The Educated Illiterate

Mark Twain had once quoted, “Education is the path from cocky ignorance to miserable uncertainty”. We live in a world which is full of activity, cut-throat competition and uncertainty. Often the horizon is blurry, and busy in the rat race we forget the importance of a thing as beautiful and as serene as life.

I come from a middle-class family in India which gives me the advantage of taking a peek into lives of many people during traveling and I consider myself very lucky for that.

I have a habit of traveling in sleeper class train (coaches without air-conditioning) with the average Indian population who cannot afford the luxuries of a costly commute. Every time I travel, I am always excited about meeting new people and listening to their side of life. Today I am going to share one such story which made me a little better.

It was 10:30 in the morning. It was summer, the heat was scorching and I boarded the train amongst a lot of activity. On a first glance the people around looked amicable and I was happy to find that I was sharing my side berth with a person roughly my own age (23 now). His features were rugged, skin tanned and there was a hint of a self-satisfied smile on his face. His clothes were old but clean. I could somewhat predict that he was on his way home after a yearlong stint of hard work in the city. As to me, I was wearing cargo pants and a loose t-shirt, clearly the odd one out in the vicinity. A broad smile from me was enough to bring him in my good books. He helped me fit in my luggage under our berths voluntarily and we finally settled down.

I am going to skip the part where we both introduced ourselves, and after some time of awkward silence I couldn’t help to resist my urges to know him more. I’ve often noticed a beautiful trait among villagers that they are always self content and carry a small smile around.

It’s a long journey to my city and we began talking. He had come to Hyderabad (a metropolitan city in southern India) 9 years ago, at the age of 14 and hails from a small village in West Bengal. It was 3 years since he had visited his family. A series of unfortunate events had brought him to this city far far away. His mother had passed away during his childhood and his father was suffering from some disease. Due to lack of medical attention, and paucity of funds, he was now bedridden. It was a family of 4 brothers and this guy was the second eldest. Some contractor had got him a job in the timber industry and he finally reached Hyderabad. He was a small boy at that time and it was hard to understand this new culture.With just clothes on his body and will to do work he started his career at such a small age. In the meager salary of Rs. 2000 a month (roughly $30) he had to manage his living and send home some money. Time passed by and he got used to this daily routine.

During all this time, his emotions went like an ECG graph with some peaks of excitement and many troughs of bad memories. He told that he was lucky to have a master who was very kind and appreciated loyalty. The woes he had experienced as a child made him strong and ready for all the challenges. With time his father recovered and started his own timber business in the village. Time heals everything. His eldest brother got married and had a daughter. This guy’s face was beaming when he told that he is an uncle now and could not wait to see his niece.

In a rush of excitement he took out his bag which was there in his hand all the time and took out the most beautiful thing I had ever seen. It was a small golden ring for his niece. He had saved up all his extra money only to buy this. My throat was choked with emotion. I still get goosebumps writing about this. It is one of the cultures of giving away things without expectations which makes India special. These things can’t be taught to a person in school or college, it flows in the blood. He was going to visit her finally.

He asked me if I was still studying and was determined that his kids would too one day. While I was listening to all this, the train stopped at a station. He took out some money to buy a pet cold-drink bottle and ended up buying two glasses of tea, just because he wanted to share with me. That is the tradition in India I am proud of. It was my turn to stop him from paying and get it myself.

Finally we departed. I have no inkling about his whereabouts now but the experience taught me many things. Appreciating life is the least we can do.

Of what use is good education when we are illiterates in understanding it’s essence.

This is the first time I am posting on my blog. Comments are welcome :)

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