Samuel Pepper spent a semester in Bhubaneshwar as a teaching assistant with the Generation UK India Teaching Assistantship programme. Sam reflects on what a day is like as a teaching assistant in India.
As I walk through the school gate on a Tuesday afternoon, crossing the road is at the core of my thoughts. Attention is key, with my intention to reach the Tea and Spices vendor. He is perched in his small steel box on the other side. “Baayna, Ik Chai” were three words I would have considered alien to my dictionary three months ago; now asking this ‘brother’ for a ‘cup of tea’ seems partially natural. Without a smile, while co-operating he also offers me a piercing look of gratitude. He’s served his fair share of Chai in his time, though scarcely few to a guest of his country. The sweat beads drip down his rough hairy chest as he passes me the earthenware cup with his callus covered hand. I sit amongst workers, pit-stoppers and time-wasters on a questionably sturdy plank, sipping slowly, reflecting.
As I walk into class 8A on a Wednesday morning, the children rise obediently – greeting me with a perfectly uniform “Good Morning Sir”. I respond with my usual brush of the hand and wide-brimmed smile to usher them to their seats. They enjoy the freedom I allow them and they respond with their ears. In this class we are covering traditional Scottish Poetry. William Scott’s Lochinvar, the tale of a brave knight from a far away Isle, eager to be reunited with his lost love who was stripped of him through family orders. I chant the words in my finest Scottish accent. My energy is an element they have seldom been exposed to in the classroom. With attentive eyes, though fully aware of tomorrow’s bi-weekly examinations, Neha, Shahshank and Lopita feel engaged in literature of a distant culture brought to their classroom doorstep, in a language they know oh-so-well. I sit, listening to their pencils clattering on their cartoon-strips, trying to seem busy, reflecting.
As I emerge from a clunky motor rickshaw in the heart of a warm mid-August Kolkata, the night is dead and its people are resting. It’s Independence Day and the peak of the monsoon season has left its mark on the street. My foot squelches accordingly. Denominations of change pose a problem in this situation. I come to realise I have only a hefty note which is unsuitably large, leaving the driver and I ‘caught between the stumps’. With just a dozen scruffy hounds present the surrounding silence poses a problem with nobody to help or arbitrate. A few sounds of frustration are shared between us, when a young fellow passing on a motor bike, otherwise solitary on the street, notices our disagreement. After listening from a distance, he mutters softly, “Welcome to India. We look after each other here” sounding partially mystical, whilst calmly passing the exact change to my debtor from his own pocket. Without time for my verbal response, he scoots off leaving me relieved, tear-filled and honored. A Sanskrit proverb of antiquity which is frequently told to me translates as, “The Guest is a God”. This aged message clearly resounds in modern society amongst young and old. I stroll inside pensively, reflecting.
Learn more about the Generation UK India Teaching Assistantship Programme. Make sure to check out the other stories of young people who have studied, worked, or interned in India.