Thursday, August 09, 2007

Aseema: Without Boundaries

Yesterday a little miracle pulled me in and made me a part of it when I was least expecting it.

An author I'm going to work with asked me to meet him at an event the Bandra Residents' Welfare Trust was organising at a school called Aseema. They were gifting a bus to the school with money collected by the Celebrate Bandra festival of 2005. I imagined it would be a waste of time and half hoped the rains would come down and give me an excuse to skip it. But it was my chance to put a face to the name of this author and so, when at 4.40 pm I saw there would be no downpour to bail me out, I reluctantly headed to the venue.

I knew where to stop the auto because a shiny yellow mini-bus stood outside. As I walked in, a lot of people were gathered around, and there was a sense of suppressed excitement. The author introduced me to several other people present and I gathered from conversation that this was a municipality school that the government gave up on six years ago. Most students were from the Koli fishing villages and the slum area near Rang Sharda. And their parents couldn't be bothered to force their children to attend school. That's when Dilbur Parekh of Aseema stepped in and 'adopted' the school.

Today, the school of about 400 children is run by Aseema, and the rewards of not giving up were there for all of us to see: in the shape of several tiny tots and slightly older, smiling children, in uniform and with a little gulal reddening their cheeks, as they buzzed in enthusiasm. Some of them were dressed like fisher-folk, for a Koli dance that was to form part of the cultural function. They were chattering in English and Hindi alike, and it was hard to imagine that the former had not come naturally to them.

Shaan, the Bollywood singer, came in casually, without the adulation and screaming crowds he is used to. And he took it well. He was all smiles and charm as he took the 'stage' (the edge of the corridor that overlooked the audience filling the portico). The guest of honour was not Shaan, not the Bandra Trust, not the organisers of Aseema. It was the children and the shining yellow bus that they kept looking at, which will now, every morning, come rain or shine, bring them to school to free them for a few hours from a cycle of poverty, abuse, ill-health and misery. No more excuses, no more dependence on busy parents to be brought to school. ‘It will ensure 100% attendance,’ as one young student put it. The bus will ferry them to and fro, and hopefully transport them to a different world—one that, 6 years ago, gave up on them.

I had intended to leave early. But once I chatted with the upbeat little kids who were very keen that I join their dance, I decided to stay till the end. It was a simple, one-hour programme, where the tiny tots chanted poems, the slightly older kids treated us to a lively folkdance, and attractive prizes were eagerly and proudly accepted by those who scored 75% and more this past year. Some of the children have even gone on to be placed at 'mainstream', SSC schools like St Joseph's and Stanislaus and done quite well in the new setting!

What I liked was there were no long speeches praising all and sundry. No mutual admiration society at work. There was no grovelling by Ms Parekh in her thanks, there was no air of superiority or condescension in the donors, there was just bonhomie and a thrill in the air at resources shared and well used.

Then, at the kids' request, Shaan sang Musu musu haasi...., and everyone clapped and joined in. He even improvised the lyrics to tell the children how much he loved to see them smile! The skies poured down some applause just for the duration of his song.

There was juice and biscuits for all of us at the end and I sipped at the juice as I walked along the ground floor corridor to glimpse beautiful blue-tiled bathrooms. colourful classrooms that one enters barefoot, and excited children sitting in cosy circles as they tucked in. Young teachers were scurrying around, ensuring discipline, thank-yous, introductions between the visitors and the children, and there seemed no fear, no dictatorship, no unnecessary discipline in the air.

I came away feeling elated. Someone had believed that the school deserved to hang in there. That the students deserved a place where they could claim their right to education. And that belief, that faith was being affirmed, justified, and rewarded by the community.

I leave you with the poem the tiny tots chanted (to the tune of ‘If you’re happy and you know it…’ and with much uncoordinated waving of hands):

‘Be careful little hands what you do
Be careful little hands what you do
There’s a god up above
And he’s watching all of us
So be careful little hands what you do.’

The poem went on to address little ears, eyes, lips and feet (‘where you go’). It reminded us of actions and consequences and that we are all responsible for our actions, and that sometimes, we can take on responsibility for less-fortunate others as well.


Akshay said...


From experience that these kids have an infectious spirit that get you every time.

Thanks for the comment btw - on my tide fishing post - to answer your question I haven't stopped.

aunty g said...

Oh, TC, this is truly a heart-warming story! Am SO glad you were able to be a part of it. Thank you for sharing it with us. I especially liked the new version of this ditty -- it sure is apt for all of us, isn't it?

the mad momma said...

I teach the Brat that song all the time. The next time you visit, sing it for him adn he will do the actions!

A Muser said...

A real feel good post. I'm from Bandra, so I can totally see this. Thanks for sharing!

Anamika said...

Akshay: Thanks for dropping by, and glad to see you haven't stopped! I realised later I'd followed a link and so reached that exact post .. i know i silly that way!

Aunty G: I'm glad to. And to think I almost didn't go!

MM: So cute! Can't wait to do that...

A Muser: Hello neighbour!!!

Sandeepa said...

Such a lovely experience Anamika. Would love to get involved in something like this some day...

eve's lungs said...

Beautiful post - i hope the kids go on to do something with their lives . And I did like the bit about no adulatory speeches and "thankful"grovelling .The donors would have been thrilled to see their vsisble results of their sponsorships anyway,without such nonsense.

OrangeJammies said...

:0) So you discovered Aseema, huh? Now you're a propah Bandraiite and all. Remind me to tell you about an incident related to it.
And yeah, I'll sing "Be Careful" for you when we meet for lunch this week ;0)
See you soon, girl!

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