The flowers the boy sold me at the crossing, bloomed today. So all of last week, they were fragrant at night, and today, the buds have opened. 42 flowers for fifty rupees, God bless that little boy for his gift to someone whom he does not know. Tuberoses for a Teacher.
I have seen this child at the cross roads since he was two. He belongs to an itinerant vendor's family, and when he was too small to sell things, he used to beg. Once, he threw himself into the scooter, and when I gave him a coin, he leapt out happily.
I love that kid. His purpose is only to survive, and how he does it, I don't know. But the panic on his face when he cannot get money bothers me. Will they all go hungry that day?
He goes every morning to the flower market around Qutub Minar
to get the flowers. His father is a tall mustachioed man from Rajasthan, who brings these roses and tuberoses back, shreds them of excess leaves, ties them tightly with cellophane and plastic, or rope if he cannot afford the plastic and then sends the children out to the corner to sell them.
It's a business
like any other. So this child sold me tuberoses that day, last week, for fifty rupees. It's the end of the day, and he has to get rid of them. I buy them. Mallika says, "That's a lot of money."
She has to travel in the metro with a limited budget, and like all college students who wish to become possibly, possibly academics one day, she lives life very frugally. We all did. So even if the Central University Teachers have paypackets which allow them to buy books, and green leaf tea, and fruit, there is an understanding among them, that their vocation is to provide education to all who come to them.
Otherwise, the social reforms that the country has seen in the last decade would not have been possible. School education is the priority for the country now, and every University has academics across the disciplines working on education for children.
I have been working with school teachers in Tiruvannamalai, Tamil Nadu, since 2006, and last year, I organised a conference with financial support from the JNU vice chancellor to bring in school teachers from Karnataka, Tamil Nadu and Hyderabad working with tribal and peasant children.
They also received a platform to be heard in The Childrens' Centre at Nehru Memorial Museum and Library. The Right to Education Act is something they debate among themselves, because the commitment that they have to the children whom they teach often means that mother tongue schooling, preparing children for life style choices relating to artisan traditions, or agricultural or forestry traditions, may mean that prescribed text books may be difficult to work with.
Often the tactile space of drama, poetry, music, painting become the space of these children's right to life. Are we ready to understand that while there is a pull towards the metropolis, cheap labour being a necessary requirement towards rapid industrialisation, the real debate about right to life and right to work rests in the countryside.
And it is there that the state must now direct it's attention, not with the view that one size fits all, but the very relevant debates among practitioners have to be highlighted. There is no shortage of committed young people who have often left the Universities or well paid salaried jobs in the service sector to devote their life to the very young.
(About the Contributor: Prof. Susan Visvanathan is Professor of Sociology at Jawaharlal Nehru University's Centre for the Study of Social Systems, New Delhi)