At 3 pm, their hair oiled and neatly combed, wearing creased uniforms and black shoes, Aamir Khan and Ekhlaq Khan stand at the door of their one-room accommodation at Sangam Vihar, ready to accompany their mother to the parent-teacher meeting (PTM) at their school. Anwari Khatoon will be going to the meeting alone as her husband — a tailor — works from morning to night at a factory in Kapashera.
She signals her daughter Muskaan — who’s working in the kitchen — that she’s heading out. Ekhlaq (10), the younger and apparently the naughtier one, runs down the stairs only to run back up a minute later to grab his spectacles. The walk to the Sarvodaya Bal Vidyalaya begins with Aamir (14) walking ahead of his younger brother and mother. Anwari proudly says her five children, including Muskaan and two elder siblings, are “good in studies”.
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All through the commute, Ekhlaq stays by his mother, clutching her hand every time a stray dog crosses by. The trio seems to manouever effortlessly through the narrow lanes of the unauthorised colony — remembering all the twists and turns, knowing exactly how to avoid stepping on garbage and sewage water. They finally reach the school in about 20 minutes.
At Aamir’s class on the ground floor, his class teacher is busy attending to other parents and students, and asks Anwari and the boys to sit down. He proceeds to explain the aim of the PTM. “We want a link between you (parents) and us, so that you know in which subjects your child needs to work more….”
When the teacher holds a report card in his hand and calls out – “who’s Aamir,” the mother and son walk to the front bench. “He has got only 17 (out of 50) in Hindi, and his performance is not very good in social science. You need to work harder, you can score much better,” he says, as Aamir looks closely at his report.
But it’s his Maths marks he is more worried about. “I had done well… I don’t know how this happened. I haven’t been well actually. Constant rounds to the hospital for a clot in my leg have made me miss several classes,” he says.
At Ekhlaq’s class, students and parents — all mothers — are asking for a chance to go first. But the class teacher, Shri Krishna, tells all of them to wait for their turn and they reluctantly obey. Almost two hours later, it’s finally Ekhlaq’s turn.
“He has been missing classes, we need an application every time he misses them. These are his marks,” says the teacher, pointing at the marksheet in which Ekhlaq has scored over 50 per cent in almost all subjects. It is 5.45 pm, and the sun has started setting, when the three head back home. The streets have now turned into vegetable markets, with vendors on each side of the road and just about enough space for one person to walk.
Ekhlaq has a twinkle in his eyes and a spring in his steps. He knows he has performed well, and he treats himself to some roadside momos for doing so. Aamir, on the other hand, looks worried. “Aaj lagta hai papa se maar khaunga (I will probably get punished by my father),” he says.