Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Rabiya: A Story

WHEN I was a child my mother told me the story of a frail old man, who set out to remove a hill. The village called him a foolish old man because he looked very foolish indeed. He told everyone this hill must go. It prevented the sun entering the village early in the day.

And people laughed, saying silly old man, how can you remove it? It is such a big hill and you are a frail old one.

He ignored them, reasoning one day he will win, as day by day inch by inch he will conquer it. If he failed to complete it, then his children will take it up and then their children…He went on working, and the sun laughed at him from above, burning his skin with his cruel rays.

But somehow, his story spread, people came to help out, and one day, the village saw the hill gone and instead there was a playground, a beautiful playground where children played ever after…

When I heard this story, I never dreamt I would meet someone like this frail old man till the day I met Rabiya.

Rabiya lived in a little village in Malappuram, a place buried in poverty and backwardness, most of its population poor and illiterate Muslims.

When I met Rabiya, she was already famous in the village. She was 23 or 24 and very beautiful, her face radiant with a smile and her lips firmly closed with an expression of determination. Her legs were as thin as a reed as she had been hit by polio in her childhood.

She was one of the rare women in her village to attend school and she had to stop before going to the college in the city as she was poor and also a cripple. But she retained her love of books, her love of reading and in her spare time she took to her books.

It was then the local government took up a project for total literacy. The government officials said one reason why they were backward and poor was the lack of literacy among the population.

The volunteers spread everywhere, organized campaigns urging the people to join the total literacy mission's study centers set up even in remote villages. It was more like a celebration in the villages, there were daily demonstrations by educated youngsters going from place to place, shouting slogans about the darkness in their minds, staging street plays in impromptu theatres, organizing slideshows and talks, all to entice people to the new movement for total literacy.

But the response was poor as the poor villagers thought they had better things to do, like planting a tree or harvesting their fields, than struggling with grammar.

Why should we learn now, as our youth is gone, our life is gone and do you think we would need to write letters to our children living next door, they asked derisively.

Then one day they saw Rabiya on her wheelchair, ambling her way through the dirt paths of their village, going to every single household and meeting every single villager.

She told them, 'Look uncle, these letters are our friends, these letters opened the gates of wealth and progress to nations everywhere, they opened the gates to heaven. And its never late to learn, never late to do a good deed in our life. Even on the last day of our life…'

Her wheelchair became a common sight in the narrow bylanes and school children always went after her, and often they became a long march through the village, the kids shouting slogans Rabiya taught them, hailing the literacy mission.

Slowly she saw her little classroom flooded with villagers and they learnt the letters and grammar sitting up late in the evening, with the kerosene lamps giving them light…

Those who visited her school heard the singing of the nursery rhymes by the old men and women even from a distance, their voice rough, and with a blush on their wrinkled faces, they displayed their new books, proudly read out from their texts…

When after two years of struggle, the province became totally literate and an old woman Chelakkodan Aysha, again from her village, declared it 100 per cent literate, Rabiya was there to celebrate the occasion.

It was not a small occasion, there were television cameras and an army of newspaper reporters from all over the country, because it was a great feat in a world where poverty and illiteracy reigned supreme.

Rabiya's story became famous and people came to meet her, and she received many awards too. Then years after when I went back to the village, it was a different scene.

The government had changed, and the new rulers had little enthusiasm for literacy campaign and the village slunk back to its moody existence, the villagers back to their cynicism and dull routine life.

Rabiya was there in her little home, hoping for a day when the struggles for big ideas will come back, when a new fight to remove the hills of poverty will come back to her village to light up their lives.

(Courtesy: ndtv.com/books/writingroom)


news-mind said...

Good to all,learning lead to light

Unknown said...

Dear friends and well wishers,
First of all we must know that 'IF THERE IS A WILL THERE IS A WAY'
This is true story indeed. Everybody is getting a chance to help or make a good deal for our society. If we got that don't hesitate to do the goodness, which may make our future worthy,
Go ahead ' GOD BLESS '
Thanks & Regards

Unknown said...
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