I once taught a bunch of smart, precocious girls in Delhi. They were welcome to walk in and out of the 'class', anytime between 11 am and 1 pm, depending on when they were free from their work as domestic helpers. Eager learners, most of them would have been bright scholars, but were destined to do dishes in middle class homes. A fate no different from their mothers. I spoke to their mothers about letting them give class tenth exam privately, but their mothers were helpless, the girls were needed for working at home and outside.
The groups of barefoot girls in school uniform asking for lift to school, don't know about the above experience, so they have no idea how the sight of their cheerful blue ribbons and clean, faded uniforms fills me with delight. I always stop and let them in. They can never imagine what joy it gives me to ask them if they know 'Sare jahan se achcha', knowing full well they do. They almost never know what 'mazhab naheen sikhata aapas mein bair rakhna' means, and I always make sure I tell them. I should have been a teacher! They all have been trained to say they wish to grow up and ‘become doctors’. Even an optimist like me knows that is extremely unlikely to happen. But I am happy they are not scrubbing greasy dishes at least.
Most have working mothers, alcoholic fathers, cricket loving brothers and second hand colour televisions. Some have DVD players, cell phones and Mixer Grinders in their houses which leak in monsoons. They all want to learn to speak in English. They don't think about their future.
They don’t live good lives but I am glad when they grow older they will have memories that the other girls will not. True our schools are the wost possible, missing teachers, corporal punishment, students running errands for the teachers... I know all that. BUT STILL.
These girls aren’t any richer than the one’s I attempted to teach in Delhi, but their parents realise that they must go to school.
They will work for a living, but not as poorly paid maid servants, their children will study higher than them. The girls who never go to school have no hope of a better future for their children, these girls do.Even the unluckiest of them will, at the least, work as well-paid, well fed, House Keepers, they will answer phone calls, heat baby food in microwave, write daily 'hisaab' and they will have Post Office accounts and earn better salaries than the ones who never went to school. I have seen many attend computer classes, work as sales girls in shopping malls, some work as assistants to Beauticians, some are proud SAHMs and help their kids with home work. Yes, I know this isn’t much, but when I tell them I demand some 'singing along', in return of the lift and they giggle confidently and tell me which songs they learnt in school ... I can’t help feeling hopeful.