I was among twenty volunteers who had the privilege of undertaking a train ride in the Namma Metro with 80 very happy and excited school children of the Mt. Everest School.
This was my first ever train ride on the Bangalore Metro (although I did take a ride in the Delhi Metro last year) so I am happy that I was able to share this experience with the children. Another pleasant coincidence that struck me about my Bangalore Metro and Delhi Metro rides was in both cases it was for an N.G.O. related event / activity.
Besides being my first metro ride it was also my first event as a Volunteer. It was reminiscent of how one feels on his/her first day of school…play school! By the time I had joined the party at Byapanahali the children were already gathered around the Dream a Dream volunteers, singing songs and doing roll calls that I remember doing when I was in college ( the say say goray roll call in particular). The children were of course Dream A Dream event regulars and needed no introduction or encouragement to participate in the ice-breakers. The energy was palpable and a heady mix of the positive vibes and playful banter coming from both child and volunteer alike with a nice warm draft of the afternoon breeze thrown in for good measure made the atmosphere warm and fuzzy. Puzzled onlookers in the form of commuters, station personnel and passers by completed this very happy picture.
I was both happy and surprised to see many ex-pat volunteers among us. I have great respect and admiration for all of you for having time out and traveled all the way to India to be a part of this initiative. Thank you!
Two volunteers each were assigned to a group of 10 children for the remainder of the trip that started and ended at the Byapanahalli Metro train station.Station personnel gave us a complete run down of how the metro functions and the advantages of commuting in them. The children were attentive and answered any questions that was asked of them during this talk.
We then lined up at the platform and waited with bated breath for our train to arrive. I tried to strike up a conversation with some of the children while we waited (note to self I got to work on my conversational skills around children
) They were all looking at the escalator and were noticing how it slowed down to a stop when no one was using it. I used that moment to point out to them how the escalator had a sensor that was sensitive to weight. (Boring I know!).
The train arrived and we all poured in and the children scrambled to get seated. One of the first things I observed once the train started its journey towards MG Road was how cold the some of the children were feeling because of air conditioning. I felt bad for not having carried my jacket that day, could have given it to one of those children.
They had their heads turned towards the window for most of the onward commute taking in the sights.
I explained how one must go about reading the route displays and upcoming station information. My audience of 4-5 students understood and didn’t have any doubts or questions.:-)
We alighted at MG Road and made our way to the other platform for the return commute. Many of the children now turned their attention towards each other and us and started striking up conversations.
I too took a lot more effort to speak to the children on the return commute. I was spurned on by a little incident that I witnessed during the onward commute. I will come to that later.
I asked a few of the children I was assigned to their names, which class they were studying in, why they were wearing canvas shoes on that particular day (I used to wear canvas shoes on days when we had PT periods). What their favourite sport was (I was surprised to heard cricket). And I asked them about the Dream A Dream football coaching programmes in their school and if they liked it. I also asked them if they were enjoying the outing.
These children are exceptionally well behaved and courteous. They kept addressing me as “sir” till I asked them to drop the “sir” and replace it with “anna” (big brother). They almost immediately complied with a very warm smile. One boy also let me know by what name I could call him. (That wasn’t so hard now was it?)
I don’t think I was half as well-behaved when I was their age, and can only imagine what a nightmare a few of my bratty classmates and I would’ve been for our school teachers. I salute all their parents for having raised their children so well, I am sure you must all be very proud!
We arrived at Byapanahalli station shortly afterwards. And we assembled outside for the wrap up and experience sharing session. While I couldn’t follow what was spoken mostly because it was in Kannada, the look of content and happiness on the faces of the children told me all I needed to know.
Volunteers were asked to share the feedback, I was a little too tongue tied to say anything meaningful and hence passed up the chance then, but I am going to take the opportunity to do so now.
Thank you for
- helping me understand that the greatest gift one can ever give another person is time and the greatest virtue is undivided attention
- reminding me that no matter how grown up I am or appear to be, there is always a little room and time to be a child
- helping me realize that the time I spend with you lighting up your life, you are also lighting up mine, more so
- being underprivileged is a state of mind indoctrinated by social dogma and if you peel away those layers, you and I are not so different in what we want and who we are
- helping me appreciate that the real joy of giving is when its unconditional and without expectations
One particularly endearing incident for me during the ride was when this girl caught hold of the hand of a volunteer and pulled her towards her. “Are you having a good time”, she asked the volunteer. “Of course I am happy, I’m spending time with you and if you are happy I am also happy.” replied the volunteer.
Such a self-less gesture from the child. It was both a turning point of this event and a humbling moment for me. I realized that many aspects of our life are equally underprivileged and impoverished and it takes a child like this to enrich it as much as we enrich theirs.
And as I embarked on my first namma metro ride and Dream A Dream journey, literally and figuratively I have come to realize why I wanted to be a volunteer in the first place. Even though we all lead very superficially successful lives there is this gross feeling of inadequacy that we all feel (I’ll be the first to put my hand up and admit this), and we can’t help but feel there is more to life than just being. I leave you with a verse I wrote a few months back that I feel captures this sentiment perfectly
Sometimes I think about the life I’m living
I seem to take more than I’m giving
More vengeful than forgiving
More reluctant than willing
Cynical without believing
Need to start emptying the bad
So the goodness can start filling
The opposite of death is not life but birth,
And we make that journey to figure out what we’re worth