Uma Venkataraman



Uma Venkataraman


Tale Of A Teenager

Tale Of A Teenager

5 mins 460 5 mins 460

It was a rainy afternoon in the late ‘90s. Rugmini was walking through the single straggling street of a little hamlet somewhere in the central parts of India. Rugmini was a teacher not only by profession but also by passion. Rugmini was fierce in her support of girls, their education, well-being and upliftment. Rugmini took up the job of a teacher in this small village, with the avowed mission of uplifting as many girls as possible. She was pained to note that, despite the rapid modernization all over the world, there were still some orthodox practices prevailing in these villages that defied description. Most of the girls attended school only for primary education and the schools generally had more boys than girls.

Mala was a bright girl in Rugmini’s class, full of energy and enthusiasm, participated in all the school activities, in addition to being academically brilliant. Rugmini was fond of Mala and proud of having such a wonderful student. Rugmini had instilled in her students, especially the girls, the importance of education, self-respect, courage and conviction. So, it was surprising when Mala was absent for more than a week, something which had not happened till then.

It was a small village and the residents knew each other personally. Rugmini was also known to all and was regarded with respect. Rugmini decided to check on Mala and went to her home.

Mala’s father welcomed Rugmini. When Rugmini asked about Mala, her mother said “oh, she is inside in her room. I am afraid she may not attend any more classes”. 

A shocked Rugmini enquired “why?” 

The parents together explained that Mala attained puberty a few days back and is feeling uncomfortable. A visibly relieved Rugmini said, “oh, this is a normal phenomenon and Mala may resume school once she is comfortable”.

It was then that Mala’s mother revealed their plan to terminate Mala’s studies and get her married.

Mala’s mother said, “we don’t send girls to school after this period; we will start looking for a suitable boy to marry her off”.

A stunned Rugmini asked, “excuse me madam, but why would you want Mala to get married at such a young age, when she doesn’t even know what marriage is and what the responsibilities are. Mala is not ready physically, mentally or emotionally”.

Mala’s father said, “yes, you may be right madam, but that is our custom”.

In the meantime, Mala came in and was delighted to see her teacher.

Rugmini enquired, “hello Mala, how are you, how is your health”?

Mala replied, “I am fine madam, but am getting bored since I don’t have anything to do”.

Rugmini turned to the parents and said, “I do respect your custom, but these are old beliefs. Nowadays, children, including girls, rise to great heights because of their education. I request you, please let Mala continue her studies”.

Mala’s mother hesitated and said, “our family customs won’t allow that, and the seniors of the family may object”.

Rugmini continued, “Mala is very good in her studies and considering her future, it is important that she continues in school. I beg you sir, please send her to school”.

Mala’s father said, “it is difficult madam; anyway I will think about it in a few days”.

Rugmini said, “thank you sir, thank you madam. I will come after a few days”.

After a couple of days, when Rugmini visited them again after school, she found Mala talking to three other girls from the school. 

Rugmini noted how cheerful Mala was with her friends.

Mala’s father welcomed her, “hello Rugmini madam, please come inside”.

Rugmini said, “thank you sir. Hope you have decided to send Mala to school again. See how happy she is with her friends; Mala is really good at studies and should continue in school”.

Mala’s friends said, “yes sir, yes sir, please ask Mala to join school again”.

Mala’s father informed Rugmini that they agreed to what she had said but that he was still unable to decide. 

Rugmini said “Sir, please listen. I am a teacher and it is my responsibility to teach them the subjects that they are supposed to learn. But I treat my students as my own children and consider it my responsibility to make bright, sincere, successful and disciplined human beings out of them. Girls are achieving great heights nowadays and many of them are hugely successful. I want to take the example of just three Indian women. Anandibai Joshi became the first Indian female Doctor in 1887 and was trained in western medicine. Kalpana Chawla went into space in 1997, and Kiran Bedi became the first woman police officer. There are many other women in important positions in government, army and air force. Even girls from tribal and Adivasi families are getting educated. I am sure that Mala will also do very well in her studies and grow into a bright and mature woman. Please allow her to go to school”.

After much cajoling, Mala’s father finally agreed to let Mala go to school from the next week. When Mala learnt about this, she was very delighted, and all the girls jumped in joy.

Mala finally started attending school after a gap of almost two weeks and continued her studies, with active encouragement from Rugmini and support from her parents. 

Mala rose to be a topper at the end of her high school years.

Soon thereafter, she contacted her teacher one day and expressed her desire to join the Indian civil service. She was apprehensive that the examinations are going to be tough and difficult to pursue.

Rugmini explained, “it only needs hard work, concentration and application of mind to successfully complete the Civil Service examination. You go ahead and study well. You will definitely succeed”.

Mala strived sincerely and came out with a very high rank in the examination and became a senior Civil Services Officer in her own district.

Whenever an opportunity arises, Mala proudly cites the support of her parents and teachers in making her what she is today.

If only we can have more Malas and Rugminis in our midst!!

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