Today is going to be a slightly hectic day, because tomorrow, the kids are going to have to be ready to present their tobacco avoidance presentation, and today I have to leave them for about 30 min to an hour to interview the mobile medical clinic that’ll be leaving the school at 2 or 3 pm.
In any case, things just seem to start clicking. I have them stand up and we start out with Simon says–or Didi (sister) says. The physical exertion of having to run in place for 30 seconds and shout out whether another student is really out or not is enough to calm the whole lot down a little. I try to keep in mind that I have to be the dancing monkey and the fly on the wall at the same time, all the time. Each kid has something to contribute to the class, they just need help finding it in themselves. And to bring about this awareness, I just have to make sure I don’t accidentally ignore or humiliate any of the students.
We get going on the tobacco avoidance presentation practice. It’s a little bit chaotic, as usual, but watching Jyoti and Muskan lead their peers is a joy, and seeing Arun introduce “the bidi” as a form of tobacco consumption is pure hilarity. Keeping his right eye shut, he whips out his pretend bidi, which is a rolled up piece of paper, from his left pocket and makes a long, melodramatic arc to his mouth. He bends backward until his head accidentally taps the blackboard to take a pretend puff and then doubles-over in a series of coughing fits. The whole classroom erupts with laughter.
When they’re done, I make sure I tell my kids that all my friends and their classes are jealous. I can see them recognize the element of competition, and their eyes light up with the allure of a challenge.
There’s a Christmas assembly at the end of the week, when all the classes have to sing a song of their choosing. I decide to keep it simple and go with “We Wish You A Merry Christmas.” We really get into it, by lunging into sweeping hand motions and plastering toothy smiles onto our faces. I have Devashish, who I know dreams to be a singer, come up to the front of the class to lead the practice. In the meantime, I follow Aakash, Bhudpender, Om Prakash, and Ayush out to the mobile medic van to see what a typical visit is like. While standing in line, the four of them seem to sober up a little from the elation of wishing everyone and his brother a Merry Christmas. They seem to feel that when it comes to doctors, medicines, and their health, it’s a serious matter.
The van is like one of those 8 seater dodges, with that generic trapezoidal shape. A line forms from the open van door–when the doctor inside is ready, a student enters the van, speaks to the doctor and steps out of the van. A hand reaches out of the front seat window to pass out the student’s medicine and updated medical history card, doling out rapid instructions on how to take the medicine. The students nod and hurry back to their classrooms. When Bhupender comes out, I ask him if he’d like to share how he’s feeling. Bhupender points to his eyes and forehead and temples and tells me that they’re always hurting. I ask him what the doctor gave him, and it turns out to be a large bottle of vitamins. And then, it suddenly occurs to me that Bhupender is probably myopic, which explains why he wasn’t interested in school at first–he was assigned to a spot in the back of the classroom, so he couldn’t see the board or the teacher. I make a mental note to change is seating assignment and to make sure he knows that he can come up to the board at any time to copy down notes. I wish I could bring over the autorefractor I’ve used a bajillion times at home and fit him with glasses, but I’m not sure where I can get the lenses or the frames or anything helpful. Clearly, the medical van isn’t equipped to handle this, so the doctor did what he could and gave him a bottle of vitamins.
Inside the van, it’s a pretty simple set up. There’s the back seat where an elderly lady is seated at the far corner, and in the middle is a small table, opposite which the doctor, presumably, is sitting on a seat that’s been turned to face us. I sit next to the lady and find out that she’s the program founder’s wife, and she’s been running the program ever since her husband passed away. The medic van is completely financed by her private funds. She had started out by buying a van and the necessary supplies, and partnering with local hospitals that had interns who were interested in public service. The doctor, an intern, in front of me is a calm and collected, but tired young man.
I go ahead with my awkward set of questions, but the answers are pretty simple–they do what they can. They don’t have many resources, so all they can do if they hit a big problem is refer the students to a proper clinic, but not a lot of the students can follow through and get appropriate treatment for illnesses like TB, stomach worms, etc. The medic van does give students access to vitamins, protein powders, and other supportive items, and overall, the administration can keep a tag on the ones that do show up with a real sickness. And the last point is that they were running the program for the sake of running the program and the wellbeing of the kids. They don’t seem to have egregious expectations–they just show up and do what they can.
Back in the classroom, I finish the day off with games and art. Towards the end, we come outside so that the kids can teach me how to play KoKo, which is like a weird mix of tag and musical chairs. The game breaks down after a bit, and as I play patty cake with five girls at once, children start pouring out from the dilapidated blue metal doors. Kanchan takes my hands and crosses them in front of us. As the other students clap, we spin around and around until we’re too dizzy and before I can right myself, another one is grabbing my hands–Aakash–and we too spin, tilting our faces to the whirling sky, our teeth clenched in shaky smiles.