“Rural India is charmingly strange”, I thought while I was waiting at the bus stop. I have visited my ancestral village for the annual Mahalakshmi pooja and was on my way back home. Completely cut off from the sophistication of the modern world, the village seemed to me like a wonderful painting of watercolors. There was an untouched charm everywhere. The peaceful lifestyle, the air free from pollution, the mud roads trodden by bullock carts, the little shops doing business enough for a living, and the simple village folk. They all fit in a single frame of nostalgia. Even the Bus stop, where I stood, was rather unusual. It was like a central place that had the main market, a hospital, a police station and was also used as a bus alighting point. Amidst the colourful turbans and white dhoties-kurtas, I was being looked upon like an alien wearing rugged jeans and a printed T-Shirt.
I had already been waiting for the bus for at least 45 minutes now. An enquiry regarding the timings revealed that the bus I was waiting for would not come anymore and the next bus is at approximately an hour from now. Dejected, I made myself comfortable on a bench and started counting minutes.
A while later, the chorus of children reciting after their teacher filled my ears and I discovered that the wall behind me belonged to a school. Just then, the bell rang. Supposedly, it was a session change. I heard sounds of closing books and after a short interval a new voice commanded the class.
“So Children! I hope you all have completed the homework that was given yesterday?” the teacher asked to which a roar of “YES” came back.
“Ok then, let’s begin with Gopal.
Gopal, Come over.” The teacher said.
“My Grandfather” – Gopal announced and paused for a while indicating that it was the title of his recital.
“My grandfather was a postman. He worked in the adjacent village. He was married to my grandmother at the age of 17. They had 3 boys and a girl as children. He is retired from service now and my dad was given his job. He takes me around the village on his cycle every Sunday and buys me toffees. He is a very nice man.”
A round of applause suggested that Gopal was done. The teacher asked Lakshmi to come forward.
“My grandfather is a farmer. He raises wheat and jowar in the land that was given to him by his father. My granny says, they were a big family a few years ago and everyone used to do farming on a huge land but now only my grandfather and my father cultivate. My grandfather did not go to school. He wants me to study hard and become a doctor. Thank you.”
Then came Ramesh. He started by pulling the mucous up the nose.
“My grandfather is no more. My father told me about him. He belonged to a washer man’s family but had taken up the job of painting houses after a severe drought. They say that He was the only painter in the village then and it was he who first painted the royal fort of our village. But, after a few years he became jobless as many other people took up the painting business. He sold his house and started a petty shop to survive. My father runs it now.”
Sudhakar came up next. He started in a low tone.
“My grandfather was a sweeper…” after a little anxious pause, he continued.
“My grandfather used to live in the adjacent village until he was driven out because of caste problems. A wise man of this village helped him. The kind man even gave him a hut to stay. Since then, our family is serving this village. My uncle has taken up the sweeping now and my dad works at a construction site.” Sudhakar was done.
“My Grandfather was the Sarpanch of this town. It was he who built the bridge over the canal.” Somnath started proudly.
“He was a highly learnt man in the village at that time. For some time he also worked at the office of the district collector. My uncle says, after India got independence, he was appointed as Sarpanch of this village. He did many good and big things in his lifetime. He was the first person in the whole district to have sent his son abroad for education.”
With each student telling about his or her grandfather, my curiousness grew larger. It loomed over me like a dark cloud that was neither raining nor shedding. It was interesting to hear children talk about their grandfathers. But, my interest was also followed by a cat of curiousness. I was curious to know what this exercise was all about. What was the teacher trying to teach?
One after the other, about twelve students spoke on the subject. It was now, that the teacher commanded again.
“So children…Did you enjoy this exercise?”
A big YES came as a reply.
“So, did you now understand how important it is to know our HISTORY?”
There!… That was what I wanted to know. The word History made lights glow in my head. Controlling the excitement over the revelation, I Listened patiently as the teacher spoke further.
“Our past is called our History. Everything, every place and every person has a history. Everyone’s story need not go in books, but everyone has a past that is very important for him to know because it is when one understands why they are in the current state in life.
So, Let’s begin our History lessons on this note… page no 55, the history section, chapter 1 – WHAT IS HISTORY”
One with the class, I too recollected things about my grandfather and indeed it felt important to me as it indicated the reason of my presence in the village at that moment. I had Goosebumps all over my body. What a wonderful way of teaching it was…My gratitude towards the teacher encouraged me to go ahead and congratulate him for his outstanding work. As soon as I stepped down the platform, I saw my bus approaching the bus stand with a loud horn. If I miss it now, I might have to be stationed here till tomorrow. With an unfulfilled desire to shake hands with a perfect master, I boarded the bus.