Monday, 23 July 2012

Saying Goodbye

I’m back in Delhi, back in the comfort of my room, back with my family, back to everything normal.
But I am restless.

I open the folder on my Pictures Library which reads “Deepa Academy”. Within a minute I find myself smiling. I always used to wonder how someone could feel happy and sad at the same time. Now I know.

Friday evening was supposed to be our last class with the children. Before 4 o clock, Shruti and I were busy in getting the manual printed and bound. After days spent on the editing, formatting, additions and omissions, we had finally managed to finish it on time.
After the manual was in our hands, we picked up a few empty boxes, some paint and a few brushes. We had something different planned for our last class. 

Surprisingly at 4 o clock we found them in the park instead of the class. After my experience with them, I know a visit to the park is like a treat for them. I didn’t know if it was a good idea to ask them to come for class leaving the park, but nevertheless I went ahead.
They stood up immediately when they heard us call their names. Instead of the disappointment of leaving the park that I had expected, I saw them feel glad that we had come to meet! And within loads of chattering and smiling, we were back in the class.

We spoke about the trip, each one trying to form sentences to express their favourite part. Shruti and I were a little out of words that day. The feeling of us leaving Bangalore in a day was sinking in, and the part about us not meeting the girls for a very long time was, um, not really good.

We wanted them to make us a promise, like they had made us promise when asking for our mobile phone numbers. They all laughed when they repeated after us “We promise to do what you want us to”.
Within a few seconds, I had the boxes out, paint in them, ready for the girls to put their hands in. We wanted them to give us their hand prints, something that we wanted to keep with us for a lifetime. And the excitement on their faces when they selected their colours was the best part of the day!  

After each one of them had given us two pairs of prints, we gave them what we had made for them. We couldn’t leave without giving them something to remember us by, could we?

Shruti and I had used the water bottles accumulated over the month and cut them to make 8 bangles. Bangles, because they are something that each one of them is very fond of.
Using newspaper and tissue paper we had covered the plastic and had then written their names on it.


All of them were happy. And then?
They wanted us to come back the next day. The next day, some people from All India Radio were supposed to come to Deepa Academy due to which we could not meet the girls. But they wouldn’t hear of it!
When we told them we would try, they surprised us by saying, “No Akka, DEFINITELYY!’

The next morning at 9 30 we were back at Deepa Academy.
The girls gave us little gifts, and we were not given an option to deny them. They also wrote their names on their handprinted sheets using Braille.

After a moment of silence, everyone was crying.
I can’t express what I was feeling and Shruti’s tears told me that she was feeling just the same.
These little girls were more than just our students. They were a part of our lives, people that gave us fond memories of the past month, who brought infinite smiles on our faces, who didn’t want us to go back, who we didn’t want to go away from.

We talked randomly, about 10th standard marks and how they should all aim for a great score in their final exams. Talking to them was like talking to my younger sister, giving them advice and sharing my own experiences.

When we finally saw the time it was 2 hours late. Saying Goodbye was probably the most difficult thing I faced this month.

3 hours later, when we were ready to leave the hostel we were staying at, Shruti and I decided to go and have one last look at Deepa Academy.
Standing under the Gulmohar tree, the whole month raced past my eyes. The laughter, the sadness, the contentment, the excitements, everything!


When no one from the academy was in sight, Shruti and I tied a helium balloon on the academy’s gate. The balloon had a post-it on it which said,

 “Thank you for the amazing time! We will miss you all!
Hope to see you soon!

Love you all,
Shruti and Jayasi”

Thursday, 19 July 2012

The trip

Firstly Iet’s get to know the place where we were going for the trip.
Away from Bangalore, is this camp set up by the name of Xtreme Zone. It is situated off the Mysore Road, right on the banks of Machinbele Dam, in the middle of a jungle. They have a provision of some adventure sports along with Kayaking and swimming in the lake. You are provided tents on a sharing basis to rest for the night.

50 km away from the city, at an adventure camp, post 10 pm with no light around, my head out of the tent, looking up at the cloudy sky and I was doing nothing literally, or so it seemed! Usually such a place takes you away from the humdrum of the city life, with me it was no different. I was away too but with a difference. I was away from the tiny tent, from my hostel, from my home. I was where my thoughts took me that night.  My head was full of thoughts racing past one another. There was a quick recap of the entire day playing in my head.

Jayasi and I got out of bed earlier than usual, all pepped up for the trip and looking forward to spend some time with the girls, but to our dismay, after reaching Deepa academy we learnt that we wouldn’t be able to make a move before 10! With our stuff packed, rooms locked and not having much to do, we got all cranky as we waited for the clock to strike 10. It sure wasn’t the best start one could have to a day we had been waiting for from almost a week! We decided to wait outside the academy and pass our time somehow. Suddenly a little later than 10, we saw the girls coming out all wearing yellow T shirts, with bags on their backs and smiles on their faces, wishing us “Good morning akka!” and starting with their round of questions “Had your breakfast akka ? “, “ What did you eat for breakfast akka ?” standing in their pairs. They were all set to go. Surprisingly in the following five minutes all the crankiness was forgotten and, Jayasi and I were as excited as ever. Such was the effect of these girls on us!

Entering the bus, Jayasi and I were invited by a 10th standard girl Pallavi to sit with her for the journey. Initially we were amused at her excitement to sit with us rather than her friends, but gladly accepted her invitation. 15 minutes through the way two tenth standard girls came and gave us our promised bangles. A day before in class we were told that is a tradition for girls to wear bangles when they are leaving the house. On getting to know that we didn’t have a pair of bangles, the girls promised to get us bangles even after repeated refusals.

The camp was a twenty minute trek from the point till where any vehicle could come. Walking along the path, we started wondering if bringing the girls to such a camp was really a good idea! There were steep passages, big rocks, and slippery sand ways, all that we had to cross just to reach the camp. But like always these girls never fail to amaze me, not only did they successfully find their way, they managed to complete some activities at the camp with such ease which even we were faltering while trying to complete. There was no fear seen in the girls when they were given the option of trying the rope course activity at the camp that included walking on the rope and walking on the steps without any support. Rather we saw them fighting among themselves on who would go first and then later on pushing us to go and try as well as convince us to not get scared as it was not very difficult!

Rest of the day was spent doing some more team building activities which everyone seemed to enjoy. As it started getting dark, everyone proceeded to the area where usually the food was served. Sitting there, singing Kannada songs, everyone seemed to have a gala time! Not knowing the lyrics of these songs Jayasi and I were simply sitting in one corner and trying to hum some of them.

All of a sudden, between the songs and not so known language, we heard something familiar, we heard our names being called out by Mr. Shantaram. He was requesting us to come and stand in the centre, we noticed that the girls sitting on the mats placed on the floor had made some way for us. Before we knew it, we heard Mr. Shantaram, principal of Deepa Academy acknowledging us ,our work and the time spent at the academy. He was followed by our supervisor Mr Murali appreciating our efforts and in no time we saw ourselves receiving certificates with all the girls giving us a huge round of applause. Surprising us further were the girls singing the English song we taught them in the class infront of all the people present there.

Receiving the certificate yesterday night was something! Something I am sure Jayasi and I will never forget. I did not have words to express what we felt at that time. We couldn’t stop ourselves from getting nostalgic when we were asked to say a few words describing the time we spent at the academy. The classes, the thinking, planning, the games, the smiles, everything was special!

Yesterday night I saw Jayasi carry the broadest smile. And deep down I know I saw myself in her! That smile I know, was just that way on my face too!

Before my head went inside, it was decided that the morning would be filled with water activities.

Today, as the sun came out, the girls were taken for a swim in the lake. All wearing life jackets entered the lake for what they called “a swim”. There were some who decided to go boating. In a while, hearing about the breakfast being served, everyone came out of water and rushed to get ready.


Soon coming to the end of this short but memorable trip, we had a small group photo that was taken before we made a move back to the academy.

This trip was different, yesterday night was different and we knew the days ahead were going to be different from the past month. We were excited about receiving the certificates but knew that now, things won’t be the same anymore.
That one night, this one day trip, this one month is something that is very special to me and will always remain close to my heart.

Tuesday, 17 July 2012


Wednesday and Thursday, everyone from the ‘Deepa Academy family’ would be going out for a trip to an adventure camp located around 50 kms from Bangalore. Shruti and I are the newest members of that family.

When we first heard the news, we were anxious. Things like how the place would be, how we would be travelling, how safe would it be, were bothering us.
Then? We had the Monday class; the first class of our last week in Bangalore.

That day, they entered the class with happy faces loaded with questions for us.
After we discussed about how our weekends went by, pointing to them their improvement in English and formation of sentences, we started talking about what the girls had learnt over the past three and a half weeks which they spent with us.
They knew we were leaving soon and finally asked us, exactly when. We quietly answered with a ‘This Sunday’.
Nobody spoke.

“Akka, why do you have to go back to Delhi?”
I sat there with my head bent low, not able to give a suitable answer to that question.

“Will you be coming back next year?”
I promised myself that I would. They smiled, differently this time.

Shruti and I decided to bring up the topic of the trip to lighten the mood a little. We asked them if they knew where they were going and got answers like “climbing mountain” and “playing in river”. When we told them that we will all have fun together, they looked puzzled. One of them asked, “Akka, you are coming with us? “. I swear, I had not even completed the word “Yes” when all of them started clapping and went into an excited “Yayyyyyyy!” together. ALL of them!
Both of us were dazed.

That was something unexpected, but something which made us realize that this trip was a wonderful opportunity which we had got to spend more time with the girls.

We started talking about the things that they will be carrying along on the trip with them. The conversation steered with us asking them what chocolates they liked to eat. Each one of them mentioned their favourites and asked us about ours. We sat and discussed about other random things for a while, laughing and joking together. They told us about each other’s nick names; Chuttu and Buttu were the funniest ones!
I felt content looking at each one of them, the improvement from the starting of our internship was evident. They tried to use English sentences, even though the struggled with the formation of words, they had started trying. They talked about themselves more openly now and their shyness was slowly disappearing.

It was 5 : 23 PM when we realized that we had extended the class! But the girls didn’t get up to leave when we mentioned the time, “We don’t want to go” is what they told us!
Both of us could only smile.

We asked them if we could bring some of their favourite eatables for the trip, to which they all declined. Then all of a sudden they started talking in Kannada! Shruti and I tried to get them to talk in English, but the only part of the reply we understood was “One minute!”
Then one of the girls said nervously, “There is one thing that we want, but you will have to promise us that you will have to give us that! “
We insisted on knowing what they wanted before promising, but they wouldn’t hear of it. After Shruti and I had repeated after them “I promise I will give you what you want”, they said, “We want your mobile phone numbers”.

I’m going to miss these girls.
But as of now, there is a trip I am looking forward to!

Friday, 13 July 2012

We learn by teaching.

I can recall, my teachers saying, “It’s not just you who come here to learn, we learn new things too.” never really understanding what they meant. The fact seemed so meaningless, because at that time for us, our teachers were the ones who knew everything, how can they possibly learn something from us.

But yes, these kids made me realise the meaning of this sentence I have repeatedly heard during my schooling. Yesterday just before we were about to leave, we were waiting outside the girls’ class on the third floor at Deepa Academy to get some data for the manual on basic computers, which Jayasi and I have been working on, from the person who was in charge of computer education at the academy. Seeing no teacher in the class, I entered the class and randomly tried picking up a talk with the girls when something caught my attention. It was a Braille frame and stylus used to write in Braille. I then noticed the huge textbook written in Braille kept in front of each one of them. My curiosity about all the things that I had been observing around them pushed me to ask them to teach me how to read Braille. What followed was unexpected! They all got so bubbly and started assembling around a desk I was standing in front of. All of them started giving their inputs and started trying to explain things to Jayasi and me, telling us that first we need to learn to write then only can we learn to read. Nonetheless, they explained us what it actually is and how can we write and how is it read and before they let us go, we were told to get a pen and paper the next day so that they can help us learn the symbols used while writing in Braille.
All this while, they had sensed our feeling of the task being difficult and consoled us by saying it is very easy and they were just lazy hence they took about 2 years to learn it and we could learn with without any issue.

In the communication skills session, we had the girls talk to us about any one family member of their choice. This time, such a simple topic brought out such deep emotions expressed so simply by them. Most of them spoke about how the family members motivated them to study, encouraged each one of them to be successful and not consider them to be any less!
I salute the family members who have taken the pains to stay away from their children and send them to the city for the first step to live an independent life,to get them educated.

On the Manual front, we have completed the validation work of the content with the girls. Assembling the content, editing and formatting is what takes up most of our time now.

On noticing some girls missing from the class, we got to know that they were busy with some dance practice.  In a while we were informed about the dance routine they were working on for their audition in Chennai. On our walk back to the hostel we noticed them practicing in the lawns, which just got me all excited. It was like I just had to see them. Imagine our disappointment on seeing a lock on the park gate from the inside! We were extremely disappointed on learning about the park being locked. Pleading and requesting the gardener we managed to enter the park and silently observe the routine. It was something extraordinary. The girls were just brilliant. Our efforts to enter the park, our delay in reaching for the lunch at the hostel mess, everything had just paid off. Seeing them dance was something special, something my words fail to express.

Thursday, 12 July 2012

A Visit to the Mall

A mall, something that is so common for us, holds immense wonder, curiosity, excitement and joy for the girls at Deepa Academy! Tuesday was “Mall Day” for them as suggested by Mr Shantaram. At 11 o’ clock they all lined up outside the academy, the college-going girls holding the hands of the girls from tenth standard. As they said good bye to Mr Shantaram, he asked them if they knew where they were going. They said in unison, “Orion mall”. When he asked them what it was, they remained silent.

As we walked till the mall, which is about a kilometre and a half from the academy, we could hear the girls giggle nervously as they ignored our calls for talking in English and not in Kannada. I confess, making sure that the girls reach the mall safely got me to be at my alert best! Crossing the road was the biggest task ever; I had to stop the 2-way traffic for 10 seconds so that the girls could cross safely! That day I felt responsible in a different way! 

The security check at the entrance of the mall got the girls to be a little scared; I could see that they did not want to pass through a door which beeped as they walked through it.  Once in though, they couldn’t wait to roam around and explore a ‘huge hall with air conditioning and foreign music’. 
One of the girls with partial vision spotted the escalator and literally started jumping with excitement.  
Others were scared and in doubt, we ourselves suggested that they take the lift, but the girls wouldn't hear of it! They all wanted a go at the moving staircase! 
Their amazement and wonder was worth going up and down 6 times to get them up one by one. Senior girls also assisted in bringing a few of them. 

We walked past big brands all labelled as ‘shops for clothes’. I found myself without an answer when one of the girls asked me why there were so many shops for the same type of clothes. The concept of ‘Brand’ was alien to the little girls who were roaming in the mall in their uniforms. Their simplicity got me to smile. 

Our next stop was the food court for which we took the lift. This wasn’t as exciting as the escalators for them, but fun nevertheless! 
At the food court, after shedding a few layers of shyness, the girls finally told us what they wanted to eat. They went in for things like Chaat, Idli, Dosa, Gobi Manchurian( A favourite this side!), Chilli Chicken and Paani Puri. As they ate, they called Shruti and me to give us small bites from their plates. 
When we suggested that we should leave, they expressed that they wanted to roam around for a while, and that we did. The reactions of people in the mall left me with mixed emotions! While some looked at our group with pity, some laughed! There were some who tried to ignore us after giving a first look, but there were also some who came and congratulated Shruti and me for doing a great job!

The mall also has an adjoining open area which has an artificial lake, our next destination. The wind was perfect and the cloudy sky added on to the beautiful atmosphere which the girls had managed to create. We sat on the benches for a while and just talked about casual things. They told us that they enjoyed coming to the mall and talked about their favourite things. Something about the way they described their favourites gave me a very satisfied feeling. They were improving; they were opening up and were able to talk in full sentences now. Also, our worst fear that the girls would feel out of place at the mall, had finally gone! 

They left with bright smiles as they climbed up the stairs of the academy. We turned back with brighter ones! 

Monday, 9 July 2012

Switching Roles!

“Aka come. Aka please come, nothing will happen “was what the girls were again and again saying to Jayasi and me in order to convince us to try the different swings.
Jayasi and I had decided to take the kids to the park, right opposite Deepa Academy on Thursday. And it sure was a wonderful idea. Not only did that one hour get the girls excited and happy but also this one hour with the kids at the park that day made me look at things differently.
These girls were already so mature, such little girls understood life in a way which probably many of us take a lot of time to and maybe some of us never even do get a chance to understand the life they do, throughout our life.

As soon as we left the academy for the park, amidst the squeals and excitement I noticed that the girls with partial vision had held hands of the ones who have severe problem. They didn’t need our help. They were set to go! And this attitude could be seen even during their play time. Silently they would help them find they way, play games, get on to swings and so on.

On Friday, the morning at Deepa Academy began at a hilarious note when one of the girls forgot her password of the G-Mail account she just had created a day earlier with us, leaving all the other girls in splits, trying their hand at guesses. The rest of time was basically spent in explaining them how to use a G-Mail account and why.

Same day, during the communication skills, we had planned to introduce the girls to the idea of drama. All of them were not really open to the idea of drama and didn’t even know much about it, hence their timid behaviour at the beginning of the class could be explained. But as the time passed by and they got the hang of it they seemed to be enjoying it thoroughly. What we did was switch roles in class and did a scene of how the communication skills class is. All this was done without a prepared script to give them an introduction to this concept. We do plan to do a prepared one in the coming week. Towards the end, while enacting Jayasi and me, the girls introduced some new games they all wanted to play and carried on with several rounds of the same game. It was amazing to see how they picked up the little things we say in class like “Smile” and “No talking in Kannada”( the latter changed to “No talking in Hindi “ :P ) and said it the way we did in regular course of the class. Also very wittily in the end, the girls playing our roles made the class speak on the topic we had given them a day earlier on which they all had to speak at least four lines at the end of the class. So that day the class wasn’t ended by us, it was effectively ended with the girls playing our roles and happily so.

It was a nice day with some of the girls, otherwise silent in the class, trying and making an effort to speak seeing their friends become the teachers for the day(even if it was just a little bit, it was a start! ) I hope they enjoyed the activity as much as we did.

Friday, 6 July 2012

Play Day

At 3: 55 PM today, there were hardly any clouds in the sky and the sun was shining brightly above us. The park just had two or three people sitting in the shade of the trees while the swings were completely deserted. As we walked towards Deepa Academy, I wondered if it was a good idea to get the girls to the park today.

They were already seated when we entered the room, and surprisingly they stood up and greeted us as we came inside. We mentioned the idea of going to the park; brighter smiles and a few squeaks of excitement followed with a lot of clapping!
They held each other’s hands as we got out of the academy and walked towards the park. We could sense their impatience and excitement to reach the swings, as they started walking quickly once they were on the jogging track.
What happened after this . . .

There was laughter, and squeals of joy. They urged us to sit on the swing with them, play with them, go on the slide with them. They sat on the swings and competed on who was going higher, something that got me terribly scared. When I asked them to be careful, I got a reply saying “No worry Akka!”
We watched them play a game in which there is a “denner” who has to run and catch everyone else, who are supposed to be clapping so that the denner knows which way to run.
Watching them laugh, have fun and forget everything else in the world, made me feel nostalgic about my childhood and had me realize the joy little things can hold.

We didn’t realize when it was 5, the girls had to be dropped back at the academy for their evening prayer at 5: 30. We were pretty surprised when they themselves insisted on sitting on the benches with us and talk about their hobbies, a homework which we had given yesterday. Each one said 4-6 lines and wanted us to talk about ours. We could sense how they felt more comfortable with us; they openly asked us questions and joked about my inability to dance!

When we finally left them till the stairs of the academy, each one of them waved back with a huge smile on their faces.
Mission successful!