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Hindi school Paathshala grows in popularity
Class is about to begin. The kids are chattering away, but come to quick attention as Ms Rashmi calls for attention.
“Let’s start with the prayer,” she says, and the kids close their eyes close and bring their palms together in prayer position.
“Hey Bhagwan, tujhe pranaam! Tere bache, hum ho sache. Hey Bhagwan, tujhe pranaam!”
The scene instantly brought back memories from my own childhood days.
An essential part of culture which connects me to my roots is language. The famous novelist Khaled Hosseini says, “If culture is a house, then language is the key to the front door and to all the rooms inside.” As parents, if we can pass this key to our children, it will be the greatest gift we ever give them.
The Hindi School Paathshala, run by the Hindi Samaj of WA (HSWA) is helping Perth’s Indian parents realise this vision.
A typical class at Paathshala begins with a prayer and a quick recap of the last lesson. Stories and rhymes in Hindi follow.
“All the activities are structured to impart learning while having fun and aims at increasing Hindi vocabulary,” says Rashmi Loyalka, the coordinator. The class hours are spent reading, writing and practicing new words. “My son especially loves the action songs,” an enthusiastic parent was quick to add.
Paathshala was founded in 2010. Today they have three centres spread across Perth and seven teachers who work on a voluntary basis with an average of 15 students per centre.
However, the efforts started much earlier. “When I started as a HSWA’s committee member, I used to take Hindi classes at home on a voluntary basis,” reveals Rashmi.
“We are extremely proud of Paathshala and have students from both Indian and non-Indian background,” adds Vivek Nigam, the secretary of HSWA. “Most of our teachers have teaching qualifications and have done higher studies in Hindi.”
The Paathshala students are also encouraged to participate in various language competitions and some have also anchored shows at radio stations. The teachers help students shine across these various platforms. “Participating in such shows and competitions is a major boost to their morale,” noted Rashmi.
Ten-year-old Om flashes his Hindi write-up on the entry form of the SBS National Language Competition to me. “I wrote this on my own,” he says with pride. It is a well-written 30-word paragraph in Hindi. I shake his hand and wish him best of luck.
As an extension of these activities, the HSWA also organises ‘Phulvari’, a program which gives the Paathshala kids a stage to perform, whether in drama, poetry, fancy dress, singing or dancing. Kids, parents and their teachers look forward to this celebration each year.
“We really worked hard to get our acts right for the skit,” recounts Medha, a student of Paathshala who has been associated with the school for more than three years. “I was glad I could remember all the dialogues. We practised the play well. It was lots of fun!”
“When I had initially joined in I did not even know how to speak the language but now I can speak, read and write Hindi,” says Sayithri, another senior student who co-anchored ‘Phulvaari’ along with Medha.
“It is really great to watch the presentation by our own Paathshala students,” smiles Rashmi. “At this event, we also train and let children anchor the show, which has been a great success.”
Another unique aspect of Paathshala is its encouragement of parents’ participation. Many parents stay back throughout the class and some volunteer as helpers.
“As parents, we think this is the best thing we have done for our girls,” says Mrs Agrawal, one volunteering parent. “We do speak Hindi at home, but the advantage about sending them to Paathshala is that they now know to read and write. They also get lots of exposure in many different activities and platform to perform. And they make new friends too.”
“The best compliments my girls have received are from their grandparents when they visited us,” her husband adds. “They were very pleased and happy to hear their grandkids speaking Hindi.”
As I skim through the activity sheets, watch the kids deeply engrossed in figuring out a new word, and engage in conversation with the children in Hindi, it strikes me that not only are they learning, they are also enjoying it all.
It is time for the class to disperse for the day. The kids stand up and join the teachers and parents as they sing the Indian National Anthem. For some 52 seconds, I am left spellbound, and with a lump in my throat.