The Life You Lead Is A Dream Of Many.

I never thought I would wield a chalk and a duster. 🙂 Yes, I did it for a while and it was an interesting and unique experience. The chalk, held firmly in between your fingers akin to a pen, squeals with every twist, swirl and drag smearing the palm with tiny flakes of white dust all over! Apparently, it’s all over your hair, mane and face, going unnoticed in the act of teaching and engaging students. 🙂

Hold your thoughts; I haven’t changed my career! And I am not going to write extensively about teaching or training either. A span of 12 days in a makeshift classroom with the least of amenities available, the rugged attire of students, their unkempt hair, a pockmarked black board, the students dwelling under a namesake shelter! A host of shocking revelations initially left me baffled and threw a challenging task ahead but the bright side (that quelled all my hallowed fears) was the students themselves. Their passion and burning desire to learn was palpable on their faces, brimming with energy and optimism. This changed my perspective towards learning and my role as an interim trainer of soft skills. It was a surreal experience where I learnt how to balance and draw a line between needs and wants, the daunting challenges and adversaries we faced.

Dodge this:

Did you inspire anyone lately? Were you given utmost respect and looked upon? When was the last time, every word you spoke or uttered had a direct impact on what you did? Did you ever strike a conversation with a timid student, fumbling in fear and made him/her comfortable by encouraging and treating them more as a friend than a superior?

I am fortunate as my answers to the horde of questions above are bundled as one: YES. Thanks to my friend, Sharon, for pulling me into this and the educational consultancy, who are the forerunners in transforming lives and igniting the minds of the children, supposedly the youth and future of the nation.

Story-time

Picture this:
An ex-colleague (also a dear friend) rings you on a lazy Sunday morning and says with a dash of excitement in her tone: “Sam, this could be your calling. Take it up seriously. No second thoughts. Check your texts and let’s get started”. The phone line went dead. An odd silence prevailed. Despite the lull, I could still sense a resonating beep in my ear.

Me being myself, still in vagrant search of passion and living under an illusion that passion will find me and not vice versa, I did not bother as I was merrily playing with my nephew and niece at my sister’s place, a 3-hour drive from Hyderabad. Eventually, what followed were a series of to and fro calls from an educational consultancy inquiring about my interest in volunteering (to train on soft skills) and openness to travel.

They mentioned the two golden words (volunteer, travel) and they had me! 🙂

A few days later, after the customary briefing, I packed my bags for a fortnight trip. My heart and head were in a state of exuberance. (It’s rare to have them make peace for an unstable chap like me who is always battling between choices and decisions!)IMG-20170904-WA0081

So, what had happened next remains a memorable phase in my life! I developed a deeper connect for people in need, the less fortunate and yes, I basically started to have a fresh outlook towards fellow humans.

Cut to the chase:

A prestigious project called “Bridge Course” by the Govt. Of Telangana was undertaken by Sikshashri Educational Consultants, whose task was to send trainers to the residential  welfare degree colleges spread across the state. Trainers impart education (vocational training) for 12 days abiding to a meticulously designed curriculum. It proved a challenge for team Sikshashri but under the relentless aegis of their core team, they outdid what they could promise. Three cheers!!

The group of trainers was a mixture of veterans (from the teaching industry whose careers spanned over 20+ years), corporate trainers, business administrators in the making, budding trainers, college students, free lancers, etc.

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At the NSIC training center

Naz, NJ, Sharon, Sravan and I met at the two-day orientation program, sharing few giggles and bonding over lunch. Naz, a vibrant lass and NJ, a strong-headed no-nonsense gal, broke the ice by cracking few PJs and clicking loads of photos. Sravan, a man of few words (in other words, who barely converses) was pulled in to the fray by Sharon, a dear friend of mine. Sharon needs no formal introduction. She is a live-wire with an infectious smile and oodles of oomph!! (Stop blushing now Sharon! :D) Humor has its way of connecting people. And so the connect between us was magical. We all were equally delighted and looking forward to the first outing! (An educational outreach program)

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Say cheessee!!

So, we were a “we-barely-know-each-other” group, packed in a wagon and sent off to a common location where we all would disperse to our deployed centers, as per a fickle schedule! 😀

The journey was frolic as we were travelling together with the most ecstatic smiles cracking jokes, sharing our sweet and odd anecdotes, pulling each other’s legs and chatting at our heart’s content. In a line, our excitement knew no bounds.

Needless to say, there is something magical about travel. It brings out the dormant kid in you to enjoy the wind whizzing past your face, lets you wear an unblemished smile and at times, you are at the center of inevitability and uncertainty fighting odds and overcoming challenges, like us finding a stay at 2 AM in an unknown place!

Imagine, it’s the thick of the night when every soul in town was surely in deep sleep and six of us in a car, stranded and tired by the night’s journey, were praying fervently to find a decent place to crash for the night!

Luckily, we checked into a newly opened hotel and breathed a sigh of relief! ( I leave it to the group to recall and relish the great time we had there, playing dumb charades, listening in rapt attention to everyone’s stories in their respective lives and basically every merry-making that set the tone for the inception of our friendship and strong bonding among us!)

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The team of  “madness-overloaded” !

 

Ankampalem.

The roads to this hamlet in the hinterlands of Khammam, are winding. Coconut, palm, date trees and a plethora of other plantations greet you in every corner. The hills are drenched in thick green vegetation and the creeks bright with sandy brown waters. Being monsoon, we got a chance to enjoy the quick showers coupled with the ear-shattering thunders, the gloomy clouds and the vast patch of greenery.

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The azure skies and the green patch!
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Misty mountains in the backdrop…

After a formal meeting with the principal of the girls’ residential college, who welcomed us graciously and offered a tour around the college, we had an opportunity to interact with the students. We were moved at the spectacle of them cowering in innocence. They would wear a puzzled look on seeing us! What’s remarkable was their simple life they lead, devoid of the least of comforts. They were excited to catch a glimpse of us and we reciprocated the joy by waving at them with wide smiles.

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A Swach Bharat abiding school!
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RESPECT!!

After interacting with the students, little did NJ realize that tears trickled down her cheeks when she walked out to the quadrangle. Naz and I were fooling around but quickly reinstated normalcy in her, although she was uncontrollable. This reflected the stark contrast in our urban lives and made us realize how fortunate and blessed we all are to live with parents unlike the kids, who barely have a family. Despite all the limitations, they show passionate urge to learn and aspire to be great leaders!

With a heavy heart and stomach full of sumptuous lunch, we bid good bye to the girls’ residential college, deploying a trainer there.

 

Bhadrachalam

 

The drive from Ankampalem to Bhadrachalam is replete with scenic beauty of dense hills, green cover and ample bridges all over the tributaries of Godavari. If you recall, it was monsoon and was raining in full glory. We stopped by a paddy field and a thatched hut to click a lot of photographs as the misty hills in the background offered a perfect, scenic shot. Passing by many villages and towns made us wonder how lucky the natives were to live in the lap of nature.

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Life is calling..where are you?
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Nature and its beautiful hues!

After an hour of travelling, we reached Bhadrachalam. The famous bridge over the Godavari River, the ITC paper mill, the Kinnerasani Power Plant (KTPC) all caught our attention as we were swayed by the beauty of these landmarks.

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Its their home!

We were housed at the guest quarters of the TTWRES Girls Campus, a vast campus that’s home to around 1000 students and staff.

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Old, archaic but robust!

Legend has it that not just the campus, but the entire town of Bhadrachalam was drenched in floods a few decades ago! Despite several changes of governments, transitions of political power and seasons, the campus wasn’t even renovated or restructured.

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Our stay!

Thus, our stay was at an old and dilapidated house that posed a challenge for us to live for the next 3 days. All our imaginations and expectations of luxury and comfort were squashed! Cob-webs free falling from the ceiling, shrubs and roots branching out on to the walls, the dusty floor and a smell of rot greeted us. As a bonus, we had to battle an army of wild insects! All of us were disheartened at the very thought and sight of staying there. The girls were worried and grew pale. A “go-to person” was assigned to us and we immediately had the rooms swept, bathrooms fixed and the lighting work done. Somehow, we picked courage, prodded each other and decided to face the challenges as we stood united as a team!

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Mr. Sravan Sir — the Humanoid Google!
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Yes, what you see is NJ and me brain storming the kids..! It was lovely!!

The students greeted us with warm smiles and always flocked by us offering help with tasks like fetching chairs, bringing and serving food and basically, being great moral support to get accustomed in an alienated place. The principal, hefty built, was kind and did not hesitate a moment to give his car (and at times his motorcycle) for our commute to nearby tourist destinations like Kinnerasani Reservoir/Dam, the beautiful deer park, the glorious and popular Sri Sita Ramachandraswamy temple!

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Feed me first…!
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The deer were busy grazing their fodder! 

Time spent at the deer park was fun. I cannot forget the hilarious incident when Sharon was feeding biscuits to the docile deer aptly like how a mother feeds her children and suddenly out of nowhere a platoon of monkeys played spoil sport by grabbing the packets! Shaken and terrified instantly, we laughed so hard in amazement of the monkey’s antics. Naz and NJ fed grass and greeted those beautiful creatures with love and adoration. Sravan was on a solo sojourn watching the charming black swans dawdling at a pond.

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We pose elegant!

Walking along the Kinnerasani Dam and watching the huge water-body on one side and an empty patch of rocky land on other side of the gates was the most lovable part of our sight-seeing.

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The Sun calling it a day at the Kinnerasani Dam

We unwound by taking a stroll till the end of the dam enjoying the breath-taking view of the bright clouds playing peek-a-boo with the sun, the rays of sunlight shimmering on the water, the serene sunset and the calmness of the place. It’s hard to resist clicking photographs at such places and we, helplessly, gave in to the temptation. The girls were on a clicking spree trying different postures!

It was the Vinayaka Chathurthi festival and NJ was missing home already!

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Jai bholo Ganesh Maharaj ki..!

Gladly, we could celebrate the festival despite being away from family, all thanks to Sravan and his noble act of purchasing an earthen Ganesha idol and putting it up in our room! Passionate prayers followed and NJ was all smiles decorating the idol. Also, we were invited to the Ganesh Utsav festivities in the campus.

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Three of us, supremely happy, at the Ganesh Utsav!

The students put on their best clothes of glitter, glam and everyone was resplendent with wide smiles. Apparently, we were guests and graced the occasion by joining the students for lunch.

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The road to nowhere…

Our routine at Bhadrachalam was enjoying long strolls in the lush green campus (to enjoy the nature), interacting with the students and staying up late in the night at the veranda just to gossip merrily, laughing till our jaws ached.

I cannot forget the visit to the temple in the early morning. Sravan, NJ and I offered prayers and were in awe of the architecture of the temple. I remember myself savoring the lip-smacking chekkara pongali prasadam like a glutton amidst weird stares from the two pals!

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The Yummy prasadam! No, I am not a beggar! 😀

A confession: Food and I are a world apart. 😀 LOL!

Sensing that we might not get time to visit the Godavari Bridge, the three of us spent ample time enjoying the view of the shallow river, the fishermen setting out sail, vehicles zooming past on the bridge and the wind gushing at such an altitude. Pic toh bantah hein!

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Me and my monkey antics! 😀

Our group embraced new ethnicity by venturing to a local church to get a dose of sanctity. Thanks and regards to the benevolent Sharon for leading the pack.

The last day at Bhadrachalam was soul-nudging and emotional as we pep-talked and motivated the students about their goals and ambitions in life. Though they followed a strict regime of conduct and were basically disciplined and loyal, they had the fear of public speaking, opening up and being inferior. We encouraged them to be free and optimistic.

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The last day at Bhadrachalam! 😦  Loads of memories !

 

Manuguru

 

The deep-rooted connect with students at Bhadrachalam proved hard for us when we had to bid adieu and resulted in an emotional blow. With moist eyes and bagful of endearing memories, we parted our ways to respective locations namely Manuguru and Palvancha.

Naz and NJ set off to Paloncha, where 150 first-year degree girls were waiting to be mentored and trained. Sharon, Sravan and I reached Manuguru by noon. Little did we anticipate, a life-changing experience was in the offing!

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Bulls Horn on me!   Naughty students!
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My class !
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Listen to the lady when she speaks!!

Cloudy and gloomy atmosphere welcomed us but on the flip side, Manuguru is popular for its prickly heat and humidity! Sweating profusely is a ritual here and doesn’t spare anyone! This town is a hot bed of heavy mineral deposits and has abundance of coal, thereby being home to Singareni Collieries. One can spot huge quarries and hill-sized dunes of coal deposits with water bodies like lakes and waterfalls around along with thick green cover omnipresent.

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Yes, its a degree college!

We went to the Tribal Welfare Degree College where we would be spending the following 12 days at. The college was in shambles and hardly looked liked one. No way can one think of the grim appearance of the old, fallen-apart and torn-down building as a typical college. One can notice the thick flourish of shrubs and grass everywhere.

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The morning pledge and the usual grind!

There were three classrooms where sixty boys called it their living room, hall, dining room (you name it!). One can literally see luggage trunks and sacks of baggage stacked up in one corner of the class with their towels and dresses hanging around to air-dry! Such was the pathetic state of affairs that the children were dealing with. But they made these challenges a part of their lives and became sturdy.

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The strength of the college.

The class was a usual mixture of notorious, active, dull, shy and timid students. Initially, it proved a Herculean task for the three of us to understand and assess their stance. But time has a gift and a charm that works wonders. Gradually, they got along with our methods of teaching and training.

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Selfie with a guest !

We struck a positive vibe and took off to a great start with role plays,elocution, skits, enactments, debates and chart-making as part of our curriculum. It’s a pleasant sight to see the students engage enthusiastically in such activities and bring out the best of their abilities. They made efforts to speak in English, to unlearn the old habits and were agile at grasping new concepts.

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Shaitaan and her selfistaan!!
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Lost in craft and innovation…

 

The Bottom Line.

 

My idea of engaging the students is to infuse humor and teach them life lessons on morality. I stuck to the mantra and it worked well as I could see a lot of students giggling, heartily laughing and gradually fighting fears to free them from the cocoon of inferiority. Though it was a short span of time, the bond we created was inseparable and some students were teary eyed at our farewell. I feel blessed to say the students connected in every sense and valued our time.

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Alvida!

I discovered that people from the welfare and less-fortunate background are the happiest and are a wholesome lot. They are complacent with what they have. This may sound a tad unfathomable but it would be an understatement to say they {the students, the principal along with the support staff} treat you like a demi-God. Seriously! They shower infinite love. Emotions are galore and they offer anything whole heartedly, be it food, love, admiration or respect.

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News makers!

Albeit it was a short and temporary trip, it has been a thought-stirring and an intriguing experience that reflected life on the other side.

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Venture on the road ahead!
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Countryside beauty:)

Lastly, I would like to reiterate to everyone out there: Don’t take anyone for granted. Do your bit to the society. Be of some help to the needy and the worthy.

Thank you so much for dropping by.

Cya around.

Sampath 🙂