It was 2018, a half-day at school because of Shravani Somvar, a religious festival celebrated in Maharashtra. Around 11.30, after school got over, I had gone to the bank to open an account for one of my students, and was filling out the form when I heard someone call my name. Turning around, I saw a boy of 15 or 16. He looked familiar, but I couldn’t place him right away. ‘Sir, it’s me, Mangya,’ he said.
As soon as I heard the name, I was transported back to the tribal school in Palekhurd where I had taught till four years ago. You had to climb a steep mountainous path to reach the school. The teacher in me could not help but ask, ‘Have been going to school, Mangesh?” “Of course, sir!’ he replied. ‘I am in the 9th std now. I go to the high school in Kolad.’
I was very happy to hear that Mangesh had not dropped out of school, and to see him handling his bank errand with ease.
My mind journeyed into the past. I remembered Mangesh Jadhav and his family, from the adivasi settlement of Palekhurd in Raigad district. Around April 2011, the family had moved closer to our school campus. 7-year-old Mangesh lived with his parents and a 4-year-old brother. Most of his friends were in school. He would wait for them at the gate and, as soon as school got over, they would go off into the forest together, hunting for small birds, rabbits and wild roosters – but he never attended school. I often tried to talk to him, but he would run away every time I approached.
Gradually, I learnt about Mangesh’s family. This Katkari tribal family, like other families in their settlement, were daily wage labourers who burnt acacia to make charcoal. Every September, many adivasis migrate to nearby districts to do this work. They return only by June. Often, they take their children along, causing them to miss school.
This would happen with students in my school as well. To make them more comfortable, and to get them interested in studies, I used to talk to them in their (Katkari) language, using songs, stories and games as teaching aids.
Then in 2009, the central govt brought in a revolutionary new Act that made education compulsory and free for all children between the ages of 6 and 14. I decided to enforce this Act, and enrolled many out-of-school children from the nearby settlement in school. One of these students was Mangesh.
Till then, Mangesh spent much of his time loitering about. I used to find him waiting impatiently for his friends to finish school. I was aware that he stood by the window and tried to listen to the stories and poems taught in class. To get him interested in coming to school, I had my students come out and play in the last period. As expected, Mangesh began joining them, and gradually started talking to me. I asked him once, ‘Mangya, which school did you go to? Which standard?’ He answered in Katkari that he had never been to school. His parents went from place to place to work at charcoal-making, and he traveled with them. I realised that he was actually interested in coming to school, and so the next day I visited his hut to meet his parents.
His father was drunk and asleep. His mother said, ‘We are originally from the Pui tribal settlement but moved to Karnataka some years ago. This is why we never put Mangesh in school. Now we are going to be living here, so please enrol him in your school.’ It was already April, with the summer holidays around the corner, so I decided to let him just sit in class, and to enrol him formally from the next academic year.
On the last day of the summer holidays, I went to Mangesh’s hut and asked his mother to send him to school from the next day.
15 June 2011. The first day of the new academic year. I waited for Mangesh to arrive but he never turned up. I sent a couple of students to his house, only to be told that he had gone to the river with his family to catch fish. After school I met Mangesh’s mother once again and she must send him to school no matter what. The next morning Mangesh’s mother brought him to school, and I got him enrolled in the 2nd std. According to the register, Mangya was now officially Mangesh Jadhav.
After that, I don’t remember him missing school even for a day. He would attend every day, study, take part in all kinds of competitions and even earn medals sometimes. I was happy to see the shy and timid boy blossom into a confident and friendly young lad.
Meanwhile, his home situation hadn’t improved at all. His father’s alcoholism had worsened – he had stopped working, and used to beat his wife. Despite all this, Mangesh would collect wood from the forest, and fish whenever he could, to help his mother with money. I really appreciated his responsible behavior, and would hold him up as a good example to the other students.
I was afraid that one day Mangesh was going to get into trouble because of his father’s misbehavior, and my fears came true. His father was caught red-handed trying to steal money for drink. According to custom, the matter was discussed by the village elders and his family was banished from the village. For no fault of theirs, Mangesh, his brother and mother had to leave their home and live in a hut at the base of the hill, away from the village. There was no one else living close by, and no source of potable water.
I got to know of this when Mangesh didn’t show up in school. I was afraid that because of his alcoholic father, Mangesh would now have to leave school.
The next day, Mangesh was still absent. I was wondering what to do when one of the students came running in and said, ‘Sir, Mangesh is coming. There he is – climbing up the hill.’ I could hardly believe it, but it was true. It was not an easy climb. All the other students started clapping and dancing.
When he saw the question mark on my face, Mangesh said, ‘Sir my father stole from the village. We were thrown out, but I will come to school. I love school. It took me an hour and a half to climb the hill to get here but I am willing to do it every day.’ He pointed out his hut. It looked like a small speck from where we stood.
I advised Mangesh to get admission in the Palekhurd District Council School, as our school was too far from where he lived, but he loved his old school and was determined to attend it. For the next four months, come rain, come shine, he climbed three km uphill to reach school each day. And he cleared the 4th std exams with excellent marks.
Our school had classes only till the 4th std, so Mangesh went on to a high school in Kolad for further studies. I was transferred to Santoshnagar, but I will never forget Mangesh who, in spite of many adversities, stuck to his dream of studying. My blessings will always be with him.
Writer: Gajanan Jadhav, Associate Teacher, Santoshnagar District Council School, District Raigad
Editing and translation: samata.shiksha team