Dear Samina ma’am
Hope my mail finds you in pinkest of health and fun filled life. Your students (including me :-)) have been missing you a lot since you left. Just didn’t happen to thank you for all beautiful techniques that I got to learn from you so I thought of sending you a mail. Tomorrow is going to be my last day of volunteership with “Teach For India”. Find attached a collage I made for kids and also few classroom pictures.
It was wonderful to meet a person like you. Please stay in contact. I’ll be needing your guidance.
Nidhi was a bright young woman who came to help Abhishek in the classroom; however, she was so good at teaching that she seemed almost like a co-teacher rather than a volunteer. She had patience and was able to handle the students collective whining and lack of energy in the afternoons with renewed energy of her own. She walked around the room and its tight spaces to assess the students informally. She asked good questions and probed their thinking. She was professional in demeanor and always punctual, regardless of the traffic and distance she traveled. In addition to TFI, she also volunteered with Pratham, another large education NGO based in the United States. In the end, I wrote her a letter of recommendation so that she could join the next cohort of Teach for India candidates, as competitive as it was to get into the program. I enjoyed the conversations I had with Nidhi and she brought me into her world and shared her struggles with managing a teaching career and living at home with her supportive family, dealing with the reality of rape in Delhi as a young educated woman, and becoming a tech savvy Indian who was hooked into Twitter and Instagram. I will miss the students, Nidhi and Abhishek immensely!
The last days in India are always filled with last minute shopping and site seeing in order to bring something back for everyone at home. Addie and I did a whirlwind tour of the Red Fort, a Sikh gurdwara with a team of musicians playing beautiful Punjabi music, the giant Jama Masjid at dusk, and a Jain bird sanctuary with some really amusing brochures of naked men surrounded by caged birds.
Suzanne, Christian, Addie and I visited Gandhi’s museum where there is a sacred and eternal fire lit in his name. Christiana, Brittany and I visited Humayun’s tomb and then met up with everybody else at the Nizamuddin Darga, a religious site for a Sufi saint, on our last night in Delhi together as a group. Since it was the first days of Ramadan, the Qawwali performance at the darga listed in the travel books would be delayed until 9 or 10 PM, which was too late for us since we were catching 2 AM flights back home and I still had to pack. There were a few other American tourists waiting outside the darga and I had to explain to them that most families are breaking their fast as we speak. I saw children taking plates of food from one home to another in the alleys or “gullies”, which is the root word for “gully” in English. Beggars chided us for not giving them money even though it was Ramadan. There were lines of people making their way into the darga to get their meal. All of us then departed to find the famous kabob restaurant listed in the travel books. My students commented on how the Muslim neighborhoods are so different and how they could get lost in its Arabesque architecture of winding gullies and stairwells. Our meal was one of the best we had: plates of biryani, lamb kebabs, homemade ice cream, fluffy naans, and daal. We lingered for a bit and then said our farewells as we headed off to many different directions of the world.
I talked to Samina this afternoon. I wanted her to visit my school. She is willing to drop by as well. I tried to have her e-mail Id over phone but I am afraid I might have messed it up. Just to be in the safe side, will you kindly forward it to her. She said you know her ID. It contains the logistics to Bab-ul-uloom.
Bab-Ul-Uloom Public School.
Nearest Metro Station- Seelampur.
Thanks & Regards
Avinash is a young man whom I met the first day at National Public School. He was a part of Abhishek’s cohort and we had met for coffee with Christopher, their MTLD. I liked him immediately and he was one of the brave TFI souls who stepped forward to teach at a Muslim madrasa, Bab-Ul-Uloom Public School, even though he came from a prominent Brahmin family from Kolkatta. He had attended my PD session as well and wanted me to implement a few of the ideas I presented. I got on the train that day in the afternoon and headed in the other direction to Seelampur, where the slums were located and where many of the poor Muslims lived. I took the traditional bicycle rickshaw to the main street near the mosque but this rickshaw could not go into the very narrow gullies.
On the way, I saw kite stores from my youth and Muslim children dressed in religious garb. I saw myself in the streets and wondered what life would have been if I had stayed in India.
I entered the mosque and it was dark inside. Avinash said that I should let someone in the mosque know that I am here so they can take me to the school on the other side of the mosque. There were men sleeping on the floors. The imam must have been sleeping on a cot in a separate room and there was a young man fanning his body, which is what I used to do for my mother. Eventually, someone came since it was almost time for afternoon prayer and led me to the school. The electricity had gone out again and Avinash had his students in another room that did have electricity. He introduced me to everyone as the “American” who could also speak Urdu. I was quite happy that Avinash saw me as a cultural insider. When the electricity came back, we headed back to his classroom and I demonstrated Message Time with the students and they did really well. He had a giant dry erase board which made it easier. The students came from homes where fathers were tea stall owners and rickshaw drivers. Avinash had a small group of students but they were quite eager and energetic. He also showed me the results of the TFI assessments handed out to the students as benchmark assessments. It was a paper-pencil, multiple choice test that required lots of paper and time for grading each one carefully. In addition to Message Time, I also demonstrated the use of onset-rime patterns in English and the students enjoyed coming up with their own patterns (e.g., the –at family words like cat, hat, bat, etc.). I promised Avinash that I would stay in touch and help fundraise for the school here in the US. I am quite proud that TFI does not see religious differences and makes an attempt to educate each child equally, regardless of her/his background.
In the end, I was so impressed with all the hard work and dedication that the TFI teachers and alums put into building a strong educational hub within the Muslim community.
Here is a scenic view from the top of Amber Fort.
I had promised the students that we would ride on elephants at some point in our trip. In Jaipur, we were to ride elephants up the castle gates; however, it started raining and the elephants would slip on the inclined slope up to Amber Fort. They’re also smarter than us and would never venture up a hill when it’s raining. We either walked up to the fort or took the cab up but we were all awed at the beauty of this ancient site. It was full of empty rooms, Escher-like stairwells leading to rooms at different levels of the fort, and very much a labyrinth. We spilt up immediately into groups and I was afraid that we would not be able to meet up again as a group. In the end, we found ourselves in the air-conditioned coffee shop sipping on sugary drinks. I had fun walking through the empty palace with Arlyn and Brittany and their puppeteers, Hanz and Franz, taking pictures with Indian tourists. Occasionally, I let out a murderous scream in the cavernous halls and found out later that Addie was terrified of the woman screaming in the stairwells. As we walked back to our car and driver, we were hoping that it would stop raining and we would get a chance to ride the elephants at 3:30 in the afternoon. The driver and I were asking around and found no solution. Eventually, as we headed back into Jaipur, the driver heard from someone that the family that houses the elephants would allow tourists to sit on top of the elephants and wander around the shed for a few minutes. It would cost us 100 rupees each and there were already European tourists standing in line. The students were overjoyed to touch the elephants, play around with them and get to sit on them for a few minutes. There was a baby elephant in the back stalls as well. The Muslim family members were the elephant handlers but their owner lived across the street from the stable and negotiated a price with us on the street below. Rich and I were the only ones who did not ride the elephants; rather, I was more interested in the family dynamics. I gave the elderly mother 500 rupees so they get something from this interaction as well. It was nice to see the young men making the “roti” on the hot flames as the rain dripped slowly into the shed. Once we had our fill of elephants, we got back into the car and headed back to Delhi as night fell upon us.
During the second week in Delhi, we took a mid-week break and went to hear some classical music. I knew the NCPA (National Center for Performing Arts) in Mumbai well and there was always something to see each evening. However, Delhi was a new city and there seemed to me a few cultural sites scattered across the city. We ended up at the ICCR (Indian Council for Cultural Relations) on Lodhi Road near all the embassies and fancy hotels. It was a beautiful and tranquil building with galleries, bookstores, coffee shops, and intellectuals everywhere. Since we did not have much choice, we ended watching a recital performance from the Children’s Orchestra of Delhi.
In the auditorium, it was just the parents, a few bureaucrats and us. We all enjoyed the performance very much and sat back to listen to a wide range of pieces. Based on the praises he was receiving, we could tell that the conductor was a revered fellow who had garnered much respect from the families. Yet, he talked about how this performance might have never happened. It required commitment from the parents to drop off the children at the ICCR in the evening hours when traffic gets snaky and dedication on the part of the children to practice their instruments with gusto. I remember the evening fondly, sitting back in the plush velvet chairs, and watching children the same age as my daughter play national, traditional and nouveau music using an eclectic range of instruments from the rabab to synthesizers. On the way back to the hotel, we ended up in a neon-lit rickshaw, saw hordes of people walking around India Gate and an actual wedding ceremony in the streets with a full-band, a groom on a horse, and tons of firework.