My husband and I (Mike and Susan Wallace) first visited Mirdha in the Ballia district of India in 2008 at the invitation of our friend and my husband’s colleague J. Shukla. I was intrigued and inspired by Shukla’s vision of establishing Gandhi College in Mirdha, the birth village of Shukla, in order to provide higher education opportunities for students from rural villages, especially girls. I have been a teacher and teacher educator in the Seattle area for more than thirty years and decided that upon retirement I would return to Mirdha to help support this effort. I was joined by my friend, MaryLynne Evans, who is also an experienced teacher and who has traveled widely in India.
We spent five weeks teaching English to students from Gandhi College in January/February of 2010. Before leaving the USA we spent many hours designing a curriculum, gathering materials and thinking about the learning environment. Our effort was more than rewarded by the enthusiasm of the students who, although sometimes struggling with English, shared their personal stories, their pride in India and in their villages, and some of their concerns as young adults ranging from dissatisfaction with the dowry system to an awareness of a lack of rural schools. Their language progress in five weeks was impressive.
Comfortably housed in rooms in the Mooney Guesthouse at Chandran Memorial Hall, which also has a classroom and computer lab downstairs, we became part of village life for these few weeks. Elementary school children greeted us with snatches from songs we taught them; college girls gave us lessons in the proper adjustment of our scarves; neighbors invited us for tea, and conversation. We walked past bright yellow fields of mustard, and small houses to visit the market or share in a festival at a local temple. People greeted us warmly, usually asking for “photo, please” and offering directions and assistance from finding a tailor to suggestions for the best tea and sweet stall.
This was our life in Mirdha, a village poised between the internet and the oxcart, a village where pride in tradition coexists with awareness of the world outside village bounds, a village where we learned as much as we taught and found a home away from home. We are already planning our return.
Susan Wallace prepared bellow article that contains many more photographs and a collection of the student’s prose.
Mike Wallace also wrote an article about their visit to India in 2010 that appeared in the newsletter of the Atmospheric Sciences Department at the University of Washington.AtmosCirculation2010_p3
A postscript from Susan Wallace to the Shukla Family (March 1, 2010)
My time in Mirdha, which once stretched out like a long “dupatta”, is now over but the faces, places, sounds and tastes of Mirdha are a part of me forever. Going to sleep in Delhi I imagine I can hear the village jackals howling and distant “puja” chants. Waking I listen for the steps outside my door, the announcement of morning “chay”, “Ranja’s “ “Hallo, Hallo”, or Rina’s “Ma’am, Ma’am”. Walking to breakfast at IIC I find myself listening for the sound of “the general’s” cows and the elementary school children passing me touching their noses and saying, “beep-beep” (the result of a song that I taught them).
At breakfast I wait for someone to offer me “half-half” of a paratha and I long for the food cooked by my “sisters” Mitul and Sanju. Later, walking through Lodi gardens I am impressed by the profusion of flowers but in my mind’s eye I still see the bright yellow fields of mustard and the lush green of the winter wheat that I walked through every day. I hear children playing in the garden and imagine I can see Rakcha and Zagriti running down the path to ask for a game of tag or a recorder lesson or Prince and Golu playing cricket with the other boys.
I try to tell Mike all that I have experienced and realize that I can never tell the complete story as it is written in my heart. For this story includes a hundred small things like “chachi cha -cha chay chahie”, the “tadadadada” song (ask Mitul and Sanju about this) and playing “kabadi-kabadi with the children. The story has larger themes also: the eagerness of the students to learn, and their dedication to their country, discussions about the nature of “God/gods”, society and education, and the gracious hospitality offered in every home but especially in yours.
However, I believe that this is a story is not over; there is another chapter titled “Return to Mirdha”. So, until then I say, “thank- you and farewell”.