The little oarsmen

Rowing to schoolRehin Raju, left, fromVaalel Thuruthu and Alan Thankachan from Gandhi Thuruthu near Poothota.Photos: Thulasi Kakkat

Rowing to schoolRehin Raju, left, fromVaalel Thuruthu and Alan Thankachan from Gandhi Thuruthu near Poothota.Photos: Thulasi Kakkat  

Alan Thankachan and Rehin Rajurow from their island homes,to reach school daily.Today is Children’s Day

When the school bus trundles in to the Murinjapuzha bridge bus stop and collects the waiting children, all eyes search for Alan Thankachan and Rehin Raju. There is all round relief when they are found on board. Unlike the rest of the day-scholars who walk to the bus stop Alan and Rehin arrive after rowing their skiffs across the lake from their homes on small islands that dot the South Paravur shoreline. Come rain or shine the nine-year-olds, class three students, are on time for the bus to school and on time when the morning bell rings in the assembly.

The school on the mainland is a haven, a place where they love to come leaving behind a life of responsibility that they shoulder, one that’s far ahead of their growing years. “We are so proud of them and their dedication to come to school daily, despite the problems they have at home,” says Sr. Annies, Principal, Holy Family LP School, South Parvur.

The sparkle in Rehin’s eyes belies none of the hardships that he faces daily. Vaalel Thuruthu in Chempu panchayat, on which he lives, is uninhabited and the family has a single neighbouring house. There is a dearth of friends just as there is of basic amenities. Though there is electricity there is no television at his home and hence he is cut off from the entertainment to lighten his grim life. In the desolation he finds comfort in his books and in fishing in the waters. When it rains it literally pours in their house, flooding it waist deep.

“Those are really trying times,” says his father who is currently without a job because of an eye affliction. Rehin’s mother works in a mall and is away from home for long hours. In the insularity of Vaalel, in its thick mangroves, Rehin’s only playmate is his sister Rehna, a Plus One student. The two yearn to live on the mainland.

Hailing from a background where fishing is livelihood and a home surrounded by water, Rehin learnt to row early on, as a five-year-old. A life on a boat is not unthinkable and rowing comes naturally, he says.

Thoughthe waters are deep and it is dangerous during the rains, he is not afraid, unlike his sister. It takes a good 45 minutes to row across to the pier on the mainland and another ten minutes by bus to reach school.

It is a routine that he looks forward to. School is the getaway, with loving friends and teachers, with games and a noon meal cooked from vegetables that he grows along with other children in the school compound. Though he is not sure yet what he would like to become as a young man, his only wish is for his family to relocate to the mainland, where the rest of his friends live. Till then he will continue to row across to the land which holds his dreams.

Gandhi Thuruthu on which Alan lives is a big island with 250 families. It has a regular boat service to the mainland but one that does not reach on time to catch the school bus.

Hence, backpacked, Alan rows 45 minutes daily to reach the bus stop. It’s a routine that he quite enjoys as it takes him to a world of fun and friendship. His family back on the island too is deprived and worn down by health and social issues. Kunjumol his mother is battling serious illness, while his father is a mason in Vaikom. Alan’s sister Anna, a class seven student, paints beautifully and has won many awards in school.

The children wish to live on the mainland. Alan not only ferries himself to school but also brings others across if the need arises. At times when his mother needs emergency medical aid Alan is swift in rowing her across. He smiles through all this dreaming of becoming an engineer one day and of perhaps constructing a bridge that would connect the islands, when school, hospitals and markets would be accessible quickly.

The similar situations that Alan and Rehin face at home and in school have made them best friends, little heroes in their unknown lives. They know about life jackets - fancy orange tubes, which don’t make much sense in their world of day to day hardships, of tackling sickness and watching their parents strive to earn a decent living.

The one thing the boys know for sure is the importance of attending school daily, of studying hard and on being there on time.

Hence come hell or high water they are ready every morning in school uniform, oars in had to row across the green waters and catch the school bus.

Come rain or shine the nine-year-olds, class three students, are on time for the bus to school

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