Archive for May, 2019

By Manali Chakrabarti

By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return
— God, Genesis 3:19

We asked Didi if we could accompany her on one of her routine visits to the temporary schools she ran for the children of migrant workers. This is an account of that visit.

Didi is seventy-five years old, and has several chronic health issues. On top of that, her sciatica was playing up that day. She had a spine support, a knee band and an ice pack tied on the knee. We knew that the brick kiln where we were headed was beyond the city limits, so we were concerned–would she be able to take the strain? But then we were tagging along; she had to go anyway.

The car came, and we were off. Didi sat in the front next to the driver, and we piled into the back, jostling with piles of new T-shirts, apparently gifts for the children. The driver (who has also been a close associate in all of Didi’s activities for decades) was telling her about how risky it has been lately to drive around the city. Apparently the city administration has been confiscating private vehicles in large numbers and putting them on election duty. Yes, the five-yearly national carnival was just a few weeks away.

This note is not about Didi, but a brief introduction is in order. For over four decades, she has been relentlessly working with children of ‘migrant’ workers and their parents, and her primary interest is education. (While interacting with hundreds of children and others who know and love here, the fact never comes up that she is the daughter of a former president of this country.) Numerous associates have joined her, some stayed, some left, but Didi has continued. A,b,c,d,1,2,3,4, ka,kha, ga, gha, and their combinations, counting and numbers: Didi wants to make this accessible to all, in a loving, fun way. And because of her love for all children, she knows who has eaten, who has not, whose mother is not keeping well, whose father is an alcoholic, whose land has been mortgaged, who has lice in their hair…


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