Finally, the long-awaited day had come when we packed our bags to catch our train to Assam. We were not sure of the trip until the moment when we got onto our train. We said to each other ‘we are finally doing it’.
Well, that’s how our children must have also felt in all these years. This trip was a promise we had made to the children; we would one day visit them at their hometown. We were always curious to know the lifestyles of our children back at their native.
We occasionally hear children speak to us about their home, their village, their work field, their playground. Well, we had only seen one part of these children’s lives in the slums of the city.
On 22nd May, four of us- Suraj, Vinay, Som and Ujjwal left for New Bongaigaon which is the closest station to our destination, Barpeta road. It was on a day when Assam was participating in the Assembly Election. This is also one of the reasons we decided to visit at this time because most of the families had come home for elections; and we knew that this is our chance once in 4 years. We had to grab it right away. After 22 hours of the train journey, we reached Bongaigaon and took our next train to Barpeta road. Well, it’s only an hour away but it took us around 5 hours as we had to rely on a local passenger train.
We reached Barpeta around 8 pm and took a room at a hotel and spent our night.
We were very excited about the next day. The next morning took us for a surprise as we saw every shop on that street closed. There was barely any transport service either. Luckily, we got a hold of a ‘Pil pile’ which, in their local dialect they call an Electric rickshaw. We got on the ‘pil pile’ and drove on to visit our students. Our excitement grew as we reached closer to one of our student’s village. We got down at a village market place; had our sip of a cool drink and waited. After a while, we saw Roopchand’s father coming towards us with a huge smile and a loud welcome. It was a welcome which sounded more like a happy announcement. We were so happy to see him. We reached Roopchand’s house and all the members of the family were ready to welcome us. It took us a while to register Roopchand’s house in our minds. We were expecting a self-owned house but this house was a mansion when compared to the ragged huts they live here in Lucknow. The house was newly built and is only occupied when Roopchand’s family is in Assam. There were thoughts lingering in my mind and I knew I needed enough time to let those thoughts sink in. We quickly had our first lunch at our student’s house. Our excitement peaked up while we were eating. We then started making a list of children in that village we could possibly visit. Roopchand and Tajal both helped in quickly preparing a list and Roopchand became our guide. As we walked through the village, we didn’t expect much. We had a few children in mind we need to meet. While we were walking we saw a group of women talking and soon heard a shrill voice calling out to us: ‘Aye sir’. The voice was so familiar and was like how we were addressed while we walk through the slums of LUCKNOW. we turned to see and recognized that it was one of the women, we had worked with. She was overjoyed! As soon as we gathered, the village crowded around us. To our surprise, we recalled that she is Husun Aara’s mother. We couldn’t just wait to ask about Husun Aara. Soon we realized a young shy girl standing at the back door and we just couldn’t believe how Husun Ara had grown to become a pretty young lady. We were happy to hear her progress in studies she was making. She remembered us all by our names. All the three teachers remembered how small Husun Ara was and how prettily she used to dress up and come to school.
Our joy multiplied as we walked around the village and met many of our students like Minhaas, Alak Jaan, Asmeena and many others.
We never felt like we had left home. The love and hospitality of our children’s families were so overwhelming. The food which was prepared for us at every home we visited was beyond what we had even expected. We were treated as important personalities. Wherever we visited, we were greeted well and addressed as good masters who taught their children when in Lucknow.
We now realized that our trip is extremely short and our students are spread out in different villages. We could only visit a handful of students and had to pick carefully.
Deep down inside Mr Som wanted to visit Sariful, our very bright and dedicated students who had left us 4 years back. When he had heard that Sariful wouldn’t come back to Lucknow, his heart was filled with sorrow and concern how his life would turn out to be. He had really wished that Sariful would study.
We casually asked Roopchand if he knew the whereabouts of Sariful and he prompted that he just lives outside the village and very close to where we had to board our Bus. Well, that was it! We knew whom to meet. We were given a very warm send-off by our students and Roopchand’s family as we left the village. We walked towards the next village. It was a very sunny day but we had made it to Sariful’s house. As we entered his house we found out, he isn’t home and is in the paddy field. Sariful’s sister sent the news to him. Soon we heard a young man running towards home with a deep breath as he stopped at the doorway and
then ran into his old teachers with a big hug. We were extremely joyful to meet him and hear that he is doing well and still studies with the same dedication.
Our trip soon came to an end. Though we couldn’t meet many of our old students, we now know what to expect the next time we come back. There was so much of learning and unlearning we had to do, as a team. And I was really excited to share what we learned to the rest of the Janpragati family.
Janpragati isn’t just about working in the present and giving opportunities to the community we work with. The community sees us as the ones capable to shape their lives. The respect we have earned from them and what they expect from us is not just to work into their present lives but we stand as the only source of learning and as the ones to bring change in them. We learned that the impact our efforts have is much larger than our plans for them and there is a need to think deeper.