“So remember children, do not forget to stay 6 feet away from other people, wash your hands frequently, and stay at home as much as possible!”, Meena ma’am shouted over the din of the school bell as the children got ready to leave. She looked at them lovingly as they were excited to go home as fast as they could, to throw away their worries of the past week and revel in their short freedom before coming back to these halls. It never failed to amaze her how little it took to make children happy,a few kind words,a touch of encouragement, and their faces would light up like lamps. Even in this fast-paced world, she took solace in the fact that there was still some ray of hope to be found somewhere.
As she scanned their euphoric countenances, she spotted one that looked out of place. Guru was not looking happy. She knew the reason why, and the happiness of her heart was immediately replaced with happiness and woe. She had a particular fondness for that child, not only because of his enthusiasm for learning, but also because of the purity of his heart.
Guru’s plight was a tragic one. He had been born in a poverty-stricken family, with six elder sisters, and lack of money meant no option but work. After his birth, it was found that his IQ was very low, and since his parents could not afford to keep him, they had left him at an orphanage and never looked back. Life had been very harsh on him, with very little care given to a learning disabled boy, and school became his only means of escape. Of course, he barely managed to pass in any subject, but it did not matter to him as long as he was allowed to come back. Everyday, while the other children grumbled,he was the happiest to sit in class and be with friends, and at the end of the day he would always promise to return after giving Meena ma’am a tight hug.
As the rest of the class left, he came forward with his head hung low. “Won’t you give me a hug today, Guru?”, asked Meena ma’am. “Is there something troubling you?”
“Ma’am, this notice…no tell…..when return…when school open …..”, he said in the little English he could muster.
“Don’t you know the situation, Guru? There is a very deadly disease spreading in the whole world, and it is not safe for children like you to come to school for some time. As soon as everyone is healthy again, the schools will reopen.”
“But ma’am, I no go home…..I want stay here….”
“The doctors are working very hard to get rid of this disease, and we have to do our part by staying at home. It is for your safety. If you do so, this disease will be gone and you will be back in no time.”
“But if….no open….. then?”
“Then I promise you that I will come to teach you, no matter what,” Meena said with determination.
“Promise?”, he looked at her searchingly.
But as the days went by and the pandemic showed no signs of slowing down, Meena became more and more anxious. She expressed her concerns to the principal, but that was not much help.
“Meena, you know that the children from the orphanage are already studying here for free, and we do not get a lot of donations to run the school as it is. Only on your insistence have I kept that boy still in this school. He shows no signs of improvement at all. I might have to remove him from school all together.”
The other teachers thought in the same vein. “Let it go, Meena. It is not in our hands. You have done enough for the boy.”
Even at home, she could not find anyone to support her. “Meena, that child cannot be helped anymore. If he wants to learn then he must do it on his own. It is time for you to focus on yourself. All you can do now is wait for this to be over.”
“A promise is a promise, and as long as someone wants to learn, I am there to teach.”, Meena resolved.
She chewed over the problem for a few days, and then an idea struck her. Everyday after work was over, she would take a few books home with her and began to make copies. Whatever she couldn’t find in books, she began printing them out on the school computer at her expense. She went and bought a new set of stationery too, along with a few notebooks.Slowly, she gathered enough notes and pictures to cover an entire semester, and had built up quite a pile.
As the curfew on the 22nd of March was lifted, Meena covered her face and slipped quietly out of her house, walking through the deserted lanes filled with a deathly silence. She reached the orphanage in no time at all, and asked to see Guru.
“Oh ma’am,…..you came…”, Guru shouted as he bounded towards her, as if she was her only savior, and gave her a tight hug.
“Come with me,” Meena said and took him outside. She gave him a smartphone, along with a big bundle of papers, and he looked at everything curiously.
“What this for, ma’am?”
“Do you know how to use it? Will you be able to make a video call?”. Guru shook his head up and down vigorously in response.
“Look, I promised that I will come to teach you no matter what, and this is the only way I can. You can call me every day on this, and together we will learn whatever you want. How does that sound?”
Tears welled up in his eyes, and he hugged Meena, saying, ” Thank you, ma’am.”
Photo By: Aaron Burden
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