Friday, September 06, 2013

What will become of Ahmed Abbas?

Ahmed is a student in my class. He is a tiny kid with an infectious smile. He has a penchant for getting into trouble and hurting himself. Being hyperactive doesn't help his cause. As much as he is a distraction while teaching, I have not lowered my expectations of him in the class when it comes to behaviour. I have invested a lot of time in talking to him and his mother to build a connect. This Wednesday was the first day he showed a strong improvement in his task adherence in class and I was happy that something was finally working.

Having met his mother a few times, I know he comes from the lowest of the the low income households that my students belong to. He lives in a small rented temporary accommodation with his parents and two sisters - one elder and one younger. His father makes hats for a living. His father's income is not regular and strictly governed by the off take in shops. His mother helps his father when demand peaks so that they can maximize their income. My guess is their household must be earning around Rs.40000 per year. His sisters go to an Urdu medium school. His elder sister is bright in studies and is hoping to pass her 10th grade exams. She is aspiring to go to college, for which her mother has requested a special fee concession from the Principal. I have assured Ahmed's mother that I will guide her daughter through her college admissions.

On teachers' day, I was looking forward to meeting Ahmed. I wanted to see if he makes something for one of his teachers on his own accord. I wanted to see what it would be, considering his literacy is at a kindergarten level. However, Ahmed did not turn up.

I called his mother. She told me she could not send Ahmed to school that day because she had to go to the hospital. On further inquiry, I found out his father had been hit by a bus and had fractured his skull. He was on life support in a government hospital. The doctors had given him a poor prognosis and told her that surgery was not an option. She was going to find out in another hour if he would live. She spoke with a sense of calm that was both praiseworthy and shocking.

Ahmed came to school later in the day. I asked him why he was away from home. He said he was bored of sitting at home. His mother had taken his father to the doctor and asked his sister to look after him. I realized he did not know the complete story. I asked him to go home and help his sister manage the home so that his mother is not troubled further. I made him promise he would not go anywhere else that day until his mother returned home. He nodded, gave me the smile and left.

Seeing him leave, a train of thoughts ran through my head.

What if his father lives?
Will he get the right care in a municipal hospital? How long will he take to return home? Will the environment of Shivaji Nagar's slum be conducive for his recovery? Will he be able to return to his work again? Will he live in a vegetative state? Will his family be able to support him then? Who will bear the burden with the mother?

What if his father doesn't live?
Will his mother be able to feed the family? Will his sister have to drop out of school and start working to help her mother? Will the family have to move to a far flung 'affordable' locality? Will Ahmed drop out of school? What will happen of the family then? Will another generation be caught in the vicious circle of poverty?

I have been speaking to Ahmed's mother once in a day. His father still lives on. His condition hasn't improved though. I hope and pray it does. For Ahmed's sake.

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