English and bananas

Dear Ritesh,

Though I know you can’t read this post, I am hopeful that some day you will and we’ll reminisce over a cup of chai (tea) made by your mom. You know, you have been an enigma and a challenge in (and out of) the classroom. Most days, you come to school being dragged by your brother or mother. You refuse to carry the school bag. You refuse to enter our very colourful and interesting classroom. The first one hour or two in the classroom is bitter for you. I can see it in your face. Nothing, not even my jokes, actions and funny faces, colours, balloons, live gold fish or anything seems to excite you. You love your world and you stay there while I try to figure out and fail. Repeatedly. Every single day.

But, I keep my hope alive. All it takes is perseverance. That single step of love, thoughtfulness and care will move mountains. You should be happy. That is the first step. Without that, nothing will happen. Oh, and it took me quite some time to understand this. What makes you happy is this – you want to be treated special. You don’t like the crowd and noise in the classroom. I take you out and put you in a world where there is no chaos and distraction AND your teacher is rewarded with wide smiles and here comes the biggest surprise – you start talking in English !

Its been many many patient months and now we see those green shoots of magic. The other day, your mom called me aside and said that you are constantly speaking to her in English ! Though she could not understand most of it,she was proud and happy that you are making the effort. I know that there is a long way to go but we are off to a great start already, buddy. Without any hesitations, you now try to talk in English whether or not I am around and for that, I am so proud of you. (Despite your mom’s pushing, you insisted on buying a ‘banana’ and not a ‘kela’)

See. I didn’t come to your home to put that behavior chart. I came to make you happy and keep up a promise. And, what a joy it was !

We have another year to go and it is going to be one interesting journey. Your wonderful qualities combined with your energy (cartwheels,frog jumps,running,rolling on the floor etc) will take you places. But, for now, let us focus on this path.

Yours lovingly



Some tsunami stories

While our hearts go out to the people of Japan, my mind wandered back to 2004-05 when the Indian ocean tsunami devastated the lives of millions. At that time, I went as a volunteer to the tsunami affected villages of Tamilnadu and conducted some camps and helped build women self help groups. This was only for a month but the stories and experience sowed the seeds for my desire to teach as a full time teacher.

Here is the blog: http://together-we-can.blogspot.com and some pictures here http://is.gd/NsAiHD

2010 in review

The stats helper monkeys at WordPress.com mulled over how this blog did in 2010, and here’s a high level summary of its overall blog health

Crunchy numbers

Featured image

A Boeing 747-400 passenger jet can hold 416 passengers. This blog was viewed about 3,100 times in 2010. That’s about 7 full 747s.

In 2010, there were 55 new posts, not bad for the first year! There were 57 pictures uploaded, taking up a total of 19mb. That’s about 1 pictures per week.

The busiest day of the year was October 19th with 126 views. The most popular post that day was A proud moment.

Where did they come from?

The top referring sites in 2010 were facebook.com, teach4india.wordpress.com, twitter.com, en.wordpress.com, and frogsinmyclass.wordpress.com.

Some visitors came searching, mostly for baby lizard, horn ok please, teachers box, india “a loud country”, and baby lizard pictures.

Attractions in 2010

These are the posts and pages that got the most views in 2010.


A proud moment October 2010


Jump into English Power ! June 2010


Giving trees August 2010


I am floored ! September 2010


One need. One solution. One question. TFI Fellow @ TEDxChembur October 2010
3 comments and 1 Like on WordPress.com,

H2,2010 Zeitgeist of words

It is December 2010 and a perfect time to stop in the tracks and take a look at the (English) year that went by. So, since June I have been in Mumbai and these are the words that succinctly sum up the teaching experience so far:

Yaeeeeeeeeiiiiiii (that loud, long, shrieky sound people use here to call each other/attract attention in School (quite different from the pch, pch,pch sound used elsewhere to attract the attention of strangers), phodi, shoe nahin mila, book nahin mila and so on (for the 27 items), toilet jaana hain, do number jaana hain, khaske aaya hain, zor se aaya hain, bhook lagee hain, isne maar diya, usne maar diya, neeche gira diya, gala pakad lee, DHAKKA DIYA, Dhakel diya, gir gaya, khichdee le Lo, choree kar liya, pencil, eraser, lubber, rasurrr (eraser), shaapnurr (sharpener), chaak, bhool gaya, “Bhaiya P.T”, “Bhaiya, Nemo fish = Bhaiya, please show us a video”, kal chutti hain?, Bhaiya, main recess karoon kya? (= Bhaiya, shall I eat?), Bhaiyaaaa, yeh class mein recess kar rahi hain (= Bhaiya she is eating inside the class when you are teaching), yeh nahin aata hain, nahin samjha, biskit, pencil nahin, KHICHDI, dabba, more and more phodi, GAANV GAYE (Grrrrrrr), Shaadi hain, LAFDA, WOW, Colourful and Beautiful, Jingle Bells (for Santa Claus), dirty, clean, jadoo, pocha, table, chair, Munni, Chupa Chupi, P.T, “Bhaiya, colouring?”, gift.

P(l)eace walk


















Like it is for most fellows, the roads leading to my School are very crowded, chaotic and noisy (Let’s call this the CCN Road instead of the usual, Mahatma Gandhi road) Oh, and they make me sneeze all the time. There is an alternative road through Sion but I don’t prefer that because of one reason – on the CCN road, I see kids coming back from School or on the way to School. On weekdays, there are plenty of school kids and on Saturdays or ‘lafda’ holidays (!) there aren’t many. Often, I bump into my class kids. The glee and joy on their face when they see me at a distance is worth a million. Add to that, a screaming “BHAIYA !” that makes many heads turn. And before I know, there are 5 or 6 tiny hands holding me and animatedly talking while walking to School. On some rare days, I see only one kid, walking slowly, eyes meandering over the colourful trinkets and candies on display in the shops, or stopping by to take a peek into a game of marbles. Holding the hand of a child and walking slowly to School, while talking to him/her is sheer happiness. It is different than the classroom because, here there are no rules, no sense of urgency or panic. Just the Bhaiya and the Child. Such walks give me a good insight into what he thinks about School and also how he feels in general. Most importantly. it is such a great bonding exercise and bestows immediate peace.

The other day, I got late. I slept late, as usual and woke up late. I was sitting in front of the computer, working on something and realised it’s going to be a mad rush to School. Tension X 10. By the time the auto reached Dharavi, I was just irritated at the noise, crowds and sneezing. And, when I was about to pay, the auto driver didn’t have change. Damn. So, here I was sitting in the auto in a not so calm situation. Suddenly, I heard a “Bhaiyaaa” and little Sajid peeped into the auto with a cute smile. He is usually very quiet and introvert. But today, he just showed so much expression that I immediately calmed down, somehow paid and got down. He immediately grasped my hand and started walking towards School. Tiny, sweaty fingers. He talked about the breakfast, his wounds, the school and how he liked our ‘colourful and beautiful” class. On the way, we stopped by the Sugarcane juice stall to drink some juice. In a few minutes, I experienced so much peace.

When was the last time you took a walk with a child ?












Come January first week, Teach For India will be hosting 60+ participants from 14+ countries across the ‘Teach For’ network, in Mumbai for a Synergies Global Workshop. Some of the participants have been posting questions for Teach For India fellows and I present some of them here:

What has been your biggest challenge?  And how did you keep your sense of possibility whilst trying to overcome this challenge?

Also I’ve heard a lot of wonderful things about the resourcefulness of the Teach for India participants – what is the one thing you couldn’t survive without (be it an object, person or characteristic) and what is the one resource you really wish you had?

My answers:

I have been teaching in Mumbai since June this year and I find ‘changing mindsets’ to be the biggest challenge in School and the community. Starting from the Children, the other stakeholders don’t have the strong desire or belief that my kids can work hard, study well and get the same opportunities that other kids with privileged backgrounds get. While facing this challenge every day, I do remind myself of the countless struggles undergone by TFA fellows, who eventually succeed in making the students achieve the (what everyone thought as) impossible. Also, I tell myself that, for me these 2 years is teaching and a fellowship, but for these children, it could mean the difference between success and failure in life. This keeps my sense of possibility and relentless focus alive.

(Btw, for this unit (November December), I find absenteeism and “gaav (village) gaye hain” to be the biggest challenge)

I won’t be able to survive without my yellow hat ! Unless I have this sense of a bright future, that strong sense of possibility, it would be impossible to face the everyday austerity of living in this Mumbai city + teaching 5 hours in a low income school while working very hard.

I really wish I had a projector in my School. Across 4 TFI classrooms in my School, we have 120+ kids. A projector could be so useful in our classrooms !


My photo essay from One School For All project by TeachForIndia fellows.


Srini Swaminathan is a teacher. He is a runner too.  Both his interests ironically intersect on the number 42. 42 is the number of kids in his class he is focusing on closing the achievement gap for. 42 is  also the number of kilometres he aspires to run in the next marathon. So what lies ahead for Srini , the teacher, the runner? Discover.