I walk in on the last day feeling peculiarly hollow. It could be the lung I hacked up the night before, but it’s probably more likely the piece of my heart that preparing itself to settle down at Nai Disha.
In the morning, I spend a good deal of time writing out honor roll certificates for each of my kids. I didn’t buy them chocolates or Christmas stockings, and now I’m thinking that might have been the better option for fifth graders. It’s too late though, and I can’t back down, so, I fill in the last certificate and make my way to the cars. On my way, Mohammed Sain rushes over and hands me a box of sweets — it’s from his family. I’m not sure how much the sweets must have cost his family–when my parents were little, sugar was rationed to everybody and I’m not sure if that’s still true– but I’m grateful and give him a big hug.
At the school, the kids already know that I’m leaving. A few of them clamber up to me to give me personal cards they’d made for me at home–there’s Muskan’s flower and Aakash’s dried roses and glitter. They’re incredible.
They tell me they’ll miss me, but what they can’t express is worse–you’re leaving us, just like everyone else has.
Even though there isn’t much I can promise them, I know I can’t leave them without some sort hope. So, I start with a story.
There was a little boy. He lived with his five brothers and four sisters and mom and dad in a small one or two room house, somewhere in the bustling center of Jamshedpur. Day in and day out, his dad worked in the blast furnaces of steel factory. There wasn’t a lot, but the children were sharp. With whatever they had, the little boy made it to school for a few years, until it became too much for the family and he was forced to drop out. But he liked school so much, he beseeched his friends to lend him their books at night, and under the nearby street lamp he buried himself into the lessons. Two of his sisters noticed and begged to be included, and after some convincing, the brother gave in and began to teach his younger sisters. They worked as a unit, teaching each other and themselves, until they sneaked their way into sitting for the national medical and engineering school entrance exams. All three received high ranks and distinction–the brother joined the Indian Institute of Technology (the MIT of India) and later medical school and both sisters joined medical school. After completing their training with honors, they made their way to the states with the help of their siblings, married and had their own sons and daughters. But the three siblings were proud to share their stories, and one day, the brother’s daughter, inspired, journeyed to India, to Nai Disha, to present herself as proof that just like her father did, any of her students could achieve their dreams with a little patience, focus, and hard work.