This post was written on May 1, 2011 after the “Connect with a child” activity at Teach for India training institute.
Today is going to be about snatches…just some things I know have left an indelible mark on me…not preachy, not aww, definitely not ‘hail the movement’ but just unadulterated me.
In the morning, I was told to “connect” with a child in a “community” we were being driven to. It is a slum pocket near Kaamgar Putla in Pune and we had to go spend 2 hrs with any kid/kids there individually. I knew I was damned because I do not go strike up conversations with adults and I do not do kids. Period. It was bloody pissing off…because I had nubile women dying to meet kids and already going ooh and aah when the bus driver had barely turned the ignition on.
I walked in to the slum…It felt like a sea of faces…hot, sweaty, wet, stained teeth, manly…noise – cacophony….I think I imagined it. Though I am not sure…they were moving in slow motion for sure (I have an eerie suspicion that they knew how uncomfortable I was and hence were doing this to freak me out)..I skipped the few initial kids out of sheer fear. I walked further and further into the slum, took turns. I knew I was getting lost I was willing myself to. I hoped I could vanish into a hole there and maybe no one would know.
I met Ishu. I had no clue what to say to her. She was standing at the doorstep. She hid her face partially and knew I was watching her. I stepped close…kneeled. I said “Hi” (yes that is all I could come up with)..I got a blank stare. I smiled -blank stare. All she said pointing to my ear was chappal (i was wearing a pair of slipper shaped earrings from Fab India). I knew I could have a shot with this kid. I tried the only thing I knew then – I bribed Ishu. I promised Ishu an ice cream and asked her to come with me. Her mother encouraged her to along with me (yes by now I was super shocked considering the ONE thing I was taught was DO NOT GO WITH PEOPLE WHO BRIBE YOU WITH ICECREAMS). Ishu’s sister Rashmi decided to chaperone her. By the way, Rashmi is 6 years old and Ishu is 7.
We three walked to the store with Ishu and Rashmi talking ahead and me walking behind. We got a bar of chocolate and a Frooti, parked ourselves on a bench and swung our feet. I realised “Wassup” is not really workable opening line. It was like dating again. But not quite. Ishu and Rashmi began talking to me. I wish I could tell you what they said but I can’t. They spoke to me for almost an hour – in Marathi. I did not understand a word. I could have cried – not because I felt wow or anything. The one time…the one time I thought I was making headway it happened in a language I did not understand. We drew a few things with crayons – a bird, a doctor, a flower, sky, house, TV remote, dog, fish and a necktie I think.
I left them back in their home. They kept talking. I nodded feeling miserable. Their mother called out to me as I was leaving. The kids apparently were trying to ask me a question – “are you coming back tomorrow again madam?”
On another note, I played cricket for the first time today. Note to self – you suck at the game.
Moving on I hung out with a few 14 year olds who for the longest time spoke to me in American accent hindi thinking I was “English”. I burst their bubble when I told them I was from Mumbai. But a few swear words gave me membership into their group. We went to a granary to play cricket and one kid trying to prove his stud’liness’ climbed up a tree, then up the roof of the granary and then did not know how to get down. We (me and 8 other 14 year old boys) found a ladder and then 4 of them climbed on top of a truck parked nearby while we carried the ladder up to them so that they could then position it so that “ Bakri” could get off the roof.
So today I met: Ishu, Rashmi, Atish, Aniket, Bakri (his dad has an eye of a goat instead of a real eye apparently), Aiyan (his mom passed away when he was 6), Rameshwar (aka Dada), Omar and a few others.
I WAS UNCOMFORTABLE, AWKWARD, GAWKY, SWEATY, I STILL DO NOT DO KIDS…
But…I knew I connected. Not interacted. Connected.
And, I am aware that I “bought” my way in this time with Frooti or M****C*** and know if I do not come up with something quick…we are talking seriously deep in yoghurt situation here.