This morning, from the Warzone Mumbai, that screened on the news channel, I went to school, where it was business as usual, being in a sense, far removed from the happenings in Mumbai. At assembly, the news was read out by Niranjana, and she shared the latest happenings, in numbers and quotes from newspapers and news channels. I was glad she did. I hoped that a sombre mood would prevail, and hoped for the seriousness of it all to sink in, in the minds of the children.
But children will be children, right? My class, the sixth, were busy with the cleanliness campaign, having newly discovered the value of dignity of labour. We had a session yesterday, where I shared some of my own school day tasks. I take heart. Something has transferred itself to them. So I share what I saw just before I left for school. And I ask them, is there anything we can do? Re-phrased. What can we do?
Silence for a while. A young boy pipes up, “Shoot the terrorists.” So we discuss this, and we realize that this is happening. But isn’t that something an elder person would do? What can you do? Re-phrased. What can we here, do? “Pray” came a quiet voice. A young girl. Suddenly, I realized I had been rather insensitive.
Quickly I asked them, do you have anybody in Mumbai? Are they safe? Some nodded. The same young girl looked a little worried. Anna, I asked, anyone there? Yes, teacher, she said. And are they safe? Yes, but they live very close, in Colaba. Hmmm… so did you all speak to them. The response was affirmative. But the atmosphere in the class changed. They empathized with her. At the end of the period, I noticed how some children went across to her to quietly ask her things and speak to her.
In the eighth and ninth standards, the responses were more vocal. Condemning the news channels, especially those taking mileage out of the happenings, and yet sharing all that they knew of what they had seen, they were still not able to go beyond, “Shoot them all”, when it came to what we could do. Treat each other better? I asked. Smiles. No, I insisted, begin there, and see how it ripples out. What if something like this happened again, and to someone who we knew, us, also? Can we make a difference I asked? Usure looks again, but some more positive nods. The how of it, well, they still had to define for themselves. So I spoke of that wonderful story of the man on the beach throwing the gasping starfish back in the sea. It is one of the most inspiring stories I have ever heard. The bell rang, as I wound up. I simply told them how it made a difference to that one starfish, thrown back to life. Could we not in some way internalize that??
Why am I telling the children this, I wondered? But then, there is no one else who would understand it so well, and no one else I would trust to change and make that difference.
And that is why I still hope.