There is a classroom. It is attended by marginalized children from a nearby slum. The interior of the classroom is not sufficiently lit but its walls are adorned with photographs, maps and Shakespeare’s image. The children inside are malnourished, deformed, weak and dreamy. They hate Shakespeare, the map and the tall buildings because these furnishings remind them of what they have been deprived of. Occasionally there are visitors to the classroom – the state’s Governor, the education inspector and more frequently, visitor. The owner of the school is glad to welcome the visitor for donations. The poet is asking the readers to break the school building as he thinks the walls are preventing their freedom. He asks the readers to take these children to the sea shores where they will meet their world.

Assumptions
  • The school is built in a slum which is part of an industrial area.
  • The owner of the school is either a retired school teacher or a business-minded man. His only aim was to make money by attracting the visitors for their donations.
  • Needless to say, the children inside the classroom were poor, malnourished and ill. Their heads held down under the burden of life, these children hate being inside this classroom.
  • The interior of the school room is decorated yet the children see nothing interesting.
  • These children are forced to attend the boring classes or they are lured by the meals provided by the school.
  • The stories of Shakespeare taught in the class inspired the children to steal. They hated the map inside the classroom because it allotted rich land for the rich and the slums for them. They hated the pictures of the tall buildings in the classroom because their own huts were small and poorly. They hated everything inside the class room and preferred the dusty, clouded, dark and polluted world outside the classroom.
  • The poet ends the poem with an appeal to the world: “Demolish this school, break its windows and take these children to the beautiful world of freedom and knowledge before they grow up to destroy the town.”

Next – Lines 1 – 2

Far far from gusty waves these children’s faces
Like rootless weeds, the hair torn round their pallor.

Vocabulary
  • Gusty waves – Strong waves (seas)
  • Weeds – Unwanted plants
  • Pallor – Face
Questions
  1. Where does the slum exist? How do you know this?
    The slum exists far away from the seas and oceans and rivers where rich and prosperous people live. Prosperity is found in cities and cities generally stand on the coastal regions of the world. As the slum is away from the gusty waves of the seas, they are far away from seas too.
  2. Why is the hair of the children here compared to rootless weeds?
    When weeds are rootless they are dead and decayed. Similarly the slum-children have their hair without being groomed or nourished properly. Their hair tangle on their faces without any order.
  3. Why does the poet mention only the faces of the children?
    The poet, by mentioning only the faces of the children in the classroom to bring out the pains they suffer. Their existence is entirely based on pains and sufferings, poverty and want, darkness and death. As one’s pains are expressed only on his/her faces, the poet mentions only ‘faces’ in the poem.

Next – Lines 3 – 9

The tall girl with her weighed- down head,
The paper- seeming boy, with rat’s eyes,
The stunted, unlucky heir of twisted bones,
Reciting a father’s gnarled disease, his lesson, from his desk.
At back of the dim class one unnoted, sweet and young.
His eyes live in a dream, of squirrel’s game,
In tree room, other than this.

Meaning
  • The tall girl – Grown up girl
  • Weighed- down head – Head that is already under the stress of life
  • The paper- seeming boy – As thin as paper
  • Rat’s eyes – Searching eyes
  • The stunted – Not grown in height; dwarfed
  • Heir – One who inherits his/her parents possessions, wealth, etc.
  • Twisted bones – A disease that makes one’s bones twisted
  • Reciting – Speaking; expressing
  • Gnarled – Twisted
  • Unnoted – Unnoticed
  • His eyes live in a dream -He lives in a world of imagination
  • Squirrel’s game – Children’s game; the game of hide and seek
  • In tree room, other than this.

Questions & Answers

  1. Why is the tall girl’s head weighed down?
    There is possibly more than one reason for the tall girl’s head being weighed down. In the first place she, being big and responsible, is burdened by her own terrible life. Secondly, the girl, being tall, is ashamed of studying with small kids.
  2. What does the expression, paper seeming boy, suggest the appearance of the boy?
    The boy is as thin as paper due to malnutrition and poor bringing up.
  3. Why are the boy’s eyes compared to that of a rat’s?
    A rat’s eyes are always restless. They are always in search of something and look for dangers. The boy here is also searching for something other than the attractions inside the classroom.
  4. How does the term, stunted, describe the unlucky boy’s appearance?
    The boy’s growth was slowed by his poor conditions. Poverty and malnutrition have tortured his body and spirit. He looks like a living skeleton.
  5. Why is the boy unlucky?
    The boy has nothing at hand to be lucky. What he has inherited from his father is a cruel disease. Poverty is his companion. A skeleton-like figure is what he is. Hunger gleams in his eyes and helplessness echoes in his heart.
  6. What has the boy inherited from his father?
    The boy has inherited neither money nor great legacy nor property from his father. He inherited his father’s gnarled disease.
  7. How does the unlucky boy ‘recite’ his father’s decease from his desk?
    The unlucky boy is suffering from the same gnarled disease that his father too was suffering from. When asked to recite his lessons in the class, the boy struggles to do so due to his ailment/disease.
  8. What do you understand by ‘gnarled disease?’
    The possible ‘gnarled disease’ of the unlucky boy is either polio or uneven growth of bones or even tuberculosis.
  9. Why is the classroom dim?
    The classroom’s doors and windows remain closed all the time except on the occasion of visits made my inspector, Governor and other visitors. Moreover, sunlight is a far-fetched dream for the slum dwellers because most of the time the sky remains covered with smoke and dust.
  10. What sort is the unnoted boy’s of dream?
    The unnoted boy dreams of playing with squirrels in the hollow of trees in the neighborhood. The child’s desire is to be a squirrel, playing in a hollow tree hiding nuts, which ironically reflects his current life.
  11. What is squirrel’s game? Who is playing the squirrel’s game in the classroom?
    Squirrel’s game refers to the game of hide and seeks of nuts in the hollows of the tree. The boy who is unnoticed, sweet & young and has a dreamy world plays squirrel’s game in the classroom.
  12. Explain, ‘in tree room, other than this’?
    The unnoted boy desires to play in the hollows of the tree rather than attending to the lessons in the classroom. He likes the hollows inside the tree. For him, the classroom is very boring.
  13. Why does the boy prefer the tree room other than the classroom?
    The boy finds the games played by the squirrel in nature more interesting than the classroom. The dull color of the classroom wall and the donations by the benevolent visitors make the classroom even more boring for these children.

Next – Lines 10 – 13

Biju John is an educational writer, educator and the author of OM - The Otherwise Men. He gives live classes on Skype and Facebook. You can attend his 3 Day Classes (English & Business Studies) in Delhi, Bangalore, Qatar and Dubai. His Contact number is 91 9810740061.

Comments (2)

Leave a comment
    • Amit Ajmani

    • December 11, 2017

    Hello Sir. Hope u r doing fine. Read the poem of XII Class, Elementary Classroom in a slum…..with all due regards sir….there are certain aspects i need some clarification…..found a few things contradictory…..kindly revert……as per what i went thru…the explanation of Donations on the walls of classroom is not related as per the poem. Same goes with the Governor, Inspector and Visitor…i thought that the poet is making an appeal to these people for the upliftment of the slum children…please clarify….

    1. Hi,
      Spender’s masterpiece is this. The poet is playing with words, as they all do, to confuse us. Your observations have already been raised by my students. Donations can be ‘donated pictures’ or ‘pictures bought with the money given as donations.’ There is no denying that the school is run for donations. Unfortunately we do not know whom the poet is appealing to. There are fewer chances for the Governor and inspector and visitors. There are two kinds of inspectors. One the education inspector and the other is the inspector who is coming to check if every child is given a welding glass – though they are broken and scratched. Class 12 students need not get beyond the visible points. The poem is deep. Thanks for your opinion. Always welcome. Please do not mind the grammerrors!

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