1. The new boy
It’s June and the start of a new school year at Kalmadi High School. For 14 year-old Ashutosh this is the eighth new school he has attended in almost as many years - following his father’s engineering job as it has taken him around India and the world. We experience the familiar agonies of trying to fit in, make new friends and pick up the power politics of the playground. In contrast, some self-assured 16 year olds are running for election as prefects.
2. Transcendental education
Bavajee, the IT teacher at Bhojwani, has a special teaching style. He is the school guru, apparently able to calm even the most aggressive pupil with meditation. But this week he has a tough challenge. Rahul is a disruptive pupil who is stirring things up in the classroom and at home. Will he respond to Bavajee’s reflective methods or continue to wind up everyone around him?
3. Cyber genius
Pune is one of the Information Technology Centres of India and the world. This is making the city of four million people grow exponentially. We follow Delap, the father of one of our pupils, as he spends his nights working in a call centre, using the pseudonym “Derek” and helping Americans with their travel plans. It brings in money but means he hardly sees his beloved son. Meanwhile, Mrs Kapur, headteacher of Bhojwani, sees all this growth damaging her beloved city, clogging up the streets and creating a rift between the haves and have-nots of Pune. And, as she says, it’s all being achieved “on the backs of poorly-paid teachers”.
It’s August and monsoon rains pour on Pune. This is the time for the annual English debating competition. In a world of IT booms and globalisation, English is increasingly becoming vital for success. We follow two of Kalmadi’s brightest pupils, Prem and Sahil, as they battle it out to be the top English language debater in town. The judges have set an appropriate topic to debate in upwardly mobile Pune: “Is India Losing its Identity in a Globalised World?” On the one hand it’s a story of youthful ambition and rivalry; on the other it’s about acquiring the skills to get on in this brave new world.
5. Girl talk
Komal is one of the most popular students in Kalmadi senior college. She doesn’t study particularly hard and loves to socialise - to the annoyance of her authoritarian older brother, Nickil. After a recent argument she’s been grounded, so she’s going to have to celebrate her seventeenth birthday at home with her family rather than out on the town with her friends.
Meanwhile, as the only unmarried staff member at Kalmadi High School, school counsellor Sonal is beginning to feel the pressure to opt for an arranged marriage. She’s been trying to find a husband for what seems like ages. Now she resorts to marriage websites in a bid to track down “a suitable boy”. However, it’s less embarrassing, perhaps, than the new sex education classes she has to run at school.
6. A spiritual journey
This year, for the first time in years, the Hindu festival of Divali and the Muslim festival of Eid fall in the same week in September. This film follows children and teachers from the two communities as they prepare for one of the most joyous times of year.
For older children at Bhojwani Academy, there is another journey to be made. The school is determined that they should see the other side of life and send them to the countryside to stay in a poor village. For 15 year-old Diva it’s an awakening in many ways. Made to give up her beloved mobile phone and live on a rural diet alongside country children, she starts to reassess her material life and comforts in Pune.
7. Caste and class
Caste is a tricky subject in Pune. This year has seen caste riots sweeping the city. Mrs Kapur doesn’t want her privileged pupils at Bhojwani Academy to live in a "caste bubble" and decides to tackle the issues head on in the classroom. As part of her policy, she’s waived the fees for the children of Munda, the school cleaner, to be educated alongside the predominantly high-caste Bhojwani students.
Munda’s life has been dominated by caste issues, ever since she married a lower caste man. We follow her as she travels back to her home village for the first time in 15 years, to seek reconciliation with the family who rejected her when she chose love over caste.
8. East meets West
“Everyone likes western dance because it’s just so easy," bemoans Jenny, an expert traditional Indian style dancer at Bhojwani Academy. Jenny puts in hour after hour perfecting the complex gestures needed. And she’s quite prepared to argue the merits of eastern and western styles with her classmates, who seem more interested in westernised Bollywood moves than ancient techniques. But Viraj, the school heart-throb, has his eyes set firmly on Bollywood fame - he’s practising too, for a showcase that he hopes will get him a movie role in Mumbai.
Meanwhile, Kalmadi High school is hosting a traditional music and dance competition. This year there’s a new category, - “fusion dance” - reflecting changing influences. It combines western and Indian styles. As ever, Kalmadi head Mrs Saxena hopes for nothing less than first prize for her school.
November and December are great months for cricket. Clear blue skies and rock hard wickets make for some serious competition in all corners of Pune. Poor children play “gulley cricket” in the slums and hope that, one day, they might get a place at the Pune Club, one of the city’s top training grounds for young talent.
We follow Rohit, who has grown up in the shadow of the great Pune Club and always dreamed of captaining their team. He’s the son of a groundsman, living in servants’ quarters, but once through the club’s gates he plays alongside the city’s elite and the sons of millionaires. His cricketing dreams are all the more important as they represent his family’s best chance of escaping poverty.
10. Exam fever
March, the end of the school year and, for some pupils, the toughest time of all. We follow some of the children we have seen earlier in the series as they take on some extremely high-pressured exams. Their parents haven’t been forking out school fees for them to fail now, so they’ve been having extra tuition and staying up late to get the best possible marks that could decide their futures.
First broadcast: Wednesday 16 May 2007 on BBC FOUR