Rahul and the RTE

30 Apr

Mummy! I’m home!! called out Rahul.

It was his first day in the main school and Meena was very happy that they had been able to get admission for him in such a prestigious school. They always got very good results and the children worked very hard. It was a bit more expensive than other schools, so the fees and activities would be stretch, but it was worth it. After all, education is everything.

She stepped out into the main room to see her son’s face glowing with happiness and the sun and smiled. “Did the bus come on time?” she asked her father in law, who had gone to pick Rahul up from the bus stop. “Yes, yes”, grunted the old man. “I had their mobile phone number also – I took it from the conductor in the morning. He also gave me the number of the owner of the bus company, in case there was any confusion. But now listen to what Rahul has to say – I don’t know what this world is coming to.”

Meena turned to Rahul inquiringly. “Is everything all right? Did you make friends at school? Were the teachers nice? Come and eat your food and tell me about it”, she said, not wishing to escalate the issue when her father in law was visibly upset.

Rahul chattered on about the school, the building they were in, the swings, the teachers. He had met some of them at the time of the school interview and they remembered how bright and chatty he was – already they had a nice smile for him.”But there was something strange, Ma”, he added. At tiffin time, some of us had nice tiffins, and then some had no tiffin at all. We shared our tiffin, I and some other children. Amma, those nice yellow idlis you gave me, I gave half of them to those children with no tiffin. But many children refused to share! At our nursery school all children were always sharing, but here it is different.” Rahul slurped up his pasta as he paused his story. “Then, a funny thing happened. One boy who was not sharing, suddenly brought out a bag of big sweets, but he only gave it to some of us, from our old nursery school and gave nothing to others. Why did he do that, Ma?”

Meena was at a loss. She could figure out what must have happened in class. This was the first year when one quarter of the class was from the disadvantaged quota. She knew that because the school had sent them a letter saying that the fees would be more this year to accommodate these students. Somehow they had adjusted their family budget, almost saving nothing. The poor students also must have adjusted to buy their uniforms and books. Mrs. Verma next door had bought her maid’s son a full set of uniforms and books and the maid was grateful for that. Meena could not – her own expenses were more than she could handle – and anyway they were paying the extra fees for the tuition of these children. Now, they must have come to school expecting a mid day meal, like they get at government schools, but something obviously went wrong. Poor children, how will they study on hungry stomachs. She tried not to feel upset about her special first day lunch box that had been casually given away. She had spent over an hour making it – but then they had all agreed that it was good to share and give to the needy.

Rahul was waiting for an answer. What should she say? Suddenly, for all her good intentions, she felt a little irritated. All sorts of people come to the class – why should her son have to be with such ill mannered people who discriminate so rudely. Now she would have to explain to her son and build barriers in his mind. She decided to skirt the issue today. “Rahul, maybe his sweets finished, or maybe he is not good at Maths – so when he  gave too many sweets to his old friends from nursery school, there were not enough left for the others.” “ No Ma, he had lots of sweets. He just did not want to give any to some children. Even in the playground he started pushing them. I saw that. Then, when the teacher came and scolded him, he was forced to make them play his game.  Then what he did was play ‘Simon says’ – all these children had to obey him. I don’t like ‘Simon says’ at school, so I went at played with other people’.

Meena sighed. This was going to take a lot of play for things to even themselves out. But they had to become okay in the end. “How are the studies, Rahul”, she asked, not expecting much from the first day. “Uff Ma, so much testing today. Every class we had one class test. I got full marks in everything! But imagine – so many children got zero! Can one get a zero in a test Ma?” “Of course one can get a zero – if it is a new thing”, countered Meena. “If I test you in wearing a sari, I am not sure how many marks you will get”, she laughed. As Rahul and Meena’s laughter broke through the bright afternoon, Meena thought about the journey ahead – the sharing, the heartbreak and the joy of achievement that lay ahead.

(This is obviously a fiction account, published in the Times of India)

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