Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Because You're Worth It

When I slide into my seat today, on the floor next to Aanchal and Kunda, we’re doing subtraction. (I called them take-aways until I was in senior school, but there’s no such namby-pambying here. When we do fractions, in Mankhurd, we do numerators over denominators, no less. The kids aren’t the only ones on the floor to learn something that day...) So, forty-one minus seventeen, then.

Where do we start, with the ones, or with the tens?” Bhavika asks. The general consensus of opinion on the mats, is that we start with the ones. “Which is greater, one or seven? Seven, right... So can we take seven from one?” Rahul, who has been watching an ant on the floor, not the writing on the wall, accidentally says, “Yes!” and Bhavika pounces.

Yes, Rahul? We can take seven from one?” Rahul casts about him for moral support, or just a clue as to which way to jump.

No!” Swapnil says, helpfully. Bhavika’s eagle eye swivels to Swapnil.

And you are Rahul, no?” She switches the heat back to Rahul. “One is greater than seven, Rahul, yes or no?” Rahul back-pedals furiously, “No, didi!” – and we’re on track again.

We cannot take seven from one, so what do we do? We go to the tens place, and we say, “Can we borrow some?” – Ashish, do we borrow one, or do we borrow ten?”

One!” says Ashish. Bhavika’s voice drops an octave, into tragedy.

We borrow one?”

No, ten, didi, ten!” Seven voices from the floor. Take-aways were never this dramatic, in my day. It’s King Lear and Aladdin rolled into one, in Room 112.

So we put ten here, in the ones place. Now we have ten plus one, what do we have?.... Accha, eleven. And here in the tens place, we take away the four, and we put?... Three!” It’s a triumph.

The next bit’s my favourite, I could watch them do this all day.

And now we have eleven, and we have to take seven. Put seven in your head, and count to eleven.” The young mathematicians smack themselves roundly on the temple, inserting the seven, then count forward to eleven, on their fingers. Then they count their fingers, to get the difference.

“Four, didi, four!” Bhavika pretends to put four in the tens column, to see who’s awake, but no-one’s napping now. The climax is on the horizon, galloping towards us.

And one from three is? ... Two! So the whole answer is? .... Twenty-four, right?” I feel a round of applause coming on. Maths have never made me laugh out loud before.

These children are six, seven, eight years old, and they’re doing all the functions – adding, subtracting, carrying one - in a foreign language. I don’t think Ofsted have a category called “Tour de Force” but that’s where Bhavika belongs. I can’t wait to do goes-intos, after Diwali.

Khaja’s first past the post with his finished worksheet, as ever, so while the others are still
wrestling with ascending and descending order, he chooses “Rabbit Gets Lost” for a reading book. I point out Rabbit’s chums, Piglet, Pooh and Tigger. He patiently corrects me, “No Tigger, didi, Tiger!” so I let him have the right of it. In a wanton moment, I explain what “bounce” means, and Khaja leaps off like a frog on a rocket, going “Boing!” and landing on anyone too mathematically distracted to move out of his way. “Quiet reading” has no meaning, here.

Libraries should chuck out their “SILENCE!” signs, and tackle literature with Khaja’s zest. I bet it’d get A A Milne’s vote. Go and have a quick flick through “Rabbit Gets Lost” and count the bounces and boings. It’s a serious workout, for active readers, but by the time the happy ending rolls round, Khaja’s energy’s not even dinted. He’s not unlike Tigger, in fact. I mean, Tiger.

I have some good news,” Bhavika says. “We have the results of the Akanksha assessments today. In English, our centre got 79%! Is that good, yes or no?” We all clap. "And in Maths, we got 89%! What do we say?"

Thank-you, didi! Thank-you!” they chorus.

No, we don't say thank-you! We say, HURRAH!!!” So we all cheer, and shout “hurrah!” and punch the air, like we’ve just won an Olympic Gold, and why not? – I’d like a re-run of results day, in the school hall, in August. There should definitely have been more hurrahs.

Down to earth with a bump, Bhavika has to warn the children about playing alone in the compound. A brother and sister have been murdered, and their kidneys harvested, in Mankhurd. I mention it to Monu, horrified, and he says in Malad, where he lives, three people – two adults, one child – have died the same way. It doesn’t bear belief. “If someone you don’t know offers you a chocolate, what must you say?.... No!”

They know me, however, so I’m allowed to give them gifts. On our Kerala trip, Melanie-Ma’am and I scoop up the rows of little bottles of shampoo and shower-gel, in the free shop - ie the bathrooms of all the smart hotels we stay in. Today, I bring our booty-bag to school, for sharing. I’m not sure Khaja and co, with their petal-soft cheeks, will be needing the shaving-kit any time soon, so I take it out, to give to Monu instead.

If you’ve ever felt a frisson of disappointment, opening your fourth bottle of bubble bath on Christmas Day, you need to come to Mankhurd, with your fists full of soap, to find out how fascinating toiletries can be, with the right mind-frame. We have some energetic mimes, of what talc and toothbrushes might be for, but body lotion requires more than re-enactment, it needs authenticity. I open a bottle, dab some on my wrist, and rub it in. A forest of skinny brown arms appears before me, and soon we’re all silkily fragrant. The boys sniff their arms, and do backward rolls of ecstasy. It’s funny, the point of body lotion passes me by, until today. There should be a re-cycling scheme, for hotel toiletries, it would make more of a difference to the world, than nobly using the same towels, two days in a row.

Join your hands, fold your legs, close your eyes,” says Bhavika. Time for prayers. They thank God for the world so sweet, and run out, laughing and dancing, into the sunshine of the slums, their hotel freebies clutched in their hands. Who needs the perfumes of Arabia?