Once upon a time...
Mrs Mahadeshwar tottered her way through the freshly moistened red soil of the ground in front of
the Taraporewala aquarium with a group of sixty odd children dressed in red and brown school uniform.
It was mid-july. Wary of her bright green cotton sari that stood contrast to the landscape and the
students, dodging her way through excited souls up to the ticket window, she wanted to make this
primary-school trip memorable for every last one. The teacher along with two kakas (peons) had
planned a combined monsoon cum educational trip to the newly renovated aquarium of Mumbai
located at the marine drive. Reopened on March 3, 2015, the aquarium now boasts of 360 degree acrylic
glass tunnel, touch pools and number of exotic and large fish. The aquarium has changed for better.
Toddlers should know about fish, fishing and the fishermen community that formed the base of the
forte commercial town of Mumbai, says Mrs Mahadeshwar. The government is keen on dissolving the
fishermen communities under slums. The face of Mumbai has gradually changed over decades. But,
change is the only constant thing.
“Yes, I was aware of the days to come. Yet, never imagined they would be so enveloped by
materialistic needs”, exclaims Mrs Mahadeshwar, now one of the most senior teachers at school nestled
in the laps of Sanjay Gandhi National park. A well established, celebrated Marathi medium school, is
now saving itself from sinking. A healthy strength of 80 in 2005, has dropped down to 43 in 2015. The
students come from either lower-middle income groups or low income groups. With a rise in economy
and standard of living, the middle income group prefer their children going to better English medium
schools than Marathi medium schools. However, the economy’s claim to be progressive, when the low
income groups are keen on employing their children at a very young age for fulfilling their greed for
money is questionable. “We at our organisation, go to the adivasi padas in national park and condition
the children to come and learn from us”, says Mr Trivedi, an activist of the Doorstep organisation.
Doorstep organisation has a unique locomotive that goes to each adivasi pada and teach children in the
vehicle with audio visual aids as per their age and then sends the children to the neighbouring school.
“I go to English speaking classes myself”, says the teacher with a twinkle in her eyes. “I find joy to
progress with my students. I have learnt drawing, music and craft from them. They are exceptionally
good at it.” Tear rolled down her sunshine face as the thought of those little hands washing clothes,
utensils and selling vegetables entered her mind. “Today I bloated up balloons and wrote their names on
each! Toddlers will go home today, show their friends the marvel that they received at school today.
Tonight I will sleep, longing for tomorrow, in high spirits that at least one of them comes with a friend.
This school in Mumbai is blessed with untold treasures. The kaka strikes the iron gong at 7.10 am
sharp. However, it is a school where, if you come school before time in the morning, your five senses get
amply stimulated. You are greeted by a herd of timid deer, cooing of bharadwaj bird, chirping of mynas
and sparrows and if you are lucky enough, you might just catch a glimpse of leopard sprinting its way
back to the jungle! “It was a hot summer afternoon”, Mrs Mahadeshwar’s eyes twinkled again. “There
was a physical training class and unfortunately we were teaching the children meditating. Just then the
watchman came panting in. He had spotted the leopard! Bang! Bang! We shut the school gates.
Scurrying their way to safety the kids rushed inside. Alas, the leopard had just been visiting the school,
perhaps, for surprise intervention.
Even today at 2pm, ‘kaka’ strikes the iron gong; but the school anticipates the lost cheer and the
adrenaline rush of souls loping home.