I was almost managing my travel as mechanically as possibly a dying car with diminishing fuel will do. Just managing to reach at a place & then starting from there after having achieved the objective, almost within a day of visit. It was, like every year, my India trip. Jammu was on my radar. Had come to know of it browsing thru one of the Indian media channels, particularly NDTV, I guess. Dilip Bharatee had seen my message on NDTV & contacted me; that is how the whole story had started thru chain mails culminating into the visit. Smt. Bharti had established around 12 years back is what I knew. All I knew of her was that she was running this school with her pension money. What I also knew is that she was almost 73 years of age. I have seen many people, including my own known people, who much before this age, sit back at home & relax with their pension money. But here was a lady who at this age was managing to travel around 24 kms every day to the school to meet her children. This, itself, was more than an impetus for me to meet her personally.
Raman Saheb was accompanying me during this trip, one of my very old & closest pals. He had readily offered to come with me. It was just a day’s visit. Robin, an old colleague of Raman Saheb, was receiving us at Jammu airport, someone who had helped us arrange the chairs & a computer at the school. Next day we reached the school, I guess, around 11 am or so. We bought some chocolates for the kids. I had talked with Bharti ji a day ahead itself, I mean the day I had landed. She couldn’t be at the school next day as she had arranged a small congregation of local people & school children owing to her husband’s birth as well as death anniversary that incidentally, fell on the same day.
I was not really expecting a grand reception but got astonished to see few kids lined up in 2 columns, besides the small pathway leading to the school, trumping the bands & raising few slogans. It was besides all, a bit uncomforting to me as I never thought I have done anything which warranted such a reception. Smt. Pooja Batra, almost second in command to Bhartiji, came up to us & introduced herself. Robin already knew her as he had been to the school earlier on few occasions. We were taken to almost each & every classroom; there were around 4 of them with a teacher to manage a small group. In fact, the first room had 2 different class groups running simultaneously. I interacted with all kids, at least I tried to. To my surprise, they were as energetic as I would have really found the kids at the Kendriya Vidyalaya schools, where I have got my basic education from. They didn’t have any fear, they talked in English, and they could speak out their names confidently. What my mind was not able to comprehend was how come the kids whose parents come from the lowest strata of the society, like rag pickers, daily labourers, beggars are so confident. What on earth has been done to them that they speak so confidently?
Anyways, that was just a question & not really a show stopper for my urge to do more for the school. I made a list after having talked to the kids & the teachers specially Poojaji. Kids were so enthusiastic to show us what they have learnt & what they are good at. We were shown the craft’s work that Bhartiji herself teaches the kids; they performed some cultural items too that you can watch in the video section of the site. I was simply over whelmed with all that I was experiencing. I could never imagine that a lady of 74 years could do so much after retirement, using her pension money, could do so much travelling 24 kms every day, facing even the consequences of making the parents agree to send their children to the school, having to face the same people steal things from the school time & again for whose kids all this is being done. I mean what she has got that keeps her ticking like it. I was to meet her in just few minutes but her image was already carved out in my brain. She was no less than an Angel. Although I met her little later but my trip was already successful even if I were not to see her face to face.