Residents of New Kardampuri are familiar with the little figure in blue jersey and cricket bat in hand.
“Ammi mujhe bolti hai ki ghar ka khana zyada taakat deta hai aur phir mein achche se cricket khel paaonga (My mother says home-cooked food gives you more strength. If I eat lots I will be able to play good cricket),” says the frail looking five-year-old boy with large eyes. “Dhoni achcha lagta hai (I like Dhoni),” he adds.
“Sameer is seldom seen minus his bat. Who knows one day he might make it to the Indian cricket team and bring glory to our area,” says one of the neighbours, Amina.
Making it to Team India might take a few years, but as of now Sameer is donning another kind of blue — the school uniform of the MCD school in Durgapuri in north east Delhi, where he has just been enrolled as a nursery student.
Sameer’s father Habibullah, an electrician with a monthly income of Rs. 3,500, has himself studied up to Class 8. The couple had no plans of sending their children — Sameer (5) and his younger brother Liyaquat (4) — to school.
Sameer’s mother Nargis rears a buffalo at home and sells milk to supplement her husband’s income.
“Rs. 2,000 kiraya dena padta hai har mahine. Mahine ka ration khareedne ke baad bachchon ki padai ke liye zyada paise nahin bachte (After paying a rent of Rs. 2,000 every month there is just about enough to meet our daily needs. We cannot afford to educate our children in good private schools,” says Nargis.
The accommodation in question is all of two rooms — one of which is used to store electrical waste. Just outside is an open drain and the local garbage dump is a stone’s throw away.
“En cheezo se hame koi pareshani nahin hoti. Bus ek cheez jo kharab lagti hai who yahan ki khuli hui naaliyan (drains) hai. Bachche yahan gir sakte hai aur chot bhi lag sakti hai. Aise mein en logo ka bahut dhyan rakhna padta hai (This is our life, our home. I have no complaints. Yes, the open drains are a cause of concern. Children can fall into them and get hurt, so one has to keep an eye on them constantly,” says Nargis.
Nevertheless, the couple took the first step and sent their child to the neighbourhood Balwadi four months ago. The trigger was a neighbour’s child.
“Adnan used to be a reticent boy. Then one day he came up to me and started asking me questions about our buffaloes. He seemed like a different boy altogether — curious and full of life,” says Habibullah.
It turned out that ever since Adnan started going to the Balwadi he had blossomed. So, Habibullah too decided to send Sameer to the Balwadi.
Balwadis are education centres run by the NGO Pratham and funded by Hindustan Times.
Pratham volunteers coax parents of non-school going children (aged between 3 and 5 years) to send their wards to Balwadis. Volunteers teach groups of 15 to 20 children from the neighbourhood.
Colouring, learning rhymes, playing with building blocks — Sameer has had an extremely busy time at the Balwadi the last four months.
“He loves to colour things. We have these colouring books with outlines of all kinds of objects — fruits, vegetables, vehicles. It is basically a familiarisation exercise,” says Afsana, a volunteer with Pratham.
Pointing to a picture of a train which he has decorated with lentils Sameer says, “Hum isme baith kar bahut door jaate hai aur yeh kali hoti hai (This thing takes us to faraway places).”
Impressed with his progress Balwadi volunteers approached Habibullah and Nargis once again.
“Balwadi walo ne hame kaha ki Sameer ka school mein admission karvo do taaki wo aage padai kare (They asked us to send our child to school so that he study further),” says Nargis.
Habibullah now wants both his sons to complete school as well as college. “Hum to sirf school gaye. In dono ko to aage bahut padhai karna hai. Wohi ek rasta hai zindagi ka rukh badalne ka
(I have only attended school. But my sons should study more. Education is the only thing that can change the course of their lives, and ours).”