“Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”


I taught fourth-graders in a slum in the heart of Mumbai. Of the fifty-two students squashed together on flimsy wooden benches in my class, Avdesh was the weakest performer. He was twelve, much older and bigger than his peers, and suffered from several learning disabilities. He found it hard to concentrate, and took much longer to master concepts. And this made him so, so angry.

Once, he rammed his fist into a glass window because the other boys teased him about his spelling. 'No' was his favorite word – the only English word he knew for twelve years.

I struggled with Avdesh every day, failed more times than I can remember. My parents told me to focus on the brighter children, maximize their chances at success. My friends were convinced that he was nothing more than a disruption. Other teachers pushed me to get him expelled for bad behavior. Every night as I lay in bed, exhausted and helpless, my partner asked me – 'is it worth it?'

Stubbornly, I persisted and slowly Avdesh got better. He learned to spell, to subtract, and sometimes to control his emotions. One day, he will learn to walk away from his tormentors.

So yes, it is worth it.

What is this life, if I don't spend it creating 'wild and precious' potential for every single child, every single day?

— Vatsala Deora