This series of pictures were taken in a small town in Kerela when I was part of the crew of a documentary on the master filmmaker Adoor Gopalakrishnan being shot by another master filmmaker and my guru Dr Girish Kasaravalli.We though we had stumbled upon the old sprawling house where one of Adoors greatest films Elipatthayam (The Rat Trap) was set.This after Adoor himself telling us that the original house has long been demolished, but such was our excitement that we somehow convinced ourselves that this house was indeed the one and the reported demolition had never happened.The Elipatthayam house should be part of the history of Indian cinema and demolishing it is wiping out a small bit of history, Werner Herzog calls it “the voodoo of the location “. To cut a long story short we landed up to shoot at that atmospheric location with the Adoor himself, with the intension of presenting the house as being similar to the original with an appropriate disclaimer.When we reached the compound I noticed that behind the house was a school being run in a large covered shed.Needless to say the students were excited by the appearance of a film crew and teachers were craning their necks to catch a glimpse of the “superstars”.They might have been disappointed that the star was not a glamorous actor but a cerebral filmmaker with whose work the common man is hardly familiar, but we did find Adoor fans all over the countryside in the most unlikely places.
Late afternoon I peeped into the empty school and was fascinated with what I saw.Armed with my camera I grabbed the opportunity to click the pictures that I am posting below.As any parent with a child in primary school, there is that inherent tendency to evaluate what and how other children are studying, and as I looked around this school whose classrooms had barely any partitions, I was struck by how similar this school was in its approach and curriculum to most other schools and wondered about what the future holds for the children who study here.This was an “English Medium” school in Kerala, which has the distinction of being India’s only state with 100% literacy and what impressed me most was not the English but the Hindi component of what I saw on the walls.I found out after some enquiry that the monthly tuition fee alone would be around Rs 1000 to Rs1500 (about 20 to 25 US Dollars), which is a significant sum for a lower class family in rural India.I found myself imagining the sacrifices that the parents were making to send their children to this somewhat makeshift school but just could not bring myself to dismiss this school as being “below par” in any way,so what if there were no walls separating the class rooms, no computers, no overhead projectors etc. I could well imagine a group of bright young boys and girls emerging from this place, no inferior in any fundamental way to those paying 10 times more in fancy schools in big cities.The bitter taste of newspaper reports of children being raped in an élite school of Bangalore was still lingering in my mouth, and it was in that very school that my daughter had studied in kindergarten for a 2 full years before we moved to Singapore.
Why did I feel good as I walked around poking my camera in the school?Perhaps it was the beauty, simplicity and earnestness of the efforts of the teachers and students that I saw up on the walls, perhaps it was the sacrifices that the parents were obviously making to send their children here rather than a government school, perhaps it was just the open format of the school itself without walls. But maybe all schools evoke this feeling since they all house beautiful innocent children and the hopes and aspirations of their parents. It has been six months since I captured these simple images and they refuse to let go of me.I hope I am able to evoke some of the same emotions in you when you look at these photographs.Sharing these pictures with my daughter was an interesting experience and I hope you share them with your children too.