Ajjichi Shala The Grandmother’s School
A Village of Ajjis
Ajji. Grandmother. A term of endearment, of respect. Not necessarily used only to address a blood relative, but any elderly woman in the community. Or even a perfect stranger drawn close with affection.
A generation of women who dedicated all their lives to family, tending to the fields, the harvest and the family livelihood. A generation of women who got left out of schooling and even basic education. A generation of women pushed to the fringes because they couldn’t read.
Cut to: Fangane Village, Murbad Zilla, Thane District, Maharashtra.
A small, scenic village set amidst green thickets. Pretty, sloping, red-tiled roofs arranged in an unforced, organic geometry. Fewer than 1,300 inhabitants live in Fangane. The special school Ajjichi Shala or Grandmothers’ School focuses exclusively on elderly women. Yogendra Bangar, who started the initiative in 2016, recalls the beginnings: “In February 2016, when we were celebrating Shivaji Jayanti, ladies in the village were reading ‘paath’ or holy passages, and I overheard the senior women wistfully say that they wished they could read the text too.” A month later, the entire village had rallied around the idea of giving their ajjis a belated education. The ajjis decided to don their striking fuchsia pink ‘school uniform’ sari, pick up their standard issue red-and-black school satchels and go to school.
Set up in two spare rooms in a local farmer’s house, the ‘shaala’ runs for just two hours, 2-4pm, a couple of days a week, and has about 30 ajjis attending. The youngest pupil is 60, the oldest is in her 90s. Nursery rhymes, basic math, the alphabet and painting. Plus, a spot of gardening as well.
Learning can be fun yet challenging for the Ajjis. The community togetherness is enriching but frequently, poor hearing and vision, added to difficulties in retaining what they’ve learnt makes this doubly hard. But the joy of signing their names instead of affixing a thumbprint at the bank? Priceless.
A Place of Power