From being the most gifted student in his local village school, JNU student leader Kanhaiya Kumar was sent to a fancier private school. But the new opportunities also led to new problems. Great Expectations is a searingly honest, moving and bittersweet account of a clever boy coming of age in rural India. In this exclusive excerpt, Kanhaiya recalls what the move to a private school felt like:
Each day, there was something or the other in the private school that separated me from others. Very young children wore mufflers, which was quite an expensive thing. Only those people used mufflers who could afford them or who had someone who could knit one for them. My mother knitted a cap for me and when for the first time I wore it to school the children took it off and played with it, throwing it up in the air like a ball. I felt thoroughly ashamed and regretted the fact that from being at the top of the pile in the government school I had been reduced to being a nonentity.
For the first time I was face to face with all the hardships students from the weaker sections have to face in life. The children in my private school didn’t just wear good clothes, they also had cars and motorcycles to commute to school. It was a different world altogether. Until now I hadn’t even really been familiar with my entire village, my knowledge was limited to my locality. But now I began to learn about the whole village. I had started sensing the difference between children living in kuchcha houses and pukka houses. I had started measuring time by the speed of cars on the road. Difference and discrimination became part of my psyche.
Those early days set the pace for the experiences in the future. I already felt embarrassed about the low financial status of my family. Soon I began to lose my confidence about the one thing I had always been sure of: my studies. In my second day in the new school, I was slapped for the first time in life. The English teacher had asked me to stand up and read. The lesson was ‘The Real Princess’. While reading I got stuck at one point and the teacher beat me up.