Gosh! Everything has changed. For the better! And how? Gone is the ramshackle hut masquerading as a school and instead replaced by a pucca RCC building. The refugee tents which were the classes have seen a metamorphosis and instead stood in their place concrete structures albeit with ceiling made of steel sheets. Not the ideal arrangement but a far better than the past. The porambokku land behind the main building has been fenced, cleaned of its shrubbery and stones and now looked as good a play ground as one can expect from a Govt school in the remote Kalladakurichi town. The shanty which was being used by the ayah for preparing the midday meal was now a proper kitchen. And surprise, surprise, proper toilets for the children and a separate one for girls too! Miracles never cease! Not to miss the freshly painted board bearing ‘Kalladakurichi Arasu Palli’ proudly announcing the presence of the school.
As I walked in my eyes searched for the one piece of furniture which I hoped had not been replaced. A dilapidated ‘Honours’ board right next to the head masters’ room. It was there! But as with all things in the school, replaced with a brand new board. As I glanced through the board, it was there! Right on top of the list. ‘Matriculation Exams- Session 1987, School 1st,Zaheera Banu’! They had not forgotten while replacing and repainting the board. I suddenly felt like a mini celebrity as I read my name again and a few more times. I was as the board informed, the ‘school 1st’ in its first ever batch writing the Matriculation examination. And what a proud moment it was for the school and for me. The school had overcome various obstacles from local politicians who were eyeing the prime land and were out to down shutters to the school. Add to it the perennial fund crunch which could not be overcome despite the subsidy from the Govt. And survive; nay flourish. My story kept pace with that of my school. Born in a poor family which found it difficult to make ends meet, it was well nigh impossible to let a child ‘waste’ time studying instead of working in the fields of the local land owner and be an earning member. No amount of tears, anger, pleading, cajoling on my part would make my parents see reason and send me to school. They were of course illiterate themselves and any discussion on the benefits of a sound education was looked upon suspiciously. As I was on the verge of giving up any hopes of a modern education, fortunes turned. The Govt. decided to introduce a midday meal for children attending school. My poor parents who like many other parents wanted to give their children at least one proper meal a day couldn’t refuse. No Parent would like to see their offspring suffer from hunger when a square meal was readily available. So what if they had to commit a social crime of sending their children to school to avail the one square meal a day. Where all my logical arguments about the benefits of education failed, elementary needs of survival won the day!
There was celebration all around the school. The students, teachers, support staff led by the Head Master were all smiles. The school had delivered 100% success in its very first board examinations. Indeed a proud moment for all of us. The struggles of running the school had paid rich dividends. A batch of forty students had been recovered from farm work, menial jobs, possibly a life of a wastrel or a future criminal and bright minds eager and ready to take on the next challenges that life had in store were harvested. To mark of this excellence and to motivate the others in the school and the town somebody suggested the ‘ Honours Board’. During the farewell day function, the board duly came up, my name being the first on it! Friends and classmates deluged me with best wishes. Teachers counseled me on the future courses that I should/could pursue. The Headmaster blessed me with beaming smile and a word of encouragement on the path ahead. I was on seventh heaven! I had finally grown wings which would help me fly, compete against the best, conquer the obstacles and transform my life. Education was liberating me, empowering me! A lot of work remained. What to study next? Which stream to study? Which college? Will I be able to manage the daily trips to Tirunelveli town and back? I ran all the way home to share the news of my success with my parents. As I entered the home, I saw my father speaking to another man. He looked up at me with a happy smile, “Get ready Zaheera! You are getting married next month!” he said.
I woke up from my reverie! Rechecked the application form. Tightened my grip around my daughter’s hand. Walked purposefully into the school, straight to the head Master’s room. “My daughter will not be denied the education that I was” I promised to myself.
Poramboku : Unclaimed wasteland
Arasu Palli: Government School