Where have the ‘words of wisdom’ flown off: Changing stocks at the book stores
It was an early afternoon on September 4th in Kuchaikote block of Gopalganj (Bihar). As part of our intervention on ‘best practices’ in rural schools, was having an animated discussion with the Block Education Officer (BEO) on some of the remarkable works undertaken by some selected teachers from the block. After all, PRAYOG had worked on identification and documentation of best practices in schools and some of the marvellous works of the teachers in the block have been captured!
It was so encouraging we came across and identified six teachers who have been successful in turning around their schools in terms of teaching pedagogies, infrastructure development, community support, enrolment, retention etc. In the background of the dismal pictures presented about Bihar’s education, their efforts were praise worthy. The BEO, a kind person, was enthused at the development and we decided to honour these creative souls during the 5th September –‘Teachers Day’ function. We got ambitious and decided to reach the District Education Officer (DEO) and with his approval scale- up the program. After some initial hesitation he approved the idea and allowed us to go ahead and assured that he and DPO – SSA would attend the occasion.
Our discussion then veered around awards – what the awards should consist of? Several ideas evolved-a shawl, a bouquet, pen, etc. As self-efficacious people we rejected our own choices again and again and decided to phone our well-wisher and a recent addition to Prayog’s advisory, Vikas -apparently a friend with wisdom who suggested to go for books on patriots and saints-Gandhi, Nehru, Patel, Subhas, spiritual leaders, innovators etc. We celebrated our solution and ran to the books stores in Gopalganj. It was 5 pm then. Shops after shops we made excited visits-Alas! Books were not available. Again called the friend who suggested – Gopalganj may be a backward district, go to Siwan, the neighbouring district headquarter which is also the birth place of Dr. Rajendra Prasad, nation’s first president and whose erudite scholarship is known world over. I was convinced – books will definitely be available over there – the place being the centre of scholarship. My colleague, Binit, with his local roots and knowledge about the place, accompanied me to the district headquarters. Locating and visiting shops became easier. Again the same experience –shops after shops we could not find any book. We got exasperated which gradually turned into frustration. It was 7:30 pm then. I called a teacher friend of mine this time who is a teacher in Navoday Vidyalay in Siwan. He laughed and said, “Bhai, you would get your required book only at Wheeler’s book shop at platform no. 3 of Siwan railway station. Its already late but if you can hurry and explore”.
That was kind of the last spark – yes we will get it. Me and Binit were in agreement –‘yes such books are always available there’! Convinced of our experience we hurriedly went to platform number 3 of Siwan railway station. It was 8 pm now, we almost ran toward the Wheeler shop. Almost breaking down we found the shop was closed. In the meanwhile, I also broke my own record of never entering a platform without a valid platform ticket…such was the urge to get the books.
Broken down with a sense of failed endeavour we started look back to the shops we visited in Gopalganj and Siwan. The shops were many with rick stakes of books. But what were the books like? The stakes consisted of competitive guides, books on short answers, question answers series with spectacled photographs of success gurus. Gandhi, Rajendra Prasad,…. were all lost in oblivion. Our enthusiasm died down, aspirations melted and we felt crest fallen. ‘Where have these books of wisdom flown off’- have they outlived their relevance or where has the readership gone? Felt like crying but again felt like called Vikas
He counselled, perhaps, the last time – visit the market once again and identify and count shops for shoes. We diligently visited the market, rather reluctantly, and started counting the shoe shops. Tired and annoyed reported there are 26 shoe shops in the single lane of the city. He grinned and became little serious –‘ Surya ! Your labour has met with a great discovery. The society prefers shoes to books’- Perhaps the society also deserves the same. A society unmindful of its rich repository will definitely receive shoes rather than bouquet.
The Teacher’s day celebration, today, however, went well and enthusiastically. We shared and narrated the episode with the DEO, DPO, BEO, CRCCs, teachers and other dignitaries who lost, momentarily, words!