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So near and yet, so very far

ValliamaPre-dawn and Valliamma's mother is awake even before the rooster realizes it's that time of day to crow. Before he can get his act together, she's out of the house. For, she has many a mile to walk in search of work if the kitchen fires have to burn. At the end of the day, tired to the bone working in sugarcane fields, she would have earned twenty to thirty rupees. That's if she's lucky to find work. And Lady Luck isn't always around.

Valliama's father sells tender coconuts. He knows of no other trade. "He buys them from the nearby village at three rupees and sells at five rupees," says Valli. He makes a bigger profit selling to people who come in cars, which in any case is rare. "He sells more during summer when it's hot," she adds with a smile on her innocent face.

But Valliamma still can't go to school. She studied till class eight at the village school because education was free, hence affordable. High school would mean traveling a long distance by bus. Where's the money for the bus fare? And to walk the distance is out of question. It's taboo for young girls to go out alone. "My parents wouldn't allow it," says Valli in an unmistakably tone of disappointment.

At an age when she should have been expanding her horizons of knowledge, laughing and playing, burning midnight oil to complete her homework, 16-year old Valli now tends to household chores, cooks the meals for her father, two brothers and a sister while her mother breaks her back in the hot sun. But deep down inside Valliamma, there's this burning desire to study. Alas! Abject poverty has doused those flames.

Aristotle wrote, "The roots of education are bitter, but the fruit is sweet". No one in Somanahalli has ever heard of Aristotle. Ask Valliamma and she'll probably say, "Aristotle who"? In her frugal existence there hasn't been much sweetness.

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