I waited eagery for noon. Jasodha came back from the factory morning. At 11 am, she was still sleeping, oblivious to the flies that obnoxiously buzzed around her. With a letter chart, a box of chalk, and a few slates in hand I walked downstairs, not-so-prepared for my first village teaching experience. Jasodha was sitting by herself. She smiled.
In the next ten minutes, three more girls joined us. Chandi and Bali who lived next door and Leela. We got through half the vowels in the Hindi language. We spoke it, wrote it, recalled each letter, and wrote some more. Soon, a group of young kids gathered around. I sternly shooed them to the side. "If you stay quiet, you can stay." These 6-7 year olds were just back from school. Eager to display their knowledge, a few pointed to the answers when I asked the girls to identify certain letters. Noon was not a good time to hold these classes. Tomorrow, we would begin an hour earlier.
As sooon as the afternoon class ended we prepared for lunch. After three days of hard, too crispy roties I modified by culinary experiment. A constant, high flame usually resulted in the flour cooking rapidly. The solution? Removing the pan from the stove every once in a while. The result? Soft, lightly browned chapattis. Success never tasted so good, especially with Nikhil's okra-tomato-onion sabji.
We still had one more thing to look forward to - the literacy classes for women at 6 pm. At 5:30 therer was no sign of Shantaji. She showed up soon enough, putting my worries to rest. We went to Ratni's home and set up the numbers and alphabet chart. Shantaji wanted to start the classes with a prayer and teeka ceremony so I mixed some red kum kum in water. It was 6 pm. We were ready.
Time passed slowly.No one showed up. After half an hour we had a group of kids in the courtyard, but no women, except for Ratni. This was a disappointment. We sent some of the kids to call the women. At 6:45, more kids, but still no women. Ratni made chai. Her husband, Suresh, was certain no one would come. "They are making dinner." The sun was setting quickly. So much for having class in the day-time.
At 7:05 our first student arrived. Soon, a few more trickeld in. I passed out slates and chalk to the five students, and Shantaji began her prayer She called, they responded. Another woman joined us. By the time class began it was dark. Suresh turned on the courtyard light.
They drew horizontal lines on their slates. Shantaji wrote 'Ram'. They copied. A few loitering kids tried ot write for their mothers. They were reprimanded soon enough. Hesitant hands, chalk pressed so firmly it broke. Like a child learning how to walk, these women were also taking their first steps.
At 8 pm the women went back to their homes and we headed toward ours. In the pitch-blackness I wondered if I was disappointed. Yes, I was. More than fifteen women had expressed interest. Five showed up. It wasn't enough for me. A weak start, but a beginning nonetheless. In the hour we waited I was ready for a class of one, just Ratni. Promises don't mean much for these women. Neither does punctuality. 6 pm means when dinner is ready. Literacy just isn't on their list of priorities. Not yet. That's where we come in.