I saw him sitting in a metro station and studying in that street light. I was hardly in class V to understand how much dedication it needed to study like that.
In my school, I used to hear the story of Iswarchandra Vidyasagar who used to study in street light.
Was this child a Vidyasagar in the making?
He was of my age or maybe little older. He lived in that roadside shanty his parents have built. I had no idea of child trafficking etc. at that age. I only thought how disadvantaged that child was. I used to study in a posh school in Esplanade locality and while commuting, I used to see him every evening. Metro was new in Kolkata in the ’80s and hence we used to love traveling in Metro. He used to be available at the entrance of Metro station every day. One day it was a news in local Kolkata newspapers, too. Everybody was amazed to see the dedication of a child who is deprived of everything else in life. Everyone was saluting him too.
Chintoo. That was how others around him used to call him. He was going to a municipal school, thanks to a local NGO. The books he used to read was donated by them. But all those were in Bengali. I asked him if he wanted to study English. He was very eager but didn’t know how he could do that. As studying in mother tongue itself was a big challenge for him.
I was from English medium and in class V we were writing small essays in English. I was privileged enough to have my food all four times a day, to have teachers to teach me all subjects and also schooling of an elite school. I realized that the only reason he was not having any of these was he was born in an extremely poor family. But the question to me was, even Vidyasagar was born in a poor family too. If he could become revered and honored as he is today, then why can’t this little boy.
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So I thought if I could do something –
I have cut down on my play time by one hour every day and decided to teach him English. I could not tell this to my parents as they would have objected to it. I have taken my old English books and two Bengali story books to him and given them to him.
I can never forget the joy I saw on his face that day. He was beaming with joy. His sparkling eyes told thousands of things together but he could not express his feeling properly. He grabbed them, hugged them, kissed them and later broke down in tears.
I was watching him all through. In those days there used to be no police near Metro gates. But one policeman suddenly came from nowhere and started asking me a lot of questions. I told him that I gave my old books only and my parents asked me to do that. Well, I felt so good in telling a lie that day.
For next six months, every day I used to come that way I used to teach him English basics. He told his NGO aunty and they have shifted him to a school where he could learn English. In the meantime, one newspaper reporter caught us in action. He wanted to know my name and take our photo, I told him not to report my name as my parents did not know. I told them lies about my being late. But his report did come in local newspapers without my name and photo. My parents were praising the boy but didn’t know it was their baby, who was grown up by then.
My need of being his teacher ended as he was shifted another school where he got good English teachers. I remembered the experience for long. I continued to give him my old books so that he could read and I continued to feel the joy of giving.
Today he is working as a company executive in Chennai. His parents died in the late ’90s due to a road accident.
He is a graduate of today. When I see him today, I feel we all have a Vidyasagar in us. Only we need to recognize that and get a proper opportunity (or maybe less of it but with a lot enthusiasm) to awaken that spirit.
Do I call this honesty? I was honest with the boy but not to my parents. Was it kindness? Some may say yes, but that time I felt it was my duty to give my books to someone who wanted to experience the joy reading rather than letting the books sold off to local vendors after some time. Was it for compassion? Maybe, I don’t know. I only know I was amazed by his dedication. Respected for his desire to learn.