The Story of SKILL Foundation - 7
There are many such memories of childhood that have left an indelible impression on me. If I do not share at least some of them here, I will not be able to demonstrate the reasons behind my shy and introverted personality during my school days.
My father took me to Patna St Xavier’s, for admission when I was only five years old whereas the minimum age required was six. The Principal, Father Murphy told him to bring me next year. If my father was disappointed, I do not know but I was hardly concerned. I was enrolled in St Michael’s school in Digha. This school was far away from my house and my going to and coming back from school was a difficult proposition for my parents. My father tried unsuccessfully to convince my mother that it was a matter of only one year, since I was sure to be admitted next year in St Xavier’s.
St Michael of Digha Patna was a missionary school, which was managed by the Irish Brothers in those days. Most of the teachers were Irish padre. Due to my inability to communicate in English and the strange attire of the padre teachers, I was always scared in school. The students were also from a different background than mine. I stayed there for a year but rarely talked to anyone and could not develop friends.
I would mention here an incident which appeared to me then as a catastrophe. Due to my fear complex I would always avoid to catch the eye of the teachers. Unfortunately, once I became the target of one huge padre teacher in the class. He asked me questions in English which I could neither understand nor answer. He summoned me to stand in front of the class and continued his questioning. I started crying and urinated right there! What happened next, I do not remember. But I do remember how I spent a year in that school today. How that incident and the face of the padre teacher haunted me in my dreams!
During my childhood, one or two youngsters from our village were always staying with us looking for education and employment. They were treated as a family member, and never made to feel unwelcome. They on the other hand would be ever willing to assist in the household chores. As children we would flock around these adults. Their village background made them especially attractive to us.
At times we would be left in their care when my parents went out. We loved to play many games that we did not know and hear new types of stories. I remember how one of them would boast to conjure up ghosts. He used to make us sit all frightened in the dark on the veranda and go away on some pretext. Then reappear covered with a white sheet and cross over in front of us. In our innocence we would believe him. We would be frightened but always wanted more and more. It was quite later that I found he was bluffing us. I have learnt a lot from them about our village.
The task of reaching me to school was generally entrusted to one of these youngsters from our village. During the one hour long journey from home to school, I would be sitting in front on the handle or on the back carrier of the cycle. I do not remember having any problem in the ride. I became very friendly with the man carrying me on his bike and developed personal relationship with him. I would be gazing around on the road and often we would stop at any interesting sight on the way back from school.
Our family often went to the village for a few days. We loved these visits. The journey from Patna to the village with the family was most exciting. Our village is 16 km from the city of Muzaffarpur in north Bihar. In those days in Patna, there was no bridge on the river Ganga. The ride on rickshaw from home to Mahendru Ghat with all the luggage; the cruise on steamer over the Ganga to Pahleja Ghat; train journey on medium gauge rail from Sonepur to Muzaffarpur; road journey by bus to Paru and finally the ride to our village by bullock cart! It took almost a whole day to travel only 70 km. Today a mere 2 hours road trip! The journey, though a difficult task, was a unique experience for us siblings.
In the excitement of packing etc. it was impossible to eat well before the journey. So my mother used to always carry puree sabjee and other home made snacks for the journey. We were tempted by the fascinating types of food sold in the way, but they were strictly prohibited. As soon as the steamer started we would pester her for food. The greatest attraction for the passengers was the railway canteen counter in the centre of the deck. We would stare at the crowd gathered around the counter clamouring for the buttered toast and boiled eggs served hot. The aroma of those crispy buttered toast still lingers with me. Rarely did we get to eat those. We loved the food prepared for the journey by our mother — puree-sabjee and many homemade snacks like litti, nimki, khajoor, perakiya (gujhia) etc.
This is the reason why I still prefer homemade food over the precious dishes of good hotels. In the IRS, I had the opportunity to visit many good hotels including 5-star hotels and attend many big parties. Even after coming back from such places, I would sometimes trouble my wife, to her great chagrin, for the left over rice/roti, dal and subjee . My parents were strict about food — eat whatever is served, eat neatly and finish the food in the plate. I am grateful to my parents for this. I know my dear wife will point that these rules I have not followed always, in respect of food served by her. For this I will ask her pardon, but point out that I have done so because of my confidence that she has given me that liberty.
In SKILL Foundation, we are giving training of life-skills in addition to the skills of English, computer etc. The training to develop good eating habits is an important skill taught and practiced at SKILL Foundation.
During my later years I have carried on this tradition of visiting my village along with my children whenever possible. Also, there were always some people from rural background staying with me both at Bokaro as well as in the Indian Revenue Service and dependent on me for employment. Of course credit is due to my wife since she also enjoyed in cooperating in such endeavours. The immense love for India’s rural culture both in me as well as in my children has been cultivated from such experiences. My daughter Shalini has the educational background of Welham School, Dehradun and English Honours at St Stephens Delhi. My son Himalay has studied at The Doon School, IIT Rookee and Cornell University USA. Yet both have great attraction for rural India. Both of them are not only actively involved in our mission of SKILL Foundation, but have established SKILL Foods for catering to the needs of the farmers at Siljori village of Banka, which is the most backward district of Bihar and the third most in India.
The children flocking to SKILL Foundation come mostly from rural background both at Patna and Siljori. They are learning English as soon as possible to get livelihood. Today, our capacity to appreciate them and their needs so quickly is directly related to these experiences of childhood! I become a friend of those students immediately so it is quite easy to teach them anything. Perhaps this is the reason for the runaway success of the SKILL Foundation.
As I grew up in Patna St Xavier’s, I became friends with almost all the students around the class. They became friends for life. Even then, I can certainly say that during my school days, my school Principal Father Murphy had correctly portrayed me as a shy and reserved student to my father. In St Michael and St Xavier’s, I remained stifled. On the other hand, when I came to BIT Sindri, I felt that I had reached a free environment. My extrovert personality came to the fore.
Before taking you further to the completely different world post marriage it was essential to give these stories to show the change and development of my personality.
My nomadic and adventurous life at Bokaro did not last for more than a year. At home my mother was constantly unwell due to heart disease. Doctors had diagnosed that due to her rheumatic heart there is a malfunction in the mitral valve. The only solution was surgery which in those days, as I understood, was only possible in Australia. No one could conceive of this in our middle class family. Suddenly, I was called back to Patna by an urgent letter…