Home > India 2012 > A Mitzvah Story

A Mitzvah Story

A few days before Pakis left Durham to join me in New Delhi, Our neighbor Jennifer, gave him a $10 bill and said, “Give it to a worthy cause (mitzvah) and bring back a story.”  So here’s the story.

It begins before Pakis arrived in India, when I toured a low cost private school in Bangalore with my colleagues in the TGC program.  (I described it in some detail in this earlier post).  I remember asking who the clientele was for that school, and the answer was “Drivers, very small shop owners, people who have little education themselves but have made it into the lowest rung of the middle class.  These parents can barely afford to pay for tuition, books, and uniforms (all of which are free in public schools), but they see English as the key to a better life for their children.  Public schools use the local language as the primary medium of instruction, while these private schools use English.”

They advertise that they use English, that is.  There’s little accountability, and we heard at least as much Kannada as English in the classes we visited.  It’s really not clear that the education being offered is worth even the small amount of money being paid.  Still, the parents pin their hopes on it and send their children.

Business CardA couple of weeks later, Pakis and I were visiting sites in New Delhi and Jaipur (northern India), and later in Kerala (southern India).  We had a driver in each place, and each one was sending his only child to an English medium private school.  The Delhi/Jaipur driver, Avtar Verma, had picked up a significant amount of English, and he was quite enterprising.  He talked to us and made excellent suggestions for things we could do with time not filled by our official itinerary; he kept cold bottled water and helped Pakis negotiate the purchase of a SIM card for our cell phone.  He hopes someday to open his own tour company, and we believe he will.


Girish seeing us off as we depart on boat ride

Our driver in Kerala was named Girish.  He was with us (or we with him) for five days.  Like Verma, he was an excellent driver and a caring person.  He, however, saw no possibility of advancing to a higher position in his life; as he said, “I am a poor man. I not know English.”

He saw possibilities for his daughter, though, and he was scraping together money to send her to a private, English medium school.  The new school year had started June 1 (we were there in late July), and Girish had managed to purchase three of the five textbooks his daughter needed.  (Don’t picture glossy new hardbacks here; these textbooks are small format paperbacks about 1/4″ thick).  With the money he earned in five days of work for us, Girish planned to meet immediate family needs and buy his daughter one more book.

The mitzvah opportunity was clear.  While we were away fro Girish on the house boat, we asked the crew to translate a note into Malayalam, the local language in Kerala.  The next day,  Girish was waiting for us on the dock and drove us to the airport.  There we gave him a tip plus Jennifer’s $10 in a card.  We would have liked to explain the mitzvah concept, but it would have been too much.

Note for Girish

I don’t know how many books Girish can buy with $10, and I wish I felt more confident that his faith in his daughter’s school is well placed.  But mitzvah is about doing a good thing, not fixing everything.  Courtesy of our friend Jennifer, I think we did that. I wish there were some way to reconnect with Girish in a year or two or even in five years.  I’d love to know how things unfold in his life and his daughter’s.  But travel is full of open endings, and this is almost certainly one.

Categories: India 2012
  1. Deborah Marion
    August 5, 2012 at 7:52 am

    Wonderful story, Tina!

  2. carol b
    August 5, 2012 at 4:30 pm

    I absolutely love this! I am sure he will remember you and Pakis fondly!

  3. padma murthy
    August 7, 2012 at 1:46 am

    Wonderful story!! am sure he and his will remember you and you will be connected!!! It amazes me on how these people hold on to HOPE!!! at all times….

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