JAJPUR: In the non-descript Kantira, a village in Jajpur district’s Sukinda block, you could spot him teaching kids in the morning in a makeshift shed, made of bamboo and straw. When the dusk falls, it’s time for the elders to start their lessons.
The teacher remains the same - Nanda Kishore Prusty. He is 98 and unstoppable. Prusty’s mission to eradicate illiteracy started a few years after Independence and still continuing. And he does not charge a penny. Kantira is part of Bartanda GP.
The age-old “chatashali” (a non-formal school for primary education in Odisha) system may have been long gone but “Nanda Mastre” (Nanda Master) is still at it. The timings are clear - 6 am-9 am shift for kids; 6pm-8pm shift for the adults and seniors.
A Class 7 pass-out, Prusty wanted to join a government service during pre-Independence era but his father was unwilling to send him out of home.
“When I completed primary education (Class 7), my uncle arranged a job at Cuttack. But my father was reluctant. The financial condition was not good and I helped out my father in farm work,” the nonagenarian recalls.
As he could not get higher education, he decided to spend time after his agricultural work to provide free education to the students of his village and nearby areas in 1948. And it started.
Free coaching to children in the morning and for the elders in evening hour under a village tree completely for free.
Then he was 26.The idea of imparting education to elders of Kantira struck him after Nanda found that villagers, mostly labourers and farm workers, were illiterate and used thumb impression for legal and official work.
And his mission to make them literate, at least capable of signing, reading and writing in their mother tongue started. It has been four generations hence. Many of his students, he claims are now doctors, engineers, teachers, political leaders and lawyers. Some have even passed away.
Meanwhile, his open air school has now shifted to a make shift house near the Hanuman temple of the village. Bartanda Sarapanch Rabindra Kumar Sahoo hails “Nanda Mastre.”
"His mission to eradicate illiteracy from our panchayat without taking a single penny from anyone is an unparalleled act of devotion. We regard him as the village head and he resolves all issues of my panchayat amicably. We are proud of him," he says.