*Note: I finished writing about my travels and adventures in India with the Pragati Schools a while back, but have only now found my way to uploading them to the blog. Apologies for their tardiness, and also for the way they are written. I wrote them almost immediately after my experiences, which I believe makes them more intimate and relevant, but it is perhaps confusing to read about something that happened in July as if it has just happened.
From July 26, 2010:
Last week, I went out to lunch with Maggie, Haimanti, Arati, and Gopa, and they started talking about different students that they loved. Maggie, who runs Pragati's health program (I talk more about Maggie's work in this entry) doesn't see the students as nearly as often as the other three women who are around them all the time, but a few students made a real impression on her, and she started laughing, asking Gupa to tell me the "eye doctor" story. All three women laughed, and Gopa began to explain.
About a year ago, Maggie organized for an optomologist to see those Pragati students who were having trouble seeing, and probably needed glasses. Maggie took the group of children out of school for an hour or so, drove them to the Eye Doctor, where they were given an eye test, and then brought back to school. Maggie also bought each kid a piece of candy, as part of the adventure to the doctor's office.
The next day, one little boy named Muktar was very insistent that he was having trouble seeing, and so Maggie agreed to take him to the eye doctor, even though he would be the only child going, since she had already taken all the other children the day before. Muktar was very excited to skip class, and to take a ride in Maggie's car. When they arrived at the doctor's office, Maggie waited in the waiting room while Muktar went and had his eye test. After a little while, the doctor returned Muktar to the waiting room and explained that he was very concerned about how poorly Muktar had done. He suspected that Muktar had a very serious problem, and recommended that Muktar see a specialist. Muktar seemed unphased by this news. In fact, when it was explained that seeing the specialist would mean having to miss class again tomorrow, Muktar seemed particularly pleased. Maggie's candy treat was the icing on the cake.
The following day, Maggie picked Muktar up again and drove the long distance to the specialist. The whole way there, she began to become suspicious that Muktar had faked the whole thing, but thought she would wait and see what the specialist had to say. When the specialist tested Muktar, Muktar once again did very badly. But this doctor was clever. He picked up a very large syringe and showed it to Muktar. It looks like you have a horrible problem, the doctor told him. I'm going to have to give you this shot... Muktar instantly jumped up and read the entire chart perfectly. What a naughty boy you are! the doctor laughed. Muktar had faked the whole thing just to get out of class!
The three women laughed heartily over this story. I loved it. Gopa went on to tell a story about a math test that Muktar had taken.
I was instantly charmed by this mysterious, clever, naughty little kid. I asked if I would be allowed to interview him, and after a few exchanged glances, the women agreed to let me talk to him. A few days later, I got to meet the infamous Muktar. He was smaller than I'd imagined, with a surprising seriousness to his answers. He wasn't as thoughtful as Abhijit, but he did answer with very little hint of a smile. In fact, he was so serious, that I didn't even blink when he answered my question, "What do you want to be when you grow up" with the response, a professional wrestler. He then proceeded to pull open the top button on his shirt and reveal that he had placed a sticker of his favorite wrestler on his chest, in place of the tattoo he planned on getting when he was an adult.
Suddenly all that mischief I had heard so much about came bubbling up. He babbled on about his favorite wrestlers and his favorite moves, and spoke so quickly and with so much joy, my translator had a hard time keeping up. His 100 watt smile lit up the room and the camera, and I was thrilled to have tricked the switch that made him sparkle.
Today, I followed Muktar home. It was a different kind of visit from my visit to Abhijit's home. This time, there was no family waiting for him, and although his house was a little bit bigger than Abhijit's, it was pretty sparse. Instead, Muktar took us to visit his older sister, and proudly showed off his nephew. Like Abhijit's transformation from little boy to older brother, it was amazing to watch Muktar also morph in front of me.
Children here are incredible. They wear so many hats and take on so many tasks and responsibilities, yet still maintain the wonder and joy that all children have. What an amazing boy that outsmarts teachers and doctors, and dreams of being a professional wrestler, but doesn't even reach my shoulder.