They believe that Billabong came to them “the way good things come to good people”; Najam Sir modestly adds, “If we may be called good people”. And when it did, “they welcomed it with open arms”. Listening to their story, one feels glad for their acquaintance with Billabong. They describe the introduction of Billabong to their lives, as “a pleasant surprise”. As they reminisce about the first time they met Lina Ma'am, and how she introduced them to the concept of Billabong, they tell us about how they were “looking at each other”. They tell us about how their conversation “struck a chord”. They tell us that Billabong was so compelling an idea that they decided to go with it and dump the original idea of the school they had in their head.
“And we made it happen on the fourth of April” Samina Ma'am tells us with a triumphant smile. “Those were very hard days. We had to work days and nights to get things in place.” However, they add, “those initial days taught us a lot and we stand here today, because of that struggle.”As they go further down memory lane, the gratitude in their voices overwhelms them, “When we began, we were aliens in Bhopal. We had no support system. Today, we have so many hands to help us”.
“Leaving four teachers behind, all teachers left” the disappointment in Samina Ma'am's voice as she tells us this is evident. However it slowly evaporates as she proceeds, “We began on the first day of school with only four teachers. There were two coordinators and me. And since there was no cafeteria then, I used to cook for all my children.” There is pride in her voice by the time she is finished. The excitement and joy is so evident in their voices when they tell us, “It was more of a family thing coming up. It didn't feel like a school. It felt like family. This is our home.” They end by blithely adding, “The rest is history”.
They beam every time they mention Billabong, but the one expression that stands out is the delight as they say, 'Billabong is our baby; and of all those associated with it”. The rapture only grows as we begin talking about their aim for Billabong and Billabongers. They state their vision as a matter of fact; their vision is simply this: “Every child that passes out goes out as a very responsible, sensible, sensitive individual. We want to give back to the society and we want our children to give back to the society.” Najam Sir affectionately adds, “We want to give our kids values, facilities, platform, options, chances, opportunities. And for that I am willing to go to any extent.” Samina Ma'am concludes with a simple remark, “It's a journey, and the journey will go on”.
This is a very good interview, and it did bring a smile to my face and to those seated in the room as well. However, I saved the best for the last; and now my favourite part is here. We asked Samina Ma'am and Najam Sir what has kept them going all these years, and their replies are amazingly moving. They answered as if it was a given, “Smiles”. Though their motivation is essentially the same, for Samina Ma'am it is also the “teachers, their hard work and dedication”. For Najam Sir however, “the smile on a child's face is the greatest motivation”. Their innocence is quite adorable as they say, “I feel happy to be surrounded by people who are so innocent. I am likely to be safe in that environment”.
As for the big question, what about the challenges? Here's an unexpected answer, “Now there are no challenges. We don't have any competition. We are walking with our children on a path which will definitely lead to the destination we have in mind for our children.” They add with contentment, “Everything has settled down so well; that now, we have no fears and challenges. We are sailing very smoothly with our children.” As for the 'small ups and downs', we got a very fitting answer for that too, “We don't want more, we just want to make our children better; and that's not a challenge. That's what a parent would do every day, every moment”
As told to Atharva Korde, Kalyani Shukla and Vrishti Shami from the Class of 2016 and Class of 2017