I’ve started to spend two days a week at the Mitra Residential School, Kachapaju or MrsK as she’s fondly known. This time, I got to spend a lot of time in class 2. Purno from Kachapaju is their class teacher. He’s gentle, with a loud voice and laugh. Before he began to teach at MrsK, he traveled all the way to Kerala and worked as a stone crusher. The ‘master’ or owner of the business was obviously impressed by this hardworking, smart lad and he offered him an ‘office’ job if he stuck on in Kerala for a year. Fortunately for the children in class 2, Purno got homesick and headed back to Odisha. He’s been teaching ever since.
The kids in class 2 range between 6-9 years. We started off with EVS where they’re learning about living and non-living things. (I should add at this point that the kids speak Kuvi, Oriya and are learning English. They are beginning to read and write as well.) Purno says they get sleepy inside class, so we sat under the big mango tree at the playground. They ran around playing Purno’s games of ‘touch a living thing’ and ‘touch a non-living thing’ – trees and plants, each other, Purno and me for living, and leaves on the ground which counted as non-living, stones, my notebook and pen. We trooped back to class and did the exercises in their English textbook. One of them was to tick the non-living objects in a picture of the beach. There was a ship sailing on the water, kids playing with a beach ball on the shore, a man selling balloons, cars parked on the road. “Does the water have life?” the kids wanted to know, “And the sand?” I found it hard to answer their questions, and it wasn’t just the Oriya I was stumbling over.
The water itself may be atoms of oxygen and hydrogen (non-living?), but sea is teeming with life and why would I tick the non-living box?! Paul Brand, in Fearfully and Wonderfully Made, talks of the first time he saw a cell – he scooped up water from pond in a teacup and it sprang to life under a microscope! It was the Greeks, with their analytical and critically thinking minds, who made the first scientific categorisation, putting things into boxes. The ancient Indian schools of thought were apparently less rigid in their classifications. Mainstream classifications need things to be black and white. But I’m learning that the truth is most things are either grey or rainbow coloured!
Anyway, the children seem to understand that some things move, eat, grow, talk, multiply or make more of themselves, and some things don’t. That’s probably more than enough for now. In time they’ll learn what they need to. Alive, Alive-O
ps. Interestingly, Molly Malone died of a ‘fever’, which is the word used for malaria (the dangerous falciparum kind) here. Fortunately, the kids use neem oil as a repellent, and sleep in mosquito nets, so no following in her footsteps I hope!