Except for the Promise School there is not much else in Nawabpur that holds out a promise of a better life for its residents. A stone's throw away from Rajarhat, also known as the Singapore of Kolkata because of its swanky malls and posh highrises, lies this alternate universe of shanties and extreme poverty.
At this coaching centre-cum-school, first-generation learners introduce other first-generation learners to the world of education. According to Nargis Parvin, a student of Class VI, the "best part" of being in Promise School is that "the teachers are like us".
"The school was started a year ago to provide out-of-school tuition as well as wholesome lunch," says Joydeep Das-gupta, CEO of Promise Charitable Trust that runs the school.
Housing 200 students, the 'school' itself is a one-storied house, with a hall, kitchen, office space and toilet — all packed in 900sqft space. During summers, when the tin roof makes it less of a school more of a furnace, students still come unable to resist the lure of bhaat, dal, alu shedhho (rice, lentils and mashed potato).
Sufia, 12, and Mamoni Khatoon, 13, students of class VI and VIII, respectively, are among the 75 girl students. "Many of our friends are not allowed to go to school. Their parents want to get them married," says Sufia even as the duo dissolve into giggles.
But there are others who know the importance of education. Marjina Bibi, 28, lost her husband and is now working as a domestic help. No matter how much she has to scrimp and save and work, Marjina makes sure her five-year-old daughter goes to school every day. "Education is essential and so is food. Here she gets both."
"Most of the students are so poor that when eggs are served once a week, they wash it and take it home to share it with their siblings," says Hassan Ali, one of the eight teachers. The first in his family to go to school, Ali, 18, is pursuing BCom. "If these children don't learn to love studies they'll become child labourers." His Rs. 2,000 honorarium pays his college fees.
Bashir Ahamed, 17, another teacher, is a student of Class XII. Bashir's rickshawpuller father and housewife mother, too, sent him to Promise School, where he did them proud. "I have never had a tutor but I got 75% in Class X exams. I am now taking coaching for JEE," he says.
And what does he want to do eventually? "I want to become an engineer and make a time machine."