I rushed back home after my visit to the BaluAdda slum. I could not wait to write down all that I saw today, while my memory was still fresh. So I rest on my bean bag and type down all that etched my heart today.
Today, this afternoon, I made a visit to our school at BaaluAdda. I met Vinay, who is one of our senior teachers, in a tight T-shirt skirting outside the constructed Shade, which we call our school. The Shade had a tin roof, covered on all sides with long bamboo strips, crossed obliquely to each other through nails. The plastic sacks which were sewn to each other to form large areal coverings had fallen off. Vinay was surprised to see me and said apologetically: “I had to send the children back home.”
I smiled. He knew that I would have come to spend time with the children.
“I had to fix the inside covering of the school” Vinay pointed towards the inside walls of the Bamboo building.
The refuse vinyl flex had been tearing off. The rains were playing a mess with our schools. I noticed there was no door to the Shade.
I dumped my bag on the damp wooden desk. The desk has white patches of fungi starting a territorial expansion on the desk. It was in a wicked alliance with the rains. I cleaned the moist from the desk to lower my backpack on the only desk in the single-class-roomed-school-building.
I heard a pair of feet dusting itself the entrance. A folded carton box walked into the school. I heard a girl’s voice behind the carton. The carton box was twice tall enough to fold behind the little girl that she resembled an armoured card soldier in Alice in wonderland. I could only glance a shimmer of the bright red skirt through the fold. She threw the carton onto the floor, revealing a pretty smile on a puffing face. This was Thannu. There was vibrancy around Thannu; a spark in her eyes contrasting the sheepish expressions of her giggles. A bunch of her straight hair in the front occasionally betrayed her grooming. She had to push them back every now and then. Her nose stud was too simple for her taste and yet it looked elegant against the kajal on her eyes.
Behind her, walked in a slightly bigger boy with some kind of confidence exuding from his face. He brought out a few creased notes from his jeans pockets.
“This was the biggest carton we could get, sirji”. He spoke with the pride of a merchant who just bartered a profitable trade.
This was Anwar. His bare body constituted a lanky frame, which tilted towards the earth.
There were sparkles of dust all over his chest and back. His hair was waved onto one side almost over his one eye. His jeans were sagging or rather hanging on his crumbled trunks. He had a pair of faded red cloths ribboned to his legs. He would have meant those for fashion. There was a prominent chain weighing on his lean arm.
The duo was going to create a door from bamboo strips and the newly bought carton box. They were just eleven and nine. Anwar positioned six bamboo strips in a rectangular form which would circumscribe the carton sheet. Three bamboos were placed lengthwise and another three along the width. He was mostly sure of his measurements. Anwar was clearly the leader here. Thannu’s inputs were valuable. She was like Birbal to Akbar or Bismarck to the Chancellor or Melanchthon to Luther.
Vinay stood before the expertise of the duo, occasionally giving away his feeling of helplessness. I was completely aloof of the craft, as an ignoramus admiring the genius and further pathetically pitying myself. To make myself useful, I took the wrong tool in my hand; my phone to capture the scene. I took a few pictures when one of the kids called out to me:
“Did you come here only to take pictures?” I felt a load of insult pressing me down to the earth.
Once the frame was measured and placed at its place, the carton sheet was then placed over it. Another six bamboo strips were placed over the carton to coincide with the previously placed strips. Once they were in place, Anwar tied the bamboo strips along with the carton sheet with plastic threads. This was no easy task since he had to pierce the carton sheets with a cobblers needle to sew the frame along with the double-layered carton box. I saw the little hands working dexterously through it all. Thannu started sewing the other side. I could see she was struggling to pull the needle from below through the carton sheet. However, she was as determined and stubborn as Anwar. Anwar was occasionally reprimanding her.
“Why do you want to do that? Leave it there. I’ll do it. You’ll only spoil the carton”
“I’m doing it good enough” She retorted and continued working.
Vinay was now actively helping in the venture. Vinay had his way with children. So he gave a few directions as to how the door should be and lent a helping hand in the sewing. I was still useless and I was ashamed to take my phone out. I decided to make myself useful again. I took my bike and went out to get the kids something. I went out and bought some Potato patties and a litre of thums-up. I felt good as now I could somehow be part of the team. I was particularly keen to find favour in the eyes of the leader: Anwar.
The kids’ face lit up as I walked in with the cold-drink and the patties. I poured the cold- drink into plastic glasses. I was happy to share the happiness with the kids. I took a glass for Anwar.
“Here Anwar, take a break.”
Anwar did not stop his work. He then looked out of the entrance. There was a half-naked toddler standing outside playing in the dirt.
“Don’t give me, sir. Give it to my brother there.” I looked out and noticed that the kid had a bloated stomach with lean hands like that of Anwar.
Anwar was staring at the kid with the pride of an elder brother. I work for my family! Not for myself. Familial care is a distinguishing characteristic, which we witness among the younger ones of the slum. I was moved. I stretched out the drink to him again and I promised to give his brother too. Then I poured another glass and sent the drink outside for the toddler. As the glass reached, I noticed that there were two more toddlers who ran to take a share of the cold-drink. Anwar stopped his work and stared at his brother and his friends.
Once the carton and the bamboo strips were tied intact, Anwar checked if the door was sturdy enough. They then spread discarded vinyl flexes over the door. Vinyl Sheets protects the carton from the rains. But this had to be a clean work and so Thannu stepped in to spread the vinyl sheets evenly over the door. Anwar then used the needle and thread to sew the sheets together to cover the door. It took some time to complete this work since the thick needle had to be pierced many times over through the plastic kind vinyl sheets without disturbing the arrangement. When they finished the sewing, they lifted the door up vertically. It looked fabulous! The door only has to be fixed on to the entrance.
I had now earned the respect to click more photos. Further, Anwar and Thannu were already exhilarated by the craft of their little hands. Vinay now, being the strongest among us, lifted the door and placed onto the entrance (Though Anwar could have easily put it up there himself). Now for the hinges, there had to be more than plastic threads. Before I realised that Thannu was missing, she flew back with some thread like steel loops. Thannu stood outside the door and Anwar on this side. They passed the threads through the bamboo strips and across the bamboo pillars, tying the door to the pillars. This work was faster than I had expected. Vinay then inspected the door and checked if it could move enough to allow entry to the children.
The work was finally completed. I had an admiration for the kids, and I have become a fan of Anwar. Our children build their school for the love of learning. Well, I am in love with learning too and I am building my school too: My Life.