It is getting to the end of the monsoons here in Alwar, which means the temperature of the air is just right, the sky a bright shimmering pale blue with giant cumulus clouds floating about. There is a slight smell of wood-smoke in the air, a smell that will probably stick with me and remind me of my time here. Alwar distict is not distinctly Rajasthan. Its proximity to Delhi, Haryana,and Uttar Pradhesh has shaped a Mevati identity which seemsto have absorbed several regional identities into one. Probably a little more time here and I could possibly make sense of this identity but for now I'm here in the village of Chandolli taking notes in my note pad.
I am sitting under under a khejri tree (Prosopis Cineraria)- revered for its shade and fodder in this region. Perched on its branches, in the early afternoon one might see a common hoopie, or rather hear it. And beyond the shade of the khejari, over the dusty road, the thatched roofs of the village are visible under a cover of trees, surrounded by fields of bajra and scrub bush; on the horizon, in a blue shimmer of heat lies the Aravallis like improbable overgrown termite mounds.
Behind me I hear the sounds of school girls as they recite their 6 times multiplication table.
"Che gune ek che, che gune doh bara ......" and so on in a sing song
rhyme. The school building on first appearance may appear merely to be a modest one room yellow building but in the last four days I have found it to be the staging post for an amazing transformation where village girls are given the opportunity to do something more than their long list of daily chores.
Take Saira for example. Saira likes to draw, an activity which her teacher encourages. Give Saira a sketching pad and a set of crayons and her talent will soon become apparent to you. She fills up the virgin pages of her note book with scenes of everyday Chandolli life. Here is a pencil drawing of a buffalo soaking itself in a pond in front of the school - it was all very recognizable - and here is a
picture of turbaned man chasing off a donkey (or a dog I'm not quite sure). And on this page is a picture of a shop, a small baniya ki dukaan, with things in front of it which could have been a sack of spices or perhaps people sitting down one could not tell - but as I said before they are excellent sketches and deserved their status of being pinned up on the walls of the classroom.
When I said the situation here is grim it was more a reaction to the
statistics on female literacy - but children like Saira and her classmates make you see that change is at hand. This process needs to be encouraged and sustained so that we can reach out and touch more Sairas.