What is G.K. ? (a.k.a. General Knowledge)

GK is a school course in Indian schools.  I first was introduced to it when I was staying with Gibi’s family and helping Jugal with homework.  I’d been puzzled by the questions he seemed to be studying, one day movie stars, and the next day flags of different countries… seemingly random questions and subject matter.  Well, that’s what it is, random, and what you would study if you were preparing for a general quiz.  Quizzes are very popular here.   This year is the first year the girls are studying in English, so I am more able to see what they have to learn.  I’m working with all their subjects to help them find ways to learn, remember more, get higher grades (that’s being blunt).  They are capable of doing better than they are, at least the ones we have in an outside school.

Thursday is a GK test, so I suggested we begin a few days early preparing.  They showed me three pages in their GK book.  One is about animals, facts about several different animals and where they live.  This included polar bear, jackal, pangolin, hyena, armadillo, gibbon, bactrian camel, and opossum.  This evening we went online to look at images and a few videos of them.  Then there is a page of water animals and fish, and last is the page I’ve copied below.  Well, part of the page is here.  There was even more.  The task: to learn what these abbreviations mean.  They don’t have to know anything about the subjects or the organizations, just the names and abbreviations.

I asked, “How will we find the answers?”  I was concerned about how they would find all these names, how I would help them, but there was no reason to worry.  They opened the book to the last pages and showed me all the answers to page 33.  It’s how they had found all the names of the animals, from the back of the book.  “Aha!” I said, and then asked them to leave a copy of the book with me so I could scan it.

To be learned for a test this week.

Next, the answers from the back of the book.  They are random.  I also had to explain the differences (?) between organizations, corporations, associations, companies,  bureaus….  So these are the answers below and they have to make lists of the abbreviations and the names.

It’s now the 4th of July, night time, and today there was a crisis at the school.  A teacher said to our girls, “You eat grass from a field?”  Then, “Where do you find your teachers, on the road?”  The girls have been demeaned a lot, and picked out as a special group for demeaning.  Actually there is a lot of demeaning going on in the school.  It seems to be the default attitude among some teachers.  So I went to meet with the admin, and took Gibi along.  I decided we would approach the school as “sad” and that was fairly effective.  We got apologies, as the school admin does not want this kind of behavior.  But it’s the culture of schools.  This school has taken it seriously.  They asked why I didn’t come earlier and I said simply I was afraid, and the girls were afraid that there would be retaliation.  But today the girls broke down in class crying, and Ganga’s teacher saw them and called me.

Well, now at 11 pm they are still studying the abbreviations.  I decided to help by organizing them by function… sports, tv/radio, science & education, etc.  So this is my contribution.

The abbreviations organized in groups

I seem to have gotten a few wrong, but the girls corrected me.  The girls had about three hours of Bangali and math homework before they could get to this.

It just hurts.  One teacher refused to call them by name, referring to each one as Shishur Sevay.  I tried to explain to the school that these attitudes are not conducive to studying or self confidence.  I’m not sure it registered.  I do believe though that the Founder, Principal, and Vice Principal with whom we met have taken us seriously and will try.

A few weeks ago we were working on a grant application and they asked us for what we thought were our three biggest accomplishments.  Well, our biggest and best is that WE ARE HERE!  We have survived five years.  We continue to thrive and we keep taking one obstacle at a time, one day at a time, one test at a time… I know I keep repeating myself but I can’t stop thinking, “You eat grass?”  This is about animals, cows, horses, sheep, goats, not children who have been abandoned and abused…. The words stay with me as I know they will stay with the girls, stacked on top of all the other demeaning and humiliating remarks that have been made to and about them.  And tomorrow when they take this GK test, they will have to push all this from their minds and try to remember that RBI stands for Reserve Bank of India, and not Runs Batted In, which is what Maggie and I thought at first.

The Early Bird Gets the Mango

This morning we were early to school, very early.  I’m chronically getting us places early.  After getting out of the car, and going through the gate, we walk along a path that takes us to the buildings.  Sometimes we are very lucky and find raw, unripe mangoes on the ground, an “Early Bird Special”.  The kids love these mangoes, bitter, tongue curling bitter, bitter as bitter can be, and they love it!  So this morning we were lucky and they found a mango.  Some days ago I found a mango for them as I’d walked ahead… looking as if for shells on a beach and I found one.
Later the girls will share the mango with each other and their friends, each one getting a tiny little piece.  I tried it once and as I write I can feel my mouth curling…..  The morning is quiet here and I love the walk and the time with the girls.  I carry a camera always.  I love looking through the lens, a limited view where I concentrate, focus, see how I like it, whether I want to save it… to shutter or not to shutter. (^)

8 AM Arriving at school with 6 students, one teacher, one massi (caretaker), one Bijoy, one Me (Dr. H)

Pond filled with growth. This bird is often there, but today we saw many chicks in the grass. Tomorrow I’ll bring my good camera.

Girls going into the building. We are earlybut not the first ones there.

Pausing to take a picture of little flowers.

Back in Panchabatitala, we pull up next to the park for me to get out while Bijoy parks the car.   Today I take a picture of the park’s new blue and white paint as ordered by the government to replace the recently painted green white and orange of the Indian flag.

 We don’t use the park because local boys harass girls so it’s really a park for boys, little kids, parents, old people, but not girls over about 10 years.

An open drain as I walk down the lane to Shishur Sevay. The local funds that are to take care of drains were used to paint the park.

The colors of sunshine and greenery of Shishur Sevay! Bijoy’s motorcycle is parked in front. I smile when I turn the bend and see our house ahead.

The home I walk into… Sonali is doing her acrobatics, Sanjana is in the standing box, getting taller and stronger each day. New little Kalpana has become their activity director. They listen to her!

Kalpana is showing pictures to Sanjana. Sanjana pays attention to her.

Shanti Devi, friend, Board Member, comes each morning at six to work with the little ones. They are her children and they work hard to please her.

Well, by 9:30 AM I’m at the computer, looking at these pictures, resizing, and then working on the blog.  It’s taken til 4 pm to finish — time broken up, but still time carrying on this conversation.  What’s it like?  This is what it is like, a little bit of everything, kids, writing, staff, phone calls, lunch, tea — I spend time with a girl haunted by memories.  She draws and I ask questions about her drawing.  She wants me to know.  The school girls get home and tell me about their day, homework, funny stories that happened.  The school gave Ganga more books so Purba and Maggie are covering them.  In truth, there is a very ordinary quality to our lives here, ordinary but unusual.

Sisters, And The Bonds of Love

Sometimes I forget to say what moves me the most about our home.  When I am looking through pictures, I notice most faces, and connections.  I had a dream before I started Shishur Sevay.  I was near a pond, with children there, a very quiet place, and I thought to myself, “It’s a place where a sister can bring her little sister and care for her.”  That was a dream.  This is Shishur Sevay:














Above, bringing home Kalpana

Sanjana, our newest little sister, sitting on her own (well, until she topples over)

Shishur Sevay, fulfilling the meaning of love of each other.  We are a family.  Apparently we are still a growing family!  It was a wonderful dream I had that night, and a more wonderful journey that makes it real.



Following Directions: Finding a School

Last night I wrote to a friend in the US about how my life today just seems like an unfolding of thoughts, dreams, and visions I’ve had over the last 10 years or so, maybe over my lifetime.  I joked that it’s really pretty simple, I just listen to the voices in my head and do what I’m supposed to.

Today I visited four schools.  We want to start Kalpana in nursery school, even though she may be much older, but she is very short, and is just learning to make circles, lines — has mastered A, B, 1, and 2.  She colors inside the lines, mostly.  I’m also looking for a school that will take Ganga.   My offer to any school is that I will send her to a regular class and will also send a teacher to be her assistant and a massi to carry her and take her to the bathroom.   Last week Gibi and a teacher visited a local school and purchased the admission form.   I decided to walk over there this morning,  see the place, and turn in the form.    Today at this school though, I learned that the school has been through some terrible time and hundreds left so there are very few students now and they may have to close.  They did not call me back this afternoon so I could speak with the owner.

Next the teacher with me suggested we try Mother’s Mission, also nearby.  We took a rickshaw there, and sat in the office while admissions went on.  I find these places interesting even without knowing the language.  You know, years ago when we were in India, Cici was learning Bengali.  One day she said to me, “You know mom, it was much more interesting when I didn’t know what they were saying.”  Well, I don’t know Bengali so it’s interesting to me.  The women at the desk were formal, polite, but said they would not consider a child with a physical deformity.  They say this sitting under a huge portrait of Mother Teresa, and another of Jesus on the Cross.  Disconnect.  Well they said they would take Kalpana for nursery but I had to pay and get the forms in by tomorrow morning or it would be full.  But at least we had a yes.

I came home, spent time on other work, moped and muddled about, and fell asleep in my chair (a routine of mine since I’m up late and get up early.)   Seema came this evening and she mentioned a nursery school where children (now in mid 20’s) had gone there.  I needed to figure out what to do about the Mother’s Mission admission fees tomorrow, so she suggested we go there immediately — 7 pm by now.  Off we went, taking a walk through the busy road filled with carts of vegetables, people shopping, talking, just evening busy.  We  met with the head and her husband.  They were worried about how much Kalpana knew and whether it would be a strain on the teaching curriculum if she was very behind.  But they did say to bring her Friday and they would meet her and talk to us.  We left with mixed feelings.

Our neighborhood (except for our little cul-de-sac) is rapidly improving.  A pond has been cleaned up and a walkway put around it, ducks in the pond, boats… but I haven’t been able to figure out if it is open, and when.  So I suggested a detour to go past the pond and walkway and see what was happening.  As we were walking, we both saw a big green lighted sign for an Academy, and then a smaller sign about a school nursery to XII.  It was down a short lane and I saw people outside.  We walked over to see a woman getting into her car, and asked about the school and whether it was English medium.  She immediately asked us to come into the school, and called her husband to join us and talk.

Yes, they would take Kalpana.  As for Ganga, the man said, “You have come from America to take care of our children.  We Bengalis MUST help you do this.”  He and his wife, Principal and Vice-principal are involved in Human Rights, and both talked about meaning beyond money.  I wanted to hug them both!  I made the same offer as I had before regarding Ganga.  I believe it will work out.  I will bring Ganga, the teacher, Kalpana, to meet them in two weeks when exams are over.  I’m also thinking maybe this would even be better for the big girls.  There is much still to be talked about.

But today is just a demo of what I wrote last night… it’s one of those times we replay… what if I hadn’t suggested we walk to the new walking area and pond?  What if they had gone home earlier?   I think we all do this… and maybe it is about greater meaning, or maybe we are comfortable with coincidence.  But I sure feel indebted to whoever is arranging the coincidences in my life.

Ganga and Kalpana

This being Kolkata, I also have to understand none of this may play out.  It’s just how it is here.  You just don’t know.  But I’m a hopeless optimist and  can’t stop believing.

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September 2021
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