Monday, February 10, 2014

Nai Talim - Konkan

We got to attend this year's Nai Talim as well. It was indeed a last minute decision since I was a little apprehensive about going alone with the girls in on overnight bus. But! It all turned out to be an amazing experience from the start to the end. The overnight sleeper bus got the first squeal of delight from all of us! Had never seen anything like this before- a bus with only beds , no seats!
Anyways we arrived the next morning in Kudal and got a ride from a co-passenger when my auto didn't arrive to pick me up. Such things can happen only in India. You can trust a complete stranger and things happen very spontaneously. Everything doesn't have to be planned ! Our next stop was in the local fruit and flower market. There were a group of aajis selling flowers and when I asked them if they could take care of my luggage & the girls while I shopped @ for fruits, they promptly agreed! I don;t know where else in the world such things can happen? This is the benefit of living in a "developing country" - not being so "developed" has retained a great level of humanity & love in our folks. Looking out for each other comes one is really a stranger here. And a mother with two young children is instantly helped. That's why I love this country. You are NEVER alone.

New Education:
Finally we reached our destination and wow ! The sight of the Nai Talim camp was really something: folks pitching tents, the beautiful Arabian sea right next to us, the silvery sand, familiar faces, children steeped in sand play! The sessions started and each one was a gem in itself. The five days of Nai Talim was really in every sense " NAI TALIM" or " New Education". We learned things no one ever mentioned in the schools or colleges or anywhere else. Whether Mukundji's recount of the tribal Gond community or Guruji's brilliant overview of the robust rural systems of India or Neelkant mama's talk on his life as a Shepard  each and every word  was brimming with true knowledge, love and passion. One never felt like getting up from the sessions. There was so much churning happening- so many Qs raised..especially on where we are headed as a country or individual, is so called  "development" really what we need for our country, are our rural systems devoid of any knowledge, have we been really under-developed all this while that we need to get "developed", what are the lives and knowledge systems of our ancient folks, our tribals? So many thoughts, so much pondering.  Makes one wonder as to whether the education we have received is of any use at all- it neither teaches us to co-exist with others nor with the environment @ us. We are the uneducated ones completely lacking skills & creativity, not our rural or tribal folks. We have so much to learn from them.

The sessions did an amazing thing for me. It cleared out all my doubts about where India stands in terms of development. Having left the States 4 yrs back, there are times when I question our decision for ourselves and our children? Did we do the right thing leaving the States? Aren't we shutting out a host of opportunities? Guruji's talk made it crystal clear for me- that the future is really in the past. We are highly developed just the way we were. Our rural systems had perfected it all in a sense. It is our aping of the west , our big cities culture, our current education that has dug the grave for us. And it is this co-existence with nature, others and ourselves that everybody has to return to. Where every family is an entrepreneur, a nature conservationist, a factory, an educator ,  an owner and a laborer. This is how our folks have lived and prospered for ages but yet we are clamoring @ in darkness looking for solutions as our standards of what is development and good for us has been set by others.

Unique Learning :
While the adults were immersed in true education , the kids were having a grand time by themselves. This year's Nai Talim recreated the wonderful system of "Gotul" that is commonly seen in tribal villages. Gotul is the center of a tribal community where children are educated. Nai Talim's Gotul served as the community center for the kids. They hung out with each other , slept together with no adult intervention what so ever. The sessions planned for them also followed the Gotul culture. The children were engaged in interesting activities like shell collection and jewelry making, math & science activities, magic show, pottery, learning music from the Kalkeri students, Bharatnatyam session , story-telling , and of course splashing in the sea. Whether learning from a potter or music from the Kalkeri  children with the sea as the backdrop,  it was indeed an unique learning experience for the children. The freedom in the physical environment & mental space, the company of  interesting & compassionate adults & ages from all ages, social strata , backgrounds and countries, the endless opportunities for play in the sand, the swimming in the sea ( While Chellu learned to swim like a fish in the sea, Kunju spent hours lost in her interactions with the sand & the sea) , the constant rendezvous with the beach ( its creatures - living and dead ), the endless chats over meals, visit to the nearby fishermen village, living in the tents, usage of dry toilets and bathrooms..everything together offered a classic learning opportunity for the children & adults alike .From true socialization to adjusting to a different way of life in tune with nature, the five days of Nail Talim drenched our children & us,  in meaningful learning that ages of schooling can't even dream to!

Red Flags:
This year's Nai Talim raised many red flags for us to ponder about. Claude Alvaris's talk on the damages of the tourism industry on Goa's fragile eco-system as well as our interactions with the local fishermen's village
made us aware of how the locals are being punished for no fault of theirs. Trawling, global climate, tourism, breaking of traditional practices in fishing has wreaked havoc in the fisherman's life forcing him to shift to the cities to fend for himself. It felt very sad and frustrating at the same time. And it is the same story everywhere-farming, pottery, weaving, fishing..every traditional occupation is being threatened because of globalization. It's really greed at the bottom of all this. While our traditional societies learned to fend for themselves while being in complete unison with nature, our modern societies are pushing everyone to the brink of existence, especially the rural & ancient societies for no fault of theirs. The sessions sowed the seeds of introspection & reflection. Also augmented with it were the visits to the local fisherman's village & learning about their life and struggles. It is a great reality check , especially for us urban folks!
Personally it was also very thrilling for me to learn that the village is a Swadhyay village when I saw the words "Jay Yogeshwar" written on the door-steps of one of the homes. I got to go back for a one on one visit with a family - the connection was instant! As Swadhyayees we bonded immediately and it was amazing to know how their lives were impacted by Swadhyay.

Nai Talim Family:
Unlike last year, this time @ all of us stayed together for the entire duration of the shivir- cooked, cleaned, washed, made homes & did whatever was necessary for the workshop together. This created a very close bond and by the end of the 5 days it felt like one big family. I felt nostalgic about leaving everyone the last day. Living in the same space gave way to meaningful conversations with each other and we got to interact and build relationships with so many people from different walks of life. Where else would I have got to meet folks like Robin, Raefel, or Mary? The gem was indeed knowing Aishwarya, a member of the Hijada community up-close and personal. Where else would we have ever got to know someone like her? Learning about her life, her struggles, her dreams brought in such a strong sense of oneness for me. We are all JUST THE SAME albeit our differences in our external appearances.

Motivation and More motivations:
Karan's talk on his attempt at urban organic farming & his probing into fears & insecurities, Indulkarji's discussion on his tribal school in the Western Ghats, the Kalkeri Sangeet Vidyalaya..all these were so motivating ! Right in front of us were folks who had followed their heart's calling & broken away from fears & doubts . These are the true teachers- the ones who can beckon you to dream beyond your conditioning. I enjoyed each and every talk immensely. It was also amazing to see so many young folks from all sorts of backgrounds carving their own unique paths in life.

The five days of Nai Talim felt like home for me. Like " my people, my community".  At the end of it all I was filled with so much hope and motivation. That change is possible and is already in the works. I do sincerely hope for cementing my relationships with all the folks I met there for ages to come- for myself and for my family. I had a hard time adjusting back to my routine, urban life in Pune. My eyes would well up when remembering Sachin, Meenal & Mrunal and the Nai Talim family. I'm extremely grateful for having known each and everyone of them...

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