In the past few years, there have been several occasions when I’ve visited children’s’ homes (as a patron), and spent a few hours with children of varied age groups. Almost everywhere, there was a certain experience I was habituated to. One, the children yearn for attention. So, when we visited them, though we were absolute strangers, all it took them was a few minutes of observation to warm up to us. And two, at most times, they showed unconditional affection, interest, and curiosity. Often, they’d ask a multitude of questions; where are you from? Have you finished school? (They’d be awestruck when you say you’ve finished school AND college, almost as though you’ve shown a ray of hope to them). What work do you do? Are you going to join as a teacher here? And then, the conversations would drift towards their interests; their favourite actors, colours, their best friends, their favourite subject and what not. As the hours pass by in peals of laughter and amusement, and the time comes to bid goodbye, all of them would have just one question to ask; will you come back next week? And, when we see the eagerness and innocence with which they ask, to not disappoint them and on the spur of the moment, we’d blurt, ‘Yes, I will come and visit you next week too!’ only to never turn back, at least, for an extended period of time.
Yes, at times I’d feel guilty for not keeping up my word, and I’d wonder if the children really did look forward to seeing us next week. But amidst the daily routine, that thought would remain a passing cloud, until one day, when it turned into something more.
A couple of months ago, I’d joined an NGO to teach for small children during weekends. When I signed up, I was looking forward to finishing my intermediary training and visiting the school.
And, that day did come. As I walked into school on the first day, tall and short, young and old, skinny and healthy, outgoing and shy children ran to me at different times, introducing themselves and asking me for my name. And, just as I did earlier, (as a patron) I struck chirpy conversations with them, and spent the next two hours organising learning activities for them, with my co-volunteers. Then, as I was packing my bag and leaving for the day, a girl I’d met earlier came and asked me, ‘Will you remember me the next time you come?’
Of course I will, I said unflinchingly.
‘Do you remember my name?’ she asked.
I fumbled and tried to remember from the many names I’d heard that day, just to realise that she was already crestfallen.
‘Can you tell me once more? I promise I will remember this time,’ I said.
‘Kiruba,’ she said bluntly. Then, I tried to make up to her by telling her how she shared her name with a popular blogger, eventually, bringing that smile back on her face.
Reeling off to the present
Though it was a small incident, that first experience set sail to a series of learnings. Today, it’s been well over a month since I’ve started teaching at the school and during every visit, I learn something new; about how to teach better, how to hold a child’s interest in the subject, about where to draw the line in upholding a relationship with them, and so on.
But, amidst all this, there’s one lesson that remains entrenched in my mind; for a child, an expectation (that you set) is not a mere gesture, but is a promise that you’ll live up to it.