Life gives us second chances, sometimes the third. Well so they say. There are a few of us who don’t get the first chance as well. Some of us are not born on a hassock of the support of our parents - physically, mentally, emotionally and financially.
Tiptur, a town 144 km to the west of Bangalore boasts about its famous copra. It’s a centre of coconut trade and abounds in coconut plantations. However, the inconspicuous truth about the pulchritudinous town talks about a number of success stories of engineers, scientists and doctors. The withering educational institutions still stand tall and gallant. Tiptur’s rich history of education is still ripe and easily accessible. Hence, on a pleasant Saturday morning we woke up and with all excitement, pursued to visit the place on a much awaited trip.
The bodacious school was fairly big in size. It housed close to 170 students ranging from classes 5 to 10th. We reached the school around the 10 AM mark. A few boys came sprinting, to assist us in unloading the books before our driver could park the vehicle. They had been informed a little earlier about the visitors. The kids were quick to grab the books and other stationary from us and placed them on a bunch of tables set up near the classrooms awaiting our arrival. The other students obediently sat down on the floor while the Principal and other staff greeted us. There were neatly arranged chairs next to the tables arranged for our seating. However, none of us were ready to sit on them after being in a sedentary position for the last 4 hours. We pressured Shankar’s Father and Sujoy to sit down to represent us while we soaked in the charm of the town and school.
The function was inaugurated by the (Hindi teacher) of the school addressing the students. She introduced the visitors to the students and re iterated our purpose of visit. The students were overseen by the sharp eyes of their head master who swayed his bamboo stick back and forth. The students obediently listened.
The students were dressed in plain white uniform. The uniform was old and torn. It was small for a few and oversized for a few others. However, that didn’t stop the students from proudly dawning it. They felt a certain sense of pride after wearing it. They had beautiful beady eyes, full of dreams and aspirations. The effulgent faces with a resplendent smile looked at us with hope. They have not had an NGO or any other charitable community approaching them before. This was all very new and they seemed to be enjoying every bit of it. I remember my colleague once mentioning that he currently spends a few thousands on his kid’s school apparel that includes fancy dress, teacher’s day events, sports day attire and other co-curricular activities. The disparity is disturbing. I question it at times and find no answer.
One of the school authorities swiftly pulled out a neat register that served as a database of records of those kids. He called out the names one at a time starting from the 5th standard onwards. The students couldn’t curtail their excitement anymore. There was an erratic but mild outburst of exuberance in every one of them and they could not wait for their names to be called out. Its amazing how 5 books and a geometry box - something many of us take for granted in our lives - can make their day. The books and the box served as the equivalent of precious metals and foreign currency for most of them, in some cases even more valuable. They smiled, laughed and a few started operating the equipments the boxes comprised. They hopped and skipped their way towards us one at a time, shook hands and collected their new prized possessions, galloping back to their prescribed places on the floor. They were eager to open the trifles. The younger ones had a head start and almost teased their seniors with their dancing eyes, flashing the books at them.
Vijay would be a good teacher. He is strict and disciplined, and was quick to ensure that the kids had written down their names on the book. He surveyed over them walking around, asking if any of them needed help. He asked them about their favorite subjects in school and other interests. Speaking in a polite yet assertive tone, he told them that while organizations and other NGO’s would always be around to seek them a helping hand, it would finally be up to them to help themselves. He strongly advocated that they use those books to keep writing their syllabus to learn it, inspiring the kids by telling them that he himself was not very much different from the rest of them. He had also faced similar adversities and use to look out for old newspapers to write on, during his schooling days. The kids would not need old newspaper thanks to our friendly contributions, but it would not be of any help if they don’t use it befittingly. He asked them to concentrate on what their teachers preach and to strive harder to achieve higher results. They hold their future in their own hands and provided them with the assurance that our team shall be there to provide them with a few trifles that would help them get there. We would only demand some grit and effort from them.
The famous Martin Luther King attributes intelligence and character to education. These young innocent minds are at a delicate stage of life. They are at a juncture, where with the right mind set they could choose to be whoever they want to be, doctors, engineers, politicians, leaders, preachers etc. However, the other ugly side of the double edged sword could also see them grow up with no hope and future, maybe also turning to illegal ways to defend themselves. Education provides them with the skills and ability to espouse the path they would like to pursue. However, if they don’t get that education, then can we really blame them if they fend for themselves in other ways?
7:15 AM - We had been waiting in the car, not too happy with Sudhir, who had asked all of us to come at 6: 15 to the Hebbal flyover. It was already 30 minutes past the promised time and all these happening on a Saturday morning added to the frustration. We were heading to Gubbi village near Tumkur district for a book distribution in a government aided school in Chidambara Ashram, which was recognized by BELAKU – more about which will follow later in the document.
During the agonizing wait, we had plenty of unanswered questions in our minds. One of those which didn’t fetch us an answer for follows
The dynamics of our lopsided world is the one I choose to explore, where while one individual is born with a silver spoon with dollars in his/her bank account, another kid probably born at the same time with the same Sun sign and Nakshatra dies whilst fighting to survive.
Just like everyone else I have debated this topic a number of times in my head, with my friends and on all those occasions I have struggled to find my philosophy for this predicament.
Finally, Sudhir arrived a little while after the 7:30 mark. Next stop was the Yeshwantpur bus stop, where we had planned to park our cars and join the rest of the gang belonging to BELAKU. It’s a social service venture founded by fellow colleagues of Thomson Reuters in 2008 and one which aspires to be an NGO of its own in the future. As a group, they participate in events needing social responsibility and charitable activities by collecting 200 rupees per month from the group members. It’s a small amount to pay for the goodwill and karma. I heard about BELAKU from Lakshmi who was already a part of it for some time now and insisted that I join them as well. She was mesmerized by the visit to Spandana School earlier in the year.
It took us roughly 20 more minutes to get to Yeshwantpur on an early Saturday morning, left our car behind and get into Amith and Anand’s car, and were off to Tumkur. Vijay’s kid, Ronith had taken up the responsibility of providing us with the entertainment on board.
The drive was not a very long one. After a brief stop for breakfast, we found ourselves just a few kilometers away from our destination. A diversion from the highway, a railway crossing and then a right hand turn took us to the beautiful Ashram in Gubbi.
The Ashram stands tall and proud educating 271 students, while housing 60 of them. It is an institution founded in 1930s by His Holiness Chidambara Swami for promoting an integrated way of living based on ancient Indian heritage. A hand written table in the principals cabin charted down the per day expenditure for these kids. The biggest number we saw on per day expenditure was just 2 rupees for primary kids and 2.5 rupees for upper primary kids.
Swami Sri Chidambara Swami of Gubbi is a saint extraordinary in the Chidambara tradition. Like his mentors Swami Narayana Bhagavan and Swami Sheshachala Sadguru Maharaj of Anandavana, he preached and practiced the path of devotion and selfless service for God realization. He has become a household name in Karnataka owing to his social work and sustained attempts for the rejuvenation of Indian culture. Shri Chidambara Ashram at Gubbi is a living testimony to his achievements.
The incredible gesture of hospitality with which the authorities of the school greeted us was extremely pleasant. Many times all of us ignore the little thing called as hospitability – having lived a rate race life for far too long, not caring much about the well-being of people around.
The principal educated us a little more about the Ashram and the students who stayed there. The last class of the day was still an hour away and therefore we had a little time to kill. We decided to take a small but incredibly refreshing walk around the Ashram campus.
We chose to utilize this time by visiting the temple adjacent to ashram. The Pandit was quick to call one of his students and make him perform the Pooja for us. We saw some kids carrying some books and carefully putting them on a parapet on an adjacent field. It was where the school kids assemble for any occasions. They smiled and greeted us as they carried the books out of the compound. One by one the field started to crowd up as kids from Class 7 to 10 gathered. They were speaking to each other, curious to figure out what had been going on and what were these new faces doing in their school. While a few of them had seen this before, other NGO’s and social service organization coming to lend out a helping hand, a lot of them debated our presence there and looked at the books, hoping the answer would be what they thought it was.
They had innocent faces with clear eyes. The pain or grief or any other terrible secret look like are hidden in them. “Just plain old emotions” I said to myself. I have always believed that one’s eyes convey a lot about the person who owns them. Their uniforms were old and torn but prim and proper. They wore it adeptly and with respect. A NGO last year had donated a few uniforms to the kids and we realized quickly how much they were valued.
The question was creeping up again! Why is the world so unfair to these people? What is it that they have done wrong for them to deserve this? While I would be here for just another couple of hours and then return to my home in an expensive air conditioned car, these kids will have to keep battling the numerous difficulties that lie ahead of them. What would I have done if I was them?
The talking is fenced by the arrival of the principal, they have been trained to do so, been preached to respect their teachers and the education provided by them. They all concurred at once. The principal came up and introduces them to all of us. The students responded by wishing us in a synchronized manner. He informed them about the books distribution program organized by us at BELAKU. The students listened carefully as their head master delivered his speech. He requested them to put the books to good use and study harder in the coming academic year. The principal’s speech is marked by applause at the end. The students couldn’t wait to get their books and we didn’t want to keep them waiting any longer.
One by one, students starting from class? came up to collect their books. While I had the privilege of taking photographs, the rest of the team divides themselves into 3 groups to distribute the books and the chocolates along with it. The cycle repeated with Classes ?. They were eager to collect the books, many of whom didn’t care about the chocolates, often forgetting to collect them. They looked eager to learn. The book distribution program merely reinforced their belief that there are people ready to help them and who would want to see them do well. This reassuring factor would go a long way in shaping their future. Their insecurities, shyness, drawbacks were temporarily washed away just because someone gifted 300 pages in the forms of notebooks. It was blissful to witness that beatific expression and the beady eyes light up. The event was marked with Vijay and Anand giving a speech. They reassure the kids and motivate them to perform consistently well in their future. They convince them that we are going to be active is lending out a helping hand to the school continuously and that they must do their part by studying well to justify our faith in them.
The excited kids were jubilant on hearing this. They have started to feel more comfortable by now. The initial timid and shy expression has now been replaced with bug eyes and a rhapsodic smile. They wanted to converse a little more. A few of them wanted to come up and express their emotions. A young boy from Class 7th came up first. He spoke with a clear and confident voice, educating us about how he was inspired to work harder, when he saw a NGO come there the previous year to give them a helping hand. He told us about how relieved he felt, restoring his belief in kindness and humanity, something he learns about everyday in the same school. He looked at us with his appealing eyes and expressed us his interest on wearing a school uniform - He didn’t have one. He wanted, respected and understood the importance of one. A few other kids came up and spoke. They thanked us and were looking for a promise from our side, about a continued association with them. They needed it. They bear the metal to survive with just a little. A few kids wished they could get a few sporting equipments that would help them overcome stress during hard times.
We reached the end of the show. At the completion of the book distribution and at the time of wrap up, a Man walked up to us. He was wearing?. “My wife died in a gas blast at my house”, he said. “I heard about the Ashram and sent my kid here to study. I had come to check up on him and fortunately run into you guys. Could I get a photograph of my son with me?” He went on to tell us that he doesn’t have any belongings left, since the incident was cruel enough to leave nothing behind.
We noted down his address and promised him to send over the snap to his residence. He seemed happy and relieved. It’s amazing how a picture can restore someone’s faith and bring a happy smile on their face. Running through the metro culture we are in, we tend to take certain things for granted. This incident served as a timely reminder to us on why not to. The man had a calm expression, having accepted life and learnt to live with the difficulties it throws at his face, day in and day out. He is still going to stand strong. He is still going to fight and provide an education for his kid. He wants to see his kid come up, dust off his problems and stand tall. He believes it is going to happen someday. He is a Survivor.
Standing there looking at this man was a good opportunity for me to reflect back at the problems I got….My cell phone is not working…My internet is not downloading the movies I want…The chicken is overcooked ..!! It’s strange how all these problems seem so important. Maybe it’s just ignorance. We take things for granted without having to wonder how hard it could be if the basic amenities of life that we are blessed in abundance, are not actually that way. The answer was clear…These people simply show more mental strength and the will to live and hence when they are put through a tougher test, they come up trumps. They are the true stars with infinite potential. They have seen the dark side and have survived through it. Almost all of them do it on a daily basis. And it’s our job to lend them a small hand that helps them chart their way out. They are not completely dependent on our support and help. They would still survive but our guilt wouldn’t let us live.
The day had come to an end but the kids weren’t ready to let us go. They bought out an old, half volleyball, which was more flat than filled with air. The whole team joined in as we played a little volleyball with the kids. Shortly after that the head of the temple invited us for lunch. He was insisting us to eat, take a nap and only then leave. There was no other way he would have left us otherwise. They make sure their guests are well fed and have had enough rest before they set out. We could only stay for lunch. We had to make it back to Bangalore before it got dark.
It had been a very eventful day. Waking up on a Saturday morning never felt better. The entire team was extremely satisfied with the event. We put our message across and the innocent minds have picked it up. We would be there for them. All they need to do is work hard. This is the message of the BELAKU group in a nutshell. There was a sense of indemnification as we all drove back to Bangalore from Tumkur. A day well spent.