As I walked around talking to the children, I saw a vehicle drive into the campus. Kumar told me that it belonged to a nearby resort. A well-to-do family alighted and finally a young man dressed in ‘fatigues’ came out. It took me a few seconds to recognize our own Manju! I have written about Manju earlier too (here). He was among the first batch of 28 students at VTCL. He was now working in this resort as a Naturalist and accompanied the tourists as their guide, describing the local flora and fauna.
Manju walked upto me and proudly introduced the family. I was dumbfounded at his eloquence and the fluency with which he spoke in English! As though this was not enough, a child asked something in Hindi and there he was, rattling off in Hindi too! He was proudly showing ‘his school’ to the family and telling them about the early days. His communication skills, self-confidence and self-esteem were something that I was proud of.
With Manju, during my recent visit to Hosahalli
My mind wandered back to 1989-90. Manju must have been 7-8 years old then. Marikala, these 28 children and I were working to clear the shrubs and make some space for our dream called ‘school’. The children were getting tired and bored. We decided to take a break and have some fun. I had to hurriedly think of something interesting and I suggested that each child try and count the trees that we had in our campus. One suggested that they would not only count the trees, but also get a leaf from each tree and someone else added that they needed to do all this within an hour. Off they all went in different directions and an hour or so later, they started trickling in with a huge bunch of leaves. Each child started counting the leaves – most had around 30, some had 50, but what Manju had brought surprised me. He had leaves from nearly 70 different trees! So many different shapes and sizes, though many looked alike to me. He not only counted them out, but as he did so, explained to me which tree would shed its leaf first, which tree would attract the most bees and how drinking honey from the ‘Taare’ tree would cause temporary insanity!
Here I was, thinking that these children needed schooling! I could not have been more wrong. I only had to make sure that the school we were planning did not interfere with the education that they already had.