Tag Archives: grandmother

Ajjibaichi Shaala: Let’s Go to Grandmother’s School!

“With a roar, rise, and fight for your right to education.

Breaking the chains of tradition, go get an education.”

– Savitribai Phule

India’s first school for girls was started in Pune, Maharashtra, by Savitribai Phule – a woman who spearheaded the movement for female education in India.  Almost two centuries later, the flame continues to burn bright in Maharashtra, as a new institution, the first of its kind, is set up. A school that Kantabai More, at the age of 74, can proudly say she attends twice a week. Where she gets scolded for not finishing her homework by her teacher, Sheetal More, who also happens to be her daughter-in-law. A school where all her peers are of her age. A school for the ajjis (grandmothers) of Fangane, a village in Maharashtra.

On March 8th, 2016, International Women’s Day, the Ajjibaichi Shaala (Grandmothers’ School), was set up in Fangane at the demand of the ajjis. “

The idea for Ajjibaichi Shaala came to me in Feb 2016, when we were celebrating Shivaji Jayanti,” says the founder Yogendra Bangar. “The ladies in the village were reading out of a ‘paath’ (a holy passage), and I heard the senior women say that they wished they, too, could read the text. That’s where the idea of a school for them came from, and the whole village rallied behind it.”

After having spent their entire lives dedicated to family by tending to the fields, the harvest, and the business, the ajjis have, at long last, decided to turn to their own lifelong desire—to go to school and get an education. 

The crew of Virtual Bharat, a 1000 film journey of India initiated by filmmaker Bharatbala, attempts to capture the ajjis in action, as they don their bright pink saree-uniforms and head to school together to learn their rhymes, math, alphabet, and art—and like any other students, complain about homework and tests. In a four-day shoot in Fangane, living amidst the grandmothers, the team saw that telling the story of the Ajjibaichi Shaala was more than filming the classroom and the uniforms. It had to be about capturing its incredible spirit.

As Sitabai Deshmukh, an 85-year-old ajji—the oldest in her class—tells the crew, school, for her, is about more than just the letters that they teach (which she forgets before the next class anyway); she cannot even really see the blackboard or comprehend much of what is taught to her. For her, school is about living a life she never thought she would have access to. A life she has ensured that her children and grandchildren experience. A life that she too can now proudly say she has lived. The Ajjibaichi Shaala is a Maharashtrian grandmother’s dream and now serves as source of pride.

Watch the short film on the link below!

Virtual Bharat in collaboration with India Currents will release a monthly series highlighting the stories Virtual Bharat is capturing in India. Stay tuned for more!

Virtual Bharat is a 1000 film journey of untold stories of India spanning people, landscapes, literature, folklore, dance, music, traditions, architecture, and more in a repository of culture. The vision of director Bharatbala, creator of Maa Tujhe Salaam, we are a tale of India told person-by-person, story-by-story, and experience-by-experience. The films are under 10 minutes in length and are currently available on Virtual Bharat’s Youtube Channel

Lust For Life

I must have looked aghast at her bare feet, for Ajji smiled her widest, toothless best, and said, “Back home I never wear chappals. If I did, I’d probably leave it somewhere and forget about them.”

But I was thirteen and as with most children at that age, I was stubborn and set in my ways. Moreover, this wasn’t just another stroll around the block. I was taking her to meet my English teacher who’d wanted to meet my “grandmother from the village,” and she had even tempted me with the offer of a “really nice book” that she had set aside for me.

The offer for a visit to my reacher’s home had come about because of an essay I’d written after my annual visit to my grandparents’ house in Hassan. My teacher had loved it: the tiled roof cottage, rickety gate, wood stoves, eccentric grandparents, their neighbors, and a crazy garden that snuck up to the cottage after every monsoon. The essay was full of sensory details that fascinated her.

Ajji shuffled her feet in my Hawaii chappals as we walked to my teacher’s house. Usually garrulous, she sat on the sofa with her checked sari wrapped tight around her, nodding and smiling like a Dassera doll in response to my teacher’s polite enquiries. How I wished she’d impress my teacher with her knowledge of plant remedies or festivals. I began to have this uncomfortable feeling that my essay now read like a string of lies.

On our way out, my teacher pressed Irving Stone’s “Lust for Life,” in my hand saying, “You must read this.” Ajji took the book from my hand and smiled. “You read so much. Just like your Ajja did till his eyesight weakened. What’s this book about?”

I had no intention of telling her anything. What on earth could she make of a passionate painter? In fact, I read story books hidden up in the guava tree during my grandparents’ visits to avoid answering questions from my grandfather who’d want me to read them aloud to him. Moreover, I was still irked that she’d refused my teacher’s offer of coffee and snacks. I hoped it wasn’t because of the “I didn’t know what caste those people are” nonsense I’d thought I’d heard last year. But we quickly made peace when she explained that she never drank coffee from a ceramic cup, and she had in fact been too shy to ask for a steel tumbler. She said my teacher was a really nice lady, and that she’d enjoyed the visit. To show I’d forgiven her, I asked her about her father, and for the umpteenth time she reminisced joyfully about the handsome man on a white horse with a purse of gold tied to his waist that jingled when he rode off to work.  

It was only when my hair had streaks of grey that I realized what Ajji had in common with Van Gogh: a lust for life. She’d have definitely understood his story, if I had narrated it to her then.

The door to her home was shut only at night, and all day long friends and neighbors walked in and out, sharing food and gossip. My grandmother offered a lot of unsolicited home remedies, and never thought twice before plucking a flower or fruit from her neighbor’s garden. She shared food and possessions with unreasonable generosity. Her day began at 4 am, with multiple chores, which included caring for my grandfather who was homebound because of poor eyesight and ended only at 10 pm. She managed visits to the temple, attended discourses, visited relatives, cooked, cleaned, and still managed to stay within earshot of her somewhat belligerent husband.

I wish I’d told her Van Gogh’s story. She’d have liked that. She’d been a patient storyteller when I was young always demanding “new” stories from her. She’d unearth stories in Kannada magazines and newspapers when I began to dismiss her made-up stories as “boring.” But when I discovered the library in our locality, I shut her out of my world of English books knowing she couldn’t read the language, and I’d assumed that she couldn’t fathom their contents.

Ajji lived to be ninety-two, washed her own clothes, used the bathroom without assistance, and never owned a walking stick or a pair of spectacles till the end.

While I’m unsure if any of those traits are genetic, I pray that I’ve at least inherited her lust for life.

Jyothi Vinod, an Electronics Engineer, quit her job in 2013 to pursue her desire to write fiction. She won second and third places in the India Currents Katha fiction contest held in 2015 and 2016 respectively. She has written for various blogs, and her short stories have been selected for the following anthologies in 2017 – The Best Asian Short Stories by Kitaab, The Other (curated by Mona Verma and Abha Iyengar), and Fellows of Nature.