Arvind Gupta @ Wai
Arvind Gupta @ Wai, 21-Jul-23
We started at 0710 hrs from Arvind ji’s place – and reached Wai at 0910 hrs. Nagesh ji had planned an action packed day. We started by having a dekko at the new math architecture which adorns the entrance to the school. On one side are different types of regular solids – starting from a cube and going on to an octahedron. And then there is the lovely Pythagora’s Tree. When you google for the tree, you find the most frequent reference is to a fractal, which can look like this:
The above represents a 45-45-90 degrees right triangle fractal. Nagesh ji chose to go in with a 30-60-90 degrees one. I would have probably preferred a 3-4-5 (not degrees, but lengths). I chatted with some of the students and told them that Pythagora’s theorem was applied in building the great Egyptian pyramids. And gave them a hint that the application involved use of a rope. Asked them to come up with what could have been the technique. For the reader, an additional hint has been given in this paragraph itself. Hope you can figure this out without resorting to Google Baba Gyan. Here is Arvind ji inaugurating the sculpture.
Between Nagesh ji and Arvind ji is a Dravid school ex-student who works in the IT sector in Pune. She has been the donor for the Pythagora’s tree project. (My bad, don’t remember her name.) On the right side of the artwork is Pravin Muley, whose company we enjoyed over lunch at Nagesh ji’s favourite Natu Farm. Pravin is a CA, who started his career in PSU banks. He spent 18 years there – and was involved in the computerisation effort of the bank. He then switched track to IT – and had a successful career – heading a few companies in the process. At the young age of 60, he started work on his Ph.D in information risk management at Pune University. He now is on the Board of Advisors for the computer science faculty of the university. He is part of a small group of about 60 people, who work on projects related to upliftment of rural schools. Pravin has been the driving force for a lot of people dipping their toes into the small ponds of philanthropy that have started showing up in our social spaces. What is really interesting is Pravin’s current research work; Preparing for death. I hope to catch up with him, before the grim reaper comes down to say hi.
Inauguration done, we trooped back to the school quadrangle. Monsoon had just set in – and Wai was also enjoying its share of rain. Nagesh ji’s optimism that the rains will not interfere with Arvind ji’s open air address to students did not seem to be justified during our drive to Wai. But the weather gods also were in a mood to listen to the god of toys. There were a few 1 minute drizzles that happened in the 45 minute talk which did not dampen the enthusiasm of the 800 kids in the audience. Here are some of the students as they wait for the jadoo to start:
Next time we can try putting the speaker at the center of the longer side of the quadrangle. Makes for a better audio-visual experience for the audience. This interaction was followed by a smaller one with the teachers. Arvind ji talked about his younger days when he was working with NCERT and the National Book Trust in Delhi. The government under Rajiv Gandhi had appointed Arvind Kumar as the new director for National Book Trust, who was a non IAS officer. He got in a few people in his team – and knowing the other Arvind from their days together at Hoshangabad, he too was roped in. The NCERT team did some real innovative work those days. One example is Tarang, a children’s program which ran on Delhi Doordarshan. (Pune used to get Khel Khilone which was beamed out of Bombay Doordarshan.)
It was during his Delhi days that Arvind ji came across some Gijubhai Badheka’s book in Gujarati – Divaswapana. Arvind ji was impressed by the book – and went on to convince the National Book trust to publish the Hindi translation of this book. Arvind ji went on to regale the audience with the story of the book. And encouraged them to actually download and read the book in its entirety. The book is available in 12 languages and can be downloaded for free over here: https://www.gijubhaibadheka.in/divaswapna.php#Divaswapna-in-12-languages
I remain curious about the story that Gijubhai’s protagonist narrates in the book: about the king with the seven palaces. Google Baba does not have too much to enlighten me about on that front. The central theme of the talk was to get teachers to think outside the syllabus box. Given the fact that Arvind ji’s formative years were with the NCERT, he does have the locus standi when it comes to advice on the irrelevance of syllabus in education. He talked about the future lying in the hands of the same hyperactive kids, like Totto Chan, who teachers find difficult to control. And Arvind ji nails it, when he says that teachers who don’t learn from their students are doomed to an early death – even if the cremation happens much later.
Arvind ji then went on to talk about a Russian story which highlighted the importance of teachers having trust in their students. And how this trust can change the behavior of even the most notorious of students. Investing in students is a much better proposition for society than investing in infrastructure. Arvind ji talked about education from a student’s perspective. And he spoke about a short book – Letter to a Teacher (by The School of Barbiana).
Don Lorenzo Milani, founder of the school of Barbiana, was ordered to the Barbiana church in 1954. He went there from Calenzano, a town near Florence, where as a young priest he had started a night school for the working people. The school soon attracted those who found in its classes, tailored to their needs, the encouragement or inspiration to pursue their interests or go on with their studies.
Soon after being ordered to Barbiana, Lorenzo Milani felt the needs of the children of the farms scattered nearby to be very critical. Most of the children had either failed their exams and left school or were bitterly discouraged with the way they were taught. He gathered about ten boys, eleven to thirteen year olds, and gave them a full timetable of eight hours’ work, six or seven days a week. Later, the group grew to twenty. The older children would devote a great deal of time to teaching or drilling the younger. Many hours were given by all to the study and understanding of problems directly significant to their own lives, and, along these lines, eight students of the school wrote this Letter as a full-year project.
Don Lorenzo Milani died in the summer of 1967, and the school at Barbiana died with him. And yet it is still alive. With the magnetizing strength of their priest gone, a number of the farmers followed the inevitable trend of migration to the valley or to Florence. But their children have not lost contact with one another or with the little church. They all work: some in the trade unions, some in factories or as technicians; others are studying to become teachers. Often on Sundays they get together in the old classroom to discuss things.
One recommendation that impacted me the most was about reading. He talks of Divaswapna’s teacher junking textbooks in favour of story books. Of building a classroom 150 books library with each of the 50 students contributing 3 books. He talks of enacting each story, where you don’t need to memorise the dialogue since you have already grasped the essence of the book. One action point for me is to have a library for each classroom. We already have the books in Peepal Tree – the struggle is to make it accessible to the student. (Another is about night schools for adults – should think about it some more.)
As with any other Arvind Gupta session, there were so many other insights. Here are some thrown in at random:
- Good teachers never have to bother about marking attendance.
- The word holiday is magical in every place of work
- The red pen is ‘satta ka devta’ in the school system
- Science only exists outside the classroom
- Teaching starts when the teacher can get to the level of the student
- Every school needs to build its own museum of natural history
- Real schools are always ready to welcome visitors
- It is schools that need to be ready to mould, not children
- There are 4 crore books on archive.org
At the end, we had a Q and A session. I was disappointed. Not too many questions. Wonder if this excerpt from the LETTER TO A TEACHER was relevant to members of the audience of teachers. We often hear complaints that there are too many teachers. That is not true. Teaching is the kind of profession that attracts many who really don’t like it at all. Increase the hours of work and all of them will drop out. A married female teacher makes as much money as her husband. Actually she spends no more time out of her home than a housewife. A perfect wife and mother. She stays home every time the child catches a cold. Who wouldn’t want a woman like that for a wife?
Or maybe I am being too harsh. As my friend Prithwiraj Ghorpade says – a tree’s roots always go for the soft spots first – only then do they end up breaking rocks. My advice to Arvind ji would be to do the session outdoors next time for the teachers. And get them trained only on storytelling. And I am getting greedier – get them to enact these stories. Arvind ji – the khilono ka jadugaar – is actually more storyteller than magician. And if he can make the love for stories come alive in classrooms, he would have started the process of breaking up the syllabus rocks that litter the fields of education.
After the usual amazing lunch at Natu Baug, we visited Koteshwar Trust, where Nagesh’s elder brother works as a trustee after his retirement. Koteshwar temple was established by Vinoba Bhave’s grandfather in 1870. Kevalanand Saraswati was Vinoba’s spiritual teacher – and his samadhi is there inside the Koteshwar Trust building today. In 1929, the temple was opened up for the Dalits after an initiative by Vinoba’s father Narhari Bhave, along with Jamnalal Bajaj and Mahatma Gandhi. One of Vinoba’s contemporaries, Laxmanshastri Joshi was also a student of Kevalanand. Here is some Wikipedia gyan on Laxmanrao.
Although Laxman was a Brahmin, he spent his life going against tradition. In 1932, at the age of 29, he was jailed by the British for his role in the freedom movement. However while in prison, he quickly gained a reputation as a Hindu dharma scholar. Under the tutelage of Vinobha Bhave, he learned English when Bhave came to Wai to study under Kewalananda Saraswati. It was during one of those internments that Mahatma Gandhi, troubled by respectable Brahmin priests shying away from officiating at the intercaste marriage of his son Devdas, a Vania, or merchant class boy, to Lakshmi, the daughter of C. Rajagopalachari, a Brahmin, and later the second Governor General of independent India approached the young Joshi for his opinion on whether such a marriage was against Hindu dharma. With his thorough knowledge of the Shastras, Joshi not only judged the marriage acceptable but also performed the wedding ceremony.
In the 1930s, Joshi came under the influence of radical humanist M. N. Roy and quickly assimilated and embraced western philosophical systems. He questioned whether those that had the knowledge had the wisdom to lead, and recognized those that followed had inadequate knowledge. He wrote a Marathi treatise called Vaidik Sanskriti-cha Vikas (Development of Vedic Civilization) in 1951. This treatise was based on six lectures he delivered at the University of Pune, where he traced the evolution of “Vedic” culture and its influence on modern India. He wrote a critique arguing that modern Indians became conflicted between meeting material needs and attaining spiritual enlightenment, thus fostering a collective weakness, disharmony and allowing caste differences to prevail.
Thanks to Vivek Sawant, MKCL’s chairman, a lot of digitisation of the old Sanskrit manuscripts has been done. I got to hold one – and it felt nice to be holding some part of history as I photographed the 500 year old piece of paper.
Being one of the repositories of Marathi history, the trust is a must make pilgrimage for the Chief Ministers and Governors of the state. With stalwarts like Laxman Joshi and Vinoba Bhave having been associated with the Koteshwar trust, one would have expected that things would be hunky-dory. But that has not meant anything much in funding. Arvind’s suggestion to the trust would be to go beyond the printed word. He recommended that they take up the AV medium and gave the example of Alaine de Botton who has done much to popularise philosophy in the masses. Here is a lovely video where Alaine argues what atheists can learn from religion: https://youtu.be/2Oe6HUgrRlQ
What is needed at Koreshwar is a set of younger generation people who can speak Alaine’s lingo – and can help the digitalised word become a Marathi YT video. Who can help arrange the equivalent of TED talks at the trust premises where the young and the old can mix and exchange ideas about the evolution of language and religion. There are enough techies in Silicon valley who want to contribute to Marathi culture – and Koteshwar would do well to take some of them under its wings so that it continues to nurture future Vinobas.
We then went on to Nagesh ji’s house where we met his 87 year old mother. We were embarrassed as she went on to gift us some goodies – even as we arrived there empty handed. On the way back, Nagesh ji helped Arvind with another priceless gift – a used bicycle tyre for young Kedar, Arvind ji’s grandson.
On the way back to Pune we dropped in at Shendurdane, where Mapro, the jams and juices company, runs a charitable eye hospital. Kishore Vora, the founder of Mapro, has been the secretary of the Poona Blind Men’s Association for more than 50 years. This hospital was started on his 90th birthday. On the first floor of this hospital is a hall that is used for the CSR activities done by Mapro. Pooja, an IT engineer turned teacher, heads the CSR function at Mapro. Pooja herself is a fellow at the Teach for India’s Education Entrepreneur program.
Pooja had been part of the audience of teachers who Arvind ji had addressed at Dravid High School. She had requested Arvind ji to come down for a chat with the 120 village teacher volunteers that Mapro is training. These volunteer teachers are paid a small honorarium by Mapro to work with local ZP village school kids for a few hours before school starts. Mapro supplies them teaching aids and trains them on their use. After a very brief interaction, Arvind ji was given a Mapro factory tour. Mapro’s factory is more of a theme park than a jam retail counter. We had a quick dekko of the miniature railway that they have in a container on the factory premises.
Next stop was the Chheda Electricals factory at Palshi, Shirwal. Around 1800 hrs, we reached the site of Peepal Tree School, Shirwal, not very far from the factory. Arvind ji’s recommendation was that we will need more infrastructure for the school to be operational till grade 10. We are also going to be putting up a tyre park – and work will start as soon as the boundary is in place, insha allah by mid August. We left Shirwal at 1830 hrs – reached Narhe at 1910 hrs – but it took us more time to cover the last 10 km of our journey – thanks to jams at Warje. We decided to take the Sinhgad road route – but with the flyover work there – it was Hobson’s choice. Next time, I should take the more conventional route via Katraj and Swargate. If you can’t run, crawl!