Wednesday, April 28, 2010

A day well spent.

Parikrma is an NGO that provides education to underprivileged children. For more information, visit Parkirmafoundationdotorg

A fine Wednesday morning two weeks past the commencement of my summer holidays , I found myself running through my to-do lists, trying to find something to do. The mundaneness of everyday routines having numbed my nerves, I refused to recognize tasks that seemed uninteresting. Quickly looking past the ones labeled 'important' , I decided to step up to the internet, the sphere where time isn't respected enough. But before I could lose my way amongst the many webpages, I remembered Parikrma. My friend and I had been putting off a visit for a long while due to work at college and were eager to visit. I thought, why not meet those kids today and bring a smile on their faces?

After a few calls to my friend and the Nandini Layout branch of the NGO, I left home. A short drive later, I found myself looking up at the bright and colourful school. I soon met my friend and together, we met the principal. We just wanted to volunteer, we told him. Very quickly, he had our work cut out for us. We were to assist teachers in minding 2 sections of tots.
Enthusiastically, we followed him into the nearest classroom. With just one look into 'Sun', the class for the youngest group of children, I realised I wasn't particularly qualified to handle the kids. Upon my request, we moved into 'Mercury', the standard 1 of Parikrma. Once inside the class, I saw everything that I had pictured an NGO school to be - except for one detail. I saw more smiles than I had expected to see. But that was the last mental note I was allowed to make. Five seconds into entering the class, we were surrounded by kids who only came up to our waists. Twenty five to thirty of them, all very excited and full of energy. They wanted to know our names, they wanted us to know theirs, they wanted us to take photographs with them, they wanted us to have a look at their coloured works of art and they wanted us to do it all immediately! I flashed my friend a part-exhausted, part-terrified look but she assured me we'd get by, unscathed. I tried to cross my fingers in prayer, only to realise my fingers were all clutched by different kids. I took a deep breath to calm myself, while my friend took charge. As worried as I was after the ambush, things only got better from then on.

Through the morning, we recited rhymes and math exercises, played games and laughed with the children. Every time a camera came out of our bags, they'd swarm around us and fight each other to ensure they made it into the frame. Of course, they wouldn't let us go until they had a look at the photo and felt content with their appearance in it. Evidently, we weren't the first visitors they had. But the love they seemed to shower on us so effortlessly made us feel very special. When it was time for lunch, we were invited to eat along with them. We were only glad to oblige.
The afternoon was consumed by art class. I had fallen in love with the kids, yes, but the talent-mine in that classroom drew a small measure of harmless envy. As we sat expressing our approval of all the masterpieces, the school bell rang. There was a loud chatter of bye-byes, lots of flying kisses and in less than a minute, the kids vanished. My friend and I turned to head home.

The children on
Independence Day.

Once home, I had a lot to think about. Parikrma mainly schools orphaned children or children whose parents are serving prison time. A majority of the children live in a hostel close to school, with just about the basic needs being fulfilled. For most of them, it had been years since they had seen a member of the family. For some, such a meet had never happened. But not once ; not once during the entire day, did they lose the smile from their faces. These children attend school everyday with unfathomable enthusiasm, study intently, greet visitors with tight hugs and rush out of school in the evening - only to come back in the next day, with the same energy.
Almost immediately, there was the inevitable introspection. I recalled my first year of engineering, when I'd get depressed over not liking what I was being made to study. I recalled the times when I refused food at home, wanting to go to a restaurant. The many times when I would fight with my family over a multitude of trivial issues. There was a lot to learn from these children.
Happiness seems to be the destination we all seek. But to a majority of us, happiness remains an elusive emotion. And then there are these children, who have nothing to lose but themselves. The energy around them is ever-so-positive and there is absolutely no room for hate. Sure, they have their mighty differences now and then, generally over an eraser or a crayon. But fifteen minutes later, you might find them posing for a photograph with their arms around each other. There isn't much that this world can do to take away their smiles. There hardly exists anything that can attack the bounty of happiness that lies within them. And there is absolutely no stimulus required, for them to share this bounty with you.

We went back to Parikrma again. For three months, we made charts , bound text books , sang songs and taught Math and English. Three months of bliss. While the children took lessons according to the designed syllabus, we had our fair share of life-lessons. The little ones showed us how the world is too small and life, too long, to feel hate. How there is never a need to seek happiness from around you ; you only have to look within yourself.

Even today, we go back for short visits when time permits. But unlike the first time I visited Parikrma, I don't visit the kids intending to bring a smile on their faces. I just know I'll return home with a broad one on mine.