Despite difficulties, these children settled into school, and are now practically indistinguishable from the others.

K. Aginthar’s, nimble fingers meticulously followed the fine print, as he gently read out, Nandri marappathu nandrandru, nandrallathu andre marapathu nandru, a Tirukural couplet from a book. For Aginthar, who now studies in class IV at the Chennai Primary School on Giriappa Road, this was no ordinary feat considering he did not know a word of Tamil until two years ago. His father works as a watchman in the neighbourhood, and the boy is of Nepali origin.

Students and teachers of the school which has twelve children of Nepali origin studying in classes I to V, say that despite difficulties, these children settled into school, and are now practically indistinguishable from the others.

Most of them, Headmistress T. Rama, notes, are first-generation learners whose parents neither speak nor understand Tamil. While most of the fathers work as watchmen in and around T. Nagar, the mothers work as housemaids, she adds.

Anil, who is the class leader in his section even acts as a facilitator between his teacher and his mother based on the Tamil he has learnt. “His mother does not know a word of Tamil, and we do not know Hindi,” says Ms. Rama.

Three months ago, if Revathy T., who teaches classes I and II had proclaimed that she would be able to teach a class I child to read, write, converse and understand an alien language within school hours, most would have brushed her off as being ridiculously ambitious. But, Kavitha who joined the school this year in class I, came in with a blank slate and a brisk smile and is now at par with others in class. While some of the students had elder siblings who had passed out of the school, for many others help came from unexpected quarters.

Though there is always a possibility that these children may move to another neighbourhood if their parents get a job in another part of the city, teachers say when it comes to performance in school, and participation in sports and extra-curricular activities, the children are extremely meticulous.

However, sometimes bringing these children to school is a challenge, said Ms. Rama. Though all the parents wanted to send their child to school, they told her that they had not done so because they kept moving from one place to another. “Kalpana’s elder sister, Nirmala, also studied in this school, but in between her parents wanted her to discontinue because they needed her to look after her 2-year-old sibling. We offered to take care of the child while the mother was at work for close to three months, to ensure that Nirmala came to school,” she says.

Just as Ms. Rama, was saying that when these children group together during the lunch break, they become inseparable, Amit, who joined class I just a few days ago, got up from his floor mat and nudged Prakash, another student, and quickly said something in Nepali.

In carefully guarded whispers, they animatedly exchanged sentences. Prakash, who is a year older than Amit, noticing the curious glances, finally summoned little Amit. “Tamil e bolo” please (please speak in Tamil), he said, chiding him in a thick accent that was liberally laced with various influences.

Minutes later, they began discussing how they loved Rajnikanth’s movies.

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