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The First Five Weeks
September 12, 2017

I joined Bookworm on 31 July, a Monday. I was quite nervous – I had met some of the team earlier and they were IMPRESSIVE. The Monday Morning Meeting (3M?) was full of banter and bonhomie. As with all organisations, in-house acronyms were flying all over the place – RAT, BT, RA, HRA (not house rent allowance and not Higher RA), SB, JG… Some of these were people’s beautiful names mutilated to these acronyms. Some of these were things these people did. Which is still a dilemma for me. To top it all there was an actual RAT plundering the premises. It took me several more meetings to find out the difference between the RAT that keeps tracks of the kids progress, and the RAT that impedes Bookworm’s progress by chewing everything in sight.

Being the “enthu cutlet” that I can be, I wanted to be everywhere and do everything. So during the first week, I signed up for a bit too much. Like that Charlie Chaplin film, I was full of beans (or so I thought) while with the team, but would reach home and barely make it to bed. After a couple of weeks, I hesitantly told Sujata (Supreme High Commandess) about how tired I feel and she pointed out, rightly, that no one asked me to be an “enthu cutlet”. After that I curbed my enthusiasm; it helped to remember that most of the team is about half my age and so I need not even pretend to be as agile as them.

Initially I went in just to observe the classes, which was a lot of fun – I got to hear some lovely stories; the kids are really cute; the RPs are super energetic – a pleasant few days.

Then my inner cutlet (enthu) came back and I volunteered to help as an Assistant in a few classes where there was an absentee. I was given a loooong list of “Duties of an Assistant” to go through in preparation for the class. Habits are not easily broken – of course I was trying to read it as I entered the school the next day. All I managed to read was “Keep the duster and chalk ready for the Lead.”

I was late, as usual, by five minutes. Deepali couldn’t wait since she had a class full of kids to deal with. I assumed that I would find her with her clear instruction that she was on the second floor. I hadn’t bargained for the “helpful” school staff. Over the next fifteen minutes I ran up and down the four floors of the school trying to find Deepali. Finally I found Vandana in another class and she led me to Deepali’s class. I didn’t even have time to catch my breath – forget finding the duster and chalk!

Probably if I had read the entire list, I wouldn’t have done so much; but since I hadn’t, I was trying to do everything I could think of so Deepali wouldn’t figure out that I hadn’t read it. This continued for another class, by which time I was EXHAUSTED. And then Deepali says, “I should have taken a few minutes to explain what you should do.” So clearly she knew that I hadn’t read THE list or the session plan. I guess she handles so many kids she knows every excuse in the book. I shouldn’t even try with these experts!

In between, it was a pleasure to see the tiny ones – Class 1 and 2 of SSV – come up with their books and explain what they liked about it and why (a Book Talk or BT).

There was yet another Saturday when I was to be Assistant. This was at the JJR School in beautiful Bicholim. The drive to JJR from Aldona, in the monsoons, soothes the senses and calms the mind. I had had an extra helping of breakfast and was all set to be the perfect Assistant. (I still hadn’t read THE list or the Session Plan – but I got the Leads to explain the SP to me in the car) The school itself is right out of a picture book with gentle ramps leading inside and a model of access.

The team had been talking about the snack we would be given and I was wondering at their description of it. After all how superlative can bhaji pao be? “Very” is my one word response. I was told by everyone that this is NOT what the kids get for the mid-day meal. This is specially made for the teachers. I would gladly go back to JJR just for that snacks. And oh yes, the kids. (Right!)

I was to first assist Stephie in Class 3. She walked into the classroom and found both Class 3 and Class 2 sitting together. Unfazed, she brought her Class 3 out into the corridor and started her session. There were about 20 children which would be easy to manage, I thought. Half way through, I had to go sit in the last row to catch my breath. We were doing, “My Letter, My Words” – an activity book which makes me want to take a copy for myself. Each child likes to be individually applauded for each word – and why not? It is an achievement to be discovering a strange language while still so young.

The next class with Flavia was double the size and double the noise. Finally, I had gotten the routine right – I ensure that books are taken back, book numbers stricken off in the register, new books laid out and the kids take those and those numbers are entered in the register. In between there are also identity cards of each child to be given and taken and given and… And then of course to walk around and tell the kids how wonderfully they are doing, explaining the odd word, checking a spelling in my head before saying it out aloud… Endless buzz and activity.

Finally we were ready to leave. I couldn’t say anything – I just wanted to go home and sleep, when I found out the team had another treat in store. We stopped at a small shack just outside Bicholim. While Flavia and I relaxed over a fresh lime soda, Stephie and Shraddha went inside to pack lunch. It was amongst the tastiest meals I have had in Goa – so different from the usual restaurant fare.

After that hectic start, I decided to pace myself so I would survive. And that is when I discovered the mountain of emails waiting for me! Bookworms love to read – and these bookworms seem to love to write as well. But of that tale, another day. Let me just say, I am slowly settling in amongst this high energy group.

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