Recently, I paid a thousand bucks to see a play at Siri Fort, New Delhi. That’s a fair bit steeper than what Delhiites typically dole out to see their local actors give amateurish performances on the spartan sets of IHC, Kamani or Epicentre auditoria. Before you start thinking that I have won that big Sikkim State Lottery jackpot and start reaching out to me as a potential door ka rishtedaar, let me quickly scrub your hopes. No such thing has happened – I am still poor and the purse strings remain tighter than ever thanks to Mr Chidambaram. These hard earned thousand rupees were coughed up for a one-evening-only theatrical ‘event’ – a monodrama by Anupam Kher called ‘Kuch Bhi Ho Sakta Hai’. Rest assured that despite its silly title, this was not a play based on some limp horror (comedy?) film from Ram Gopal Verma’s potty. This play featured a bona fide Bollywood celebrity, one of our leading, national award winning actors doing a one-man act. How often do we get to see that in Delhi? Surely, a thousand was a small price to pay for the sake of art? What’s skipping a few square meals in order to afford that, I thought.
Anyway, this post is not really about Anupam Kher or his play. It is not even about the good folks who had organized the event. And good folks they indeed are – a leading NGO that is providing free education to children in over 150,000 schools in remote, mainly tribal areas across the country. Noble cause by any yardstick because not only are these kids being offered an education, but even their basic needs of primary healthcare, clothing and nourishment are being taken care of by these schools that are managed directly by this organization. Presumably, the charity of the well-heeled in Delhi, and the blood and sweat of the feet-on-the-ground, are allowing that little Adivasi child in Bastar to dream of a brighter future that opens up for her when she has access to language and maths. She now has books and multimedia that open her eyes to the world outside her village. She has clothing that gives her dignity and protection, medicines that keep her healthy. At some point in the future, she aspires to be the nurse who looks after you in a hospital, or your neighbourhood bank teller who greets you as she dispenses cash to you, or the driver who pilots the Metro train that takes you to your destination. And, a mother who insists on a better life for her own children and family.
No, this post is not about the hundreds of kind folks who have the wherewithal to offer assistance and do so, generating opportunities for thousands of kids who deserve and get them. This post is not about them.
This post is about the millions of others who get left behind.
This post is about a nation that dreams big and yet squanders opportunity after opportunity. It’s about the Right to Education Act that gets passed by the federal Parliament in 2009. An act that establishes India as one of the few progressive nations in the world where education to children between the ages of 6-14 is a fundamental right. A law that provides 25% reservation of seats to EWS even in private schools. One that mandates all schools to ensure the existence of a proper building, a boundary wall with gate, a toilet, and drinking water to its students, or face the risk of losing accreditation and funding. It instructs the states to provide educated educators and able administrators to make all of this happen. And yet, 3 years after the Bill was notified, only 10% of the nation’s schools conform to its mandates. This post is also about other associated policies on Human Resource Development, like the vocational schools that don’t exist. Or the grand promise of the new Akash, not the polluted blue one above our heads. Or the free laptops dispensed to children whose homes have no electricity. Not to mention usable sports equipment and training facilities, instead of the locked and rusting behemoths erected for a two-week long sporting event.
Yes, this post is about the points I have enumerated above. But, mainly, this post is about lost opportunities because we constantly attempt to beat a corroded system into place, not by robust, get-your-hands-dirty action, but by new ornamental and shallow promises.
You could say that this post is about getting what we deserve.
Oh, I know, before I close, you still want to know how the play was, don’t you? Well, here is a quick review, in that case. It featured Anupam Kher laboriously playacting the story of his own life in excruciating detail (yes, you guessed it right – the play was quite awful, pompous even). But still, a nice change from what we usually get to see in NCR. You see, what the avid theatregoer gets here is either British or American plays, and it is normal to see desi actors addressing each other as ‘Charlie’ or ‘Polly’ on stage. Never mind that in real life, the only Charlies and Pollys that we actually know are the neighbour’s raucous dog and our aunt’s graceless parrot.
Anyway, like I said, this post is not about that.
This piece has been carried in the April 8th, 2012 issue of The Education Post : www.theeducationpost.in. My thanks to Arvind Passey for making this happen. Do check out his blog at : http://passey.info/