Ajay Patil (35), a teacher at a zilla parishad school in Pisavali village near Dombivali, is unsure how long he can continue conducting classes. The school, in dire need of repairs for the past five years, has gaping holes in the roof. “With heavy rain this year, new cracks and leaks have developed, and there’s water everywhere,” Patil said. Not only is the school building leaking, the road leading to it is an unpaved path, which has now turned slushy.
Patil, known as “cinema-wale guruji” in the village after he began making movies casting his students as actors, was most recently feted for his film ‘Maajhe Guruji Chi Gaadi’, which was selected for screening at an international film festival in Miami. His movies and his theatre group have been lauded nationally and have won competitions at the district level regularly. Every student among the 400-odd in the school has dabbled in drama. Not only that, Patil also conducts several innovative extra curricular activities, such as student parliament and other competitions. “I can proudly say that every year, instead of going down, our admissions have steadily increased. But for how long,” he asked.
With the onset of rains, Patil and his colleagues start working on an alternative schedule. “We have to ensure enough of the course is completed, so that we can manage even if we have to declare holidays. The extra curricular activities take a back seat,” he said.
The Pisavali Gram Shala, which has e-learning enabled classrooms and even a computer lab, runs out of space for classes every monsoon. “There have been times when we have had to send an entire class home because there is no place to sit. Right now, most of the classes are held in the computer lab, as that’s the only dry area in the school,” he said.
While appreciation has come to the school and its students, the basic necessities are still to be put in place. “I can make the children understand the importance of learning, but how will they learn here? The parents will stop sending them if the rains increase, and the holiday will deter the educational calendar,” he said.
The education officer for the region was unavailable for comment despite repeated attempts.
Patil, who is also the headmaster of the school, has written repeatedly to local authorities. “I have been asking for funds to repair the school building for the past five years. This year, I sent monthly applications and reminders until May-end, to be able to get some money to repair the big holes in the roof. But the zilla parishad has not responded a single time. Like every year, we have been made to wait,” he said.
“The rain is very heavy this year and eventually, we will have to stop the children from going to school. If they come back drenched, they are going to fall sick,” said Sita Bhoir, a parent in Pisavali. Another parent, Radhika Bhoir, said,
“Although we admire guruji, if things don’t change, we will have to consider moving our children to a private school nearby. There they will at least have a roof over their head.”