estate – Saraswati Mandir – its whitewashed walls sparkling in the rare sunshine streaming through the clouds. Children laughing and playing in the school grounds tended with care. Well-furnished class rooms with polished blackboards, side boards adequately stacked with requisite stationary, pin-up boards showcasing the talents of the students – hand-made charts, arts and crafts, a bustling canteen, clean corridors winding through rows of classrooms filled with attentive faces, an attractive library having just the right number of books to make the children of Meghma aware of the world beyond the sentinels of undulating peaks and above all bunches of happily smiling kids not only from Meghma but also from nearby neighbouring villages in tidy uniforms filing towards the school gate.
Chandra’s dream doesn’t stop at the school gate. He visualizes a brighter tomorrow for Meghma. Khimku, the tea vendor’s son, distributing the local newspaper along with cups of tea to his customers at the tea stall. Chandu, the shopkeeper’s son, signing the documents at the bank for the loan he wishes to take to extend his father’s shop. Khushmal, so fond of Daak Vans, taking over as the Post Master at the local Post Office. And who knows Rani, his most promising student, may one day cross over the narrow bounds of Meghma and opt for the district college to pursue higher studies? For each of his twenty odd students Chandra nurtures a special dream. And when they all grow up to become proud parents they will show their children the path that leads to the haven of learning – Saraswati Mandir. That is how Chandra wants his Meghma to grow – a literate Meghma, an aware Meghma, an incredible Meghma!!!
Is it too much to wish for? Is it too big a dream to fulfil for a Shining India? Will Meghma remain wanting with a half story?
Article 21a of the Indian Constitution embodies the Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education or Right to Education enacted by the Indian Parliament on 4th August 2009.
However, right also entails duty. While we enjoy our right it is our duty to see others enjoy their rights too. It is time to enjoy our right and #Do Right!
At present, Saraswati Mandir’s needs are elementary – two set of blackboards and twenty set of stationary.
But these are the rudimentary steps on which shall be founded a day a larger and stronger assemblage of learning and sharing.
Let’s just not confine the word education to the pious embodiments of the Constitution.
Let’s make education a way of life.
this half story to make it complete.
Indiblogger with Indichange has taken the initiative with Tata Capital to complete these half stories.
I hope this meager contribution of mine, by way of this blog post, helps spread awareness about Chandra Kumar Pradhan’s mission to make education a way of life in every household in Meghma!
Please do visit http://doright.in
Hope Meghma’s mist filled skyline gets lighted with the blazing torchbearers of Saraswati Mandir – Chandra Kumar Pradhan and Neela !!!!