My journey as a Gandhi Fellow The story so far

Ialways knew that I wanted to do something different with my life. I never wanted a normal 9 to 5 corporate job. So when I came across this Fellowship, I jumped at the opportunity. Filled up an elaborate form (about ten to twelve pages long), took part in an even more elaborate selection process spanning three days and then finally got selected as a Gandhi Fellow.

So who is a Gandhi Fellow? What I gathered from the people I met during the selection process and the various articles I read, was that I was going to be part of a dashing youth brigade which has chosen the path less travelled and come to rescue failing government schools and educate Headmasters on how to change their schools for the better. So I packed my bags and with romance in my eyes and courage in my heart set forth for small town Jhunjhunu, far from the hustle and bustle of Kolkata.

However, now one month old in this organization and having met my colleagues and the wonderful Headmasters, my view has changed completely. The Headmasters (HMs) that I have interacted with are highly motivated people who are struggling to make their schools a fun environment for children to proactively learn and become good human beings. They take classes, have fun with the children, sing bal-geets to them, tell stories and also teach them valuable lessons through fun activities.

I began to ask myself a lot of questions. What is a Gandhi Fellow’s role? What can we, fresh out of college, with no rural exposure or teaching experience whatsoever, teach these highly experienced and motivated people about working for change? The answer is – We watch them, work with them, learn from them, and change ourselves in the process. That is what this Fellowship is all about. In the process, we try to put our heads together and think of ways to make the classroom more interesting for them.

What is this Fellowship all about? Why is it called Gandhi Fellowship? Does it adhere to everything Gandhi has said? Gandhi said “Be the change that you wish to see in the world“. It is very easy to sit in the confines of one’s drawing room and discuss what is wrong with the world today. But the truth is that the world will only change when we ourselves take the initiative to change whatever we think is wrong, instead of expecting others to do it for us.

And what was wrong with me? Why did I come here? I was born and brought up in Kolkata in a very sheltered atmosphere and wanted to see for myself what I could do if I was taken away from my comfort zone. For me, it was to change myself as a person, and become a self dependent and complete individual with a better idea of the real India.

And boy, have I learnt! My journey so far has been nothing less than spectacular and in one month I have changed in more ways than I could ever fathom.

I reached Jhunjhunu on 3rd July 2010 with 6 other compatriots from West Bengal. We were put up in a house called ‘laal kothi’, and true to its name, it had red walls. 29 of us were going to stay there together, 6 in one room. There were gaddas on the floor, and no place at all to keep my two huge suitcases, plus the others’ luggage. There was one common bathroom for the 13 girls on the floor. It was covered with mud and sand and the water from the tap (when available) was also sandy. My room had green walls and the ceiling had a tiranga design. There was one dim bulb to light the entire room, and a barely moving fan overhead. I was aghast. From my clean, spacious, air conditioned room at home to this, and in that heat!! I had expected to be put up in a room with only one roommate, with a bed and a cupboard, and at least a cooler to ward off the unbearable heat. I knew I would be working in unhygienic conditions, so I was also armed with seven bottles of hand sanitizer. The first time I took it out in public, before dinner, I was tagged with the title of ‘hygiene’. And that has remained my name till date.

The first two days were unbearable. I was tired, homesick, sad and miserable. But soon, everything around me changed. Our induction process started, and with that we got to know our Fellow colleagues. During the day, from 10 am to 8 pm we learnt more about Kaivalya and the work it does. Post 8 pm, was our personal interaction with the 28 other Fellows which continued well into the night. The venue was the terrace of Laal Kothiwhere we sang and talked till the early hours of the morning. I got to know the other Fellows – they were from all walks of life and with one similar goal… to be the change they want in the world. In a few days, we had become family. And now we do everything together. Work, eat, do dishes, clean and sleep. I have never enjoyed myself more.

And now to my work. We’ve relocated to Gudha, a small place in Udaipurwati Zilla, around 35 kms from Jhunjhunu, for our Learning Quality Induction. My school is in a village called Todi, roughly 1.5 kms from Gudha. It’s a beautiful place, surrounded by hills of the Aravalli range, with peacocks everywhere to keep us company. I walk to school every day at 7 in the morning. The children are amazing. We handle classes 2 and 3 and boy, are they little! They don’t know any Math and we are supposed to teach them. And to make matters worse they only speak Marwari. Imagine my plight; I can’t even speak Hindi properly! My first day in school I couldn’t understand a word they were saying and neither could they follow me. Initially they were quiet, but in a few days, they started showing their true colours, running around everywhere, hanging from the parapet scaring me to death, dropping fake lizards in my lap and tearing two of my favourite kurtas by pulling them too hard.

The satisfaction I get from teaching these kids even something as simple as numbers from 1 to 20 is immense. Even getting them to sit in one place and listen to me for half an hour is an achievement. My day is made when they greet me every morning with “medamji, namaste.. ladoo bare saste” and a mock salute, or when they almost detach my arm by pulling it too hard to make me come to their class-room. My Learning Quality month is almost over now, and I can proudly say that we understand each other, even though I still don’t know a word of Marwari.

After all this, I can say that as a person I have changed completely in this last month. God only knows how much better a person I can become in two years. I no longer have my hygiene quirks, and I simply love where I’m living now. 7 of us together sharing a bathroom, our chores, and our work. We are having the time of our lives, and all thanks to this Fellowship.

I am a proud Gandhi Fellow.

P.S.: A word of caution to all my non-vegetarian friends out there… come here only if you are confident that you can live on dal and rice everyday and an occasional sabzi. And for all my Fellow Bengalis who cannot live without their daily dose of non-vegetarian food… what doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger. Here I am, a living, breathing example!

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