Day 60: Dharampal and a visitor

Bapu Kuti, Sevagram. Wardha. 2019


Day 60: Dharampal and a visitor

“You know, I have beaten up so many people. The only regret I have in my life is that why didn’t I beat that guy on that day.”, said the visitor as he sat reflecting. I had a visitor after a long time. Not just this, there was  also home cooked food – spinach and lentils. He wanted to check how I was doing since the surgery in March. The memory he recollected was of someone being extraordinarily bad and violent with children in a classroom. “Our first duty is towards children”, he added. I couldn’t agree more. He was speaking as a teacher. I was occupied with the thought of the candid manner in which he wore his anger and had reasons for all the instances which he recounted of being angry at something or someone. I could see that it troubled him, but more than that the anger and his control over it, it seemed that the cause consumed him more. When things go wrong all of us respond differently. Some with anger and visible violence, while others choose to abandon the subject and people forever.

“Young man…” is the way he often addresses me, which has an instant silent response within me – “hardly”. “I have, maybe, 30 years more. I feel healthy. Maybe, 40 years.” He meant that he did not want to waste the remaining years fighting and reasoning with people he knew he would not have an intellectual convergence with. For a thinker as him and for the hands-on life he has lived as a technologist and educator, this was important. In the short span of time that I have known him, I had not seen this part of him – an incredibly passionate one, which is driven to find ways to create a better approach to learning than what the Indian education system currently is. “There must be an honourable way to learn and get on with life, if a child fails to pass tenth exam (senior school)” he reasoned. As it would happen several times, I couldn’t agree more. The seemingly opposite views that he held together, with ease and with reason was remarkable. 

We sat on the floor of my drawing room with him punctuating thoughts with “you don’t have to listen to this drivel”. Why, of course I needed to and I also knew I have to gather some of our conversation here.  We were colleagues, before both of us left the place where we worked to create our idea of good education and good quality teaching. “When I have structured it, I will let you know. I will call you on the phone”, he said about his next venture. Whatever direction he takes, I am likely to follow at least for a while. 

We were speaking of ideas on education. I shared that I may not want to go down the online education bandwagon. That it does not appeal to me. I am still trying to recollect the point at which we switched to discussing ancient ideas of education in India that brought up the mention of Dharampal and his book ‘The Beautiful Tree. He had met Dharampal several times after his first meeting in 1984. That first meeting was about a disagreement with Dharampal’s analysis of the history of education in India. I shared that I had read The Beautiful Tree in 2014 and it was a turning point in my understanding of the ancient and modern education system in India. To him Dharampal was as impactful. I learnt that his second meeting in 1991 led to a lifelong friendship with Dharampal. 

The lives of Dharampal, my visitor and mine converged this afternoon at one point – Wardha. My visitor last met Dharampal in my hometown, Wardha. It has been over 18 years since then. I tell him that when in town, my evening runs are done not far from the ashram in Sevagram. He agrees to visit Wardha again. I am eager to walk along the gravel covered ground of Bapu Kuti in our town. 

The afternoon reaffirms my firm belief in India, its people and the knowledge that this fascinating land has produced over centuries. It feels justified to not agree and to refuse to be a part of ideas that do not account for people’s own skills, values and knowledge. This unrestrained and unexamined march forward is not for me. Dharamapal articulated this in what seems to be a relevant thought today when the government of India is encouraging people to rebuild themselves and come out of this pandemic as self-reliant – 

(Asking a followup question on western influence in India)

Interviewer: Would the West be of any help today?

Dharampal: We can get out of this only on our own. There are examples of people growing more and more inwards and I think this is what the Indian people have done. They have shrunk into themselves, the ordinary Indian, because even with one meal a day or half a meal, the way he lives in shacks, without much water, with very little fuel, because of his environment and also his world-view, he could survive. He must have devised a way – as civilisations have a knack of doing – that in adverse times, you reduce, you shrink into yourselves and you think of something else and distance yourself from your larger society, and your goal becomes some other goal, non-societal, non-material, that keeps you going. But it seems that we have over the past ten to twelve generations forgotten how to get out of this shrunken state and return to normality. Perhaps it has become a habit and perhaps because whenever our people tried to come out of it, in a very short time, they got another beating and their experience may be that such effort will not do. So they become diffident about it. So they have sort of retired from life. But the spark remains and hence the possibility is there. Now if they are to be brought into social life, into the running of society – taking it into their own hands, they would only come out of it for something which is worthwhile, which is do-able. If it is not do-able, then they wouldn’t. Normality would return when the communities and groups are allowed to have control over their lives, resources and decisions.

The afternoon drew into early evening. The visitor left me with food and a re-invigorated sense of commitment to lifelong learning.

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