Tuesday, July 14, 2009

The Paper Girl

The second weekend of July month was really hectic at Malibari, a tiny village with five hamlets surrounding it. Malibari is less than 25 kilometers from Raiganj. But the differences are vast. There is no electricity, no road, no sanitary facilities, no internet connection, restricted cellular connectivity, and lack of access to basic amenities of life--including health and education--make it an ideal setting for any Indian cinema for shooting a film, with river Nagar adding to the music of the little cluster of villages. Malibari is also blessed with great mixture of animist tribal communities, Bengali speaking Hindu communities, Mohammedans and some converted tribal Christians. It is just two kilometers away from a larger village called Bhatol. Malibari has a little school with tin roof and partly raised open wall, placed under my guidance. Since a teacher had left couple of months ago, and that I had just taken over the school only from the first week of July, I had to identify a teacher. Now, for the starters, in these little village schools we are not looking for “teachers” who are trained in the best schools of pedagogy. That is so for three reasons : the rural setting is too alien to the urban educated teachers who love to live in comfort; there is a need for teachers who can reach out to the children and their parents on day to day basis; and, the payment for teachers is abysmally low in these rural private run schools. So, I have to find someone who has completed at least 10th grade, and can teach and understand children.

On Saturday and Sunday, besides all the other celebrations, meetings and marketing that I had to complete, I came across one girl who impressed me while choosing a teacher. We had a three member team to interview the girl who is just touching her twenties. Her name is Piyali Roy. She hails from Bhatol, and her father used to work as a cleaner of a vehicle; he gathered some money, and purchased a jeep on loan, and runs it to manage a family of five, while he continues to pay back the loan. Piyali on her part contributed to the family actively since she was seven years old. She used to be a “paper girl” in that little Bhatol which boasts of a population of about 1,500 residents. She was issuing 100 newspapers every day. That is really impressive for a village like Bhatol, because for about 300 families and 30 odd shops, that is really a good reach. So, our questions revolved around how she made a successful business? She had the mantra. Reach the paper on time! People wanted the papers at the same time each day. So, she would go around on her bicycle to reach the 100 families and shops to deliver the newspapers. Then she came out with the truth. “Since last year I have not been delivering the paper on regular basis. May be five to six times a month. My brother takes care of it.”. “Why?”, we enquired. “Because people think that I am too old to deliver papers as I am a young girl. And so they make funny comments about me from behind. So, I go to deliver the papers only when my brother has something else to do.” We insisted on enquiring further : “Do you really mind the comments?” Piyali replied, “Those damned people, I don’t give a damn! That’s why I deliver the papers even now when my brother is out, or for study. I had to stop my studies three years ago, to support my family. But I want my brother to study. I shall continue to deliver papers even if I get a job or not!”

Needless to say, Piyali got the job!

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