The Anganwadi Teacher

It is a 13 years old story, a story that is still fresh and new. The way it is old and yet so new for me reminds me of my love for the smell of new books and the smell of old parchment at the same time! I guess memories are like that.

It was during the time when we moved from Kolkata to a small town in Orissa called Sambalpur. I wasn’t really keen on it but I didn’t have much choice and was probably not old enough to weigh the consequences this decision would bear on my life. And in a way it is good. Because, moving to that place has made me who I am today. So, no regrets there!

I don’t remember if I was apprehensive of new friendships or a new environment which was (and to date is) more conservative than the one I grew up in; might have to ask mom about it. But I do remember being freaked out for I had to learn a completely new language for my new school. Picking up a third language was compulsory and no one in my class had Sanskrit so I had to pick Oriya. Though, picking up Sanskrit would have been an equally big deal because I knew nothing about it either :P .. The worst part – 95% of my classmates had been studying the subject since the last 3 years and 100% of them knew the language! I had about a month to get the hang of it.

Enters. My tuition teacher. She was (and till today is) an Anganwadi teacher and used to teach at the Anganwadi by the day & took tuition for the local kids in the evening. Some 5-6 kids upto age 7 used to sit in a small room which was the lady’s bedroom, drawing room, dining room, her own little world – everything. I was the oldest student out there, doing a crash course on Oriya.

That was the first time in my life when I took tuition for a subject. And having to sit with kids half my age was not a very comforting idea. These were the apprehensions I had in my mind when I went there and started my classes. After the first week of study – none of those remained. She was a fun teacher. Her one liners to the kids were hilarious. Even the students being scolded would crack up! She made sure I had fun learning the new language. And given its similarity to Bengali, it was not very difficult to pick up. But what was most fun was – how good she was at it. One may not have thought a simple Anganwadi teacher to be that good at advanced level Oriya literature but she was awesome at it. She saw to it that I could start reading and writing my own stuff after a mere month. And it never was rote and mechanical teaching. She let me be her aide at times and teach the younger kids :P … I would set them homework, correct their copies, teach them at times and sometimes, I took them for the whole one hour. Needless to say, I used to spend more time there than my scheduled one hour everyday. The 12yr old in me loved the teacher in me :D

I had a deal with mom that if I manage to procure 70% in my first ever Oriya exam, she would buy me something I had been asking her to for sometime. And she did … I took that gift to my teacher & showed it to her. That was one happy moment. This was in 2000, when I was in STD VII. I passed all my Oriya exams with decent marks in the 2 years of my learning that language.

She believes I could do it because I pick up languages fast & I like literature and stories. I believe I could do it because she was there, because she taught me in the best way she could. With her, I learned how much fun it is to teach little kids. But, my biggest take away from this experience was :

“Unlearning is so important for learning something new. Because I had nothing to unlearn, I learned my lessons faster.”

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