Devayya Sir – Silence

English Translation: Srinivas Banda

Telugu original: Nadella Anuradha

My teaching classes were running fine. Quite unusually, attendance has started increasing. Children began to bring their friends from the neighbourhood along with them.  That boosted my level of  confidence!

Almost everyday, I meet Devayya sir. Either on my way to class or while returning from. When I greet him with folded hands, he nods with a smile and walks on.

When I reach the class in the evening, I see most of the children busy with their chores. Few could be seen playing games. The street transforms into a playground. A game continues for some days, only to be discontinued to start a new one.   

Age of the children who play the games ranges from three to twenty years. The elder ones are invariably the school drop-outs who now do odd jobs during the day. When I enter the scene, they put on half-a-smile and drive the younger ones to the class, with tones of authority. Most of the children who attend the classes would not be found playing. Some children sprint off to their homes and return to the class with their school bags, wearing the same  muddied clothes, ruffled hair and tiresome faces. When I ask them to take a bath before coming to the school, they repeat with a singular excuse, “House is locked, Teacher. Amma is not yet home from work”.  Everyday, it has become a habit for me to start with an emphatic note upon the importance of cleanliness and hygiene. Its results are  visible, although faintly.  Still, many of them have to adopt the habit.

That day, Nallabalu (a fancy alias, given by his classmates) was seriously playing a game of Karra-billa (Short stick and bale), when I entered the class. I noticed him continuing the game, even while the class has commenced. 

I called him. 

“I can’t stop now, teacher,” he replied without batting an eyelid. “I’ll come late…”

For a nine year old, studying in fourth class, his behaviour is somewhat strange today.

“And why can’t you?” 

“I placed a bet for five rupees. I must play and win them back”. He shot back. I didn’t expect the answer.

 “Betting? Where did you get the money from?”

“I have three rupees with me. Yesterday my mamma (grandmother) gave me money to buy something and I saved some from it. And I took two more as a loan”.

I was stunned. Kids betting and taking loans?  What’s happening? 

Children started coming out of the class room to watch us. I returned to the class along with them. 

Sensing that this was something that needed to be addressed and discussed with the parents on priority, I planned a meeting and sent a message that the meeting would be held on Saturday evening.

Even though the meeting was scheduled at 6 PM, only a few parents were able to show up. Many women were still seen returning from their jobs, arriving in shared autos and mini-vans. Some sought excuse, since a  kid or an old man are awaiting them at home. Some said that their husbands would attend the meeting. Very few stayed. Their curiosity is faint on their tired, hungry faces. 

Devayya sir started to speak.

“This madam is coming here to teach our children.  You all know that you could not teach them at your home. Send them here after their school-hours, instead of letting them play on the streets. You need to put in this minimum effort, if you want your kids to study. You should also monitor their attendance. They will learn something only when they attend the classes regularly. Madam wants to speak to you. Please pay attention and listen to her…”.

Before he even completed, shouts and commotion followed by noises of people running filled that narrow lane. Within no time, the group neared our class. Some were oddly armed with metal buckets, broken Sintex drums and sticks etc. People running ahead of the group were shouting cuss words. People chasing them were aiming to throw on them, whatever they were carrying. 

A couple of elder students stood up and started to go out.

“Where are you going?” I queried.

“In yesterday’s cricket match, my uncle had put a bet. Some quarrel about that was going on since afternoon. I will just go see and come back…” Ramesh replied while walking out.  Few more followed him, leaving me dumbstruck.

By now, the entire group of runners moved far away. People who were following them stopped at the class. Devayya sir was trying to understand the situation from them.

For me, this was nothing less than a cinematic scene. 

A lady stood up from the group of parents.

“Teacher amma, we do not need our children to earn money and feed us when they grow up. Please teach them some sense so that they don’t get into such street-fights. Please do that, if you can.’’ 

With that, she started for her home… soon, few remaining also left.

Devayya sir came back and stood in the classroom, staring at the empty room. He looked sad. Before I could ask him anything,  he slumped on to a bench. 



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