Please send our kids home!
Meet Muruganandam, all of 13 years. He frequents my office with a stainless steel tumbler full of chundal –a healthy Tamil snack made of groundnut and coconut scrapings. He is good looking with a polite tongue that could be the envy of a diplomat. My office secretary used to buy from him sometimes because she was hungry and sometimes just because he was nice. I occasionally talked to him when he told me he is doing this to augment family income. His father was dead, mother was chronically sick and bed ridden. He had two elder sisters who stopped schooling in middle school and are now working in a beauty parlor .Today I had just returned from a lecture to doctors undergoing training in the Training Institute with which we share our office space. This was a good batch which interacted a lot and gave a polite applause at the end. So I was in a happy mood when I walked in and saw Muruganandam .I asked him how he was. He smiled and said he was okay. I could not see his Chundal and it was odd time –school hours. He smilingly informed me he had stopped attending regular school. He had also stopped the Chundal business. He had got a job in a factory making some mementoes. His mother and uncles had told him in no uncertain terms that he was expected to work and not waste time studying. He was in 8th.Now his kindhearted teacher was taking a weekend special class for him and marking him present on all days. But his family was aghast that he should continue with his insistence on studying.
“But Anna, (honorific title -brother that we Maduraiites use for anybody including younger ones), I will study till 10th.And then further if I get good marks. Or I will join Polytechnic college.” he said with a glint in his eye.
“Are you able to study with just a weekend class?” I asked him.
“I manage” he said sheepishly
The parent in me woke up.” How much did you score in the last annual exam?”. He had mentioned that he wrote only the annual exam last year.
“I got only 438 out of 500,’ he said” but this time I will get 450 plus”.
I was left speechless. I remembered me hugging my kids whenever they got even indifferent marks, just so that they felt happy.
“Do they teach well in school? What about your friends?” I asked.” Do they study well? --those who attend regularly?”
‘Oh, I have two friends who just play cricket day long and if the Head Mistress scolds him they abuse her. I tell them it is wrong, it is wrong, no, Anna? They do not care”
He then told me they got 150 marks and one of them was a Policeman’s son. I ask him what his salary is .A princely sum of 3000 Rupees. I am confused now. Can and should I offer him a monthly sum so that he can attend school? Will that mean having a conflict with the family, or worse, financial demands from a sick mother, poor uncles and so on?
His major worry now is that he should complete 9th Std. Probably fearing pressure from his family his kind teacher has suggested a way out .He can directly go to Class 10.I do not know how that happens. He is equally flummoxed. But his reason for wanting to do Class 9 is different
“Only if I go through Class 9 can I understand Class 10 lessons well and score a good mark”-he tells me-accurate reasoning.
I think aloud, discuss with my staff and finally gave him my card with phone number.
“Thambi, (younger brother/small kid), you are gonna study’ I told him.” Give this card to your teacher. Whenever you have a problem in studies ask her to contact me”
I do not know if I did my dharma today. I am also wondering about his job. He is in a factory making ‘shields” and cups for winners. I could not help thinking with irony whether he would ever hold one in his so ever so deserving hands.
India is littered with the shreds of many such dreams of poor bright children shattered against the walls of parental apathy and state neglect. His class teacher is my and his, only hope. I pray to God to give strength to the hand of this unknown but I am sure, beautiful lady.
And we are “shocked” by Europeans' overbearing concern for our kids. Come on guys, we do not put neglected children in foster homes, we throw them into factories and the streets. So relax. Just send them to India. We need them in our factories.
(Name changed to protect identity)