Images of India : It’s school time for grannies…

nanniesEvery afternoon, a group of elderly women – all over 60 years, and some nearing 90 – head to a new school in their village near Mumbai to learn the alphabet and fulfill their lifelong dream of attaining literacy. Dressed in a bright pink sari and white blouse – the school uniform. One major factor preventing illiterate adults from learning the alphabet is the lack of schools for them. But that changed last month when an aajibaichi shala or grandmothers’ school started functioning on International Women’s Day (March 8), stirring the nondescript village – where most families make a living from subsistence farming or doing menial jobs at the industrial units in nearby towns – into action. Classes begin at 2 pm and continue until 5 pm. Classes begin with a 10-minute assembly. Attendance is taken and the names of absentees noted; they’re contacted the next day and asked to explain their absence. The students then fish out their slates, on which they are asked to copy down the Hindi alphabet. Of the 28 students, many are frail. Some have weak eyesight, others are hard of hearing and a few struggle to walk long distances. Luckily, the school is right in the centre of the village so hardly more than 500 meters away from the furthest home. The anxious grannies are coping daily with homework and an upcoming test. This will be their first exam in a formal teaching space since they started going to school. Besides regular classes, the school also organises excursions occasionally. The grannies, who had never ventured out of their village, were taken on a bus trip to Ralegan Siddhi, the village of social activist Anna Hazare, about 10 km away. The school has given them a purpose in life. Instead of sitting in an isolated corner of their homes, they are now communicating with their classmates and teachers at school and enjoying themselves. At home, grandchildren have become their classmates and even mentors. They sit together and learn from each other. Suddenly, the generation gap seems to have disappeared.