End of the Day

Two kids without a school

“It’s not lung cancer,” said Dr. Nischal, smiling. “You’ve sprained a muscle on your right arm which is causing the chest pain.”

Neeraj Nischal from Bihar’s Siwan has earlier worked in a government hospital. While the cases he treated there were more challenging than those at the private hospital he works now, the patients here are a lot less aggressive. “Majority of the OPD patients there were women for whom the only excuse for being let out of home was a visit to the doctor. If not for them, we would have a lot more time on our hands to treat those who were really ill.”

While writing down my prescription Dr. Nischal called an attendant DK Pant. “His daughter has finished primary school, but no government school wants to admit her in class VI. I’ve written to everyone - political representatives, bureaucrats. I don’t want to see her lose a year, but no one is able to help. The school principals won’t admit her because her earlier school was not state-run. What can the child do?”

Opposition parties had promised to launch agitations if students were turned away from school. But the queues keep getting longer and several children, who can’t afford the hefty donations of private schools, stay at home.

Rashid (11) and his uncle Mubin make the “best biryani in all of Begumpur.” I am a fan of their Moradabadi Biryani. It’s light, not too spicy and is flavoursome. A plate of chicken biryani, from their hole-in-the-wall outlet in South Delhi’s Adhchini, costs only Rs. 50.

They may be the best biryani chefs between Green Park and Saket Metro stations, but that doesn’t give them immunity from the Delhi’s intolerance. The duo only make chicken and soya biryanis as communal tension simmers. Mutton can be mistaken to as beef- which could lead to them being lynched. Only recently was Mubin threatened with eviction after his vessels were found lying in a corner outside the shop.

“The times are bad. We must not get into fights. Biryani is my only love. One day all of them will acknowledge that we are the best biryani chefs in South Delhi.” says Mubin. Their trade thrives on tacky Hindi songs on the nineties playing on their mobile phones and occasional plates of free biryani for the local toughs. Rashid however, does not find the time to go to school.

This never stops him from reading though. He collects newspapers from the local shopkeepers when they have finished reading them. During breaks from his kitchen duties, Rashid reads the news out loudly and slowly - the only way he can.

One day Mubin was listening to a debate in his stall between a Kashmiri carpet seller, a Manipuri guard, a loan recovery agent from Sheopur in the Chambal Valley and me. The Kashmiri and Manipuri men were pouring out their woes about Delhi whereas the man from Chambal said the fault was their own.

“Why do you people behave differently? Isn’t it better to be like the others? People will trouble you here as long as terror attacks continue. Until then you are better off in your homeland,” he said. They nodded in agreement.

“Mohan Bhagwat says India is a Hindu Nation,” read Rashid loudly from a Hindi paper - shattering the uneasy calm. “What is a nation, bhai jaan,” he asked me.

“It means a place where the people have a similar lifestyle or speak the same language, eat similar food or look like each other,” I replied, gulping my biryani. I feared that his next question would be whether India was a nation or not.

Rashid said, “So we are all Hindus.”

“No both of us are Muslims,” Mubin shot back.

“But we all eat biryani, so are we a nation,” Rashid asked.

“Yes we are,” said the Chambal man. “Does Bhagwat ji also have biryani,” asked Rashid. No one replied.

A constable standing outside laughed loudly and asked Rashid which school he went to. Rashid fell silent.

I made up my mind. I would pay Mubin to send Rashid to school. But I needed to do it in a way that he wouldn’t feel offended and ensure that Rashid found a school he wouldn’t run away from. Else, I would end up being boycotted from the biryani shop where Rashid would remain there till he grew old and careless like Mubin.

I kept delaying this for one reason or the other. One day when a friend repaid me an old loan, I went to the shop with the cash and a bottle of Rooh Afza. Surprisingly, I found Rashid missing.

“His mother, who is my aunt, sent him away to a hotel in Gurgaon. It’s a lousy place with no water. The problem with my relatives in Rampur is that they can’t tell bad from good. His father’s dead and the medical expenses of his grandparents are high. Some neighbour who works in Guragon promised them more money,” said Mubin.

“I’ll go to the Prime Minister if I have to,” said Dr. Nischal. “No child must be out of school. Isn’t it a duty of all of us to do something?”

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Printable version | Oct 21, 2021 8:21:42 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/blogs/blogs-end-of-the-day/article6346432.ece

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