[Reader-list] Tiny Fragments/Nangla

CM@Nangla nangla at cm.sarai.net
Sun Apr 23 10:05:14 IST 2006

Tiny Fragments
by Lakhmi

The grey cement ground that is used for morning prayers was scratched with
various shapes for playing games, using red chalk. All class rooms were
shut and locked with identical locks. Some doors were not locked, though,
and one could peep through them to catch a glimpse of what they may have
looked like when they were still in use. The dust infused air had settled
in the class rooms. Piles of dust lay accumulated in the corners.

One could only try and imagine what the environment in the class room would
have been like before. Maybe all the desks from all the class rooms were
collected here, in this room, when they were first purchased. Because
today, apart from the neat rows of desks here, several had been piled up
for storage. Crumpled sheets lay in drawers without doors. It was a
soundless room and so it was difficult to imagine what conversations would
have sounded like during free periods.

Is this a school about to break for vacations? A man is sitting on a bent
chair in front of an empty class room, his eyes running from spot to spot
over the corridors and the locked doors. Behind him, in the empty room, a
thin carpet (the kind spread to seat many people) lies in one corner. In
another corner are a pile of new school books, tied together with a plastic
rope. Maybe this class room is not used for children to study. Maybe that
is why there are a few big desks in it, and no chairs to sit.

I could hear the man's voice, “Desks : 200, broken : 50, in proper
condition : 150; fans : 25, broken : 3, in proper condition : 22; cupboards
: 2; locks : 17, broken : 5, in proper condition : 12...” And so he
continued, jotting things in his file. He would write something, and then
look around, wondering about what it was that he hadn't counted. I wondered
what all that could be, He had already counted the windows, window frames,
stationery, etc.

It was breezy where he was sitting. He was sitting right at the edge of the
corridor, in the shade. I looked again at the desks in the class room I was
next to. Each desk had an imprint of his hand, made on the dust, as he
would have touched each desk, walking along as he counted them. He would
have counted a row of desks, and brushed the dust off his hands by rubbing
them on his trousers. His trousers would be marked by thousand fingers of

I walked towards him. I wanted to know what gaze he cast on the school when
looking at it through its objects alone. He sensed me approaching, looked
up at me and smiled. This was his permission for me to begin talking to him.

I asked, “Sir, do you know where you will be shifting to? Where the
school will shift to?”
He stretched his body as if to relax his muscles and said, “Yes, we do
know that now. But we can't shift till the basti is broken, and till all
the students have been issued their transfer certificates. They will be
issued till the 29th of this month. And in any case, all things will be
shifted before we shift.”
“Where is the school shifting?”
“Nearby, to another school.”
“Do you have to make an inventory of all the things?”
“What can I say! The government doesn't spare anything. If it were upto
the government, I would also have to count all the bricks. How does it
matter to the government whose difficulty this becomes!” (He said all
this in one breath, without thinking twice about saying anything He just
kept looking at his papers and speaking.)
Just then a teacher called out to him from inside a class room, “Listen!
The Transfer Certificates Register has run out here. Bring another one, and
bring the stamp as well.”
He replied, “Of course” and started muttering under his breath. “Now
I will have to count the registers again, and make a new list. If there are
any scratch marks on any list that has to be submitted, the teacher in
charge won't sign it.” He walked away, muttering.

He was gone three minutes, and the silence around me seemed to deepen.
There are other people in the school. They appear from, and disapear into
doors. The man returned. Perhaps the conversation amused him.
“Yes, so what were you saying?” he sat down as he said this.
“How many students are there in the school?”
“I'm not so sure. There are 60 students to a class. The school is till
the fifth standard. There are three sections to each class. So there must
be roughly 1000 students in all.”
His arms were crossed in front of him, and he nodded his head as if to
affirm to himself the correctness of his calculation.
I said, “It would have been a bigger problem if you had been required to
count all the children in this school like you have had to count things.”
Hitting his foot on the floor he replied, directing his eyes at the teacher
issuing transfer certificates, he said, “Arre, we have records of that.
But if we were asked to count, we would have been in trouble. When we go
out for a picnic or something, it becomes difficult to keep count of forty
students. And to count them all!”
“Is everyone being sent to the same school?”
“That's what we've heard, as of now.”
“And all these things also have to be shifted to that same school?”
“No, by the grace of god that school has everything it needs. All these
things will be sent to the office, to be issued out to that school if they
need something, or to be passed on to a new school.”
There was a brief pause, and then he said, “Isn't it weird! If they had
to break this place down, why did they have to give all the facilities of
school, dispensary, water, electricity? It is so unsettling to have
students come to get their transfer certificates issued and not be able to
answer their question about where to gain admission now.”
His eyes shied away from mine as he said this, as if he was answerable to
me in some way.
“Did you have a favourite student?” I asked him.
He laughed and said, “They are all dear to me.”
“But there must have been someone who you liked so much that you wanted
her or him to sit on the first desk of the classroom?”
“Yes. Basheer. He had come two days ago. He has just finished his third
standard, and moved into the fourth. He stood first in class. When he came
to collect his Transfer Certificate, he was wearing his school uniform. He
had a notebook in his hand and his hair were oiled and neatly combed. He
came and stood at the door. Looking at him, one would think the school is
only going on a break, and will resume after a while. Everyone kept looking
at him, all the teachers I mean. To ask him if he had come to get his
transfer certificate would have been like a blow to the image he presented
before us. And the school did not have the courage to look into his eyes to
ask him, "Have you come to study today?" There was silence. And then he
spoke after a few minutes, asking for his certificate. I gave him his
certificate, and patting him on his back, said, 'Study hard'. He left, and
all of us kept talking about him for a long while after that. Time seemed
heavy then.”

Our conversation came to an end here. I left, thinking, “How does someone
console himself, in the breaking, dissolving moulds of life? Who is to know
in what form something will make an appearance before us, and where we will
fit into it? So that he doesn't break, each person has made himself up in
tiny fragments, so he can push himself from one place to the other, piece
by piece, and not shatter because of a jolt.”

CM Lab, Nangla Maanchi


It quenches the thirst of the thirsty, 
Such is Nangla,
It shelters those who come to the city of Delhi, 
Such is Nangla. 

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