As I make my way past the narrow streets , skipping , hopping and in the process , driving away scores of flies hovering above feces lying on the footpath , I think to myself , how did it all come to this ?
Just minutes - literally minutes - less than 10 , or if you would like to gauge it in distance , hardly half a kilometer away lies one of the prime examples of urban development in any city .
|The skyscrapers are in stark contrast to the shanty streets|
just minutes away.
Over here however , in what is without a shadow of any doubt one of the most ugliest places - better still than so many others - to live in , it's an entirely different story . The very meaning of life seems to differ vastly . It's totally surreal to imagine of such vastly different faces to a city . A city that is considered one among the best and promises to leave behind many in it's trails . It is hard to comprehend that people call this place their home .
As soon as you enter these streets , you too are gripped by an inexplicable fear , especially if you are someone not affluent with Marathi and are brave enough to carry a wallet and a laptop in your backpack . Suddenly , all eyes seem to focus on you , as you move in , the streets get narrower and narrower . The accent used is synonymous to that used by hooligans , you wonder what you may encounter here . The uncertainty is enough to drive into phobia .
To live in these habitats , is by no means a piece of cake . There is the constant fear of something going wrong . Children here play on the roads and footpaths , the same area also functions as their lavatories . Women here seem to lead a miserable life , not knowing what their better half – often the sole earner of the family - is upto . Will he return for the night ? Will they manage the next week ? . However , there is no doubt that even these streets have gone substantial changes – changes for the good . But when the comparison is relative , they take a battering !
On one corner of the street , I see two drunken men fighting for some silly cause and I realize that I've to cross them in order to reach the destination . I walk as casually as possible , dripping sweat in the process , and as I near them , one of them starts running towards me ! My fears come true , thankfully , he asks me to hold his sweater , while he takes care of his counterpart . I somehow manage to escape the ordeal and make it to my destination – Hutatma Rajguru School and College .
|I had an unrestricted entry to the school|
As soon as I enter inside , or even before I enter , what strikes me is the ease with which I was able to break in . I for one , have never managed to enter even my own house with such ease . You will always find someone overlooking the proceedings. The security is non-existent , I see a sight which I once used to part of . Children running and screaming and playing in the open field . I never , not even in my wildest dreams , imagined that this sight would make me Nostalgic . As I came to terms with the reality that my childhood was well and truly over , I look beyond the playground and see a sight that gives me shivers – a shiver down my spine . Where the playground ends , starts a huge cliff , where , in my childhood days , had heard stories of how Leopards would stoop down and hunt both humans and livestock alike and here were the children playing carelessly . They were in their own world .It would need nothing short of a miracle to change this place , to bring it to level grounds with the city .
|Shirish and Raju do the talking.|
Enter three fine gentlemen - Praveen A , a software engineer and a graduate from the prestigious NIT Calicut and hailing from Pallakad , Kerala . Shirish Agarwal , working actively in the FOSS and Pune Linux User Groups and finally Raju Vindane , a local of Nagpur , currently pursuing his engineering degree in a college in the city . These geeks , if you will , have been doing their bit in helping the people of the slums realize their dreams . They are tackling one of the main problems in our county head on – education or the lack of it . The children here can't afford quality education due to numerous reasons . The women here are expected to the household work and nothing else . But all of that could change , thanks to this wonderful initiative .
|Praveen keeps a watchful eye over the proceedings.|
Well , all of this doesn't answer one question , not yet . What the hell am I doing in the middle of all this ?? . Well , without going into the details , I was being mentored by Praveen in my maiden opensource project . In the process , I got acquainted to Shirish , Raju and others . So , when myself and Praveen were conversing on the phone , he invited me to join them in this cause . Though I was a bit skeptic , I decided to give it a go and here I was trying to find my footing in the middle of all the hurly-burly ! I hope that answers the question .
Now , as we made our way in to the school and into the principal's office for a perfunctory meet , on our way , the excitement of the students on seeing their heroes was palpable . Now I too was living it and loving it . It was my first visit to a classroom in a school , since I last passed out of my school (Which was one tenth of a decade ago !) . We were told that we could use the e-learning class . Wow ! That sounds cool , I wasn't expecting such a setting in this school and it came in as a pleasant surprise , but soon all the initial excitement was put to bed when I came to know that the “e-learning classroom” didn't even have a projector screen but at least they had a working projector(The only reason why it must be working is because it stays away from the student's reach).
|The guys poke fun at the state of the equipment|
I then connected Raju's net-book to the projector and we were off and running . Raju was in charge of the class as he captured the attention of the students with his friendly and calm approach . Most importantly however , he was the one who could best communicate in Marathi . That made the student's feel a lot better and for the next hour they were shown a wonderful cartoon . They enjoyed every bit of it .
|The Cartoon that went something like "The Big Buck Bunny"|
Raju then emphasized the importance of computer to these students by citing their most favorite example – the cartoon ofcourse . While Raju went further , he was assisted by Sirish from time to time and myself and Praveen took turns to demonstrate Raju's commands . Throughout the hour students kept peeking in with curiosity and showed their interest in learning . An introduction to typing was also given , even I learnt something new , as I tried my luck in typing Marathi .
Raju then tried to stretch their imagination to the next level as he showed them the various planets of the solar system and the students watched in awe . Raju put some of his knowledge gained during his visits to GMRT to good use as he stated a few interesting facts about different celestial bodies . In the end , it all bodes well for the future of these young minds and in turn the future of our country . Such activities should be promoted and supported , just as these people have no need as such to do all this . It has to come from within . Read how it all started .
|Raju shows the students the world map and the solar system|
We were teaching a class of VIIIth grade girls . The session for boys was to follow which would then be followed by a session to empower women at the Shramik Mahila Morcha office. Here women were taught the basics of computers and how it could come to their aid . The Women even had the chance to work with Raspberry Pi's . This also takes care of another important topic , not just limited to our country - Women Empowerment .
Unfortunately , I couldn't stay back for the next two sessions and had to bid adieu to my inspirational friends and left them to continue this Noble Gesture ...