Friday, November 10, 2006

Two hours worth re-living

Saturday November 4th was a day apart in my life. To see my 3-month long planning, co-ordination, team-work and transform into productive result was a totally new experience. On that day, aided by inputs from all directions and all kinds of people, starting from my brother to a colleague who I have met just five times in my year of service, my team of five, responsible for community relations demonstrated chosen fundamental concepts of physics to students of a local government school called Zilla Parishad High School at Rasoolpura.

Located at the centre of a slum, the school was doomed to serve as a garbage dump yard for sometime, with no government appointed teachers. Then Bhumi, an NGO adopted the "school" to ressurrect the school within. Now, with the classes going on regularly, it presented an apt time for some hands-on experience.

We waited for the regular classes to complete, at the principal's office adorned by the portrait of iconic national leaders like Nehru, Gandhi and Sarvappali Radhakrishnan. We pointed our digital cameras at one another in an attempt to kill time, at the sight of which the Bhumi volunteer who escorted us was visibly disgruntled.

Shortly thereafter, a teacher called us to take the centre stage. We had everything chalked out. Who conducts the demo, who takes care of the logistics, who video tapes the show (that part was mine!), and who aids the person conducting the demo. To conduct the demo was all that was left to be done. For a moment, the whole thing seemed to have come to a standstill. Not too long ago, it was just a distant dream to create awareness, the lack of which, I was totally convinced, is the real handicap of the Indian society. Every other malady is only incidental. Now we are seconds away from turning the dream into a reality.

As the proceedings began with student-introductions wherein they convey their future ambitions, I realised that this is the first and only action of my life a direct and sole of my core belief. Nobody prodding, no peer-pressure, just the purpose. My team is directly addressing the fundamental problem of the society. I remembered the lines from the prayer we used to chant at school without sensitivity to its meaning.

Asato maa satgamaya....
Thamaso maa Jyothirgamaya....
Mrutyour maa amritamgamaya....

(Lead us from untruth to truth...
Lead us from darkness to light...
Lead us from mortality to immortality..)

I was fast losing the grip on myself as a sudden surge of emotion embraced me. It was hard to focus as I watched the proceedings through the LCD of the video camera. The wall opposing the black board had a painting of a map of India, not perfectly drawn to scale, but embedded on to the national flag and topped with "I love my India". I turned my camera on to it and focussed my mind.

As I got back to reality, the modest ambition of one to be a teacher caught my attention. The reason she gave was captivating. She wanted to transfer whatever she had learnt without which, she averred, her knowledge would be of no use. As the focus shifted from introductions to the demonstration of the concepts, some of my long-held specious notions melted away. The intensity with which they focussed on the demonstration, the detail with which they took note of key points and the approving nod when they understood the concept are all the demonstrative of the dream already being slowly fulfilled, the purpose already being served. I experienced the true sense of accomplishment for the first time.

When the demonstration was over after a two hour marathon and the geometry instrument boxes were distributed as an incentive to show interest in such demonstrations. I went up to the the Bhumi volunteer, who was earlier disgruntled at the photo session, with some hopes of mollifying him and said "Thank you very much for the opportunity!"

He said, "I work at an MNC too and I was always disillusioned at the fact that how less MNCs concentrate on social responsibility. What your team has done is very pleasantly surprising. I should be the one who should thank you."

There is a lot of things that I have learned. To name just one, working at the grass-roots level rewards richly, but focuses on very few. Hopefully this effort will gather momentum, grow in stature and address more concerns on awareness (other than science like First-Aid, hygiene, social responsibility to name a few). Then the challenge would be to characterise this team as the institution built by Gandhi. He inspired peoples of different walks in millions. Yet he was accessible to a common man. All his initiatives addressed the grass-roots.

A lot was taught, a lot was learnt and a lot of emotions experienced. Truly, it was two hours worth re-living.

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