Independence Day is a great day for stories- a day when I have heard lot of stories, right from my childhood. Sometimes it is the story of a great leader, of courage and sacrifice. Sometimes it is the story of India herself, sometimes of the constitution, sometimes it is about an unsung hero and sometimes about the flag. Today, let me share some stories of India- of the independent, elusive, struggling and resilient India – a slice of it, as a I see, experience and learn from, everyday, at work.
Vasanti walked over on Thursday, handed over her ‘work done register’, requested for salary to be processed within a week and said she will be back after 10 days. She was going on medical leave. She saved up money from her own salary to spend on a simple surgery that the doctor recommended over 2 years ago. In the past few months, she has chosen to save money towards her health expense – typically the first to get knocked off the list when expenses in family rise. “சுவர் இருந்தா தான் சித்திரம் (translating to ‘Only if there is a wall, can I draw and implying only if I am well, I can support my family’) she has stood her ground, saved money and is taking time out to get her surgery done and heal.
Vasanti, is the story of a sliver of ‘Independent’ India – one where she makes decisions, stands her ground and thinks ahead clearly, with financial independence.
Nirosha ma’am – a first generation graduate in her family accessed a smart phone for the first time a year ago. Nirosha mam has grown in comfort in accessing technology to ensure student learning, as a Head mistress. She uses her phone effectively to connect to her teacher team, parents and students, ensuring a high engagement in her school for online learning. It came as a surprise when she missed a Zoom training without any prior information. Later that evening, she called to share that the bus that she needed to take to get home never came; that she was in school until 5 PM to get the next bus and go home. There was a power cut all day and her phone switched off by noon. These challenges are real , everyday , frequent and make online teaching and learning significantly more challenging in rural India.
This is the story of “elusive” India -where we talk about higher access to technology or more telecom users etc but the challenges to really ‘accessing technology’ aren’t addressed.
“Ma’am ! There is the child whose parent walks 3 streets to a relative’s home, so the child can learn. The relative is super helpful “
“ There is this child in my class who completes a bunch of worksheets every Saturday – that is the only day his father is home and the child has access to a phone”
Stories after stories – of families struggling to keep things together, in remotest corners of this country, choosing to make time, space and means for their child to learn. Parents who take photographs, send it to teachers for corrections, who are on Zoom meetings learning to mute and unmute, so their kindergarten child can share phonics sounds and get feedback from their teachers.
That’s the story of a resilient India – one who struggles and keeps her head above it and is constantly figuring out how to make things work.
The India I see at work, is all of this, sometimes all at once. She is sometimes as quiet as children in an online class, not sure if they want to come off mute and share an answer; sometimes she is cantankerous as an online morning huddle where everyone is asking each other, “do you hear me?” ; sometimes she is busy – like a teacher running a family, working from home and checking student tasks on her phone while perfecting her fish kolambu on the stove; sometimes she is waiting, like an anxious woman awaiting an earning opportunity. What does your India look like? What is her story ?