Architects of Future : Children’s Day Celebrations at NEEV

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Collage of some cards lovingly handmade by NEEV School teachers for the children

Dear Friends,

If the world today has to come out of the mess it finds itself in today, it requires new architects who are educated differently. Does education mean training children to develop technical capacity to get a livelihood or does it mean to help them understand the vast significance of life? Is education a means to create docile, imitating minds that fit in society or does education means creating minds that can question and learn? Does education mean creating cogs that service the vast industrial-consumeristic machine of society or does it mean to create sensitive human beings who care and nurture for the earth.

For five thousand years man has not learnt to live without conflict. Wars, environmental catastrophes and social inequalities have been the norm rather than an exception. Instead of developing a life of love, freedom and beauty on earth we have created inequity, strife and destruction. For years we have relied on authorities and experts to solve our problems. We have looked up to kings, priests, sacred books, politicians and scientists to tell us what is life and how to live. The result of abdication of this responsibility has been nothing but a vastly insensitive society where each individual is conditioned to ruthlessly strive and scramble to the top of a heap or else pigeonhole oneself in comfortable social roles that promise security. While the world simmers with wars, reeks with environmental pollution and languishes in poverty and misery, we continue our lives as usual – unconcerned, non-chalant, ignorant and self-seeking.

NEEV Vidyalaya is a place where we learn how not to go to sleep. It is a place of questioning and freedom. It is a place where young minds are not doused by authority and fear to cower down and become meek participants of a society that loves and rewards docility, compliance and imitation. It is a place where children learn to know themselves and discover their conditioning imposed by society. No revolutions in the outer, no system changes by governments can free man of conflict till he himself does not take up the responsibility of knowing himself/herself. Without self-knowledge, there is no transformation, no revolution that can free man from suffering on this earth.

So on Children’s Day, I thank all the friends who have come together to create NEEV Vidyalaya through their sponsorships, a unique and vital space for a work of such tremendous importance because it is only through right education that humanity can be transformed. I am including some pics to help you get the feel of what it is to be a child or a teacher at NEEV.

Love,
Anurag

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Card on Children’s Day created by a NEEV CIL Member using natural colours

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Some of the Cards written by me to Std. 10 students who are going to leave school next year

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Teachers of NEEV singing Kishore Da’s song – Aane Waala Pal Jaane Waala Hain for children

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Anjali and Simi – NEEV CIL Members and NEEV Vidyalaya Teachers singing the song Yeh Jo Des Hai Mera

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 Myself talking to children of NEEV Vidyalaya on what makes our school special

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Shikha wishing the children a Happy Children’s Day

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Our daughter Harshal who has passed NEEV School having a happy reunion with her friends of Std. 9

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Biscuit eating race for children of Kindergarten

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 Balloon blowing race for children of LKG

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Wearing the shoe race for children of Std. 1

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Hopping race by students of Std. 3

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Bursting the Balloon Race for Std. 2

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 50 m dash for Std 4

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Spoon and Marble Race for Std. 5

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 Three legged race for Std. 6 & 7

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 Musical Chairs for Std. 8, 9 & 10

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 Shikha commenting on the state of affairs

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 NEEV CIL Members and teachers giving cards to their students

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 The NEEV Vidyalaya Senior School Students and Teachers – A Happy Community

Silent Diwali Wishes and much more from village Hurlung – NEEV !

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A Diwali House made by the children of village Hurlung where the new NEEV CIL School is being constructed (no school, education or engineering degrees required for this construction J)

I am a tad late for Diwali wishes from NEEV ! Nonetheless, since my mails on all festivals are thinly veiled excuses for speaking something quite beyond festivals, I decided to post this, regardless of the fact that I am a day late. Festivals created by man come and go: what is more important that we humans discover a way of living that makes every moment a festival, an unceasing joy of discovering life.

Far from the ruckus created by the city folk, Diwali in villages is a more serene affair. Unadulterated by the  pompousness of city revelry which adds nothing but a load of toxic gases leading to global warming, Diwali in the villages is still connected to the eternal rhythms of nature. Diwali in the villages is marked by the beginning of harvesting of the rain fed crop of rice.

As we negotiate a meandering village dirt road, we see a field in which some rice plants are cut and lying. Around the same time, the owner of the field, a friend of ours, happens to pass by. We inquire into the reason as to why some rice crops have been harvested. He satiates our curiosity by saying that these have been harvested as an offering for their Diwali puja. Instantly Shikha plucks a few grains of rice, some still green and some already golden brown and tastes them to find out the difference. Women I guess are more cued to taste and smell. As a male I remain largely cued to my visual sense. I watch with piquant interest as Shikha chews the grains. According to her the green grains of rice are sweeter than the golden rice grains which have already ripened. I ruminate on the way senses offer the greatest education. No amount of sitting in classes, in agricultural universities or chemistry labs can offer an insight into the workings of nature than our senses can. Holistic education is not centered only around mind and intellect, not cubbyholed in class rooms. Nature is the laboratory for true education.

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A farmer’s plot of land where some rice – already turning golden – lies harvested as an offering for Diwali puja

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Another field where a part of the rice crop has been harvested for offering in Diwali Puja

As I continue walking on the meandering village dirt track unlike the straight and linear city roads on which we whiz in our cars and bikes, my thoughts continue their unhurried meandering on education. I remember how the other day I saw a father and son returning from the market with a thermocol Diwali house. What a far cry it is from the way things are at the village. Where city bred brats purchase thermocol Diwali houses, the ‘uneducated’ village kids demonstrate such creativity, enterprise, ingenuity and enthusiasm in making Diwali houses out of natural materials. When education is made into a commodity no wonder, kids learn only commodification as a way of life. And the market is all the more happy. Education, market, business, technology and environmental pollution – all go hand in glove. Have a look at some of the Diwali houses made by the children

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 Diwali House 2 – made by children of village Hurlung

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 Diwali house 3 – made by children of village Hurlung

As I walk along, I wonder what will NEEV CIL school teach the village children. Will it teach them to become purchasers of thermocol Diwali houses or will it teach them to flower in their inherent ingenuity? Some of my friends tell me that education should ‘uplift’ children and make them ‘successful’ in life by uplifting them out of their ‘poverty’. We urban folks have become quite glib in the usage of words. Words like “upliftment”, “success” and “poverty” are laden with assumptions which we never care to explore. What is “poverty”? Is purchasing Diwali house made of thermocol poverty or making houses out of mud poverty? What is success – making Diwali houses or purchasing Diwali houses? What is upliftment – creating consumers or creating producers?

Unfortunately the urban folk are not only glib about words but also proceed with an arrogance of a missionary zeal to promote naked market consumerism as a way of life. Thereby we have created an ugly and fractured society where the work of hands is relegated and debased and the intellect is put on the altar. So while the city folk display their festive zeal by lighting up their houses with Chinese manufactured electric bulbs, the rural folk do what they are best at – decorating their huts and houses with their hands and natural colours. Here are a few pics of the simply decorated houses whose humility, innocence and aesthetics cannot be matched by the harshly glaring electric bulbs.

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A house in village Hurlung decorated for Diwali

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 Same house from a different angle

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The exterior of the same house in village Hurlung

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A woman in village Hurlung painting her house for Diwali

The degree to which we move away from work with our hands and the degree to which we pollute the earth decrees our rise to wealth, status and success. Lavish use of electricity to light up Diwali houses – electricity which comes from making large dams displacing villages or from burning coal which comes from rapacious coal mining after clearing forests – is a sign of affluence and education, in a classic inversion of values. Whereas a villager plastering his/her mud earth causing no pollution and using one’s own hands and ingenuity is considered an ‘uneducated illiterate’ in need of education by our corrupted norms.

 While the uneducated villagers venerate nature without the need of learning environmental science and without getting a noble prize for doing research on global warming, the educated urban folk with all their degrees and all their supercomputers and their vain research on climate change have not yet learnt the simple act of loving and protecting nature. See how the people in Hurlung village love and respect nature

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A mud pedestal around a tusli plant newly plastered for Diwali in Hurlung

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 The pedestal containing Tulsi plant newly painted for Diwali in Village Hurlung

My walk is almost over. After another rejuvenating round of walk in the fields of village Hurlung, we are making our way back to the unit. The familiar sights of a village quietly settling to receive the dark and starry night greet me. The goats are tied in front of the houses, resting blissfully after nibbling the whole day. Smoke quietly and mysteriously billows out of the tiled huts. Out in the city, at the same time, one would witness the angry traffic rush of people gushing of their offices. The fact that tomorrow is Diwali does not make a dent to the life which is set on eternal rhythms. Electric lights adorn one or two houses of people who have become tainted by the urban mentality. The lights look garish, very out of place in a village which is nestled in a pool of darkness. I rue at the fact that the winds of ‘development’ are out to claim their latest victim.

I wonder if we can stop this rout. I wonder if the NEEV CIL school can do anything to preserve and take forward the wisdom that lies buried in Village Hurlung. I wonder if there are other people in a world gone out of limits who can get what I am trying to say and lend a helping hand in this mammoth task of education. We need to create a new world, a world without conflict. It seems to be extraordinarily impossible. But I have already made the choice for myself. It is not about whether one shall succeed or not, whether one can change one or many, whether the world will change. What matters is that one enters the path to create a new world. The road shall be made by walking.

As I just about to reach the NEEV Herbal Cosmetics unit after our walk, I come across a simple rangoli made to celebrate Diwali. The rangoli adorns the threshold of another world. A world waiting to be born.

A very happy Diwali to all of you. To all our friends who have helped us at NEEV to chart this road. May this Diwali lead you from darkness to light.

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 Rangoli decoration in front of a village Hurlung house beckoning a new world

And finally, here is my Diwali gift to all of you. As you know that Diwali also coincides with the blossoming of lotus flowers. So when our NEEV CIL children went for a walk, they collected some lotuses from the village pond. I lovingly offer them to you.

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Lotus flowers that blossom even in the muddiest waters

 

The Blooming Kash Phool of Hurlung Riverside Beckons Durga Puja – Help us save village Hurlung

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Madhubani Folk Art Style Durga Ma painted by Babu – a NEEV CIL Member

(Do you think we can sell paintings like these to help make NEEV CIL Community sustainable? Please let me know)

Maa aschhen (Maa Durga is coming home) is the expression that reverberates on the lips of every Bengali as Durga Puja approaches. Every festival of India is inextricably woven with nature. Urban folk have lost this connection but those who have the rare privilege to stay in the rural areas can participate in the wondrous harmony of Indian festivals and nature. At the slightest hint of a clear blue sky, pleasant cool breeze, and scattered white clouds, a Bengali villager will announce to the world Maa aschhen( Maa Durga is coming home). It has now become sort of a ritual, clear blue sky, cool breeze and scattered clouds equate to Durga Puja. Doesn’t really matter if it rains the next day but as soon as the sun rises again and there’s this blue sky with scattered clouds, the villager will again reassure himself “Maa aschhen.”

But there is an even more spectacular occurrence that predates the Durga Pooja. It is the blossoming of the Kash Phool. Kaash Phool or the Kans grass (Saccharum Spontaneum) is something every Bengali will identify Durga Puja with. Kaash Phool is a type of grass that grows during this season and is mainly found along the banks of the rivers. The sight of Kash Phool will send any Bengali into a nostalgic frenzy. However, one doesn’t need to be only a Bengali to be enraptured by the beauty of this grass. Adorning the riverside like a tuft of snow against a crystal clear blue sky and fluffy clouds, the sight is magical to behold. One has to see it in order to appreciate it. Words and photographs cannot even begin to do justice to it.

However our advancing materialistic and technological ambitions are wiping out such sights. Where are the riversides where the Kans grasses can grow and beckon Durga Ma, the one who slays the evil. When we have finished with polluting the last river on our earth with toxic chemicals and destroyed our riversides, the Kans grasses will stop growing and there would be no one to beckon Durga Ma to help us from the Mahishasura of technology. Already the riverside of Village Hurlung is prey to indiscriminate sand mining. On a few fortunate days – when the greedy tractors have not scraped every last grain of sand for constructing concrete jungles – we are greeted by a sand bank; on which we can lay down and watch the night sky bejeweled with stars.

I am pasting a few photographs of the Kans Grass adorning the riverside of Hurlung. Several visitors have come to NEEV and have been mesmerized by the sight. You can help us save these natural wonders in a small village by supporting the NEEV CIL School construction. The NEEV CIL school will be the centre for a different kind of education for the village kids, an education that would help them appreciate and conserve nature, an education that will help them adopt a sustainable and ecological lifestyle, an education that would raise an army of children who can redress the wrongs we have done to the earth, an education that would seed a new civilization based on Integral Living – a life without conflict. We spend thousands of rupees buying dresses, making pandals and eating food; none of which is going to save the earth from environmental destruction. If we grasp the real essence of Durga Puja, then we shall join hands with an endeavor that can help save the earth. That would be the real Durga Puja.

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The Kans Grass adorning the Swarnarekha Riverside silhouetted by the Dalma Mountains and clear blue sky

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The silver splendour of Kans Grass shining in the balmy autumn light

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 The Kans Grass shining against a threatening monsoon sky

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 The Kans Grass growing along the Swarnarekha riverside

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The Kans Grass in warm sunny weather bordering the paddy fields of Hurlung

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 The Kans Grass shooting like a white flame besides a Hurlung Village house

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 A dragon fly clutching a straw of Kans Grass against an evening sky

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Picture of our friend Manjeet and NEEV Intern from Germany Eva against the sea of Kans Grass

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Our friend Vinita with the CIL members with the background of Kans Grass

NEEV Herbals at Dastkaari Haat Crafts Bazaar, Kalakshetra, Chennai (24th Sept – 2nd Oct) – Meet Shikha there :-)

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Shikha – looking gorgeous as usual, along with Reema, at the Dastkaari Haat Crafts Bazaar, Kalakshetra, Chennai

Dear Friends,

If you enjoy the experience of shopping while a sea of soft sand caresses your feet rather than the ubiquitous vinyl flooring, of a beautifully disordered riot of earth toned colours striking your eyes rather than the geometrical flashing of neon lights and of makeshift bamboo tents under the foliage of Neem trees rather than air conditioned malls, then you must visit the ongoing Dastkaari Haat Crafts Bazaar at Kalakshetra grounds, Chennai. Here is the banner for the event

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Not only do we have very old and precious memories associated with Chennai, but Shikha made it a point to personally be present at this Mela because we have the most number of loyal customers for NEEV Herbal Cosmetics in this city than any other city of India. A big thanks to all our friends of NEEV in Chennai who have supported us by using NEEV products.

NEEV Herbals, for us, is what Khadi was for Gandhi – not just a commodity but a vision. It is a vision of self reliance, of throwing the yoke of domination of market forces enslaving the minds and hearts of individuals. Not only are NEEV Herbal Cosmetics environment friendly, they give a dignified means of employment to Rural women (like Reema, seen in the photo above) and also gives free education to the kids of ladies working in NEEV. But wait, it is also more than that. It is a source of regeneration of rural economy based on non-exploitative use of natural resources. Last but not the least, the NEEV Herbal products are hand crafted to excellence with enormous care being taken to ensure the quality of products right from their sourcing to processing to packaging.

Buying NEEV products helps ensure that Village Hurlung remains a haven of natural beauty because more sales ensures more backward linkages of farming and cultivation of herbs. Lands that would have been otherwise left derelict and sold to building contractors would be reclaimed for cultivation of herbs and herbal processing. Not only that, NEEV Herbals gave Shikha and me the economic self reliance to forge a new vision in education manifested in the NEEV CIL school coming up in the village.

OK. Enough of philosophy. Let me end with a list of my personal best NEEV Products. I have used them for years and I can tell you that I have seen them performing miracles for me. They are

1. Bhringraj Hair Oil

2. Kumkumadi Oil for applying on face

3. Herbal Pain Relief Oil

I am sure others shall have their own list of favourites. I would be happy of you could share your list with us.

Finally, I am signing off with a little jaded but happy photo of Shikha, savouring our favourite Paratha Korma in Chennai. (Damn, you cannot find such Paratha Korma anywhere else but Chennai) and a few pics of the Crafts Bazaar.

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Shikha savouring our favourite Paratha Korma in Chennai – looking a little jaded after a 32 hours marathon train journey in Tata-Allepey

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NEEV Stall under the shade of the Neem Tree in Dastkaari Crafts Bazaar, Kalakshetra, Chennai

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The Riot of Colours at Dastkaari Crafts Bazaar – Kalakshetra, Chennai

The Speechless Beauty of Village Hurlung where Dream of NEEV began : The Need to Protect our Villages

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A corn field of a small farmer against the backdrop of the majestic Dalma Mountains in Hurlung Village

 

Village Hurlung is a stone’s throw away from my house in River View Enclave, Jamshedpur. It is the village where the NEEV Herbal Handmade Cosmetics Unit is located. This little hamlet exists, rather sleepily, anonymously, benignly just three kms away from my house. In the sixteen years of childhood I had spent in Jamshedpur, I never came to know about it’s existence. This speaks of how tremendously insulated we urban dwellers are from the villages.

Like a Columbus, I discovered Village Hurlung ten years back when I just let my instincts take over and I followed a dirt track road to wherever it would lead me. Of course I did not have any nefarious designs of colonization as Columbus had. In fact I was so enthralled by the beauty of this village that then and there I vowed to start NEEV and come to this village to protect it. It took us ten years to fulfill this dream. This road to Village Hurlung, again, lies on a bend, barely a few hundred metres from my house. Ten years back when I went on that road, there were barely any shops, traffic or signs of civilization. Today the road has become a thoroughfare for trucks, tractors, cars and all sundry vehicles. The ugly scars of civilization have pock marked both sides of the road. Shops have come up, residential complexes have arisen and now there is even a big warehouse. Fortunately, these are still hugging the city precincts. Our herbal cosmetics soap unit is tucked away, 3 kms deep. But I don’t know how long is it before the grasping, clawing hands of civilization shall devour this amazing Hurlung Village. Before they do, I wanted to post a few pics of the speechless beauty of this village.

Environmental science is taught in schools; almost every day we have newspaper articles on degradation of environment and effects of environmental pollution, and all of us nod in agreement that something must be done to save the environment. But let us admit that these are all peripheral concerns in our life. What matters to all of us is to make careers, make money, fill our lives with gadgets of every conceivable variety, go on expensive vacations………………..all of which create a big carbon footprint on earth. Talk about down-scaling our needs to live sustainable lives and we all start humming and hawing. We are in love with our gadgets, our huge carbon footprint lifestyles.

The impact of our lifestyles are borne by villages like Hurlung, where nature in her resplendence was otherwise ruling supreme. Open skies, vast swathes of green, thundering stillness and rolling fields get swamped and devoured by artificial neon lights, snarling jungles of concrete and the blaring noise of vehicles. Even when the city has not physically moved into the village, it’s pollution reaches through all the sewage and debris collected by the rivers.

Being a sentimental fool that I am, I thought that I can save my beautiful Hurlung village by doing what I am best at – writing and educating young minds. The children are more gullible, more innocent. They buy into my sense of poetry, my love for nature, for trees, fields and stars. The elders are more hard nosed. They want facts and figures, data and statistics and power point presentations on how the environment is being damaged. They would spend aeons of time researching and piling data about how and how much the environment is being damaged. Since I have joined the ranks of uneducated, foolish and unscientific villagers, I prefer the simple way of knowing nature – just take a walk in the village fields, breathe the village air, wet one’s feet in the water collected in the fields and get oneself muddy with the slush. But amidst all this, I carry a deep pain in my heart. Someday this beautiful village is going to vanish. Can I save this village? How I can save it? Is there anyone interested in saving this village?

My Hurlung village does not add to the GDP of India. What can farmers with small fields, and a few ducks, goats and chickens add to the GDP. Perhaps they rightly need to be extinguished from the face of the earth. I write this article and post the pictures of my beloved village with a vain and sentimental hope that there may be a few souls in our NEEV family of supporters who still love poetry of nature, who can put the calculations of GDP aside and dance with the butterflies in the fields and the unworded music of their souls. We are opening NEEV CIL School in Hurlung Village so that I can collect around me more children who see the enormous beauty of their village and protect it. Supporting the school is the way you can help protect nature and a way of living that is in harmony with it.

In our vanity, we protect the creations of man, by declaring monuments of man as heritage sites and investing all our time, energy and resources in them. For me Hurlung Village is a heritage site – a place of everlasting and living beauty……a place where I find God. Would any of you like to help me in this endeavour ?……………

You may decide after seeing these pics of raw nature which were taken with my mobile phone taken in a single day during an early morning walk amidst the fields of Hurlung Village

 

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Harvested Cobs of Corn lying in a farmer’s field

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This single cob of corn was lying like a jewel in the field

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Water lilies growing in a small village pond

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Lush green paddy growing in a farmer’s field. I set this as my mobile screen background and my mobile became like a paddy field 🙂

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I don’t know the name of this plant but it’s large leaves fascinated me. These were growing opposite to the village pond

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The fascinating geometry of a patch of ladies finger field blossoming with yellow flowers

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Bundles of paddy waiting to be transplanted in the fields

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A farmer cultivating his field with hand plough and ox, the way it has been happening for five thousand years

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A paddy field flooded with water

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The shimmering paddy fields of Hurlung

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Villagers making their way through the paddy fields for work – photo taken by zooming the mobile camera so there is an unexpected, beautiful painting like effect

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Another flooded paddy field with amazing colours reflected on it’s glassy surface

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A butterfly posing for the camera

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Since the butterfly obliged us with a photo portrait, the brilliant red dragon fly did it too 🙂

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The road on which we take a walk and from where all the pictures have been taken : a road less traveled 🙂

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That’s Shikha – all smiles : nothing gives her more happiness in the world than a silent walk through the fields of Hurlung

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That’s me with a foolish grin plastered on my face

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And that is Babu – one of the five NEEV CIL Members : Aspiring to be a farmer, holding aloft the green flame of revolution

NEEV Vidyalaya : Creating Leaders to Change the World – Blog on Leadership by Harshal (Student of NEEV Vidyalaya)

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Harshal (centre) in a meeting with her class mates

Dear Friends,

The world today is in a crisis. Bad news pours in at such a steady rate that the effect is paradoxically numbing. We can trumpet the fact that we have the world of knowledge at our fingertips : indeed we do. Unfortunately, knowledge is no guarantee of wisdom. Knowledge can be stored, transmitted, acquired, bartered and sold across internet: but not wisdom. The trend of current world events are quite clear; no amount of mere knowledge can save the world tethering on collapse. Knowledge is value neutral. The question is whether we are motivated to do anything after all the knowledge we acquire. Merely knowing about oppressive inequality, global environmental degradation or terrible ethnic massacres in the world does not initiate in us the seriousness or the sense of responsibility to do something for changing this world. What we require is the awakening of wisdom – an Integral human being.

Wisdom is a fusion of the head, heart and the hands – not just mere analytical skills of the intellect, but the compassion of the heart, and the humility and skill of the hands. It has to be nurtured intricately in an environment of immense care and patience. It has to be a space where minds are allowed to flower in intelligence without moulding them into a preconceived agenda of a system, state, economy or religion. Do we have spaces in our world today that incubate such wisdom?

Our schools have become places of mere knowledge transfer and training in technical capacity. What our ailing planet and humanity needs today are children who shall be leaders : healers and warriors; not second hand, trained, unquestioning, docile human beings. And this is what we are trying in NEEV Vidyalaya.

As I mentioned in my post on 15th August Celebrations – The Tricolour Unfurls at NEEV Vidyalaya, all the programs above Std. 6 till Std. 10 were managed by the children entirely with no teacher supervision. Harshal Jain, the Head Girl of the school (and my daughter), a student of Std. 10 was given the responsibility of managing the program. Managing such programs is one of the crucibles for building leaders at NEEV Vidyalaya. These are events where the entire human reality crowds in. The same reality is played out by humans in a global arena constructing the world we live in.

Throughout the fortnight I saw Harshal grappling with issues cropping up every day. As I mentored her through the process I saw that the issues leaders face are the same, just the scale changes. So after the program got over and Harshal breathed a sigh of relief, I asked her to pen down her thoughts on what she learned about leadership. I am presenting the article written by Harshal. The language, thoughts and composition are entirely her own. I have not made a single correction. The only help she received from me was a set of questions as a feedback after she finished writing the first draft. So the article stands entirely on her own merit. There is a noticeable chauvinism at the end of Harshal’s blog for NEEV Vidyalaya. I left it unedited because I found it as a quintessentially charming love of a student for her school : a school where she has spent ten most formative years of her life, ripening from a toddler to a self assured adolescent ready to face the challenges of the world.

I am providing her article below, interspersed with some photographs.

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The article in Harshal’s own writing

MY LEADERSHIP EXPERIENCE

So it was August and like every year, we had to start our preparation for independence day in school. But, this time it was different for me. I was the head-girl of the school and had been given the responsibility of conducting the entire program of the senior school.

March Past

Harshal leading the march past at NEEV Vidyalaya

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Harshal – Flag Hoisting at Independence Day


I used to love participating in various programs and  enjoyed the happening environment of the school during independence days, but now, instead of participating in some selected programs and perform them on stage, I had to organize and conduct the entire independence day function.

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Harshal participating in dancing in a previous function

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Harshal singing and anchoring in previous functions

It was a bit scary for me in the beginning, but then I started taking it as a leadership lesson of my life. I could feel the sense of responsibility for all the programs which had to be put up on stage and could just not be as carefree as I used to be during the earlier independence day practice in my school. There were a vast number of fields where I had to bring my attention to. I was slowly starting to get more confident of myself… In the beginning, I tended to find out a lot of flaws in the selection of children and the kind of song/dance/speech which were chosen and had a pre-notion of the in-capacities of children. But then, my principal taught me that if I think of my team to be having limited capacities, my team will also think of themselves to be the same. He also taught me to be positive and how to manage all the programs together.The first thing I did was ‘try’ to remove my preconception for the students. I started to make them realize their potentials and flower them by giving a lot of positive energy and encouraging words. It so happened that slowly they started seeing me as their teacher and would on their own come to me and ask for advice. They started taking interest in their programs and would practice even after the practice time was over. A girl of class 8, Anamika, had been selected for dancing. She was facing a lot of difficulty in coordination and had been discouraged by her companions. I tried to set aside my irritation and be patient with her. I would spend a lot of time working on her steps and coordination, praise her, give her a lot of words of encouragement… Slowly, she started working hard and would come to me for remarks every time after performing on stage for practice. Now, she has really improved a lot and is able to keep up with the other dancers. Thus, the greatest thing I learnt was that a leader can never be negative, he/she has to be positive as this energy would be flowing through his/her team.


Speech Practice

Harshal backstage giving last moment tips for the English speech to Tannupriya


However, being positive does not mean that you don’t have to be strict or be soft all the time. There are times when you have to scold them or make them work hard and bring them in discipline. Your team may not always be ready to work, but you have to bring energy to your team and drive them to perfection. You may not always achieve what you wanted, but what matters is how you take it and how you team takes it. My greatest challenge during this whole event was to  train students for march past. I tried for hours and hours to make the children match their hands and legs and the right leg to lift when I say ‘ek’, but I failed. I later let them get on with their own pace of learning. Again, I had been helped by my principal to train the students for march past patiently and effectively. Another thing which I learnt was that you can’t handle everything on your own. You have to create a team of good followers as well as good leaders. They should have the ability to think for themselves and to have their own brains as well. Thus, I would like to state the following qualities of a leader which I learnt during this short ’15 days’ period of time :

1. A leader has to take care of the ‘whole’ and has to have an open and vast mind
2. He/her should not be led by a preconception about his/her team
3. He/she must realise the potential of his/her team and the way to flower it
4. He/she must not be negative and always have a positive energy
5. He/she should be ready to take blame on behalf of his team
6. He/she should know the art of communicating and coordinating the various functions
7. He or she must be able to develop good followers along with good leaders in his team
               I am really thankful to my school and my principal to show their faith in me and to give me this huge responsibility. This has helped me a lot in developing my leadership skills which will be of great importance in my life. It has taught me to handle situations and to take initiative and not to follow others blindly. I has brought me a lot of self confidence which will help me in following my dreams which I have yet to discover. Our world is in a desperate need of leaders. It cannot function without them. Majority of people in the world are confused and don’t know the purpose of their life. They blindly follow those who are in power and are leading the world through their power. So it is very necessary to have right leaders. Right leaders, according to me, are those who work for the entire mankind and nature. They seek to establish peace and freedom and love in the world. I can proudly say that Neev Vidyalaya is a place where such leaders are being created. There is so much of misery, poverty, jealousy and hatred in our world. If this continues, then our world will soon be in pieces. I think, God has created Neev Vidyalaya as the avatar of the saviour of this world.

Harshal and Shipli

Harshal with her comrade Shilpi : All smiles after successful completion of Independence Day Program

The NEEV-NIOS Revolution in Education : Visit of Prof C.B Sharma (Chairman NIOS Board) to NEEV

Prof C. B Sharma – Chairman NIOS Board, India being shown the Aloe Vera field of NEEV by Shikha

Dear Friends,

Last weekend we had a surprise visitor to NEEV – Prof. C. B Sharma, who happens to be the Chairman of NIOS Board India. He was on a tour to Jamshedpur for his work when one of our NEEV friends Jayashree, an ardent supporter and customer of NEEV Soaps talked to Prof Sharma about our work. Piqued by this, he graciously decided to pay us a visit. Unfortunately or fortunately, it being a Saturday, NEEV Vidyalaya was closed, so he came to visit us at our NEEV Herbal Cosmetics Unit in Hurlung.

For us it was a bolt from the blue but something that could not have delighted us more. Given our penchant love for NIOS, his visit, like so many incidents in NEEV was a godsend – an event that happened at the right place and at the right time, with a precision that can be manufactured only by the cosmic will.

What followed after he came was a freewheeling discussion on issues relating to education, the aims and objectives of NIOS as well as the unique vision of NEEV’s education. There was also an interesting discussion on how NIOS faces the daunting challenge of providing education at such a low cost of Rs. 1500/student for registration and Rs. 1800 as exam fees when the operating costs per student is much higher.

Our daughter Harshal who is due to appear for her NIOS Board exams in October 2016 as well as our five teachers – Anjali, Babu, Simi, Sourin and Suraj who just passed NIOS Secondary examinations and due to appear for NIOS Senior Secondary exams in 2018 were also present in the meeting. They got the rare opportunity to raise questions and discuss issues about NIOS first hand with Prof Sharma, who answered all their questions with remarkable patience and concern.

It is rare to come across a man of such humility. Not only was he a proactive and eloquent speaker but also a great listener. The NIOS website gives a brief of the amount of work he has done in education. I am just culling a certain portion from it.

“Dr. Chandra B. Sharma the Chairman is Professor of Education on deputation from the School of Education, Indira Gandhi National Open University, New Delhi. He has recently been on a three member committee constituted by the Government of India to draft the Distance Education Council of India Bill 2015, likely to be placed before the Parliament . This Act will set the future of distance education in India. He has been the Director of the Distance Education Programme of the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyaan (DEP-SSA) an MHRD-IGNOU project. DEP-SSA was a national project of the Ministry of Human Resources Development (MHRD) Government of India. The project assisted all Indian states in preparing master trainers for quality improvement of Elementary education. He has served the open distance learning (ODL) system for nearly two and half decades. Before joining the ODL he taught at the Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) New Delhi. He has been on various statutory bodies (Academic Council, Board of Management/Board of Governors etc. and also the Visitor’s (President of India) nominee on selection committee) of various ODL as well as traditional institutions. He has been nominated by IGNOU as well as invited to national committees on various areas like 11th Plan, Sarva Siksha Abhiyaan (SSA), Rastriya Madhyamik Siksha Abhiyaan (RMSA), National Mission on Education – Information and Communication Technologies (NME-ICT), UGC Visiting Committees, National Assessment and Accreditation Council (NAAC) teams, National Council for Teacher Education planning as well as visiting teams, DEC-UGC-AICTE inspection committees etc. He has written as well as taken part in many national as well as state level educational planning discussion and brainstorming. He has also been invited to be Visiting Professor at various universities, besides been invited by international agencies like the World Bank for research studies.

Prof. Sharma was invited by the Linnaeus University (Sweden) to deliver the key note address on Entrepreneurship and Education in India, and half a dozen other Nordic Universities to lecture on educational collaboration with Indian universities during March-April 2014.”

There were three more short paragraphs describing the work he has done, but I stopped short of quoting them because I guess this is more than enough to give an idea of the breadth and depth of work Prof Sharma has done in education. But despite this, I could see how keenly he listened to my views on education.

After our discussion, we took Prof Sharma around to show around the NEEV Herbal Cosmetics Unit and the land site where the new NEEV CIL School is being constructed.


                                          Above:  Prof Sharma being shown the Herbal Fields around NEEV Herbal Cosmetics Unit, Hurlung by Shikha

            Below: Prof Sharma visiting the land site where the NEEV CIL School is being constructed


The trip of Prof Bhushan ended with a cementing of relationship between NEEV and NIOS because there is a great communion between the vision of these two organizations. Both of them are concerned about a revolution in education. The communion of visions was manifested into a concrete reality when Prof Sharma suggested that we become an accredited centre for NIOS Board’s OBE (Open Basic Education) course. This would provide NEEV with accredition to teach, conduct exams and certify children as well as adult neo-literates at three levels – upto Class 3, upto Class 6 and upto Class 8.

This morning we received a letter of invitation from the Regional Director of NIOS Ranchi, to become an accredited institution for NIOS OBE Program. We see this as a step in a direction to cause a revolution in education. Below is a write-up on why we require a revolution in education and how the communion of NEEV and NIOS can cause such a revolution.

REVOLUTION IN EDUCATION – NEEV + NIOS

Education and revolution are perhaps two words that do not seem to share much in common at first sight. While education springs up images of children with their heads buried in books, revolution conjures images of flags, protests and angry mobs charging at barricades. We hear of social revolutions, political revolutions, religious revolutions and cultural revolutions but we have yet to hear of something that the world today needs the most – an education revolution.While the word education evokes the goodwill and empathy of most thinking people and there is scarce a soul that does not nod his head in agreement for the need of educating children, very few are willing to find what education is all about. What seems to be an innocuous activity of mere transfer of knowledge, actually holds the key to the transformation of man and world. This is because education mirrors the state of society – it’s priorities, it’s politics, it’s economics, it’s culture and it’s religion.

Is education today a mere appendage of an industrial, capitalistic regime churning out selfish individuals interested in mere self advancement and serving the system or education retains the right to create minds that can question and lead a life of freedom and self reliance?

Looking at the four roomed enclosures we call classrooms, stuffed with benches and desks in neat rows, one cannot miss seeing how it resembles the production line of a factory where products go through various stages of finishing by applying standardized procedures. Not a grain of autonomy is afforded to the ‘products’ of the classroom. Everything is predetermined, standardized, assessed, measured and waste products discarded as in a factory. The skills and capacities of children are attended to like the wrapping and packaging of products, intended to lure people by looks and outward gloss while the real thing inside, the soul, the heart, the love remains slumbering. Image result for education
        factory modelImage result for education factory model

And then what about the politics of education? Is it mere transformation of knowledge and information to all or is it mired in consideration of class and wealth? Is there universal access to education or on the contrary, education has become the machine for engineering class distinctions, where the rich can buy degrees and rise up the socio-economic ladder. Image
        result for education for the richImage result for education for the rich

So what we need today is education which is democratic, flexible, holistic and all inclusive. We need an education that cuts across barriers of age, class, that is sensitive to the needs of an individual, that nurtures and cares for him rather than make him cower with fear under the cane of a teacher. We need an education that can happen anytime anywhere at any pace, without mounds of investment. We need an education that teaches self reliance as a way of living rather than giving the message that it is your class, status and money that determines the life you are going to lead. And last of all we need an education that confers equal respect to the work of hands, head and heart so that we can bring about a world without inequality.

And we get all of this in NIOS.

Considered to be the largest open schooling system in the world, the NIOS Board conducts exams for about 5 lakhs students every year.

The certification given by NIOS is at par with two National Level Boards – CBSE and ICSE

Now lets consider the vision and mission of NIOS. I have highlighted in bold the key points which match with NEEV’s philosphy of Integral Living

Vision

  • Sustainable inclusive learning with universal and flexible access to quality school education and skill development.”

Mission

  • Providing relevant, continuing and holistic education up to pre-degree level through Open and Distance Learning System.
  • Contributing to the Universalisation of School Education.
  • Catering to the educational needs of the prioritized target groups for equity and social justice.

Let’s take a look at the NIOS song

To fill our lives with light
And illuminate our path
Let’s be our own light
And choose the road to tread upon

The school free from constraints of time, resources and coffers
Offers to read anytime anywhere
With plethora of choices at any age
Friends let us arise and awake
And discern the destination

The door is always open at NIOS
With the options of learning and getting assessed
Not once but again and again
Of the many centres on the globe
Let’s opt for one of them

The song abounds with a sense of generosity, an inclusiveness and care. Rather than being a system of elimination, one can see the spirit of invitation and great patience. The thrust here is not to fail you as an individual but to provide you with every opportunity to empower yourself. The song talks about being self reliant, about helping oneself rather than relying on on infrastructure, money and teachers.

Textbooks that raise fundamental questions – Snippets from NIOS Text Books

Not only does NIOS have a grand and noble vision, it also has absolutely amazing course content. Unlike text books of other boards which a blind worshipers of human progress, unquestioningly hailing advancements in science and technology as the ascent of man, the NIOS text books raise fundamental questions for children to think about the direction man has taken. The NIOS books

In fact I read some paragraphs to Prof. Bhushan to show the subtlety and nuanced nature of questioning that NIOS brings about. Here I am providing two examples of questioning done in their social science textbook of secondary level.


Look at the respect accorded to the life of Paleolithic people. Look at how progress is not just blindly assumed. Look at the respect that has been accorded to nature. And all this has been done in the form of an open ended question. To me this is revolution !

And here there is another example

Look at how progress has not been hailed unanimously and pompously. Look at how the luxuries of the few have been contrasted with not even basic amenities lacking for many. Look at how the text makes us realize that we cannot be resting on our laurels of science and technology. There are many, many problems to be addressed in the world and these problems are about things as fundamental as water, health and education.

And the next snippet I am providing is the clincher. It is enough fuel for a true educator to engage children with for the whole of their life. A school like NEEV which wants to develop leaders, social entrepreneurs and change agents who shall help the world towards Integral Living cannot find a better check list of tasks they need to undertake. Those who feel that there is nothing that needs to do in the world and everything is hunky-dory can dip into this list and try solving at least one of these problems. I haven’t seen anything like this in the text books of ICSE Borad which I used to teach earlier.

There is a line which almost entirely states Integral Living philosophy – “The relationship of humans with self, society, and nature should inspire us to create a society in which all of us rather than only a few could lead a gainful life” Just this one sentence is enough for me to be a die-hard NIOS fan.

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I do have a different view on Nationalism and love for country. I believe we can substitute it with Global Family and love for the whole earth. Leaving this, I think the list is brilliant.

I could go on and on with one brilliant snippet after another from the Social Science as well as Science, English and Hindi Textbooks of NIOS pointing to the Integral Living philosophy of NEEV. But I guess, I shall reserve this for future posts hoping that I have sufficiently made my point of the unique nature of NIOS Textbooks to spark questioning and self inquiry in students. For me it was pure joy teaching Social Science to my kids and for Shikha, teaching Social Science became a life changing experience. Hopefully she can write about it someday.

Not only Social Science but also Science, English and Hindi books have gem like material to develop an Integrated, sensitive human being with leadership qualities. For example take a look at this exercise. This is a kind of situation that I have seen actually developing in our school.

Other student friendly features of NIOS

  • From classroom to anywhere
  • Freedom from the tyranny of schools who hold the power of certification
  • From teacher centric to learner centric
  • Students can pace their learning and appear for selected subjects in their board exams
  • From teacher as an instructor to teacher as a facilitator
  • From fixed time to anytime learning
  • From “you learn what we offer” to“we offer what you want to learn”.
  • From education as one time activity to education as life long activity
  • Equal stress on vocational education
  • Free access to learning material from website. No buying of expensive books from different publishers

To sum it up : in NIOS we have a board which is inclusive, inexpensive, universal, flexible, generous , responsive and with an amazing course content. I consider it a matter of great ignorance that parents and children are stuck with the notion that good education comes by paying money and getting children admitted in schools with glossy buildings. I consider it a matter of great shame that parents who consider themselves ‘educated’ are not able to discern the enormous intelligence and opportunity for learning that is embedded in NIOS.

Despite my having written this article, I know that the trenchant class divisions shall still rule, that parents will still bother about status quo rather than true education in choosing for their children. When I decided to switch from ICSE to NIOS Board, I faced difficulties from all quarters – teachers, students and parents; several teachers left school, 40 children were pulled out by their parents. But I remain wedded or perhaps welded to the democratic vision of NIOS Board. What is at stake is a movement, a revolution to make this world a better place through education.

At least I shall depart with the sense that I left no stone unturned to do my bit in this great cosmic drama.

Love,

Anurag

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