The Well Frog
As we turned left onto the road that lead to our destination, I sensed something amiss. The two students sitting with me in the auto had fallen silent. They were vigorously turning their heads to assimilate everything that was there in front of their eyes. They were trying to grasp all the happenings around and understand its purpose and existence. They had never gone beyond a one kilometre radius of their house, ever!
After having decided that I needed the kids to witness the working of a “normal” world, I announced amidst all the excitement in class, “In a week, the first three students who show values through actions will get to go out.” Everyone wanted to help their friends, go out of their way to accommodate someone etc. Although, this momentum did not sustain after a couple of days, I pushed through. At the end of it, I had two boys and a girl who had made it. The two boys were anxious and overjoyed. But the girl…
“I not come bhaiyya. I go to grandmother house.” she said with a very disappointed face. At the outset, it seemed like she wanted to come but her parents had other plans. I asked her if I could talk to her parents and convince them to allow her. She did not respond. With a confused look, I asked her to go home and have her parents call me immediately so I can pick her up on the way. She acknowledged and bolted out. After an hour and a half, the two boys and I were waiting outside the school, but no call came. I sent the boys to bring her. They returned within a minute. “They say she go grandmother house bhaiyya. I think she is inside only.” I realized this was an issue I had to personally address by talking to the parent.
Having spoken to her mother before at school, I knew for a fact that the mother was very invested and had high hopes for her daughter. Why then did she not allow her to go out and see the world? Her uncle picked up the call. I explained to him why I was taking the kids out and why it is important for this particular girl to come (she aspires to be the PM or at least an IPS Officer). The uncle said, “I understand but her father will not allow her to go outside so you please carry on with the other two kids.” I felt angry, frustrated, annoyed, shocked and depressed, all at the same time. How could any parent deny their child an opportunity to see the world? Especially when they themselves had such high hopes for her. Why can’t they see how imperative it is for a child to experience new things and aspire to get there? She had not been allowed to come on our trip to the law school either. I could see that I had failed. Failed in getting one of the most potential kids to achieve her true potential, or at least try. I had failed her! I could only manage to say, “Okay, thank you!” *Click*
Trying let the issue be for a while, I focussed on the two boys now. We got into an auto and started our journey to the nearest pizza place. They were overwhelmed by the journey itself. They asked me what a guy was doing with iron rods and sparks of fire, why a big pipe was being lowered into the drain etc. They wanted to know everything. I then showed them the flyover that led to the airport. Their joy knew no bounds. “I only read and hear about airport bhaiyya. I never see. This road go there? How to go up on flyover? Come down, how?” They had never seen a flyover. You live in a city god-dammit! There are flyovers every two kilometres. “What do you do on holidays?” I asked, trying to understand how and why they hadn’t ventured this “far”. “Play, eat, that’s all”, they both said at the same time.
“What do your fathers do?”, I asked again.
“I don’t know”.
“Haven’t you asked him?”
“I ask, he beat!”
“Whaaaaaaaaattt? Why would he do that?”
Before they could answer, the auto stopped and we had to get out. I saw a supermarket and decided to take them inside as a quick continuation for the food distribution process I had explained to them earlier. Yet again, they were spellbound. So many items laid out in neat rows. So many computers to give bill, so many refrigerators, so many people to help! I walked them to the nearest refrigerator and picked few juice boxes and a chocolate. “Huh! You take like that only? No ask shopkeeper?” “No. In supermarket you take everything and then at the end you go to billing counter.” They walked through the supermarket admiring the different kinds of pickles, noodles and soaps. When they arrived at the billing counter, there was another shock waiting for them. We got the bill without the guy checking the price of each item. They were just waved in front of a red light. “That’s bar-code reader. It gives all the information needed to the computer”, I said before they could ask. I was already too annoyed. How could you have never ever seen a supermarket or a flyover? You’ve wasted nine years of your life, abusing and hitting each other?
We moved to the pizza place. “It is so cold bhaiyya. Fan not there no, then how?” “It’s called AC. See there.” I pointed at what looked like a macro-sized tube-light to them. After another fifteen minutes of assimilation of surroundings, we ordered. The lady at the counter asked for my phone number and then said, “Hi, Nikhil. How may I help you?”
“Wait. One spicy triple tango, diet coke and a mousse cake please! Yes, tell me now.”
“How she know your name? She your friend?”
“So, every time I buy something at one of their stores, they record it so that next time they don’t have to ask for it again.”, I replied knowing full well that I wasn’t even remotely close to the complete answer.
As we chatted and ate, one of the kids fell silent. I questioned him. He refused to tell me the reason. He was clearly upset about the experience. I could not stand it any more. This is absolute nonsense. I cannot do this to them. Their worlds are being shattered right in front of their eyes. Their version of the truth, is being stepped upon and crushed by the stark differences. Everybody is well dressed, polite, organized and most of all, it’s peaceful, unlike the community they live in. Some of the kids may not even comprehend all of this. Enough. It’s time to go back. Go back to your little bubble and feel the comfort of your known ecosystem. For today, it’s enough exposure for you.
As I returned home, I could not help but judge the people living there. They talk about wanting to educate their children, they want their students to talk in English and aspire to become something bigger. But when it comes to following up on them, they find excuses ranging from money to society to culture to even “going to grand mother house.” What is with this apathy? I have to end it. I can’t watch them waste their lives away like this. These are my kids and they will make something out of themselves. To this effect, I have asked the girl’s mother to come and meet me in school very soon. I need to get her on board, I need to get everyone on board and as soon as possible.
That girl can rule the world. She is capable! (Not at all exaggerating) She and so many others aren’t able to grow only because they don’t see their learnings being put to use in the world outside, their little world. They’re all well frogs that don’t even know there is so much more outside. But was I not one too? For having believed that everyone gets to see a flyover, at least in a city? Aren’t we all well frogs? The difference is that some of us get to live in bigger wells!