What’s ‘Megma Dharma’?
Before I tell you what this means, let me just say that there are other words that could easily have replaced ‘dharma’ when it converged with Megma. I’m sure there will be people who’d call it the ‘Megma Trauma’ or use even ‘stigma’… life is so full of interpretations that each of those words would actually have fitted snugly with Megma in the context that I will now tell you about.
Megma is a small place in West Bengal on the Indo-Nepal border. This is where you come across a school with two classrooms. This is where 20 students trek for at least two kms to come and begin a journey into their dreams. This is where you see smiles despite ‘shaky benches, faded and cracked blackboards and weak infrastructure’. This is where you meet Chandrakumar Pradhan who’d be happy to get just ‘2 blackboards and 20 stationery sets for his students’. This is the truth you come face-to-face with at 9,900 ft… and so if you choose to use either of the two words that I left out, you would still not be incorrect. However, I choose to applaud what Chanderkumar and Neela are doing, and so I call this piece the ‘Megma Dharma’.
Watch this video, and then read on to come with me on a journey through time…
No, don’t yet let out that ‘sigh’ because it needs to stay with you until we all come together to do something that makes sure that resources, funds, and focus reach the right places all the time.
Megma isn’t an exception. You can see them everywhere if you just choose to see them. Even Chandrakumar isn’t an exception. They are there silently working to give our country a generation that is no longer ignoramus… a country that needs to have people who take informed decisions. It is only education that can help us release ourselves from the stranglehold of those who love watching us thrash about helplessly as they burp away prosperity that belongs to all of us. But it isn’t a revolt that I am going to write about. It is about a man whose name I have forgotten.
Yes, I really do not remember his name… but then I met him for a few minutes on a treacherous slope as we trudged up towards Cloud’s End during one of our exercises as cadets in the Indian Military Academy in Dehradun. The day is clearly etched in my mind. We had crossed Village Donga, which was out first destination and were slowly making our way up with the help of our contour maps and all the navigation skills that we had assimilated so far.
Deol, who was our platoon commander, said, ‘Let’s take a left turn towards that ridge there. I think we should hit the reporting point at the top.’
‘That’s a mighty steep one, Deol.’
‘But it’ll help us reach before the other platoons reach,’ said Deol, ‘And we haven’t seen any take this direction.’
Someone said, ‘New challenging routes can be beneficial, but they come with their own unknown treachery.’
We all stood there on one side of a spur and after a few moments of silence, began walking towards the way suggested by Deol. An hour later and with the sunny afternoon fading fast, we stopped to review our decision. I suggested, ‘I see some houses there. Let’s go and refill our water bottles before we walk beyond habitation and into the mountainous wilderness.’ Now because I had suggested, I was loaded with all the water bottles as the rest of the platoon lay down to rest.
The houses were a good ten minute walk from where we were and as I reached the first one, I noticed it was a school. I went in and what I saw bewildered me. There was a large tattered piece of black cloth nailed on a wall and this man was busy writing the Hindi alphabet there. The wall opposite had a similar piece of cloth and half the dozen kids inside were facing the other way where a small girl was reading something aloud. I stood there with half the kids staring at me. No giggles. No disruption. I had probably broken their spell, it seemed. Then the man turned from the cloth-board (I think it was the jugaad version of a black-board) and asked in English, ‘Yes, are you lost?’
‘No,’ I said, ‘I’m looking for water. We’re from the IMA and are on our way to Cloud’s End.’
He seemed to understand and replied, ‘No one climbs Cloud’s End from this side. So no one ever reaches this village.’
I knew all that and I also knew that we would anyway make it up the steep climb. That’s what you do when you’re in your early twenties, you see. But at that moment, I was more interested in knowing what was happening inside that room. So I asked… and he told me the strangest truth I had heard.
The man said, ‘This is a primary school. I am the only teacher here. No one else accepts to come here, so I manage all classes. We hold two classes in two shifts. What you see in the other half is the junior class being taught by a senior student who is just a few years elder to the ones she is teaching.’
‘Two classes in one room?’ I asked.
‘Well, it is actually four classes in one room. At different times,’ the teacher said as he smiled. He then told me that even officials never come up as trekking up is not easy for them… and there were no roads or pakka pathways coming up. ‘But my students always manage to grow up with enough knowledge to get them admitted in a bigger school in Donga from Class V.’
That school, I gathered, was for people in the higher reaches who anyway were too spread out and too far from the larger villages in the Doon valley. The little kids helped me fill the water bottles and also went with me back to the platoon to show us the only possible way up. I’m sure we would never have taken the funny and meandering goat path that the boys pointed to us… but the truth is that we did manage to scale up without harming ourselves.
Our route march isn’t important… though I must add that we actually met the rest of the platoons at some point much before the summit of Cloud’s End and spent a good couple of hours throwing our canvas shoes and socks and whatever else we could detach ourselves from, to keep the blazing fire going strong. Yes, it was a cold night… and as I sat there I thought of those little kids who’d remain colder if the good teacher I bumped into was not there to warm their souls with the fire of knowledge.
Such stories are there all around us… and we must try and not leave them unread, unnoticed and flung unceremoniously to wither and die. We need to pick them up and resuscitate them to life… because the characters in these stories are the only ones who really live.
21 April 2014