The Optimist Citizen

[MY STORY] I met a teacher on my work trip to a remote Himalayan Village and it changed my understanding of grit and determination

Tired and exhausted as my ‘Green’ mates and I approached the village of Megma touching the feet of Himalayas, it was completely deserted. If you can imagine the famous Gotham, the birthplace of the Dark Knight – Batman, it was identical to its misty, dark atmosphere. So where were all the inhabitants? Due to the chilling cold, everyone was snuggling inside their cozy wooden houses warming their veins and bones. Dying for a cup of warm tea, we entered our favourite house at Megma. It is the happy barrage of a retired teacher, Mr. Chandra, who now stays alone after the demise of his better half. He was as always busy chit-chatting with a young boy right outside the door. Sipping a warm cup of tea, he routinely enthralled me with his stories of struggles and successes.

The silence of Megma Village

When we approached this village in our initial days to manage its waste disposal problem, he was the first person to come up and appreciate our efforts. Since then, every time there is a waste pick-up through Megma, he communicates with all the villagers and assorts their waste so that we do not have to linger around collecting it from every household. All this because he loves his land, his trees, his mountains and his village. When we open the sacks at our waste segregation centre, it takes us just once glance to identify which one is from Megma.

Left- Neela Gurung; Right- Chandra sir

Megma has a small school located right behind Chandra Sir’s house. When I say “small”, it is just one room divided into 2, with a wooden plank. The highest standard is 5th grade and the total number of students is 12. This school was commenced by Chandra sir (Yes! He is a teacher to me as well) with just 3 students about 3 decades back. While the kids grow up and get into whopping schools down the slope, the school remains sturdy, budding the seeds in young minds. Many students today come and teach here in their free time as a mark of respect towards their dear teacher. While they get back to their regular lives, Chandra Sir could never get out of his role. As and when needed there is a knock at his door and the kids come running to him for getting that drop of knowledge. One can imagine what a marvellous teacher Chandra sir is, just by stepping into the classroom. The walls are filled with bright colours where the concept of global peace, life cycle, ecology, culture, everything is vividly laid. These colours were painted by the teachers of this school itself.

What a wonderful classroom to be in!

I grew into the habit of visiting this school every time I went to Megma. The children give me a warm welcome every single time. What astounds me is the passion with which they sing the national anthem. The elder students teach the younger ones. They give them tasks until the teacher comes. They sweep their classrooms, clean their desks and guide each other. Where can you find such fraternity? Perhaps in places where people aren’t bounded by competition or material struggles. These kids may not have bright uniforms, big blackboards or computers in their school but do they need any of it after all? Their morality, humanity ushers from miles away. Is that not what education is supposed to impart?

Rise up to the patriotism
The flowers of tomorrow-students of Megma school

This man’s good vouchers have passed even to his colleagues. Neela Gurung, another teacher has planted about 3500 saplings around the compound of the school. These are Rhododendron saplings that will soon bloom and cover the naked land. To protect the saplings she arranged fencing around them. The students of this school water these saplings every weekend. Neela is an environment enthusiast who never ceases to assist the cause of sustainable ecology. Even the stubbornness of the armed forces of SSB cadets in Megma bows down to the gravity of Chandra sir. It was more of a shock when we received segregated waste sacks from their end. Not only this, they out up separate bins all along the road of Megma after a community meeting held by Chandra sir.

Saplings of Rhododendron
SSB camp in Megma ready to segregate waste

While I have always seen this village as my workplace, it does not take a theory to understand the impact of one man bringing about changes in so many different levels. It would not be incorrect to say that the elegance of Megma constitutes much of Chandra sir’s immaculate efforts towards village empowerment. Or to articulate it, “Individual commitment to a group effort–that is what makes a team work, a company work, a society work, a civilisation work.” – Vince Lombardi.

~ by Moumita Bhattacharjee

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