When I first entered Makkala Jagriti I was taken aback by the courteous “Good Morning Aunty” accompanied by a salute that the children greeted me with. (Partially because I am unused to being called ‘Aunty’ and am definitely not salute worthy material but mainly because I had not expected the children to be so forth coming or to be able to speak any English) Over the months I came to look forward to our salutes (coupled with hellos and goodbyes) as a sort of ritual and miss them when occasionally forgotten.
Language is the hardest barrier to overcome and yet despite that we get through with sheer determination and lots of dramatics. I suspect that the children take great delight in trying to engage me in conversation just so that they might laugh at my comical facial expressions as I muddle through. For my part I am content to watch them (mainly Thirummalash, Gopi and Ramadevi) intently arguing over what I might or might not have so painstakingly explained to them. To an outsider, I am sure, the sight of us sitting side by side, conversing, I speaking English, the children speaking Telugu, neither fully understanding, if understanding at all, would seem incredulous but to us it was another reason to laugh and get to know each other. Suffice to say, although we never fully conquered our language discrepancies, I learnt a few Telugu words and, more significantly, the children are able to speak a few English words as well. I felt the greatest sense of self accomplishment when the children started using the word ‘thanks’ a few days after I had started at the centre.
I don’t think I will ever fully understood the struggles that the children go through daily but I am always overwhelmed when they (Triveni and Sirloin in particular) give me a random hug or take my arm and put it around their shoulders (Ravi was always a guarantee for the latter) The occasional squabble over who gets to hold my hand (the primary culprits being Ravi, Sudhakar and Gopi) or who gets to sit next to me, albeit undesirable, is enough to touch me in a significant way. I love that the youngest children (like baby Venkatesh) have come to recognize me and are comfortable enough to play peek-a-boo and other such games with me. Whenever we start an activity sitting in a circle, whilst singing songs or reading a story, the children will invariably end up so close to me that I have to stick my head out the top like a breathless fish just to get some oxygen! It is inevitable, therefore, especially during yoga time, to stick out a limb and knock someone over!
Dancing sessions are by far the most entertaining activity we engage in. Watching them jauntily fling their hands and legs about in raptures of delight is always amusing! The variety of moves that they conjure up together (Ramadevi, Triveni and Thirupathamma will twirl around my fingers for 10 minutes straight before falling to the floor like drunken sailors in an uncontrollable fit of giggles) and the state the room is reduced to 5 minutes into the activity, will not seem out of place in a circus! Having said that, however, there are some children (like Ramadevi) who have a true desire and flair for dance and I soon learnt to identify the likes and dislikes of each child (chiefly because they aren’t afraid to share their opinions on everything) One is quick to realize that they are all intelligent or talented. Some prefer to study with their books (like Thirupathamma) whilst others are more inclined to sport and games (like Gopi and Venkatesh) They love action songs, the Hokey Pokey and 5 little monkeys are their favorites, so much so that we have sung them enough times to be able to perform them in our sleep!
I don’t know how much they may have learnt from me but from them I have gained a lot. I have learnt patience, the children are not very disciplined, commanding their attention is no mean feat and they don’t always know when to draw the limit with their mischief but luckily incidents are few in coming and more often than not the children are obedient. In these 3 months I have learnt that happiness is to be tugged and pulled at from every direction, to not know what both my hands are doing at any same instance, to be spoken to and not understand and to speak and know that I am not understood. I delight in their smiles and hurt at their tears. Words cannot do justice to the fulfillment and sheer joy that I have profited from this experience.
Lastly the teachers, Selvi, Sarla, Shobha and all the others I haven’t had the opportunity to get to know better….Not only am I eternally grateful for all their help (and motherly advice and administrations) but I will also grieve for the absence of weekly comical conversations in my life. They are without doubt some of the most dedicated, enthusiastic and fun-loving teachers I have ever come across!
I wish them all the best in the future. I will sorely miss everybody at Makkala Jagriti for they will always hold a special place in my heart.