Our village was called “Pankote Tole,” a place filled with struggling families, marginalized communities, and limited education. Our village was looked down upon by outsiders. People treated us with disdain and acted as if we were invisible. Even if they reluctantly invited us to their celebrations, we were treated as outcasts, as if we were beggars. It’s difficult to fully capture the extent of this treatment in words. Over time, I suggested to our villagers that we stop attending these events. It wasn’t just the upper-caste individuals; even people of our own caste displayed such behaviour. Why did they treat us this way? Why this aversion towards us? Couldn’t we also be educated and respectable? We might not construct grand buildings, but we possess decency and intellect. We can learn, work, and achieve success, just like their children. We, too, have the power to think and excel. After all, we are all human beings, and we all have equal abilities granted by God.
My father shared the same aspirations. He yearned for our family to receive education and have a promising future. He believed in showcasing our talents through education, proving that we could also become distinguished individuals. He often advised us on the virtues of patience and foresight. He emphasized the importance of setting clear goals before embarking on any venture. Discipline was his mantra, whether it was in our actions, conversations, or even our thoughts. He told us that education was our guiding light, without which life remained in darkness, like a day without the sun or a night without the moon.
He compared life’s journey to a path filled with obstacles, much like thorns, coals, or stones. We had to tread carefully, removing obstacles one by one, lest they hinder our progress. If we strayed from our path, we risked stumbling and never realizing our dreams. Time was a precious resource, not waiting for anyone. We couldn’t regain lost moments, so we should strive to make every moment meaningful. He advocated contentment with what we had while striving for more. His words resonated, but my brother Gopal, it seemed, paid them little heed.
Gopal was a rebel, brushing aside my father’s advice. At the same time girls were in love with him they liked him> My father promised him a reward if he passed an important exam, the DLE, with flying colors. Gopal succeeded, surprising us all. He secured 69% in the first division, a source of joy for everyone. We celebrated by distributing sweets ‘Laddu’ throughout the village, singing and dancing with joy. This was a moment of shared happiness, filling my family with renewed hope for Gopal’s future.
However, a shadow fell over our happiness. Gopal’s carefree days were interrupted by severe headaches and uncharacteristic fits of rage. His behavior turned erratic, as if a storm raged within his mind. We feared the worst, like a potential brain tumor. He would lash out, even harming those around him or himself. The atmosphere grew somber, as we all worried for his well-being. My father, no longer in the army, dedicated himself to Gopal’s care. Doctors couldn’t provide a definitive diagnosis, but Gopal’s School Leaving Certificate (SLC) exams approached, and he was determined to succeed. Despite his struggles, he pressed on, displaying his determination to face his challenges head-on.
Our financial situation worsened, with my father’s retirement leaving us in a tight spot. Money was scarce, and my father’s pension hardly covered our expenses. My uncle and cousin Meghraj joined us, sharing our household. We lacked agricultural land and struggled to grow our own food. The little money my father had saved was spent on medical treatment for Gopal and me. Despite these hardships, my father didn’t ask for help. He decided to open a tailoring shop, relying on my mother’s sewing skills. While he lacked expertise, he possessed remarkable adaptability, creating items after just one look.
The tale of our village, “Pankote Tole,” stretched out with each passing day, weaving a narrative of determination, trials, and eventual triumphs.
Opening a shop was no small endeavor, and my father took a leap of faith by securing a loan from a local bank. A plot of land, a meager 5 meters in size, served as the canvas for this new chapter. This was the only tangible asset he had accumulated during his time in the Army. While critics questioned what he had achieved during his military service, my father’s answer lay in the education he provided equally to his three children, a feat unparalleled in our village. He saw no need for grand houses; instead, he cherished the simple joys life had to offer, like gazing at the stars from our roofless home. His words became a cornerstone of wisdom, guiding us through life’s complexities.
In contrast to society’s perception, my father measured wealth in values, not material possessions. He yearned to see us, his children, embrace education that had eluded him and attain futures he could only dream of. He turned to prayer in times of uncertainty, seeking guidance from a higher power. His mornings commenced with devotion, his hopes resonating with the heavens as he envisioned a future free from sorrow, blessed with happiness.
Our shop had its fair share of challenges. An untrained lady, hired for six months at a monthly wage of 6000 rupees, proved unreliable. She guarded her time vigilantly, her actions dictated by each passing minute, disregarding the needs of the shop. Our days continued; Gopal advanced to 10th grade, I progressed to 8th grade, Chanas to 7th, and Meghraj began his academic journey in the 1st class at J.P School.
Amidst our pursuits, news rippled through the village – admissions had opened at Kopila Valley School. Initially, my mother’s intent was to have Meghraj and Chanas take the entrance exam, an idea that hadn’t crossed my mind. On the day of the exam, the atmosphere was charged with anticipation, drawing curious eyes from all corners. I prepared for my regular school day, only to be captivated by the crowd gathered at Kopila Valley. An unquenchable curiosity propelled me there. Amid the throng, I spotted Chanas and Meghraj among the exam-takers. However, the unexpected twist came when my mother urged me to participate as well. The idea was preposterous; the exam was for classes nursery to six, and I was in the 8th grade. Yet, curiosity got the better of me, and I took the plunge.
As the questions unfolded before me, I realized they were surprisingly easy. Time, however, proved to be my adversary, and I left some answers incomplete due to the ticking clock. Miraculously, my name got selected in the results – a revelation that stunned me and my family. This unexpected turn of events led to an interview, where I encountered teachers Maggie Miss, Lisa Miss, and other team members. The interview process was nerve-wracking, and in my eagerness to secure a spot, I withheld the truth about my father’s military background. I opted for a version where he worked in India, fearing that his status as a retired army man might hinder my chances. My name managed to claim a spot among the finalists, though there was a twinge of guilt over my fib.
As the truth unraveled, the initial joy was tainted by murmurs that my family was financially well-off due to my father’s pension. However, I approached Maggie and Lisa, revealing the reality of our situation. In the end, I secured a scholarship that covered the monthly fees. A mix of emotions flooded my heart – gratitude, excitement, and the weight of my responsibility to seize this golden opportunity.
In the backdrop of my journey, my father remained a pillar of support. He reassured me that my destiny was written in the stars, and no amount of external negativity could alter it. He emphasized the importance of positivity and reminded me that setbacks were merely stepping stones toward success. My father’s sage advice continued to guide me as I embarked on this new chapter.
The Kopila Valley School not only opened its doors to me but to a multitude of dreams and aspirations. It was a realm of possibilities where education thrived and unity conquered adversity. My father’s words resonated profoundly as I embraced this unique opportunity. The past struggles were stepping stones, leading me to a future where education would be my guiding light. And so, as the pages of life turned, the story of “Pankote Tole” continued to evolve, marked by a tapestry woven with threads of determination, family bonds, and the relentless pursuit of a brighter tomorrow.
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