In-class thoughts

by Athena

Today, in class, I sat with the child who has Cerebal Palsy. His name is Vinod. Everyone wanted to sketch or paint- but he wanted to be able to write. Mostly, because he knows that he cannot do it. He has the sort of impossible expectation that he probably will never be able to realize: to graduate from class 2 and study in class 3. The reality behind him is that he comes from a slum that has not seen clean water for the last four days. That his house is practically a gutter. That the biggest achievement in his life would be to become a very successful beggar (whatever that means). But in this class room, in this small dingy class room where a nice NGO runs English and math classes, Vinod’s expectations from himself are to substantiate to whatever his brain understands as “passing exams”. To know what it means to be able to write the letters A B C D without messing up the already dirty sheet of paper.

The obscenity that arises from the gap between his expectation and his reality is hardly a new thing. But who, who is responsible for making a 13 year old child with cerebral palsy to expect himself to be able to write?

Maybe it is the cruel world around him that tells him everyday that he can’t do much. That, coupled with the NGOs futile attempt to mix him with normal children and teach him math and English the way they would teach any other child. Maybe it’s those silly off hand comments by a fatigued teacher, “Vinod! If you don’t study- you will stay in the same ‘class’ and everyone around you would move forward in life.” Her helpers, in full honesty, help her with the sharp quips. “Your friends will go in class III but you’d stay in class II! Study! It’s important.”

But Vinod. He sits and starts singing in a bold voice. He sings like Kailash Kher. He sings in some language I don’t understand. In a voice that no one understands. A voice that carries things with it- the teachers expectations, her helpers quips, the poorly written ABCDs, others’ laughter, the begging lessons… Other children gather around him and smile. They love the whole charade where Vinod disregards the teachers’ appeal to an expected ambition of “moving forward in life” and sings as loud as he can.  

Little do Vinod and teachers know that moving from class II to class III in this country hardly means moving forward. There is nothing for them waiting at the other end of the finishing line. It’s a false dream that they are shown by the world around them. The real moving forward, in this country, was, and still is, is learning the craft of lying and being good at it. It’s shameless cheating. It’s swindling. It’s the sleight of hand that helps you grab someone else’s thing in a flash of a moment.

Education. Education is only a façade. Education is not teaching people to earn money or to be proud of who they are. It’s teaching them how to speak English fluently so that you can work at a Pizza Hut or a call centre. Education is not providing resources to people who want to work because they want to excel. It’s providing them a source to hide themselves behind a seemingly “sauve” mask.

The mask has a smile, a shining face, bright eyes, round cheeks and big ears. It looks like it mould was a cherub’s face- perfect for advertisements, for campaigns and money grants. But Vinod’s singing. It’s only good for begging at train stations. Nothing more than that.