Hello, this is Saraswati calling
I was in KwaZulu-Natal in South Africa last week. Why? Protesting students. There had been a delay in payments by the National Student Financial Aid Scheme. Before that I was in Chad, Ethiopia, Uganda. They are doing much for refugee education, or so I had learnt from Unesco’s 2019 Global Education Monitoring Report. And I wanted to see it for myself. When I got to India finally, anguished students from all over the country were out on the streets of Delhi, braving the hail and the chill to demand better education and employment opportunities. And it was then, while flipping through some old news that I heard about the tug of war.
According to the news report, the BJP leadership of Bengal has announced that it will be celebrating Saraswati puja across the state. Back, back, back. It seems they got their cue from a bossman called Amit Shah. He said last August: “Saraswati Puja has been stopped in many schools in Bengal. Should that happen... Form a BJP government in Bengal... and Saraswati Puja will take place with full fervour. No one can stop that.” Every year I try to spend some time in this geography. It is exam time and there are too many panicky students around and angsty parents too, and I tell myself that if I drop anchor here even for two days, they will feel reassured, they will know I am listening more closely, they will know I am there for them.
I am floating through the springy air, chasing the cuckoo’s notes, inspecting my supposed likenesses. I am peeping over the shoulders of the little girl holding her first writing instrument for the ritual education initiation. I am gathering marigold garlands by the armful. The air indoors is fragrant with incense sticks. Some are a tad too strong though, they make me want to sneeze. There is so much celebration all around, but no gaiety. There is worship all right, but I can’t find devotion. And there is something that seems to come between me and them. At first I can only feel it, many-layered, thick, invisible but stolid. And then I train the divya drishti on it and what do I see — lies upon lies, abuse, misinformation, all crawling about like a zillion centipedes. I could clear it if I wanted to, but I recognise the base — free will. And so I am packing my bags — a couple of notes of the Indian cuckoo, the thank-yous of some children — and leaving for Cox’s Bazaar, Bangladesh. A new school year is beginning and more than 145,000 Rohingya refugee children are heading back to school.