Article

On the shoulders of a humble giant – Part II

The article below originally appeared in AID News, 20 October 1998

On the shoulders of a humble giant – Part II

(This is a continuation of the report that came in last week’s AID News).

You see, they heard us saying we came from Mumbai. So even after convincing
them that he was not Sachin Tendulkar, Ravi was still asked, “have you met
Sachin? Do you play cricket? Do you go to all the matches? mAku TV
ippicanDi, annam aina manEstAmu!” to which I asked, “caduvu kUDa
manEstArA?” [get us a TV, please, we will even give up our dinner! will
you also quit studying?] of course they assured us that they would *never*
do that!

From there we spent a day or two in Vizag, where we had a chance to talk
with Balaji as well as Alka who had come from Bangalore. I also met some
profs from Andhra U. Telugu department and a kuchipudi teacher in Vizag,
which prompted Dr. Parameswara Rao to note that I was ready to settle down
in BCT and consult with my teachers as needed.

Of course, that was before we went to Chintapalli! In the hills where
Andhra meets Orissa, within sight of the very mountain where the legendary
Alluri SitaRamaRaju made his home, was the village of Gudem Kothaveedi. The
climate was cool and the air was fresh. Volunteers from Girijana Sravanthi,
the local tribal organization, greeted us and showed us the office and the
plots where they were growing medicinal herbs. After lunch the 5 day
workshop in mullika vaidyam, or herbal medicine, began. It was not the
first workshop for this organization and so the class began with 3 of the
students describing the patients they had treated with the herbal remedies
they had learned in previous workshops. There were also 3 new students, as
well as Brit, a student from Norway doing research on sugar cane farmers,
and us just observing. The next day we went into the forests to collect
herbs and barks not available on the premises and the next two days we
prepared medicines. Because there were too many things to do we had to skip
some sessions, anyway I quickly realized that it is not something one can
learn in a week.

One evening Ravi and I went with a staff member from BCT and some others to
visit Non Formal Education (NFE) centers. These are educational programs
that run for 2.5 hours either before or after the children’s normal working
day. We were visiting evening NFE centers, from 6 – 9 p.m. We travelled by
jeep further up the hills (which had looked so empty from the road below)
and when the jeep could not go any more, we got out and walked, torches in
hand. Across small streams and even smaller dirt paths through farmer’s
fields we walked to the first center. The village had no electricity and so
the students came to school each with a small oil lamp. However it was too
dangerous to light all the lamps in the small space where the children were
seated and so one light for every 3-4 students was lit, and one for the
teacher. It was very dark and the exposed flames flickered in the mountain
breeze. Though the students’ native language was Oriya, they were being
taught Telugu. When we talked to the students, the teacher translated for
them, and translated their responses back for us. A large promotional
poster on the AP govt’s “Janmabhumi” program was pasted above the
blackboard. Later I learned that these Oriya people had lived in this area
for 5 generations.

The next center we visited was even more remote. All of these were surprise
visits. The teachers generally passed tenth class and got training from
BCT. The purpose of our visits was partly to “check” on the school and
recommend further training to those who needed it, and also to help with
any difficulties they were facing. However, the teachers seemed more
solicitous towards us and even roasted some corn for us to munch on our way
back. And back through the fields, across the streams, we kept our minds
off the stories of snakes and “encounters” by nibbling at the corn and
staring at the sky so thick with stars in this current-less area, the Milky
Way looked like a broad stroke of white paint.

On “encounters” we were to learn more later. (to be continued)

Aravinda “>

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