Online Classes are Only for the Connected

Waking up after an evening nap at 4.30, I went and sat in the hall near my father, hoping to conquer the TV remote while he was waiting for the Chief Minister’s press meet to start. Three days ago, at the same time, my pockets were vibrating with a WhatsApp notification: I had an examination (online) three days later (I.e. the present day) as I was subscribed to an entrance crash course. It was my second test, whereas I confronted with the first one weeks ago. I’d slept in the melancholy of my sheer failure in the same. Even though I wear a strong armor, impenetrable to the repercussions of an anticipated failure; outside, at the end of the day, every saint will become a sinner no? If not, circumstances will make him. I got an utter 44% against my 84% record last time. You could imagine how miserable I was, how tragic my thoughts were. Time is indeed ‘jealous’. It targets everything that is dearest to us. For instance, think of a situation when a person proud of his hair, visiting uncountable parlors and even sleep with shampoo and oil; witness his head being shaved like a mute spectator, a caged parrot. And ultimately, I’m illuminated here in a standalone manner as a living, breathing, broken-hearted illustration of the same.

Enough of all the fuss. Let’s come to the topic. 20 more minutes for the press meet. My father was sitting in front of the turned-on TV with his frameless spectacles (In which he looked more pretty) at the rim of his Roman nose. His attention was nowhere on the TV. He was engrossed in some accounting. I wanted to catch hold of the remote and was intending to coax him before I could take it. As obvious it is, the only point that attracted the attention of my mind was his unwonted accounting. With no interest in his motive, I asked, “Acha.. have you resigned your job and started accounting?” he started his epic as though he was eagerly waiting for someone to ask. My face was scintillating and my eyes were shimmering. My right arm slowly crawled towards the remote in the sofa beside him. “No”, he replied in a heavy tone. I asked, “Then what are you accounting for? You haven’t bought the reserve bank at least no?” he replied, “It’s for a new project of our office undertaking”. He took a long breath and continued, “we’ve planned to distribute 25 tablets with four-month internet connectivity to those children who couldn’t afford them at XYZ”. After hearing this, my first emotion was true, disdain. Now, my fingers were on the remote. He added, “one of our officer’s residence is in XYZ.His neighbour, ABC is a student of class 12th. He’s preparing for some law entrance examination. His poor parents had managed to remit Rs. 12,000, a heavenly incarnation of their sweat and blood; to a nearby coaching centre for his vacation classes. They were really on cloud nine. And now, in this lockdown season, classes were virtualized”. I had no time for his stories. All my sacred attention was on the remote. Still I remembered amma’s lecture and I thought, “here people are dying of hunger. Leave it. At least they’re poor. But now, those who are born with a silver spoon are forging their bucket list in hospital beds and is it the time to think about tablets? Jobless labourers are yearning for a day’s grain and here….” before I could complete, I asked him, 

“Then? Then what’s the problem? You’re having everything at your fingertips” I pulled out my phone from my right pant pocket, “in this smartphone?” He gave me a close look. I suddenly lifted off my hands from the remote. A practical experience of reflex action maybe. I was out of my wits for a moment. A deadlock. Breaking the silence, he muttered, “that’s exactly the problem. He doesn’t even have a smartphone. Their family can’t afford even that.” These words were a thunderclap for me. I was shocked. I was thinking, “can anyone in this world live without a smartphone?” I continued my ‘thoughts’ as if I’d spoken, I’d have had a hibiscus-cheek before I could’ve completed. “people can live without food for a week, water for a day and not a single second without a smartphone and mobile data and here he’s talking about not having a smartphone?” suddenly, I forgot about the remote. I muttered, “and?” inspecting my abrupt and fortuitous fervour, he replied, “and what? ABC would borrow his laptop for an hour every evening.” He paused awhile and continued, “he only suggested this idea. Our officer’s association held a meeting last week and we all contributed to the cause. We selected 25 children like ABC from that locality and…” He choked. 

I was lost in deep thought. I don’t know if he had completed his broken statement or not. I was entirely lost, “with these 25 tablets, the query of 25 boys in XYZ could be solved. XYZ is not India no? If XYZ has 25 such students, then how many will be there in this magnanimous country with an ever-so-expanding populace striking 1,300 million?” this thought sprouted off an unsung problem in my mind. My conscience was busy traversing this off the beaten track I forgot about the remote. All I recalled was a famous aphorism, “all are equal but some are more equal”. Instead of quacking “digital learning” and “virtual classes”, has anyone thought about a section that is deprived of the key to access these? Indeed Byju’s and Vedantu are doing great with unwavering devotion. It’s unquestioned and undoubtedly true. But, apps won’t work in open-air no? It needs a medium: a laptop, a tablet or a smartphone at least. What is the significance of a bottle of ink without a pen to fill it? Amidst this lockdown season, when our people Gasconade with a hashtag of ‘#India learns’ and ‘#India continues learning”, has anyone ever bothered about those who are deprived of a medium to access them? And this lockdown season added insult to injury by shutting the internet cafes. Where will they go now? It’s not their fault that they’re born poor. If it’s not their fault, then whose? Who has time to think about them? We can only advertise in the name of virtual learning and so. Their learning is now subjected to an indefinite quarantine. 

A plate fell off from the platter stand and I came back to sane. I started thinking again, “how lucky I’m with everything below the sun at my fingertips at ease while others are painstakingly pushing the wheel-less chariot of e-learning and I’m lamenting on my lost marks like a couch potato on the sofa?” It’s 5. The press meet started. My father closed his register with a pen in the middle as a bookmark. The news highlight was about an ordinance approved by the Governor enabling the State Government to hold 25% of its official’s salary after a High Court stay on the same. The reporter exclaimed, “Government officials consists of only 1.5% of the total population of the State. But, 45% of the State revenue is the disguised form of their salaries, pensions and perks”. While I was lamenting on my inability to take the remote, my mind was lost in its world of thoughts again. “Is it that only their children should be allowed to learn? What about the children of the poorest 1.5% of the populace? What sin did they do that……” My thoughts broke.

Now, I’m happy. Indeed I’ve worn brand new pink spectacles. It’s 6. Now, I’m waiting for my phone to ring again with another notification and am mentally prepared to embrace the candied harvest of my next examination. Because, I realized that I’m one I the luckiest who’s getting a chance to learn from my home, my comfort zone. Shouldn’t our education department seriously introspect about this rather than being engrossed in their routine cock a doodle doo? Ah.. whatever Maybe.. one day like others of its kind, this will also become a story to read on, lullabies to feed babies and status to share in WhatsApp. What next? I shouted, “Amma.. coffee”.