Sunday, October 10, 2010

Over-aged -- and loving it! -- Part 1

It's difficult, but imagine for a moment that you're an 11-year-old who wasn't able to attend school. When you were very young, you can remember, your parents moved from place to place, working on construction sites. A few years ago, they got work back in your village as a canal made agriculture more possible. And you yourself started off being an assistant cattle-herder. Now, though, you've graduated to full cattle-herder, with knowledge of all the grazing areas, the watering places, the dangers to look out for (that unexpected ditch into which all the young cattle are always falling) and the idiosyncrasies of owners who don't always pay on time. As you saw children going to the nearby school carrying weird little bags or screaming insults at you, you wondered what they did holed up the whole day in that building. Even the cattle seemed to be more free than they.

Then one day, the newly appointed teacher organised a meeting with all community members and explained to them something called 'Right to Education'. Basically, this meant that your parents decided you should go to school. No one asked you. Your father only said, 'Now work is more regular here, we can manage.' So off to school you were dispatched. Being alone with a hundred cattle in the nearby jungle (with the possibility of that nasty jackal) seemed so much less fearful than entering that stark building, all yellow and white with blue things written on it here and there.

What are the children in there going to say? Your mother made you have your bath and put on the other pair of clothes, so no one would say you smell -- but the beloved odour of cows isn't going away from you and your clothes anytime soon. There are some green-painted metal play things on small play ground. The smell of food being cooked mingles with the smell of something else (it's paper and chalk and sweat, though you don't know it yet). Your heart is in your mouth as you step onto the ramp climbing up to the school. The teacher comes out and is looking at you -- and you're doing your best not to run away. Away, back to the beloved forest, with the hundred cattle who know you so well.

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