‘I’m learning as I teach’
It was in 2018, when I was browsing and sneezing my way through sample textbooks for English and Geography, that I stumbled upon PARI’s story on Meenakshi, the ghatam-maker from Manamadurai written by Aparna Karthikeyan. The story, the picture and the sheer honesty of the words drew me in. I knew instantly that my students needed to read this story and more such tales of real people. I chose the textbook, of course, and also made up my mind to include PARI in my lesson plan. I wanted my children to read rural stories minus the pitying stereotypes and clichéd portrayals of dirt and suffering.
Thus began my journey with PARI. I plunged headlong into the website, laughing at P. Sainath’s close shave in A day at the races, and smiling warmly at Chandra – the diminutive young mother hidden behind her produce, giving everyone the illusion that her bike was driving itself!
I introduced my children to PARI stories and as they greedily devoured the fresh content, seeing their own country with new eyes, I found that it helped me in my Geography classes too. Children could view paddy fields, the Sundarbans delta, the hot, flat plains of drought-ridden Maharashtra, the difficult terrain of Ladakh. I didn’t have to leave it up to their imagination; they could see it for themselves.
PARI revealed an India and her people that my children and I had, embarrassingly enough, never seen or heard of before. We saw the ink-stained fingers of calligraphers, the warp and weft of the Kuthampally cotton saree; we learned that languages can become extinct too. Or that many freedom fighters don’t feature in history textbooks.
When online classes started and my Class 6 students were complaining about not being able to come to school, we read about the students in Sittilingi and how they were learning new things. It helped put things into perspective.
When my students wanted to read about a place very different from their own, we dived into a story set in Leh on the making of the pashmina shawl.
My class 8 students loved the rich colours and motifs of the Gond artists and they created folktales based on the drawings.
My senior students in classes 8 and 9 learnt about the onion crisis in this film. Agriculture is a very important part of the Class 10 ICSE syllabus and I think this film should be made mandatory viewing.
My favourite PARI story is this one from Patraput which completely shatters the myth of what a Padma Shri awardee looks like. The story also helped us leapfrog into GM seeds, the Green Revolution, Organic farming and disappearing indigenous varieties of rice and millets.
This single story from the Nilgiris on the perils of monoculture, covered plantation agriculture, disappearing forests, livelihood, skills and people.
I cannot adequately explain what an inexhaustible treasure trove PARI has become for me. This year I had even planned to compile an additional textbook for Grade 6 with PARI stories, poems and songs. We couldn’t print the book thanks to COVID-19, but happily enough the lockdown has actually given me the opportunity to take children directly to the website. So every month we read a rural story and learn something more. We discover the stories that need to be read and heard.