BENGALURU: Every day at 4 pm, a flat at a premium apartment complex near Puttenahalli Lake turns into a mini school, with around 15 children from nearby slums coming to take afterschool tuitions. “Uncle,” as CS Narayanan, 76, is fondly known to the kids, has been teaching the children for the past five years.
Since then, four of his students have cleared SSLC and PUC with as much as 92 per cent marks. “It’s all thanks to uncle. Without him, I wouldn’t have even managed to pass, forget about scoring such high percentage,” says Pooja, who’s now a first-year student of Bachelor of Computer Applications (BCA).
Narayanan moved to the USA in 1971 and went on to do his MS, specialising in Medical Radiation applicable to cancer treatment. He retired in 2012 and returned to India after almost 40 years overseas. Once here, Narayanan wanted to give something back to society.
Teaching was something that he liked doing. He approached hospitals offering to share his expertise but bureaucratic hurdles ensured that it came to nothing. It all started when he and his wife Kamala, 73, during a morning walk around the lake met Usha Rajagopalan, author and chairperson of the Puttenahalli Neighbourhood Lake Improvement Trust. It was a perfect fit. She was looking for a volunteer to teach the children from the slum adjoining the lake and Narayanan had time on hand and a desire to do something meaningful with it. He holds the classes in his Brigade Millenium flat.
“During the conversation, I expressed my desire to volunteer for some work and she showed me the kids who were loitering around, asking me if I would be interested in teaching them. Many of them had joined private schools under the RTE quota but didn’t know a single word of English,” recalls Narayanan. Though he agreed instantly, the lack of venue for teaching emerged as a hurdle. However, the classes began under a tree at the lake premises.
“I would go there at 4 pm every day and wait for the children to come. Initially, I started with around 10 kids and slowly the numbers increased to 25, and it became difficult for me to handle all of them alone at a place riddled with many diversions. Issues such as absenteeism, careless attitude of students, difficulty in communicating made it tough for me to continue there,” he says.
Narayanan realised that he needed a place that was quiet and offered a setting conducive to instilling discipline and regularity among the children. He then decided to shift the venue to his house. The next task in front of Narayanan was to convince the other residents to allow the entry of the children on the premises every day. Thankfully, everyone was supportive, after having seen the commitment and dedication of Narayanan towards the cause. In 2013, he shifted the classes to his house and began teaching with a limited number of about 10 children in two batches.
The number has now risen to 13, with fresh requests pouring in regularly. “I get requests from parents living within my complex too. I am also called ‘tuition uncle’ by children in the apartment. I do help them when they approach me for projects, etc. but I don’t teach them regularly. If I make this into a commercial business, my purpose won’t be served. Teaching underprivileged children gives me a sense of satisfaction and solace. I learn a lot from them,” Narayanan says, talking about how when he was in school, he did not learn anything about Karnataka.
“But now when I teach them the state’s history and other important things, I learn so many new things,” he says. While Narayanan realises that children cannot be expected to be well behaved all the time, he has laid certain rules which have to be followed by them. For instance, if a child bunks class three times consecutively without a valid reason, they are not allowed to attend them later. Completion of homework is a must, and they have to write an essay after summer holidays. Narayanan mostly teaches students of middle school and high school.
The youngest child attends Class 3. Among the oldest students are two pursuing II PUC and one from B.Sc. “The college students need little help. They ask doubts, but mainly come here to get away from a home where they either have a drunkard father or bad family ties. Here they are able to study in peace,” Narayanan says. He has given each student an English-to-Kannada dictionary, and also uses tech tools such as Google translator and YouTube for better communication.
“Now all of them speak good English. Teachers are surprised when they top in class,” Narayanan says. Adds Kamala, “It feels nice to see a maid’s son or a driver’s daughter speak impeccable English. Also, we have learnt a lot of values, including money-saving techniques. I am proud of my husband.”
The septuagenarian couple loves to travel, but they plan their trips so that they coincide with the school holidays. “We travel only during September-October and May-July. We are very particular about this,” Narayanan says, as Kamala chips in, “We go to the US to see our children and grandchildren once a year. Even then he makes sure that he calls the students regularly, and they get excited on receiving calls from him from abroad. He has even taught them to send emails to clear their doubts.”
SOME FUN TOO
While the regular classes happen in two batches on weekdays, the weekends come as a full day of fun combined with studies. On most of the days, Kamala arranges for some light snacks for all the children. On Sundays, they even order pizzas, make popcorn and watch mythological stories on YouTube. “On some days, we party big time,” laughs Kamala. Once or twice a year, they organise picnics to places like Vidhana Soudha, Visvesvaraya Museum or Bannerghatta National Park. “When will they get to see all this otherwise? I don’t think their parents can afford or even think of taking them to such places,” Narayanan says.