Our adventure with the 28 children started looking more like a school after we got a black board and some books. To make things complete, Lalitha also acquired a cane to hold onto. I wasn’t sure whether she held it to demonstrate authority (these children did need taming, though) or kept it more as a matter of practice. She was herding goats in Kodagu before she came to Brahmagiri. I never found out and thankfully, it seemed as though the whole place did have an academic flavour to it.
And then the monsoons arrived. It rained so heavily that the school could not function for days at a stretch. The small cowshed did not have the wherewithal to provide adequate protection. After about 10 days of the school being closed, a delegation of parents and children came up to me. I was thrilled on seeing them. For once, I thought the theorists had been proved wrong! Even the poor do value education and schooling! They came to me and demanded an explanation for shutting down the school. Selli (mother of Ramesh, who now works as a Ophthalmic Assistant in our Saragur Hospital) was the leader and the most vocal. I tried telling her that the roof did not provide any protection and we could not teach in such an environment. She spontaneously asked if the kitchen in my small living quarters was closed because it rained. For a moment I could not figure out what she meant. I asked her what the connection between the rain and the kitchen was. After some time, it occurred to me that these children had got used to the regular afternoon meals in the school and had started demanding food from their mothers after the school got closed. The parents had now come to protest. It dawned on me that our school was not about the ‘slate’, but it was still about the ‘plate’. This harsh realization of poverty was indeed an eye opener to me and served to sustain my motivation in making sure that the school never really shut down after that. It is a matter of pride that we have never stopped serving meals since that day, irrespective of our financial situation.
But the problem of a regular building still remained. It was then that I received a letter from one Mr.S.R.Prabhu, who had retired as the General Manager of Canara Bank and was an active social worker (he must have been at least 75 years old then itself). He asked me to visit him and I went to his house in Tata Silk Farm in Bangalore. He wanted to know what immediate support I was looking for. I explained the problem of the school. He asked me to apply to the Canara Bank Jubilee Education Fund (CBJEF) of which he was one of the Trustees. He also introduced me to another great lady – Dr.Padmasini Asuri, who was overseeing the WYTEP program of DANIDA in Karnataka. I met her and explained my predicament. She told me that she could not help me in building a school but could provide some assistance for building a hall that could service community needs. She hinted that one could interpret a school as serving a distinct community need. She had powers to sanction up to Rs.1,00,000 and asked me to send her a proposal for Rs.99,000. This was the first formal proposal I wrote. She responded by visiting us and gave us the grant. The CBJEF sanctioned Rs.20,000 and we now had the money to build our school.
Or so I thought. As we started building, I realized that we were located so far away in the wilderness that the funds were being eaten up by the transportation itself. Pretty soon we ran out of resources. I once again turned to Mr.Prabhu. He wrote to the famous jurist Nani Palkhivala who was a Trustee of the Lotus Trust in Mumbai. What a relief it was when they promptly sent us Rs.50,000 to help us complete the building! The seeds for what was to be the old campus of VTCL were sown.