Uncut 'Diamonds' Chiselled into Shape by an Indomitable Woman
Rangamma at her rented home with her old students
NEW DELHI: After working for three decades in obscurity, Rangamma Kaul, a Bal Bhavan teacher, has been forced to institute an NGO by some of her former students who can’t thank her enough for the way she molded their childhood and chiseled their future as artists.
Rangamma Kaul has been running Bal Kendra, a dingy two-room school in outer Delhi’s Nangloi. The J J (jhuggi jhopri) Colony where the school is situated is no different from any other slum of Delhi, where squalor and a cacophonic soundscape are natural associates of its environment. Rangamma Kaul tells us that she always wanted to do something for the poorest. “When I passed out as a Bachelor of Fine Arts from BHU (Benaras Hindu University) in 1984, all I wanted to do was to help poor kids who were bound to go astray if not given proper guidance. I chose to come to Nangloi then. Although I wanted to go to the poorest areas like Jehangir puri, I finally chose to come here and started Bal Kendra without any funding. I spend most of my earning which I get as a teacher at Bal Bhavan on the students and upkeep of the school.”
Bal Kendra has not been just one of those schools where young ones would be sent to bide their time away by their parents, its efficiency speaks volumes in the number of students it has been able to nurture and send to the prestigious institutions like College of Arts, NID, and Jamia Millia Islamia. “The number would have been much higher, had many not succumbed to the acute pressure of start earning for a living as kids,” rues Rangamma. So far three of her students have won National Bal Shree Award from the President of india. Rangamma, 52, herself had won a National Award in 1974 as a kid.
Shravan Kumar, 44, was the first student from Bal Kendra who went to College of Arts in 1996. After having gone away for a long time he has come back now to help Rangamma set up an NGO and secure some lasting glory to the deferential figure. “I was not in touch with Rangamma for a long time, and then I heard from someone that she was not happy with the way I left her altogether, the very one who made me. So, I came back after more than a decade and am now helping her in getting things expedited for the NGO. It’s named “Sanjeevani Drishya” and yet to be registered,” says Kumar, once a son of a mason and now an art teacher at a school.
The task of pursuing parents and kids alike to come to school has been back-breaking for Rangamma, who is already suffering for asthma, and had a brain tumor removed a few years back. “Parents here don’t invest in their children because of illiteracy and poverty. They just want them to earn by working in “chappal” factories which abound here. Most of them end up becoming drug-addicts,” she says. Anil, who is a son of a “kabaadiwallah” (a junk-dealer), was one of the most brilliant students as a pre-teen at the school before his parents sold the house to pay spiraling debts and moved to some other place. Again, just like a migratory bird, he came back as a 21 year to the matronly figure after years of loading-unloading and pulling hundreds of kilos of footwear in a rickshaw on a daily basis and then stayed with her for three years. “She recognized me at once when I returned and then helped me get admission in Gandharva Mahavidyalaya. I used to get 22 rupees as bus fare from her that she herself would collect from a bunch of people,” recalls Anil, now 30 years old and a footwear designer earning more than 40,000.
Rangamma is brimming with stories of struggle she sees waged by the children who are ready to take on the world and just waiting to be honed. During the conversation, a 15 year old scrawny teenager entered the room, who according to her is the best student of the current batch, which is made up of anything between 25-30 children and few senior ones who are usually infrequent. She shows me his several paintings, and gifts me one of them. “Don’t do anything for the sake of fame or popularity. If you’re going to write this interview then do it with honesty, because every writer is burdened with a responsibility towards the society. Your pen should have enough power to make an impact,” finally cautions the beloved teacher, who gave her all to the slum-kids with a humility which is simply heart rending.