By Deepinder Janeja
“Why don’t they answer the questions themselves?”, piped eight-year old Peeyush, as his mother pulled him out of his hide-out. He ran for his life when he heard that the ASER team had arrived and wanted to ask him a few questions. “Please Peeyush, it’s a question of our honour”, coaxed his mother Amita. His grandfather brought us some fruit from their back yard.
Sanjana, our ASER surveyor, took a chance with Peeyush. She spoke to him gently as he sat stubbornly planted in his mother’s lap, seeking shelter in her long dupatta. Ajay, the other surveyor, struck up a conversation with Amita while Sanjana slowly gauged Peeyush’s ability to read and to do basic arithmetic. In a while, I noticed Peeyush laughing at a joke Sanjana had cracked. He read a full paragraph and was able to solve some subtraction sums.
I don’t know what the joke was. Peeyush’s smile just felt like the warm sun in the chilly Himachal mountains. I’d been feeling a bit sick as we drove up the labyrinthine mountain roads and then walked a few kilometres uphill to arrive at Peeyush’s home for the survey. But that was only a small price to pay for watching Peeyush’s painful shyness melt into a smile of confidence, victory on Sanjana’s face and the magnificence of the world from their home on a high Himachal hill.