Day one. 7th period.
A brand new session of school. The fag end of the day. I entered Class 5 B, with my register, Geography book, the atlas in hand and a red and a blue pen in my jooda.
The fresh batch of students, in their half a day old uniforms that now seemed a month old, stood up together, creating the usual cracking sound of desk and chairs only to be submerged by the sing song “Good afternoon Mam.”
However outdated the wishing manner be, I always found it delightful. Something that reminded me of my school days as a student. The changing of periods, came as a respite from the sometimes boring, sometimes tiring 40 minute class. The 5 seconder good morning or good afternoon, came as a welcome musical relief.
It was their first day in the ‘Middle section’, having just graduated from junior school. It was the day of introductions. Not much of heavy duty studies but more an introduction to both me, their new teacher and the new subject-Geography.
The ceremonial introductions began with my own self and went on to row number one on my right, next to the windows, where each child stood up, announced their name and said something about themselves. Anything. What they like to do? What they like to eat? What they think? Just about anything about themselves that they would have liked to share.
It amused me batches after batches, how in a class of 45, there would hardly be any new, different names. Bwaaah….4 Abhishekhs, 3 Amits, 2 Ritus and oh atleast 2 Priyas and 2 Ravis. Sheer laziness on part of the parents, I tell you.
2nd row. 3rd desk. Nupur. I did not catch the name of the girl sitting next to her or the ones that stood up to introduce themselves thereafter. I was distracted by this extremely articulate, Nupur. Apart from being the first Nupur in many years in my class, something about her made me a bit uncomfortable. She looked everywhere except towards me.
The next row, stood a boy clearly bigger and taller than the rest. He surely seemed older. Once again, like all other kids, he came out as a confident boy and mentioned his love for Hindustani classical music.
I was now desperately waiting for the introductions to get over.
I was cold head to toe.
The last row. One more boy-Yogesh.
I felt the need to run.
I excused myself, putting the newly appointed ‘Monitor’ of the class on duty.
I dashed straight to the Principal’s office on the ground floor.
Gasping for breath, eyes popping out, half opening the door, I leaned inside the room hoping to find Koshi Mam alone.
“Mam,” I wailed. The rockstar principal, raised one eyebrow as she glanced at an angle, lowering her chin to look up from above her reading glasses, to give me her big characteristic smile.
I couldn’t return the smile.
“Koshi Mam,” I continued. “What have you done? What is this? How can I?”
“How can you what, Pallavi?” she asked with her usual composure.
“Class 5 B!!!! There are … there are, how do I say this? There are 2 blind children in my class!!!!!!!”
“Not really Pallavi. There are 2 blind and one visually impaired child in your class,” said she.
I was clearly not in the mood for her otherwise great sense of humor. I was a trained teacher, armed with a B. Ed degree, but then again, completely unequipped to teach visually impaired children. And that too Geography!!!! About mountains and valleys and rivers and gorges.
How could I? This was a bad idea. It was insane.
Till then it had not even struck me that there was a difference between being blind and visually impaired.
Mrs. Annie Koshi was one of the first teachers of the city to take up integrated education when it was a thing of disbelief for others. And that is why St. Mary’s shall always be a special school. Much ahead of its times.
But at that moment, I was bewildered. I continued complaining how I was neither mentally or technically trained to teach special children. Koshi mam assured me all was well. That I should return to the class and continue teaching the way I did while the tactile maps and globes were arranged.
So began my learnings as a teacher.
You don’t only need eyes or vision to study. You need the thirst for knowledge.
While Ankur and Nupur, diligently paid attention in class, raising their hand to answer all questions just like the rest, Yogesh did not.
Yogesh could never sit on his seat and raise his hand up like the rest. Why, you ask? Well, that is because, he never ever sat on his seat.
This Yogesh boy was something else. Not only did he never sit on his assigned table, he never ever sat.
Like all kids of that age, his skin was as sunburnt as could have been due to constant exposure in the playfield. Added to that, his forever sweaty face, had pimply bumps all over. Jet black, curly hair, smelling of Dabur amla kesh tel. He wore what seemed exaggerated soda bottle glasses. They were so thick, they seemed to be 2 thick glasses rolled in one.
You would NEVER find his shirt tucked in. His white shirt always looked a pale yellow. You would never find his shoe laces tied. You would never find him cleaned and washed. Did he roll down in the grass as soon as he entered school? Did he walk over to the assembly ground and do another roll in the dry running tracks?
How did he manage to look so disheveled, untidy in the first period itself, remained a mystery!
Always the center of attention in my class.
The loudest voice in the ‘Good Afternoon’ chorus would be his. Any question posed by me, he would raise his hand(s) with a constant ‘Mam, Mam, Mam’, till I would motion him to answer. He would then give a sheepish grin and say…”heee, I forgot mam!” And the entire class would be in splits.
The first thing to do, on entering the class was to look for Gola. A hide and seek game in the open class. It was a small little gaming ritual. Which desk is he hiding under today? Hmmm, there! Desk number 3, 4th row.
Teaching would be near impossible with Gola around. He loved to make others laugh. He ensured the class was in splits with his silly antics every 15 minutes.
If there was silence in class for more than 15 minutes I would not be surprised to find him having slipped out of the class on all fours. The entire class supported him. Glancing at him from the corner of their eyes but not letting me know, his plan of great escape!
Alas, I had been a school student myself. I had been there and if not done that, but seen that all my life. What fun it was to make a fool of the teacher with such pranks. Now that I was a teacher, I could simply not get myself to admonish them for this childish behavior. I would play on.
Ofcourse, till the time when it became a task to get the kids concentrate on work. We teachers too had our KRA and syllabus to complete, remember? That is when I would hold his hand.
While I moved between the rows of the class or stood in front of the desk and black board, I held Gola’s hand with my left. Initially, he found it funny. Then felt a bit of embarrassment. Which later would turn into resistance. Nah, but I wouldn’t leave his hand!!!!
Yogesh Gola was visually impaired. You would feel the same cringing emotion that I felt the day I got to know that he was in the ‘process of losing his sight’. Sooner or later his diminishing vision would lead him into the world of complete darkness.
He stayed in R.K. Puram, at the National Association for the Blind’s hostel. Coming from a less than modest background, he was specifically asked by the loving teachers at NAB to start learning Braille, since that is what would eventually help him with his studies.
But this chit of an 11 year old, adamant as hell that he was, refused to learn the dotted language. Just plain refused.
Coaxing happened at NAB. Counselling happened in school. Cajoling happened from friends. But Yogesh Gola would not learn Braille. Period.
My heart would go out to him during Unit Tests or when I wrote or drew concepts on the blackboard.
Yogesh Gola, would even refuse to take assistance of his co-seater on the job and insist on reading everything on his own. This meant, him coming and reading the board from a distance of 3 inches, straining his eyes further. He would read each word aloud, again making the class go up splits. He would be super angry with me for writing questions at a height. I would softly read out the questions to him but he did not appreciate the gesture. Pulling up a chair, standing on top, he would make the extra effort of reading from the board on his own.
Him not learning Braille was becoming an issue.
I tried my bit.
I, well, half lied to him. Told him how I was fascinated by the 6 raised dots and wanted to learn it. “Would you teach me? We could meet during recess time for 10 minutes and you could reach me a few alphabets each day?”
Yogesh Gola did not refuse. We met in the library. He taught me A, B and maybe C. Even as I started to struggle with the first alphabet, he had disappeared. Yes from underneath the long table into the play field. Several attempts post that failed. He was lured not by the samosa or the patty.
He said to me clearly one day. “Mam, I know why you want to learn Braille. It is because you want me to learn it. But I won’t need it. I will never need it. I will never learn Braille.”
The session ended and so did my teaching career. A conscious decision to leave school and get into Radio and Television full time.
I never got to know if Yogesh Gola ever learnt Braille or not.
Years went by.
I freelanced in the world of voice overs, became a jock, a TV presenter, MC and got lost there.
Years later I joined the biggest private FM Network of the country, Radio Mirchi. As the reverse drive show presenter, then donning the cap of the breakfast show producer and eventually leading the CSR initiative of Radio Mirchi, Mirchi Cares.
Irony it is then, that when the CSR initiative was being planned and thought of, it was decided that we provide audio support and entertainment to our visually impaired and blind friends. Why? Simply because audio is our forte. It is our line of expertise. All resources needed for it are available in our studios.
Super excited with this challenging, brand new portfolio, I started making rounds of various blind schools, NGO’s and institutes to find out what they needed in terms of audio support.
My Radio Mirchi work took me to NAB, R.K. Puram, New Delhi. As I chatted with the concerned persons regarding various synergies, my mind kept wandering to Nupur, Ankur, Sonali (another student who had joined a little later) and Yogesh.
When I felt too distracted, I decided to ask for each of them. I was told the two girls were doing fabulously well working in top notch MNC’s after doing their respective MBA’s.
No one had any clue of the versatile singer Ankur’s whereabouts.
“And Yogesh? Oh, he is here only,” I was informed matter of factly.
“Here?” I said to myself. The image of the mischievous Gola, with his yellowed shirt hanging out of his trousers with jet black oiled hair came flashing past. I could virtually, see him grinning ear to ear, trying to duck under the nearest table.
I insisted in the middle of the meeting that I had to meet Yogesh. My wish was fulfilled.
I was led to the basement which is home to the workshop area as well as the recording studios. In one of the computer rooms were a number of young lads. I was told Yogesh is in the same room.
With baited breath, I went inside the room with my host. I was already smiling. My host called out his name aloud. “Yogesh! Dekho tumse milne kaun aaya hai!?”
With their back towards me stood 5 or 6 young boys. One had curly hair too. My heart was pounding. The only thing going in my head was, how I would be able to face that visually impaired child, now a blind man.
In a typical Hindi filmy style, on hearing his name aloud, the frizzy haired lad turned around, almost in slow motion.
Involuntarily, I moaned aloud, “Sighhhh……Ye mera Yogesh nahi hai!!!!”
This Yogesh, a smart boy immediately understood I was looking for someone else. Visually impaired himself, he made for good conversation. He asked, which Yogesh was I looking for?
I said my Yogesh. My Gola.
By then I had lost all hopes of finding him here or anywhere.
Yogesh number two, God bless him, comforted me by telling me his location and promised he would ask him to call me.
The story doesn’t end here. This is where it begins.
The determined, the obstinate, the stubborn boy, who refused to learn Braille. Challenging nature. Defying the doctor’s prediction. Daring all around.
My Gola. Never went blind.
A miracle? Or the power of the mind?
Yogesh Gola called me a couple of days later, from Jaipur, where he was pursuing hotel management. I was thrilled to bits on knowing how he managed to complete his schooling giving exams with the help of voluntary readers and writers.
Here is an update on him:
Having completed his B. Com through correspondence from Delhi University, he cleared the entrance for IHM Guwahati but since it was way too far from Delhi, he gave a second entrance to get into IHM Jaipur. He gave exams here without any help and scored an aggregate of 78% marks in industrial training. He was 2nd Commi at Fortune Select Global. He later worked with Escort Group of Hotels as Commi 1st and with Sarovar Group, Naraina.
When he had had too much of the evening shifts and night duties, he decided to take a plunge into unknown territories as an entrepreneur. He is currently running a successful garment business of ready made kurtis under the label ‘Soni Creations’.
He lives in Delhi with his supporting wife and two children.
Two children!!!! Haaa….unbelievable.
I again got in touch with Yogesh Gola, who managed to remain in my thoughts forever. I took his permission before writing a ‘A real short story’ on him. I promised that only if he gives his OK shall I publish it on my blog. He promised me a photo of his from school days.
I kept my promise.
He is yet to fulfill his. Gola…..where is the bachchpan ki photo???? Everyone wants to see you.
Not me though. I can’t still relate to his snap as an adult, for in my memory, is etched the picture of that untidy little boy who made the class laugh. All the time. Hiding under class desks.
People tell me I inspire them. I say, there is a story of inspiration all around us. We just have to live in that awareness to take notice and appreciate.
These REAL short stories.