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The braveheart

Prerna Kalra

Program Lead, Centers of Excellence (Urban)

We all have that one person who motivates us and inspires us to become a better, stronger version of ourselves. I found my person in a remote village, Gular, located in the state of Uttarakhand. He is all of 13 years old and a powerhouse of energy. His name is Mahaveer and he is one of my students. True to his name, he is an extremely courageous kid, currently studying in grade 8th in a government school.

The first time I met Mahaveer, he looked restless, waiting to get out of the classroom. He couldn’t sit still and was continuously disrupting the class. It led me to believe that he is an irresponsible boy, incapable of working hard. Over the past few months, I have seen him change and I realized how wrong I was.

The Mahaveer I see now, wakes up every day at six in the morning, makes tea and gets dressed. He then goes to his grandfather’s shop and helps him run it before heading to school. He does all the hisaab(calculations) and gets everything in order for his grandfather before customers start flowing in. At times, he goes to collect firewood. Then at ten he comes to school, all set to be his brilliant self. A math whiz, he loves to play cricket and run around. He helps his classmates solve questions, takes up the initiative to lead group discussions and actively participates in the activities being conducted in class. Once the school gets over, he goes to his shop and resumes work. In the evening, while working at the shop, he takes out some time, opens his books and notebooks to complete his homework. By night-time, he is understandably exhausted, yet helps his grandmother cook. Calling it a night, he puts his exhausted self to sleep and gears up for another day of hard work, of pushing boundaries, of putting up a brave front and of doing what he does best, showing grit and courage. As a teacher I am the one giving him knowledge and skills, but its children like Mahaveer who are teaching me some valuable lessons about life.

What brought this change? I do not know. But the thrill in his eyes when he starts solving a question, the happiness on his face when he gets it right, the eagerness to know more and the willingness to learn new things is what I see each day, during every class. He says he belongs here and it feels right. That being in Paathshala makes him happy and gives him the space to explore. This makes me smile on the inside, knowing that we’re doing something right.

Sometimes, I wonder ‘where does a 13-year-old get this strength from?’. Once I asked him whether he gets tired doing what he does and he replied back saying, ‘A little. But I have a dream. I want to join the Army and so, I have got to keep going if I want to achieve it.’ He wants the world to know his name.

When I first came to school, I made the assumption that these children need to learn how to work hard and become independent. Spending nine months in this village, I have learnt how independent they already are, outside of the school environment. It was all about creating a joyful space for them to do the same inside the classrooms. Mahaveer has helped me learn the true meaning of being committed and hardworking. He has shown me the maturity and integrity of someone far beyond his age, capable of even moving mountains. He gets frustrated at times, his anger getting the better of him. But over the course of time, I have realized that we are all a work in progress, and Mahaveer, already has a head start.

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