Today was the weekly pay-day at the brick kiln. The workers had a day off. Most of the parents were planning to go to the market after collecting their pay from the brick kiln owner. When Kishor and I reached the brick kiln, there was silence all around. We couldn’t see the children anywhere. We walked a little towards the back of the brick kiln and saw Umesh and a couple of boys playing with marbles. Kishor said, “Come on, let’s start our study session.”
All of them said, “We won’t come today.”
“Why?” Kishor asked.
‘Today is pay-day, right?” They replied.
Kishor tried very hard to bring them around by telling them that I had travelled a long distance specially to work with them. Plainly, they asked, “Why did you come today?” Kishor’s efforts were in vein, and all the children continued playing and ignored us completely.
We were both a little angry and dejected after seeing this response from the children. Why did we come here all the way, leaving our regular work and comforts? Only to be asked “Why did you come today”? My ego was hurt. Kishor and I glanced at each other and gulped down our mixed emotions.
There was really no point in getting angry with the children. They had never asked us to come and teach them. It was our need! It was also pointless to expect the parents or children to inform us in advance that today was supposed to be their weekly pay-day and it would be a day off at the brick kiln. We didn’t ask, so they didn’t inform us. If we had asked, we would have saved ourselves a trip. We stood there trying to look composed, watching the children’s game.
Umesh was hitting the marbles with absolute precision. I was really impressed to see his skill. He had a small box full of marbles. I asked him, “Where did you get all these marbles from?” He said, “I won them!”
“How does one win them?” I asked.
All of them started sniggering. They were surprised that I didn’t know such a simple thing.
“You don’t know how to play?” asked Umesh.
Well. At least they were now taking an interest in what I was saying!
“ Well, I really don’t know. Will you teach me?” I asked.
“Didn’t you play with marbles as a child?” Umesh wanted to know.
I remembered my childhood. If I had even mentioned the name ‘marbles’, I would have been beaten up. All the adults around me had impressed upon me that marbles was a game ‘below our status’. They ensured that I never took any interest in it. I had totally missed this pleasure in life.
I insisted that Umesh should teach me how to play, and he agreed. All the children were highly excited by now. I didn’t have any marbles with me, so I borrowed two marbles from one of the boys and started playing. It was mutually agreed beforehand that even if I won or lost, the marbles would be returned to the original owner. They taught me a game called ‘dhusha’. They laughed heartily at my poor hits. After playing for a while, I asked them a question: Suppose, I have 14 marbles, and I want to share them equally among Amit, Umesh, Mangya and Gurya. How many marbles will each one get?
They halted their game, took 14 marbles from the box, and started dividing. It seemed that they were enjoying this new activity! Soon, I had succeeded in giving them 3-4 problems of multiplication and division. It wasn’t a wasted trip, after all!
I was rather pleased at my clever trick of converting a game of marbles into solving math problems. But the children didn’t let me enjoy my new-found happiness. The next day, the children had brought berries. Based on yesterday’s experience of creating math problems with marbles, I started giving them division problems using berries. But after dividing berries equally, one of the children happily popped a berry in his mouth. The one who had brought the berries got angry at this and punched him hard. Both Kishor and I had a tough time to stop the wild fight that ensued. The ‘clever trick’ of using berries for math problems hadn’t worked, and yesterday’s success turned into a failure today.
When we had cleared the air among the boys who were fighting, I noticed that Umesh was missing. I asked the children about him. They informed me that his family had left the brick kiln, because his father fought with the owner. No one could tell us where they had gone.
Suddenly, I felt quite depressed. Could Kishor or I really achieve anything in this highly unstable environment, by coming here to teach for a few days? Would these children – for whom we are taking all the efforts – really benefit at all? Is our work providing an answer to these children’s problems?
On our way back from the brick kiln, I asked Kishor, “Is our work really going to yield anything?”
“I don’t know. But let’s keep at it. Something may happen.” said Kishor, who has been brought up in a non-insistent culture.
Slowly, I could feel my depression fade away. A new thought emerged – our work is actually teaching us the full meaning of ‘nishkaam karmayog’ –one the central messages of the Bhagvad Geeta – to continue doing your work without expecting any rewards. Such opportunities are quite rare. I smiled at Kishor, and started planning the next day’s session with him.