The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Scripting future far away
A girl with no school to go to, but a pen

Calcutta, April 19: Fourteen-year-old Pinky writes stories, obsessively.

All the stories are autobiographical, about going to school or studying.

Her mother, Sumati Marjit, doesn't know what to do with her, but is distracted by a more immediate problem: how to go to Murshidabad, where she comes from, for the elections.

'I have to cast my vote. Everyone from Murshidabad here will go back before the poll date (May 3),' she says.

'The party is expecting it,' explains one of her neighbours at Keshtopur, on the fringe of Salt Lake on the way to Rajarhat. 'It knows all of us. We have to go.'

The trip home costs at least Rs 500 per person and she and her husband are both voters.

The money worries Sumati, but beyond that there's Pinky to take care of. She dropped out of school after failing her Class VII exam and wants to study again. She goes on and on about it.

Sumati and her husband Nabakumar, who is a rickshaw-puller, has three daughters and a son: the eldest has been married off, Pinky comes next, then another daughter; last, the focus of the family's attention, the bright-eyed Subroto, who studies in Class I.

Sumati works as a domestic help in four houses in Salt Lake and the family lives in a rented room in a 'paka ba- ari' (a two-storeyed concrete building).

The last story Pinky wrote is about a family of a father, a poor man who works in a hotel in a village, a mother, a hard-working and caring woman, and three children: two daughters and a son. In the story, too, the little brother is the centre of attraction. It's called Maniker Golpo.

It begins as the tale of Manik (the boy), but swiftly becomes a detailed story about the study habits of all three children and, finally, about how Joba, the eldest daughter, who impresses some 'men from Calcutta' so much that she is brought to the city. Years later Joba returns to the village as a doctor.

Pinky reads from her lined exercise book within magenta covers herself. The story opens with the father, Modhu, teaching his three children, while the unnamed mother is cooking dal, rice and fish.

Nabakumar, Sumati says, is a very good man and loves his children. But he can barely read and, at home, would rather watch films on the second-hand DVD player he has bought for Rs 900. They have a TV set that cost Rs 8,500.

In the story, the children go to school, where Manik is the only one in his class who can answer his teacher correctly. As a reward, he gets to box every other student's ears. During break, other children come charging towards Manik, seeking revenge. But the eldest girl, Joba, saves the brother.

They go back home, and promptly sit down to study. The father teaches them again. There is a 'function' in the evening. The 'men from Calcutta' come and ask how the children of the village are doing in school. They start asking questions to all the children on their lessons, but no one gives the correct answer.

Disgusted, the men ask: 'Doesn't anyone go to school here' Joba stands up and answers: 'I do.' She is called on stage and asked questions. She acquits herself honourably and is taken to the city.

'Then she comes back and shows them,' says Pinky, smiling and closing the book.

'What do I do with her' I can't fund her studies,' says Sumati, looking away. 'Besi- des, she works in three houses, too, though it's light work.' she adds.

It's evening ' she has to start preparing dinner, where again Pinky is a big help.

Sumati also has to think of the money for the Murshidabad trip. Maybe the party will pay, as it did for the panchayat polls. There's a link between voting for the party that runs the government and Pinky's education. Perhaps Sumati is unaware of it.

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