A sense of oneness

Arun Elassery

It was just before the summer break and Kamini was busy with admin work when I asked her to introduce me to her colleagues and give me a tour of the forested, 100-acre Valley School campus 17 km south of Bangalore. Kamini had volunteered as a part time teacher three years ago after her two children joined the school. The younger girl was in the pre-school section and Kamini started coming to school to make the child comfortable and spend as much time as possible with her. One thing led to another and by the next year, Kamini was teaching psychology to the senior school, biology to the middle school and doing nature activities with the junior school. When I met her, in addition to all these responsibilities, she was also the class teacher of 11th class.

valley-school-1 We met in the waiting area of the admin building against a backdrop of neatly arranged Krishnamurti books and decided to walk first to the Arts Village. Walking away from the main buildings, we took the mud paths with trees on either side, crossing on top of the bund of the school lake, and went past the dry rocky stream bed, past the amphitheatre with the magnificent banyan behind it, on to the group of buildings at different levels that makes up the arts village. This was the first year in anybody’s memory that the lake had gone dry. Someone had dredged a part of the bed to expose the water below, probably in preparation for the serious effort required the next summer to ensure water availability. Kamini remembered how the lake, after the monsoon, fills up and the stream flows muddy and turbulent with the floating edible figs and jamuns from the two big trees overhanging the lake.

The Arts Village typifies the beauty and philosophical coherence of Valley School. The beautiful buildings merge into the surrounding landscape; the various music, dance and art studios somehow convey a sense of oneness and not separateness; and children and teachers move at an unhurried pace. I saw children clearing up after carpentry; the pottery area with what appeared like thousands of silent figurines moulded by knowing child hands; kathak and tabla practice flowing. I got the sense of a quality of silence – as if the big banyan behind the buildings and the rest of nature crowding in was a sponge soaking up the sounds and activities of the many children and their teachers.

valley-school-2 I also walked some more distance into the 100 acres to see the hostels, the staff quarters and the retreat centre. I got a feeling that everybody knew everybody else – must be just a feeling – it IS difficult to know 350 students and 65 teachers on a first name basis. But there was nothing ambiguous about the way Kamini’s 11th standard class interacted with her. I heard them asking for admin help, discussing interpersonal problems, and in some cases gently pulling her leg. She was variously addressed as aunty, Kamini aunty and in one case as ‘yaar’. Surrounded by her class with their urgent requests she did appear to be more ‘yaar’ than ‘aunty’.

Jayaram, the principal who has been in the Krishnamurti Foundation India (or KFI) schools system for 25 years joined after he reluctantly stood in for an absent geography teacher and liked his experience so much that he stayed on and worked in two other KFI schools before spending 19 years at Valley school. He was very busy the day I visited the school but we got to spend some unhurried time over evening tea and snacks and I had a wonderful chat with him. I also got some time with Dr Satish Inamdar who was then the director of the school and was an acknowledged expert on alternative methods of education in India. (Dr Inamdar passed away in January 2016 a year or so after I met him at Valley school) Both Dr Inamdar and Jayaram came across as calm, collected, wise individuals. I believe that it takes wise people to create a Valley School.

Quick facts

Been around for: 35 years
Number of teachers/staff: 65
Number of children: 365
Classes handled: Pre-school to 12
USP: Day school with a forested 100 acre campus and residential facility for children in 11th and 12th classes
Location: Tathguni post, Off Kanakpura road, 17 km south of Bangalore
Website: http://valleyschool.herokuapp.com/

The author got his degree from IIT Kharagpur in 1988 and is currently a Wipro Education Fellow. He can be reached at arunelassery@hotmail.com.