Muslim and Hindu children squeeze into the benches
10:30 The boys head for school. It will take five minutes through the field path on a bike. There is no electricity when they arrive but no one is worried, it is part of life. Palab enters the director’s office, grabs the keys and starts opening the classes’ doors all giving on the courtyard. He is always there to help. He places himself first in the rows when the bell rings, he is in the first bench in front of the class, and first in his class when the exams’ results arrive.
11:00 Children line up in the yard. The school serves six villages and with 60 children and more in each, classes are full. Boys on the left, girls on the right, Muslim and Hindu children squeeze into the benches as the teacher tries to brush the old blackboard but then let’s go without success. It has been so used that words of the past are there to stay, maybe reminding everyone that West Bengal’s history can never be erased. The school director is also there to remind them of the “partition.” His family, as many on this border state, was from East Bengal when nearly all Muslims were sent to Bangladesh and his Hindu family sent here. If the young students sit quietly, side by side, in the classes, each one’s inner peace comes from the secrets of the courtyards.
“School is from 11 to 4 o’clock to give children time to learn from their parents” explains the director. They are considered to be important educators for what a child needs to know to go through life. “Not everything can be learned at school” he says. “The first teacher, friend and guide are the parents” he says.
Boys can help their fathers in the fields and the girls their mother in the kitchen. The Biswas boys are exempted from hard physical. Work, sweat and mud houses, their parents and grandparents hope, will never exist after these boys graduate.