At the end of the day, I got my head in my hands and my halo at my feet.

Thanks to my uncle, my posts have been seeing the light of Facebook, and that’s brought me many words of encouragement now that I’ve begun the Teach for India Fellowship. Thank you so very much, everyone. And then there’s also been considerable praise that I feel very undeserving of. The Sara on Facebook seems to be developing a halo the same week that I’m seeing myself fail to be the teacher I want to be. In my 8 days of being in the classroom, I’ve gone from being kind and friendly as a teacher, to tired and weary, to frustrated and livid. This post is the first of many that’ll chronicle my journey as a teacher, and 2 years from now, I fervently hope it tells the story of how I grew to be the teacher my students need. 

As a Teach for India Fellow, I teach Grade 8 at Ja’fari English High School in Shivajinagar, Govandi.

After school, when I get off the autorickshaw and walk home, I feel like an abused slum-dweller- I’m sweaty, I feel contaminated by the germs that have gotten on me from my slum-dwelling students (yes, I’m not so MotherTeresa-ey yet), my hair, skin and clothes are covered in chalk-dust, the Mumbai sun continues to beat on me, I’m OVERWHELMED by all that happened in my classrooms, and by the enormity of the task before me, and I also wonder how much of a difference I’m capable of making.

All I want is to get home, take a shower, curl up and shovel in comfort food. And just as I wonder how idiotic this must seem to those who told me not to choose this life, I realise that at the end of this day at school, I am overwhelmed, yes, but not unhappy or dissatisfied – 2 feelings that were constant companions in the 2 years I spent as a IT cubicle-dweller. Right now, this is the job I choose to have.

Every classroom I enter makes me feel like I walked in on a perfect re-enactment of the civil unrest in Syria. It’s been almost 2 weeks now, and I feel completely unravelled. My week ended with me going ballistic on my seemingly incorrigible students, stomping out of the class and into the staff room. I walked past my co-fellows, plonked myself down on a bench,  flung my chalk at the floor and blurted, ‘This is a MADHOUSE.”

– so flustered, so overwhelmed.I know calling my school a madhouse sounds mean, but the level of frustration those crazy disruptive students can take me to? oh.my.God, help me PLEASE.

Oh, and my empathetic and amused co-fellows let me know that my reaction was justified, an indication that I’ve been properly initiated into Ja’fari English High School. :/ Even the one veteran staff-member of the school that overheard me beamed a very understanding smile at me.

 

So, a little background about the students, their community and this place I teach in-

The students come from a predominantly Muslim community in Shivajinagar, Govandi. This community is rife with violence, and so it isn’t surprising to find children resort to violence to settle their adolescent tiffs. There are some graphic details I’m not yet certain of, but you can be sure I’ll write about it when I do know more.

This community is just one among many in the Shivajinagar area. I hear this slum area has a population of 8 lakh people. My 2 flatmates teach in schools that cater to other communities of this area.  From them, I’ve heard of so many instances of deviant behaviour that I haven’t seen in my students..at least not yet :/

And finally- the landmark of my school- the Deonar dumping ground. The Deonar dumping ground is to Shivajinagar what the Eiffel tower is to Paris.

MOUNT DUMPMORE – Typically, landfills reach maximum capacity in about 30 years before they are closed. However, the Deonar Dumping ground, 87 years later, is still getting dumped on. Seriously, what the hell??

 

More than 35 m high, it snuggles up close to my school and the residences of my students. This dump is the oldest dumping ground of Mumbai, opened in 1927. I’ve been reading about it the past couple of days, and I’m shocked by the indifference of the government, and sickened, SO sickened, by the complete lack of hygiene in the area. It causes so many illnesses just because of the filth. Then there are toxic emissions that cause respiratory illnesses and even cancer :/ I’m aware of 2 of my students who have parents suffering from cancer, and I’m quite ready to blame it on that humungous dump.

 

So, that’s most of all I know after my first 2 weeks of teaching in my school. I have SO MUCH more to learn- about being a good teacher, about my students, their community, my school, and Mumbai too. But for now, I have to find someone to correctly translate what I want to tell my students’ parents at the PTA meet in school tomorrow. My Hindi serves to entertain more than communicate at this point. :/

 

 

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Two roads diverged in a wood..

..and I,
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference. 

~”The Road Not Taken” by Robert Frost 

Today’s Daily Prompt is about Taking Chances.

Until this year, I’d have a hard time picking a significant instance of taking a chance on something, but this year, for me, is the year of taking chances.

I go from being an engineer to a school teacher, with my career after 2 years still unplanned. 

I move from comfy, good-weather Bangalore where family is, to Mumbai which has been presented to me as a stinky, crowded, dengue-ridden, flood-prone city. 🙂  But the nay-sayers haven’t managed to deter me. No. I’m pushing on – excited and happy (and maybe a little bit naive). I chose Mumbai, I chose my adventure. I’m pretty sure I won’t regret it. You know why? Cos I’ve heard more ÏloveMumbai than Ilove<insert any other Indian city>. I’m going to take them Mumbai-lovers at their word and discover it for myself.

I’m stalling marriage. No, I don’t have a guy down on one knee asking me for my hand..Oh wait. I have about 6 in line right now..on a matrimonial site. 

The reason why I put that under ‘taking chances’ is because that’s what it’s seen as by the traditionalists in my Indian family. I’m 24- the age at which there’s a very high demand for girls like me. The older I get, the demand goes down in the marriage market. I know. I sound like a commodity. This has both made my stomach turn. and made me laugh. Don’t get me wrong, my parents don’t see me as commodity..but those are the rules of the arranged marriage game. Your daughter has the best chances of winning herself a prize-groom if she (or rather- her parents) plays her hand in her early 20s. 

It’s no surprise that I love some dialogues in the Pixar movie Brave. For those who aren’t familiar with the story line- the film tells the story of a princess named Merida who, determined to make her own way in life, defies an age-old custom, causing chaos in the kingdom by expressing the desire to not be betrothed.

The headstrong daughter  ©Disney/Pixar. All Rights Reserved.

The headstrong daughter
©Disney/Pixar. All Rights Reserved.

This dialogue between Merida and her mum, Queen Elinor, is a pretty accurate reflection of what it’s like to be me right now.

Princess Merida: I don’t want my life to be over. I want my freedom!
Queen Elinor: But are you willing to pay the price your freedom will cost?
Princess Merida: I’m not doing any of this to hurt you!
Queen Elinor: If you could just try to see what I do, I do out of love.
Princess Merida: But it’s my life! I’m just not ready!

The anxious parents ©Disney/Pixar. All Rights Reserved.

The anxious parents
©Disney/Pixar. All Rights Reserved.

And this is the part that made me  happy cos I was imagining my parents saying this to me. 🙂 

Princess Merida: And so, there is the matter of my betrothal. I decided to do what’s right, and…
[as she looks around the room she notices her mother in the background trying to stop her]
Princess Merida: : And…and break tradition.
[she looks over at her mother who is miming what Merida should say]
Princess Merida: : My mother, the queen, feels…uh, in her heart, that I…that we be free to…write our own story. Follow our hearts, and find love in our time

🙂

And I end this post with Princess Merida’s closing narration:

“There are those who say fate is something beyond our command, that destiny is not our own, but I know better. Our fate lives within us, you only have to be brave enough to see it.”