Penned By Board Member Alo Pal

“Up I’m curling from the sod,

I am whirling home to God;

I am the Smoke King

I am Black”

Since we shared the love of English, poetry, and performance I requested her to recite a few lines, and I literally saw before my eyes the performer emerge from the young woman in front of me that morning. This is the story of Srinamitha.

Srinamitha spoke through a smile, happy, animated, and expressive. With Sharana in her life, she now taught English in a private school with a B. A English and B.Ed. degree. I teach English too and I remember my English teacher telling me the difference between common errors Indians made as opposed to Indians using the English tongue to indigenise expression, so when booged down by the reputation of being an introvert, Namitha told me, “ You know ma’am I wanted to be a teacher because, inside always I really liked to talk” or when in the 11th standard, she felt the pressure to take her studies more seriously and said “I woke my brain up to make me study well, do something” what I loved was her confidence and her authenticity. The next hour I heard her manipulate language this way and it was delightful. But things were not this way always.

Srinamitha was 9 when she came under Sharana’s wing, Mr. Ravianand and Mr. Manuel, both Program Managers at Sharana, remember her as shy, quiet, and an introvert. Her father, a security guard by profession had seen our sign board and had sought help. As I listened to her journey through school and college and getting a B.Ed. I recognised many of the inputs and especially the timeliness of help from Sharana that made her this animated happy young woman I saw in front of me.

Taking her into our Back to School Program, reimbursing her bus fare, participation in several residential camps during the summer holidays, paying for her math tuition fees in the 10th standard, and most important of all motivating her to take her studies more seriously for the 12th board exams were the sustained and significant inputs of Sharana. But the bit I liked best was her decision to follow her passion for English and “to talk” as she put it. Quite naturally, at Sharana, we expose the children to the scope of possibilities with the sciences and technical side of options as one of our aims is to ensure the children have a viable profession after their studies. English in a country with a plethora of candidates with that option reduces the chances of a good career. But Srinamitha not only needed to express her decision to opt for English but also break the image of the quiet girl and assert herself. She was impressed and motivated by her English teacher in the 10th standard and made that her aim in life, and Mr. Ravianand, after understanding that this was indeed her firm choice encouraged her not only to pursue that in college but also complete her B.Ed.

From school through college as she spoke to me about her journey it was clear that in her growing years, she metamorphosed into a performer when there was an audience – a clear means of a growing confidence within her. Not surprising therefore that for years she was picked to lead the paper reading session after the morning assembly at school, she was selected to recite a poem in Tamil in front of the education minister and when her B.Ed. college lost its registration as it failed the inspection for adequate space, she led the protest demanding for a new venue and re-registration of her institute, wielding the megaphone much to the surprise of her teachers. And succeed she did.

She was campus recruited and today is an English teacher at Blue Star, a private school. She shows me a picture of the Chief Minister handing over to her the appointment letter. The students love her, that is her biggest reward and validation of choice. When I met her, she had just received her first salary and she had bought a shirt for her father whose birthday it was the next day. Long gone were the days when she hesitated to tell her parents that she needed extra material for a class project, or wore hand-me-downs to school.  “Ma’am, I was so relieved when the B. Ed college had uniforms, it did not matter who came from what background and who spoke better English than me, I was happy we all wore the same clothes”. That day, in a colourful saree draped neatly like school teachers, are wont, was a happy chirpy confident young woman living her dream.

Images: Srinamitha with her father and Mr. Ravianand, Program Manager