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In Attendance

Where are your shoes? What time do we leave? Did you have food this morning? What time does it start? What day are we required to show up? Are we allowed to stay and watch? Do we just drop you off? How long is this event? Do you have everything you need? What did you forget? You forgot something, didn’t you? I reminded you! Are other parents going? I have to do your hair and make/buy a costume? It was yesterday?

These are a few of the many concerns we have when we are cajoled, invited, advised and desire to attend school functions on behalf of parents who can’t attend because of work or illness or just because the kids want someone in the audience who knows them beside their teacher. They want photos taken, congratulations given, acknowledgement of their talent, and they know we’ll stop for a treat on the way back to the community.

Sneha getting ready for the day at her neighbour's house with Todd Sir looking on.

It was Competition Day at Nandchhaya School and we’d arrived early to the community to take 11 year old Sneha to perform because her mother had to work and her father was nowhere to be found. We knocked at her door, being careful not to wake a nearby slumbering dog, and were told by her sleepy sister, Nikita, that she was down the laneway where her friend’s mother was helping Sneha tie her sari. When she finally appeared in the laneway she was wearing a perfectly tied, frosty pink sari with gold trim, and motioned for me to help her with her hair. I pointed to my hair and she winced. Nikita had already found another neighbour who could help insert pretty clips into a well formed bun while we waited outside her door, keeping an eye on the rabid dog. We checked our watch and reminded her we had to get moving….one more hair clip and a small red puja mark on her forehead was all she needed. She stepped out into the laneway transformed into Savitri Bai, an Indian social reformer and poet. At the competition, she would be performing a poem by Savitri - a champion of women’s rights in India under British Rule.

Sneha performing a poem dressed as Savitri Bai.

In the rented hall, no one seemed to be listening. Parents shifted in their chairs, kids were talking and the constant, thrumming din in the room didn’t bother anyone. The grimy red carpet was folded, pinched and pleated from being walked on and not attached to anything but a slippery floor. The microphone was emitting ear-splitting feedback and there was tape stuck to the back wall left over form a recent or not so recent, event. Parents gathered on red plastic bucket chairs and settled in, chatted to other parents or quickly fixed costumes, while the kids lined up along the sides, one boy dressed as a milk bottle, one girl dressed as a pack of colourful noodles. Sneha waved to us from across the room and mouthed the words, “I forgot something and I need it quickly!” We looked at one another and slowly rose from our chairs to pick our way through the ragged row of chairs to reach Sneha, knowing we had a task to complete before Sneha could take the stage and wow the crowd. She had forgotten her badge, the badge she was required to have in order to compete. A phone call to her sister was made asking her to find the badge in Sneha’s school bag hanging on a nail on their wall, and bring it to the school - a 10 minute rickshaw ride away. Todd would wait for her outside to pay for the ride. Nikita arrived about 15 minutes later without the badge. She couldn’t find it. Todd and Nikita, now panicked for Sneha’s sake, rode back to the community in the rickshaw to look for the badge together. It was found, exactly where Sneha said it would be. Todd pocketed the badge, hailed another rickshaw to quickly get him back to the hall to find Sneha had at least another hour before she was needed on stage. We settled into the plastic tub chairs to watch her shine.

Mohan caught us in the laneway last week to remind us to attend his Science Exhibition. It was held in a classroom the size of two nice sized walk-in closets. Tables were set around the perimeter of the dimly lit room with groups of children proudly standing in front of hand-lettered diagrams and lengthy explanations of their experiment taped to the dingy, peeling wall behind them. The room was crowded and sometimes tops of heads were all we saw, instead of the workings of a fan or how to heat water using a couple of wires and a discarded plastic bottle. When we got near the experiments we were greeted formally and in practised unison by the students with a slight wave of their hands and nervous giggles, “Hello respected teachers, parents and our dear friends, this is our experiment.” A request to stick my finger in a plastic cup of water containing wires attached to an electrical switch gave me pause, but I closed my eyes and did what I was told and hoped I wasn’t part of the experiment. I survived the antics of the amateur scientists - their experiment worked, which had something to do with heating water. I was relieved that it was only the water that heated up.

Future engineers from Saki Naka.

Watching Noorsaba, Sandeep, Shivani, and Rehan compete at Sports Day is our favourite way to pass some time. We get to breathe in copious amounts of red dust, sitt on ragged rock ledges amongst a row of sari-clad mothers in a make-shift field to watch children walk very fast with books on their heads, or balance a small ball on a spoon in their mouth in a race to the smudged finish line, or chuck a ball into a three feet high basketball net. We get a bit excited when the competition involves the game of Kabadi, India’s answer to marshal arts, involving skill, quick actions, high kicks and a bit of chance. There’s a lot of grunting, yelling, laughing and clouds of fine dust in this intense, competitive sport mostly played by senior boys and girls.

The much anticipated ball and spoon race about to begin.

Shivani (left) doing her best to win the foot race!

We end these forays into the world of school sports, exhibitions and sports days with a slow walk back down Saki Naka Pipeline Road with the kids, stopping to chat with mothers we know, listening for the tinkling of the bells for the cane juice shop so we can duck in for a sweet mug of delicious juice that leaves a mustache on all of our grinning faces. Spending time here doing something pleasurable is called “timepass” and we’re happy, on behalf of parents who can’t attend the functions their kids are involved in, to spend our “time pass” with the gregarious, talented children of the community.

The cost for these outings is a few rupees for rickshaws, eleven rupees for cane juice, perhaps some samosas for another 10 rupees each. The time pass is priceless and worth every rupee.

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