Many never skipped school, wanted to become engineers, pilots, doctors

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"Maa mujhe inter tak zaroor padana, suna hai uske baad log engineering ki taiyari kar sakte hain (Mother, please keep me in school till Class XII. I have heard one can prepare for engineering entrance after that)."

Kajal Kumari (10), a Class III student, would often tell her mother Malti Kuwar this. Malti would reassure her, telling her of course she would, even if it meant she had to work in more houses as domestic help.

Kajal was a keen student, adds elder brother Rajesh, never missing school. Perhaps they now wish this wasn't the case. Perhaps she could have missed school that day of July 16. Perhaps she would have survived the Gandaman primary school mid-day meal tragedy that killed 22 others.

Rajesh, who dropped out of school after their father's untimely death to support the family, shows the toy car and necklace that Kajal bought just two days before her death. The family has disposed of the rest of her belongings, but these two they find hard to let go.

Bijeshwar Mishra laments the poverty that forced his brother Harendra Kishore to send his sons Rahul (9) and Prahlad (5) to a government school. With Harendra away to Gaya to perform their last rites, Bijeshwar recalls: "Rahul always liked policemen and hoped one day to wear the uniform. Prahlad, though only five, hated people getting drunk and would often talk of destroying countrymade liquor factories."

One thought keeps gnawing at the family members though. That Rahul and Prahlad wanted to miss the school lunch that day, but with the women of the house busy in work, they were sent back for the mid-day meal.

Akhilanand Mishra's five-year-old son Ashish was popular among the village boys, who called him Pandey and would gather at his house almost every afternoon before heading out to play. There are other memories that come back to Mishra now, about how once Ashish was hit by a cyclist and "immediately came and said he would like a job in which one can keep a pistol". A plastic mug kept in the boy's room reminds Mishra of how he disliked milk but would use the mug for only "health drinks".

... contd.

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