Lighting up Lives

Young Pinky Karmakar runs a night school for elderly women residing in her tea estate in upper Assam. She was also torch-bearer in the Olympic rally in London early this year. The Thumb Print talks to her.


Every evening, the lights are switched on at the club at Barbaruah Tea Estate in upper Assam’s Dibrugarh district. Over 30 women huddle together, some with pencils and paper and some holding a slate and a chalk. They are there after a hard day’s work as pluckers in the tea garden and after preparing a quick dinner for their family. They are there to pick up the alphabets and some basic reading and writing. Among them is Leela Rajwar, a tea plucker. She enjoys some respect as it is her daughter Pinky Karmakar, 17, who runs the night school.


Pinky was inspired to set up this school during one training programme on Sports for Development organized by UNICEF. “Everyone who attended the meeting were asked to sign at an attendance register. Many of the women could not even sign their names as they never went to school. And this included my mother. I decided to do something for them. Initially I started teaching them at home but there wasn’t enough space. Then the garden authorities let us use the club for the night school,” she says.


Initially, it was difficult to get the women to attend the night school. Many a times, their husbands did not allow them. Pinky went and explained to their husbands that it is important that their wife is literate. “I tell them that sometimes, she might have to travel alone. Then she can atleast read what’s written on the signboard,” says Pinky.


Well, Pinky, a student of class ten stands out for various reasons. She was the only representative from India among 20 countries selected for the Olympic torch relay in London in June this year. Pinky, who runs a daily sports programme in her school, is part of the International Inspiration Programme, Sports LPgacy project of London, 2012, run in partnership with UK Sport, UNICEF and the British Council. Unicef had selected her as the only representative from India under the organisation’s Sports for Development programme being implemented in Barbaruah Tea Estate since 2009.


As she watches the spectacular opening of the London Olympics, Pinky fondly recalls her trip there. Coming from a humble background, for Pinky it was a first ever ride on an aircraft. She went for her visa to Kolkata first and then to London. She says with a glint in her eyes, “It is a big city and a developed country. They gave me a lot of respect. There were big buildings, clean roads and everyone lives in harmony,” she says.


She did have problems conversing with the other participants there as she does not speak English. “I understand and speak a little. I took some warm clothes as it was cold there. I did not get time to miss home though as I had a hectic week there,” she says.


Mandira Barooah, a designer and a resident of the tea estate gave Pinky some tips on her travel abroad. She says, “I told her to greet people with a namaskar and a smile. I also gave her small boxes of tea to distribute it to the people she makes friends with. I also gave her small tips like writing her name on the suitcase and how to identify her luggage in the airport.” Barooah adds that Pinky is a very agreeable person, keen learner and very confident. Her attires are designed in such a manner that their Assam Tea Company and Assam are highlighted using their company’s colours, yellow and black.


Pinky actively takes part in sports in her school. She plays Kabbadi and Javelin. However, for her trip, she also brushed up her general knowledge on the Olympic games. She is quick to answer, “Olympics is a world event which is held after every four years. This time it will be held in London and 204 countries will participate. There are six contestants from Northeast India.”


The exposure had filled Pinky with a renewed enthusiasm to do something for her society. Oblivious of all the media exposure she got, she is busy with her night school where she teaches her mother and her friends. “I want to do social service as well as work for the development of sports. I am fortunate that I got this opportunity,” she says.


She recalls the friends from 20 countries she had made during her trip. “My roommate was a girl called Wasa from Jordan. I am learning how to use the internet to be in touch with them,” she says. She encourages her friends to do well by telling them that they might get an even bigger opportunity. As the splendid display of fireworks light up the London sky during the inaugural session, it had also managed to enthuse the spirit of this young girl in a remote tea garden in Assam.