Dreams that prosper in Sam Singh's Pardada
Photograph by Preeti Verma Lal
It is about 8 in the morning and the world
is living its ordinariness. But if you look carefully you
would see little apparitions in green and yellow emerging
from unkempt lanes and from the streets canopied with huge
trees. When they come closer you realize these girls, dressed
in green salwar and dupatta teamed with a yellow kurta,
are rushing to school. On their black shoes, you can see
layers of dust.... In the hurried step of some you can see
the enthusiasm of straddling two worlds - they finish household
chores, braid their hair, pins their duppattas and walk
with their head held high. Perhaps for the first time in
A dust-laden village in Uttar Pradesh that seemed condemned
to its banality and masculine feudalism. The elegance of the
land flowed from the slender Ganges that meandered through
it and the pale golden of the ripe wheat that grew in its
Not too many outsiders knew of this village,
not too many dreams grew within its confines.
But that was five years ago. One day Anoopshahar
beckoned Virender Sam Singh and he started the Pardada Pardadi
School. It changed Anoopshahar.
It is about 8 in the morning, the cows are ploughing the
land, dark smoke is billowing into the azure sky, men are
headed to work and women slap wet cow dung cakes on the
walls. The world is living its ordinariness. But if you
look carefully you would see little apparitions in green
and yellow emerging from unkempt lanes and from the streets
canopied with huge trees.
When they come closer you realize these girls, dressed in
green salwar and dupatta teamed with a yellow kurta, are
rushing to school. On their black shoes, you can see layers
of dust for they have walked a few kilometers or pedalled
some 14 kms from their home to reach school. In the hurried
step of some you can see the enthusiasm of straddling two
worlds - they finish household chores, braid their hair,
pins their duppattas and walk with their head held high.
Perhaps for the first time in life.
At 8.30 am, 240 girls and 28 teachers
gather near the front gate for the morning assembly. They
sing the national anthem and a hymn and then gingerly confess
the lies they have uttered and if they have forgotten to
brush or have a bath. The school leaders check for dirty
nails and untidy hair. Then the girls pick up their satchels
and head to the classrooms. In one room, girls are bent
over a framed cushion cover, embroidering a flower; in another
sewing machines whirr to turn bales of cloth into duvets
and quilts. In another room little girls dip the wooden
blocks in paint troughs to turn out block-printed table
cloths and still in another they pick up sequins to make
a stunning paisley motif on black silk. In the kitchen,
some 12 girls are kneading the dough, flipping rotis and
making a curry. Breakfast has to be served at 11 am and
they cannot run slow.
That's the vocational skills they are
picking up - that's a part of their syllabi. They also have
the mathematical fractions and the equations to work on,
the Rapid English Reader to mug and the laws of physics
to understand. And when they are done with all this they
also clank on the computers gifted by the US Embassy.
Meet one of them. Name: Neeru Sharma.
Age 16. As if being born a girl in a feudal village was
not enough of a bane, she was also affected with polio and
her life was hurtling towards disaster. The future looked
so bleak that no tomorrow emerged out of the haze. She could
not look you in the eyes; her sentences didn't go beyond
monosyllables. Her world didn't have the luxury of pet peeves.
All she needed was a dream.
Perhaps it was all ordained.
The unusual story started more than six
decades when Virender Sam Singh was born in Anoopshahar.
Years later armed with an engineering degree he went to
the US to do his Masters and between that moment and today,
Singh held several coveted posts with DuPont, pitched his
tents in numerous US cities and then packed for Singapore
as head of DuPont, Asia. His peregrinations and his job
brought Singh to India in the late 80s and that's when he
made a promise to himself: "The day my younger daughter
gets a job I would quit and start a school for the underprivileged."
That day didn't arrive too soon, but when it did Singh kept
the promise. He quit DuPont.
"I wanted to start a school for girls
but did not have a model I could emulate." This quest
took him to Dharamshala where Singh saw underprivileged
children being imparted lessons in academics, but the stress
was on vocational skills.
That visit gave Singh his mantra. He had
found the hows and the whys; fortunately, the 'where' was
never blurred. Singh had a palatial, ancestral home and
several hundred bighas of land in Anoopshahar. That became
his some place on earth for his dreams. Before the dream
unfolded, one last ritual had to be completed - the school
had to be christened. Singh mulled over options until his
daughter came up with an unusual name - Pardada Pardadi
School. Singh remembers the first day in the village when
he sat under a tree on a jute-woven cot and drew the blueprint
of his dreams.
That was 2000. On a barren piece of land
was laid the foundation of Pardada Pardadi School. As brick
after brick was getting piled up, Singh went around the
village convincing the parents about how it can change the
lives of their daughters. The idea was simple - The girls
would be given lessons in academics, they would also pick
up skills like sewing, embroidery, block printing, zardosi,
appliqué; they would be given uniform, bicycles,
lunch, breakfast and for each day that attend school Rs
10 would be put into their account. So by the time a girl
finishes her Class X she would have Rs 80,000 in her coffers.
The idea was simple but breaking the feudal bastion was
very tedious. But some were convinced and 45 girls joined.
With 69% drop-out rate, the footsteps in the school got
muted, but Singh's diligence held him in good stead. He
knew he was on a mission and could not hang his boots so
easily. Not for himself. Not for the children whose lives
he wanted to change. For Singh and his team it has been
a long journey fraught with fulfillment, exhilaration and
yes, weariness too. The biggest achievement has been a sharp
dip in the dropout rate, from 69% in 2000 to 25% in 2005.
Today Singh looks with satisfaction at
the Pardada Pardadi shop in The Plaza Mall in Gurgaon, which
seems like an umbilical extension of the school in the village.
The products made by the girls are sold in the store and
also exported to various European and African countries.
His efforts have begun to bear fruit. For most of the students
there's the enthusiasm that life would not hit a dead end
once they have crossed the threshold of the school. There
are jobs waiting for them - they can join their alma mater
as teacher and make at least Rs 2,000 a month.
You can see that joy in Neeru Sharma.
Singh arranged for her surgery and now she walks with crutches,
looks you into the eye and even goes beyond the monosyllables.
She has also found her dream - to become an English teacher.
As for Sam Singh, he might not have
found a magic wand. But he is no longer piqued at his pet
peeve. He has found an answer and sees it grow every moment
in the giggle of the girls, the whirr of the sewing machines
and the clank on the computer keyboard in his Pardada Pardadi
Published in Swagat
magazine, June 2005.