It’s been a month of my Saturday visits to the school but children across classes are unhappy that I don’t go there every day. Most of them remember to confirm if I had lunch and ask if there is any chance of my being there during the week. I was glad to see that the knowledge hungry and uninhibited Divya, the mischievous and sharp Monika (both in class V) and inquisitive Dhanalakshmi (from class IV) who usually skip their Saturday meal were actually eating there.
Sudharshan and Surya took the Young World editions from me while I went looking for Michael. He was sitting quietly in his classroom and after a lot of coaxing, revealed that he was unwell. Murty and Latha who were taking notes from the blackboard added that he’d been lying down without eating anything. We tried telling him to eat and/or leave, but in vain. I returned with Venkatesh to find Sudharshan gleefully showing his name in the newspaper to his friends. As Surya tried to tell him that it was his namesake, I pointed out that it’s actually part of a school’s name. As I passed the paper around to Suhasini, Venkatesh, Sandeep and Surekha (class VI), only the last one identified Barack Obama and his family as she hd seen their pictures in church and on the telly. While some of them mistook a picture of a missile for a rocket, Suhasini insisted it wasn’t a spacecraft although she couldn’t recall what it was. Finally, Venkatesh exclaimed, "Atom bomb, miss!" Another said, "In Hyderabad." Are they aware of the DRDO connection – I need to find out! When I asked Suhasini how she knew what it was, she replied, "I’ve seen them in the Telugu newspaper at home!" She added, "Bombs are harmful and destructive." Sometimes it’s amazing to note how much they learn from the media.
Sudharshan spotted a picture of a naval tanker and asked, "Is this the Titanic? In the movie that I saw on TV, it sank." As he, Venkatesh and Surya accompanied me outside, they didn’t easily believe when I mentioned that it was real and that the ship went down in 1912. They assumed that it happened in 2008, probably because that’s when they saw it on TV. When I kept reiterating when it happened, Surya slowly said, "That’s 97 years ago." We sat along the wall of the park nearby continuing to discuss ships and helicopters. When they started wondering if ships were faster than trains or planes, I told them to reason out. "Their size, the wind, waves and icebergs or huge fish would actually slow them down and also make sailing difficult and dangerous," they said. "Ships can transport oil, people, weapons and any other goods," I added. "Pirates have been attacking ships lately! They loot and sometimes kill or take passengers hostage," Sudharshan observed. "Helicopters are noisy and small while planes are large and silent," Venkatesh butted in. Surya added, "Planes can carry more than 100 people while a helicopter can accommodate only 2."
The topic of computers led to Sandeep and his hyperactivity. When I asked if he had run off to play, Sudharshan said, "He sometimes participates in funeral processions as a drummer, et cetera to supplement the household income. He lives with his extended family where most men drink. His father doesn’t drink but is unable to make ends meet. Arjun does it too." Somehow, I couldn’t help correlating this to their troublesome behaviour.
Sudharshan suddenly started yelling, "Appu, Appu". While we were talking, he noticed that their friend and Surya’s cousin, Vinod (from class VI) was leaving the school. When I asked Sudharshan why he had called out to Vinod, he replied instantly, "Isn’t it sad that he’s going home all alone? How can we let him?" I was touched but couldn’t help telling him that if he care so much about a friend, he shouldn’t hit or punch others. "I can’t tolerate someone hurling abuses at my mother, miss."