Dason, aged four, stood solemn-faced outside a classroom at the St. Thomas Higher Secondary School, Poonthura. Now and then, a flicker of irritation and a hint of confusion passed his face as he observed senior students gathering on the courtyard for the special school reopening assembly. Having already attended a couple of days of class, most of the tots had already finished their quota of first-day wailing and were now quite comfortable, says Beena, who looks after the nursery section. Dason gripped his mother's dupatta tightly as he quietly chanted “Ennikku veeti ponam.. (I want to go home)” until Janet tapped his arm and warned him to behave. The boy had been reluctant to come to school, very unlike his older siblings who never complained. Diana, his older sister, is six years old and was studying in another nursery school, but has now been shifted to St. Thomas HSS. She wore an ear-to-ear smile and looked thoroughly excited at the prospect of attending a new school. “Since their older brother, David, is studying here in class four, I thought I would admit both of them here. It is close to home,” said Janet.
She tried coaxing Dason back into the nursery, but he wrenched free from her grasp and hid behind a pillar, his beady eyes daring her to come after him. Beena, a nursery teacher here for the past four years, looked on, amused.
“I never have too much trouble with these children. I know most of them and their parents. Some of them come from broken families and need all the help they can get from the school,” she said. She pointed at Ajin. “His mother has never had any formal schooling, his father is suffering from cancer and tuberculosis, an ailment that has afflicted his older brother as well,” said Beena, adding that Ajin himself was a sickly child. “I have been to his home, and noticed the terribly unhygienic conditions there.” She added that the school must hold regular health check-ups.
Some other parents too were present on the campus, sitting along the verandah of the school building, watching the function from a distance. Janet sat among them. “I had to drop out after Class 8, as my father left home. I do not want my children to suffer the same plight,” she said.