As I reflect upon my plunge into teaching in a school more than a decade ago, I really marvel at how fast time has flown. The advice of the 'wise' who admonished me -and also my parents - for my ill-advised decision is still vivid in my memory. 'Sheer foolishness! He will come to regret it', they exclaimed. My parents, though sympathetic, were more guarded in voicing their fears; and after a heart to heart talk, I was able to put forth my views.
What was it that made me take that 'drastic' decision?
At the time, I had begun to realise that the job I was doing (like most other jobs) was too specific and my interests certainly seemed much wider. Though people by and large were pleasant and friendly and the work involved was fairly stimulating, a work culture of favouritism, opportunism, incessant obsession with one's growth etc., was quite apparent. Hence, after working for an MNC for two and a half years I thought enough was enough! Perhaps I could have carried on for another year, but no more.
And what was I to look for?
Firstly, to be concerned with the organisation and one's petty affairs within it above and beyond anything else seemed increasingly more meaningless. I wanted to learn things together which did not seem probable in the prevalent subordinate-boss set up. I had a lot of questions on my mind which (to say the least!) were not relevant to my job. I believed the human mind and body to be capable of doing a 'hundred things' and to make use of them for a few pursuits such as career, earning money and the 'circ:us' that goes with it, seemed an enormous waste. Hence, when a friend suggested to me that I join the environs of this 'residential public school', I gladly accepted.
So what has happened in all these years?
Well, an enormous amount! It's been a great joy being with children, playing with them; trying to answer many of their questions- getting genuinely stuck, at times! To engage in discussions or to simply remain with some of the questions. To look at the stars, the sunset, the horizon; to touch and feel a tree; to breathe 'pure air'; to explore the nearby hills on hikes; to go for walks on moonlit nights. To watch the young ones grow, to be touched hy their innocence, their sense of wonder; to share their joys; to try and dispel their anxieties, disappointments. Also, to learn new methodologies of subject teaching; to appreciate the rigours of academics. It has been a real privilege that I have been able to share many of my concerns with my colleagues and sort out difficulties through discussions; to learn from one another. An occasional glimpse into the subtleties of the mind or the intricacies of thought has been really educative. But have there been no problems? Most certainly there have! Being with a group of highly energetic (some hyperactive!) young people has not always been easy. One learnt (albeit reluctantly!) what it is to be 'exposed' almost all the time. How every mannerism of yours is so minutely observed! How the perceived contradictions about you are pointed out to you plainly! The responsibilities of being a 'house parent' can be overwhelming at times. Trying to keep over 20 children quiet at the same time can be a frustrating experience. At another level, the (inevitable?) comparisons, gossip, even jealousies among the adults can really weigh you down. The cynicism of the 'old' and the impertinence, even arrogance, of the young are issues that you frequently encounter and have to tackle.
So have you never had any qualms?
Never! The feeling of being 'creative', being 'alive, to things that I've experienced here that I had never experienced elsewhere - the opportunity of addressing (as well as to an extent, actively contributing to) contemporary social challenges such as rural education, afforestation and sustainable farming, appropriate technology etc. has only been possible here. The discussions about what 'growing up' means; and issues such as competition, discipline, sex have brought subtle insights. But, perhaps the greatest realisation has been that one should not have to sacrifice a great many things in life just for the sake of earning 'more' money and having 'power' over people. When you deeply love what you do, you can do (almost) everything.
Having spent 10 years here, some of the initial idealism has definitely worn thin! I've begun to appreciate how extraordinarily challenging it is to 'work together'. I've also realised how inadequate are one's listening and observation. The futility of saying 'I know more than you' or even simply 'I know' is quite obvious now. The need to be affectionate towards children, be sympathetic to their views and at the same time expand their curiosity and watchfulness is a constant endeavour. Teaching has been a joyous experience for me and now I see 'evolving appropriate curricula' at the junior and middle school levels as a task for the immediate future. Some ideas concerning 'decentralised learning' are quite interesting and I want to explore them.
I think to be intimately aware of one's relationship with people, the environment, one's work, is (in a way) a 'Sadhana' that reflects your 'true' nature. Iwonder 'vvhether such schools are 'ideal communities' for the future, as the presence of children (and the consequent challenges!) keeps one alert. Is it possible then (in such an environment) to explore and learn about the complexities of life? Apart from pursuing academic excellence in such schools, is it also possible to learn about honesty, cooperation, respect, compassion and responsibility?
The world is on the threshold of entering the next millennium. Will it be possible here to cultivate that intelligence which will meet the now all-pervading social challenges of the information explosion, media assault, growing consumerism and inequality? Can we discover together that there is something precious about life and the living? After all, the real joy comes only through genuine learning, enquiry and insight.