Marie is taking the class in the afternoon, I am now just supporting a few children today. A boy sat next to me, I am privileged as I have a chair; he sits crossed legged on the floor. Marie started the lesson, the boy reached into his brown school bag, which the state school provides. He shuffled around inside and pulled out a tin cuboid shaped pencil case. He opened it and it was completely empty. He just stared at it hoping for something to appear. I watched him. He didn’t realise I was looking at him and he didn’t move. It brought a tear to my eye.
I think back to the UK, I think of all the classes I have taught over the years. I think of all the pencils and pens that have passed through my hands. I think of all the arguments that I have witnessed and stopped over children’s pens and pencils. Children arguing over whose pencil they are using, or one child will only lend her pencils to her closest friends. Whereas this boy simply had nothing. I bring Marie’s attention to the fact that this boy has no pencil or pen or anything to write with. She was obviously used to this situation and just raised her hand and said one sentence in Hindi, very quickly as to say help, and then just got on with her lesson. A girl sitting right over the other side of the classroom, got up off the floor and handed the boy a pencil and then went and sat back down, so fast the lesson was not disturbed. The boy nodded and thanked her, she smiled.
I have decided to leave the lesson early, rather than staying to the end. When I get up to leave it’s a real big deal. I have to make sure Marie has finished her instructions and the children are working independently, this way it causes less disruption. All the children shake my hand as I leave the classroom. I am sure most of them would follow me home if I asked them.
I got the rickshaw back to the railway station. As I left the compound, I saw about five men sitting on the ground, amongst all sorts of rubbish and litter. This wouldn’t be that unusual except they are sitting around a green baize that is placed on the floor, and they are all engaged in a game of cards. Poker, I wonder, it was only 4.00pm. I would have liked to taken more interest and stopped, but I just waved as the rickshaw passed, they waved back.
I got to the railway station and jumped on whilst the train was still moving and, as always, it was totally packed. Like a local, I embarked the train as it was still moving. I found myself in the goods and disabled carriage, but no one was too bothered. There were no seats, and the goods that people are carrying usually come in the form of food. Being in an enclosed space, the smells are intensified. It is usually the smell of dried fish that gets to me. I looked on the floor and there was a young boy holding a silver drum. Three other youths were daggling out of the train and were playing dare with their feet scraping the platform floor. They left their feet hanging, just narrowly avoiding poles that support the platform roof, missing them by centimetres. One youth went one step further and climbed onto the roof of the moving train. This manoeuvre is totally illegal and he knew and enjoyed that fact. I just think another day on another train in Mumbai, and really didn’t give it much more thought. However I always make sure I am nowhere near the open doors of the train, whether it’s moving or not.
I returned to the hotel and wrote my diary. Today I have written nearly 14 pages. I have decided to take a note book with me to the slum, and record everything into this first. My diary is becoming very valuable and important to me, I can’t risk losing it. I think of Bob Monkhouse and how his diary was stolen and how that affected him. But with me, it gives me another chance to edit the words I had written during the day.
The family returned from school, the solitude and the peace was broken. Back to being a dad and husband again. I helped with the boy’s homework. Later Michelle worked on the computer, school work and the wonders of being a primary Headteacher of an International school. We talked later about the problems she was facing in her school.
I think of how our days of teaching, even though are in the same city, could not be any more different. Despite doing the same job, we are mile apart.