Today we have reached an age where in a desperate bid to succeed in life and earn money, which requires us to align ourselves with the western cultures, we are forgetting our own traditions. Bengalis have started taking English and Hindi as 1st and 2nd languages in schools and a lot of people think that talking in Bengali makes them outdated and backward. While we know about J.K.Rowling,Arthur Conan Doyle and Stephen King, most of us don’t know or fumble to remember the names of the books written by our own authors like Tagore, Bankimchandra and Sharatchandra to name a few. While we make fifty shades of grey trending in twitter, we fail to read,watch and feel the emotions captured in every line and frame of Panther Panchali. We idealize Che Guevara (most without knowing what he did) but we know nothing about Sido Murmu and Kanhu Murmu, leaders of the santhal rebellion in 1855-56 which was the start of major uprisings against the oppressive British rule. So, when Aritra shared a post from Facebook regarding Sido Kanhu Mission School in Purulia and expressed his wish to visit the place, I didn’t have to think twice to accompany him. The information provided in the Facebook post was sketchy at best but we got a location and the idea of what is the function of the Mission. We researched a bit and came to know that it is located near Arsha village in Puruliya, imparts education to the impoverished children of the obscure villages of Purulia and is in need of a lot of help. So, we decided to go and see what type of long term help would be most beneficial to them. We managed to get a rough idea of how many students would be present and packed a few goodies and school supplies as initial gifts.
We started at 4:45 AM on 22nd September from Dakshineswar and took the route shown below.
We reached Arsha at around 12:30 PM and asked around for the directions of Sido Kanhu Mission or the house of it’s founder Naren Hansda. We were directed by the local people and after riding through a few narrow village roads flanked by mud houses on both sides we reached the location.
Situated in the lap of nature, the calm and serene school immediately captured our hearts. It seemed an ideal place to impart education reminding us of the ancient gurukuls. Flanked by a few small hills and unbroken greenery it was a relief for the eyes so accustomed to the concrete jungles of Kolkata. When we reached Naren Hansda was not there but that did not mean we were not welcomed. A few orphan students who live in the school building itself showed us that they still believe in and follow our age old tradition of ‘atithi narayan’. We were astonished to see such small kids pulling up chairs for us, offering glasses of drinking water and touching our feet for blessings. We were humbled. Wherein the schools around us are busy creating success stories measured by marks, here was a school which was truly upholding the true ideal of education and educators, creating good and virtuous human beings first.
While we were talking and playing with the children, Naren Hansda arrived with a few others. He was very polite and inquired about our journey and whether we had any difficulties in the way. After that we sat together and asked him about his inspiration and motivation behind starting the school. We came to know that this school was set up on the land of Lasaram Tudu. When they had settled in this place it was uninhabited and the local people avoided the place saying that it was haunted. Naren Hansda is a gifted musician and is called to sing in many programs. He has been called for several programs in Kolkata also. Lasaram Tudu also used to perform in radio. Their exposure to the world outside made them realize how backward the children in their region was in terms of education. Though government schools are there but most of the local children cannot attend the schools as the time of the school coincides with their occupation which gains priority. Also the government school curriculum does not include teaching students the santhali language and culture. So, these two visionaries along with some others started a santhali medium school where the students from nursery to class 4 are taught. Apart from the regular Maths, English, Bengali they are also taught santhali language and history from Monday through Friday. Saturday and Sunday are reserved for singing, dancing and acting. So that the students are free to go to the regular school the timing of this special school is kept from 6:00 AM to 9:00 AM. The teachers are local youth who are studying or have completed their education and trying to get a job. The remuneration of these teachers, the school costs and the living costs of a few students are all borne by Naren Hansda and his team by the money they get for performing in different cultural programmes. Not only that, they have also turned the barren hills around their residence into lush green by planting trees which are watered and taken care of by the resident students. Naren Hansda and Lasaram Tudu gave us a tour of their school and we talked in length about the help we can provide them in furthering their noble cause. Then they invited us to go with them to the nearby village where they and a few boys would sing local santhali songs and the revenue this will generate will be used to procure food for a few days.
After enjoying a very lively performance by our friends we went to have our lunch at Arsha village. We returned after buying some goodies such as cakes and biscuits for our little friends at the school. Naren Hansda asked us to spend the night with them and witness the Sunday morning school as we had missed the Saturday morning school which had ended by the time we reached. But, though we were very eager to stay we had to return due to some previously fixed engagement on Sunday. We also did not go prepared for a night stay as our intentions were to perform a recon and gather information so that we can plan and prepare for future visits. So, we took their leave and left for Kolkata at 04:45 PM.
It was a very humbling experience altogether and we had the chance to meet a person who is doing no less a work than Dasarath Majhi, the mountain man. The hurdles that Naren Hansda has to face is immense. To convince the parents to send their wards to school is itself a herculean task given the sociological conditions in the backward villages of our country. Then comes the inhuman task of running such a school and looking after the children, that too by his own hard earned money. I guess some of us who believe we are living a tough life should go and see what tough living actually means, and what one man can do for the betterment of the society.
Anyone who wants to visit the school can call up Naren Hansda and inform him beforehand. The detailed information is furnished below.
Sido- Kanhu Mission
Bhalidungri, Arsha, Purulia
Name- Naren Hansda