It is brutally hot. The dupatta covering your face barring the eyes is no relief either, and this is just the start of the season. It’s a Saturday morning and I have come to distribute biscuits among the local school children along with another colleague of my organization. This is the ritual that the organisation follows as a part of their charity work for the welfare of the village people. We make way into a village called Karinji ,around ten kilometers away from Kopargaon, a small town in Ahmadnagar, Maharashtra. The roads are not generous and we stop at a railway crossing to let the ever late Jehlum express to pass. It is going to my hometown and it feels strange to let it pass just like that. My colleague is cursing the Indian railways and the government and every single establishment of the country for their delayed services.
We finally reach a primary school where a badly drawn map of India is the first thing I notice as I enter the premises. The Northeast is extended to accommodate Bangladesh, while Kerala and Tamil Nadu are squished together to give India an appearance of an obese child. A short, dark-skinned woman, who is the teacher with a really colorful sari (never seen so many colors together in one place) shows us to the courtyard where the throng of noisy students assemble for this weekly ritual. The community mobilizer (my colleague) introduces me as the “Madam from Delhi” (I am not from Delhi) and the teacher nods impressively while she takes a good look at me. In the meantime, the crates of biscuits (Parle-G) arrive and the students are lined up as we start the distribution. They seem barely excited; but then its Parle-G and this happens every weekend, so they dutifully take the packet and sit down. I remember myself as a wild child who would never sit still if anybody came to distribute biscuits in my school but then it is another story. A few girls giggle when I ask their name and boys don’t understand a word of what I say (I make a mental note to improve my Marathi).
Another thing I notice are the bare feet of most of the students and the cracks on the soles. It tells a different story. They run and walk on the furnace-like hot ground without any slippers or shoes. I ask the teacher and she dismisses it saying “inko toh aadat hai”. Remember these are ten or twelve year old kids I am talking about who walk miles everyday barefoot to school in such harsh conditions. I wonder if slippers should replace biscuits.
Then I recall that such a phenomenon happens everywhere in the country. The Government is more concerned about giving Aaadhar cards to people than bringing about actual welfare measures. Women are promised more helplines and redressal services against sexual harassment when all you need is tougher laws and their implementation. The students are happy in their own world and they don’t worry about a slipper or two but I am disturbed by this minor deprivation. As I leave, a “magic clap” by the kids (where they clap front,back ,click their fingers and tongues simultaneously) brings a smile to my face. Another day of learning, insights and reflections earned.