A friend dropped by this morning. We had not met for a long time, yet there was a time when we shared the same ideas and concern and were all set to rebuild the world over innumerable cups of coffee. At that time we both taught in universities. We liked the same books, the same songs and shared similar aspirations. I cannot remember what was said and thought, but I do recall that we both felt deeply that things were not right.

Life took its course and he remained a teacher and still teaches in a prime institution. I left my comfortable, pensionable post as I had felt stifled. Family obligations saw me criss-crossing the planet and it was only a few years back that I set roots and felt I had reached my destination.

The last time we met, we only knew one side of the invisble divide that fractures our country and conjured the other the way we wanted to see it. But this time it was different, I had crossed the line and experienced first hand what reality was, seeing each and every of my preconceived notions being blown to pieces, and re-looking at the very issues we had debated upon with new eyes.

It took me but a few minutes to get to my pet subject and talk about my dream of seeing the children of India grow together, side by side, without any labels stuck to their foreheads, taking time to build their own. Somehow I had expected T to agree to what I said. I was astonished to see his reaction and stunned when he mentioned public-private partnership in education.

A pall was cast on what had started as a happy meeting. We fumbled through the next few minutes and bid farewell. For a long time I sat in silence wondering what had happened in those years to change things between us. Why was it that felt so deeply about bridging gaps whereas all others be it politicians, educationists and so forth maintained that solutions lay in widening the gap. Had history past and recent not given us sufficient proof of how the very fabric of our society was getting destroyed by the multitude of divisive policies we were following leaving far behind the ‘we the people of India..’ of our Constitution?

T’s reaction was disturbing as I knew that he was intrinsically a good person, truly wanting to see change. He taught the best minds and thus could impart new ideas and ideologies were he to believe in them. Then why a total rejection of a common school idea. And why on the other hand was my belief strengthened each and every day. What had happened to both of us who started much in the same way?

Maybe it was the fact that I had experienced the other side, or was it that time was not yet ripe, that our social baggage was so heavy that we were still not ready to accept our children rubbing shoulders with ‘their’ kids!

All these questions plagued me all day along.

Yet I was to be validated sooner than I thought. The evening news carried the following: the brutal murders of many young children in NOIDA have touched a chord around India. For the first time, residents of NOIDA’s bungalows are now venturing out, offering a helping hand to those who work in their houses.
The year 2006 was a year that saw so many conviction. Now taking the same spirit into 2007, the battle has just begun and so tragic as it is that it’s taken the horrific serial killings to bridge the glaring class divide between an urban slum and a swanky suburban town.(NDTVnews)

Sad that so many innocent lives had to be lost to see this. I wonder how many of the mothers must have sought help when the child disappeared. I can also imagine the reaction of the likes of me who must have offered kind words and maybe money but were unwilling to make that trip to the police station.

But it is not time to cry over what cannot be changed, but celebrate this new beginning and to ensure that this very fragile spark is kept alive. There are so many who can get justice if they have our support and maybe it is a way of redressing a system that has run amok. Filing a simple FIR, as one discovered today, is a nightmare even for an educated person. Simple rights have been usurped by a feudal attitude that sets the rules turning victims into accused.

One has to also ensure that this new found compassion does not become another power game or get hijacked on the way by those waiting in the wings for any cause to espouse to fulfil their own agendas.

I said earlier that maybe the time was not ripe for the elusive common school system. However I want to believe that if people have found it in their heart to reach out to their poorer brethren, then slowly they may also come to accept one day to have their kids share a school bench.

I guess the penny will drop when one comes to understand that in doing so we are not doling out any charity but investing in our own tomorrows.