Barely one and a half kilometres away from the posh Yamuna Vihar colony of north east Delhi lies New Kardampuri.
Its name notwithstanding, there is nothing ‘new’ about New Kardampuri. It is part village, part slum — entire families crammed into one-room sets, open drains that are a mosquito’s delight, grassy patches that double as grazing ground for goats as well as playground for children and so on. Cobblers, masons and other daily wage earners live here.
Somewhere deep inside New Kardampuri lives six-year-old Sanya Mirza.
The youngest of three children, Sanya shares her home with her parents — Nazir Khan a cobbler and Saira a homemaker — siblings Sana, 14, and Mohd Javed, 10, and grandmother Hazra.
Looking at the dark and dingy two-storeyed structure that is their house (the first floor belongs to Sanya’s uncle), it is difficult to picture a brighter future.
A portion of the room serves as the kitchen — jars of atta, sugar and rice on a single rack, a gas burner and an LPG cylinder and a largish bucket of water on the floor (there is no regular supply of water). In another corner lies two dusty tin trunks, and perched on the lone charpai (string cot) in the middle of the room Hazra talks nineteen to the dozen with a relative who has just dropped by.
What Sanya makes of the English reader in the middle of all this one can’t say, but she keeps staring at the open page resolutely.
Has she heard of her famous namesake? The little girl dressed in blue salwar kurta with a proud satin piping flashes a gummy smile as she moves her head sideways. No, she hasn’t heard of the tennis star.
As it turns out, her current heroes are Doremon and Tom and Jerry.
While Sanya’s evenings are spent devouring cartoon shows at the neighbours’ place, for the past few months her mornings are spent at the Balwadi run by the NGO Pratham.
Balwadis are education centres run by Pratham and funded by Hindustan Times.
This is how it works. Pratham volunteers do a recce of the area and coax parents of non-school going children (aged between 3 and 5) to send their wards to Balwadis. Volunteers teach groups of 15 to 20 children from the neighbourhood. The volunteers or teachers are very often identified from the same community as the children and subsequently trained and provided with education kits.
Apart from the basics of Hindi, English and Mathematics, the Balwadi instructors familiarise the children with numbers, shapes, colours, stories, poems and songs. Since, most of the parents are illiterate and unable to teach their children, the Balwadis are considered a big help.
The Pratham team monitors the progress of the Balwadi on a regular basis.
There are two Balwadis in New Kardampuri and they have been operational for the last five years.
Sanya’s Balwadi with its cheery charts and colourful mats is choc-a-bloc with a dozen children of her age.
Sanya’s favourite activity of late has been playing with the Galli Galli Sim Sim kit. The kit, a gift from the children’s TV series, is meant to promote primary education.
The kit contains toy fruits and goodies and fake currency notes and coins. “Through this kit we try and impinge on the children the value of money,” says Balwadi coordinator Nishi.
“Yeh (Sanya) hamesha bolti hai chalo dukaan lagate hai (She is always ready to play shop shop),” she adds.
Almost four months since she started going to the Balwadi, Sanya can now count, recite poetry and even knows the English alphabets. “Ye apne bhai aur behen se bhi kuch kuch seekh leti hai. (She also picks up lessons from her brother and her sister, both of whom go to school),” says Hazra.
Encouraged by her eagerness to learn, Sanya’s parents have now decided to send her to school. Come July and she will start going to the primary school run by Municipal Corporation of Delhi (MCD) in Jyoti Nagar.
The 70-year-old Hazra is immensely proud and extremely supportive of her grandchildren, the first generation of learners in the family.
“Hum to padhe likhe hai nahi. Lekin hum chahte hai ke ye kuch kare. (We are also uneducated. But we want the children to have a better life),” says Hazra.