Building a school for girls in a village is a cause many cherish and laud but very few take the initiative to turn it into reality. AK Nanda recalls an inspiring memory of a struggle of a rustic, illiterate farmer to build a girl’s school.
It was a humble rustic farmer, illiterate and unassuming, who came from his village one fine day to meet my friend Lila, a teacher in South Calcutta’s South Suburban School. Reason? He had a dream to build a girl’s school in his remote village which did not have any schools for girls for miles around.
For this mission, he was ready to give away his land and savings. The seniors of his village had rallied together to help him realise his dream. However, the farmer wanted the school to be recognised by the government and that it should receive grants to help in its operations and development until the school becomes self-sufficient. For the school to be ‘government-recognised’ it had to fulfill certain formalities, paperwork, etc., and the founders needed to show that the school is operational and has a headmistress and teachers. It was the early 1960s, and things were much simpler.
The farmer had applied for grant from the government and was waiting for it to come through. But the paperwork had to be completed before the government inspection. And most importantly, a headmistress was required and she had to be present during the inspection and sign the formal documents.
After a great deal of effort, they got a recommendation from a senior educationist who suggested Lila’s name. The farmer with a few seniors from the village approached Lila with the request to be headmistress. While Lila agreed, her family did not approve of her going alone to a remote village. Her father, (a renowned civil lawyer of Calcutta) insisted that if I go with her, he had no objection to her taking up this noble cause.
On the scheduled day, we reached the village early in the morning by bus. I cannot explain in words the warm hospitality and gratitude extended towards me by the villagers! They somehow got this idea that had I not accompanied her, Lila would not have been able to respond to their request. They treated me to great honour, the choicest food (I was told that fresh fish had been caught from the village pond and cooked with great finesse especially for us) and bent over backwards to make sure that I was comfortable. I had just taken with me a book of poetry to spend my time but I didn’t even need that as I was so busy being comfortable!
In the meantime as the day progressed, the paperwork was completed and the inspection was carried out to the satisfaction of all the organisers. They saw us off to the bus and we came back with deep feeling of contentment at having been able to complete the mission successfully.
In some weeks the school received government recognition and the grant. The team again landed up at Lila’s house, this time with sweets and her salary! Needless to say, Lila was overwhelmed and officially received the money and promptly donated the entire amount to the school.
Life is beautiful. But it is uncertain and transitory. What matters most is not its length but how life is lived. The quality of life is eventually determined by its activities. I still wonder what was that inner light in that illiterate farmer, which drove him to gleefully give away a major part of his land and money for building a school for girls in his village and move heaven and earth for setting it in operation. Even educated people with a lot of resources will perhaps not even think of doing something like this. It’s a cause many cherish and laud and yet few take the initiative to put into practice as cheerfully as he did. And silently. Ordinary people with extraordinary missions make a quiet difference to this world, most of which remains unsung.
When inner darkness is dispelled,
we find life fundamentally is without beginning or end.
To be enlightened is to uncover and bring out the original life just as it is.
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