As I hold the thin book in my hand, I drooled to the beauty and charm it exuded. It was authentic, original, easy to read and best suited to the purpose. The book celebrates not a bestseller or the top ten in Time magazine. It is a simple one, readable and intelligently crafted to help children take their first step towards learning.
In 2020, when Covid hit bad the functions of JP, the worrisome state of Education in the slums at large prompted us to create a long dreamt book which would suit the needs of the Urban Poor of India. It must begin from here. In the past ten years of working among Urban Poor children in India, our understanding gripped us with a pain buried in these children’s unique plight. They were different from their rural counterparts, whose problems were mainly the concern of national and international agencies. However, our children are primarily migrants, setting up their tents and hamlets at corners of the torturous traffic and secluded plots owned by none. Their aspiration among affluent city dwellers makes life worse and more unpredictable. The thought that no system of educated Education could fit the reality of our children incited us to create a curriculum which could benefit the pattern of their learning. We tried for years to capture the popular textbooks available in the Indian Market to dress our academics, resulting in trouble and often frustration. Further, most good books were highly costly for the purpose. We had to create one!
Mr. Vivek Kumar was the man for it. He is our academician, a social entrepreneur devoted to educating children.
He was the only person who could understand the limitations of typical textbooks and the pattern of life of our children. Years of serving with these children, has taught him that the uncompromising life troubles of our children cannot cope with a standard textbook, no matter how well-drafted they are. Vivek’s service as the Academician of JanPragati is ornamented with flickers of hope and torches of fear. Yet, his eyes were set on the flickers, that favoured him only on days when he saw a little girl exhibiting her learning, or a boy showed off his mathematical skill. In 2020, we approached a printer who was quite friendly to us. This printer has helped us print all our pamphlets since the inception of JanPragati. We had enjoyed his favour and patience many times. But here, his hands were tied as far as finances were concerned. Designing the book and printing it costs us dearly. Vivek, despite my remonstrance, volunteered to learn Adobe Photoshop, the design software. He could design the book himself, and then we could give it for printing. I was joyful though apprehensive. I might add that Vivek’s devotion to the science of Education and his compassion set him on this daunting task, asking for no sympathy and compromise. It proved a frustrating journey!
In 2021, Vivek set to learn the art of designing using Adobe Photoshop. His objectives were clear, yet he could not foretell that his plans could be altered and his work could be readjusted often to suit our children’s pattern. Vivek recalls the days when he sat at this torturing job- pondering and clamouring the devices that best suit little minds- he had to think like a child, grappling with the tantamount sketches of lines and curves. He knew what it is to be watched as a teacher; he had to learn what it is to be read as a teacher! Often, he would strain through pangs of depression, feeling unseen and unappreciated for his hard work. Thankfully we have counsellors who listened to his thought and his feelings, holding and lending an encouraging hand to uplift his disheartened spirit. He even doubted whether he was neglecting his responsibility as the academician, as he was too bothered by the book. It took Vivek more than a year to design the text. Though he had helps from others, it is not an exaggeration to say that the book is essentially the effort of Vivek.
As 2022 was approaching her end, I hastened Vivek to complete the work. It has been a considerable period, and the book was much awaited. He sought help in proofreading, which took months to complete. By the end of November 2022, he had completed the softcopy, and all it had to be done was given to the printer. During one of those days, I met him at our school at Makdumpur. He expressed disappointment at my failure to uphold his hands during the bygone frustrating days. It was just short of anger; his disappointment was beyond bounds. He exclaimed that he felt no happiness in completing the work and wondered if the work was only a rigour he had to undertake.
Did he lose his passion for Education? He asked himself the same question. He could only answer the question when a whole lot of printed textbooks were sent to the office! What a spectacle it was! I do not know if Vivek shed tears. He wouldn’t admit it even if he did so. But he did admit that the fruit of his hands was not meagre or inconsequential. His passion waned only to leverage a soar to more outstanding tasks, for which he was appointed.
Vivek’s perseverance strikes a chord with all of us. I often feel that the stories in JP are lessons for all of us who lean on Goodness to risk ourselves for something bigger-something better. Did you feel the same? I guess you just did.
Written by Nithin E. Sam.