Rabindranath Tagore (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rabindranath_Tagore) was one the most respected and cult literary figures my country has seen. Not just was he and his work and his thought process, much ahead of the times and age, it was revolutionary in myriad ways. As I grew up, I have loved his work not just because I loved English literature but also for the fact that his work reflected the society of the times so explicitly along with having a message without seemingly delivering a discourse or preaching and admonishing. And the message got out so loud and clear, it was almost startling.
He gave us our national Anthem but one poem from his work – Gitanjali (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gitanjali): Where the mind is without fear – has stayed in mind since I first read it as a ten year old in school.
I use this poem as the backdrop for my story today…..what we should remember, what we should do to be able to reach that laudable goal of ‘awakening’ not just for ourselves but collectively as a nation too.
We all love the work we do, our work. How many of us are open to appreciating the work done by others around us? None, according to me from what I have observed people do in my professional career spanning almost three decades. Some, according to other friends, an answer they give after that extra long pause to think, rack their brains, scratch their memories for a face or a name which they remembered cared for the other person’s work – genuinely!
Which brings me without much ado to a group of people who I have known for less than half a dozen years or round about that much. But whom I feel I have known for several years more. It was funny when I counted today, that I’d known them, for just so little time.
And as I write in about them, I do so from my perspective of their work. I write why it touched my heart. I write why I admire them. It has nothing to do with them. They won’t even know I am writing about them till I publish my post on my Blog and probably shyly send them a link.
Thus, let it be clear about this being my contribution to myself and my country towards “when words come out from the depth of truth…”.
And it stems from the firm belief of the die-hard optimist in me that we are resilient and hard nuts to crack in my country so some of us will continue this seemingly lost battle to make a difference somewhere and keep on hoping, so another era “where the clear stream of reason has not lost its way into the dreary dessert sand of dead habit” does come to be a reality.
I first met them on a hot summer afternoon in a small kindergarten chain which I headed then. We were in the middle of conducting our first and in that assignment my last, Summer Camp for Kids and I read about them in the papers. Their idea was so new, refreshing yet so simple that I knew right away that we needed to have them on board for at least a one-day session. As we worked out the logistics and details with them, they dropped in to talk to us that afternoon. I was struck by the directness and candour of the person heading the team and the motivation of the other team members.
It’s not very often that self-motivated individuals walk into your office, that too, on a hot afternoon and right into your professional thought process!
Dirty Feet ( https://www.facebook.com/Travelwithdirtyfeet/) did that and more.
It influenced my cognitive thinking.
It radicalized my approach to implementation of syllabus.
And it finally reinforced one fundamental cusp in my personal approach to classroom learning in such a way that since then I became unashamedly & unapologetically its biggest advocate in all aspects of school life: life skills learned from everyday life is the biggest ‘teacher’ for kids.
As teachers we just have to use this aspect to propel our kids, under our care into the major league of learning and make them heavy weight champions of education. And schooling, as a bonus!!!
The Summer camp trip had kids from different age groups and organising something which would satisfy all age groups generally becomes a challenge. The planning sessions for the Camp activities had been a harbinger for us, about this challenge, due to this very attribute. So, I was apprehensive with the Dirty Feet trip hitting the right note with all participants.
I was pleasantly surprised and thrilled to be proven wrong.
Kids immersed themselves into all the planned activities with such thirst & eagerness and yearning for the simple yet ‘forbidden’ activities of today’s parenting like frolicking in the mud in a brick kiln or walking barefoot on the shore of a water pond which had fish hatchlings, that I was left aghast.
I was horrified, appalled, stunned.
Moreover, I was ashamed of being a teacher who had kids around me who were starved of ‘normal’ experiences.
I had ample of them when I was growing up. Gave large number to my own child too. But the de novo fad and craze for a sanitized, air-conditioned school atmosphere along with the anxiety and fickleness of a whole new Gen X parents, had somewhere down the years made me sequestered into an almost germ-free curriculum. I was, I realised a captive of my own trepidation & dread of a paper tiger!!
Dirty Feet released me from that captivity! And I released, my henceforward professional life as an educationist, from the shackles of the new-found drudgery for superficial prospectus. I devised the now in-famous middle path thought process, which existed but I had been struggling to locate it, within myself.
Or had I unnecessarily let the system handcuff me?
A little of both, I guess. But the freedom of thought process, I experienced was so broad-spectrum and so comprehensive that my vociferousness of what I was already doing as an individual teacher in my classrooms but would be apologetic about or conciliatory about outside it, became my hallmark. My visiting card in all my future assignments.
The trips organised by Dirty Feet touched something raw, something simple inside the kids and released something so intense and so pure from within them, that the transformation was wonderful for me to see, each time. The kids would love the trips, remember every aspect of it, enjoy the smallest of things about it, of it, experience childhood uninhibited and return altered individuals. They would share thoughtful insights about the communities they saw, lived with and/or interacted with, seemed sensitized about their needs, become aware of the blessings they were blessed with, became conscious of the hardships faced by such communities apart from gaining the knowledge, know-how & comprehension of what the trip set out to teach them.
As a teacher, it was most satisfying for me that my students came back more erudite and more conversant on several facets. They started to take positions, shared viewpoints and changed their outlooks towards several things after Dirty Feet trips & events.
Thus, “where the mind is without fear and the head is held high………into that” journey, “my Father, let my country awake”.
And soon their story became my journey too, into a newer, bolder and more resplendent world where Dirty Feet continued to give children their kind of experiences and I continued to give mine. They do it outside the classrooms, I do it within. They teach the hidden part within the syllabus, I teach the obvious. Their teaching aids are the environment we live in, mine comes from that same environment. They use nature and communities as resource people, I use my teachers. Surprisingly, our goals are the same, the subjects are the same and, in that aspect, so are our journeys!
I just hope more of us get the nerve and chutzpah to make our individual journeys as one!!!