Chart your own course

Gita Ramaswamy

learning-the-heart-way If your child were to skip college education entirely, it would be a matter of great concern to you. Nevertheless, if she did well in life, acquiring life skills, employment and happiness, it would tilt the scales for you, and be of great interest to all parents, and certainly all children. In Learning the Heart Way, 30 year old Samyuktha recounts her experience of opting out of formal college and yet embarking on a continuous programme of education and skills.

Born to unorthodox parents, her father gave up his bank job to farm in his native village, Samyuktha schooled at Kalakshetra in Chennai. Taking a year’s sabbatical after 12 years in school to explore one’s interest is not unheard of these days. (Free from School by Rahul Alvares talks about the author’s sabbatical to pursue his interest in reptiles. He later became a herpetologist.) Samyuktha’s initial idea was simply to take a year off. But during that time she came across The School (inspired by Jiddu Krishnamurthy’s teachings) in Chennai which had an open-ended three year programme for higher education. While the course envisaged a close engagement with Krishnamurthy’s philosophy, it also allowed for work in four to five different areas of interest and a formal distance education Bachelor’s degree. Samyuktha bravely opted for this.

Samyuktha started her education at The School with weaving, painting, dance, physics and history, and registered for a distance education course with IGNOU. At the same time, she made several short trips and undertook many apprenticeships – learning origami, a trip to the Narmada valley, working in a theatre production, a two month stint with a weaver family in Andhra Pradesh – all this during the three and a half years of the programme. A particularly touching part of the book is where Samyuktha describes how she had to grapple with her ego when she used to be introduced to people as doing B.Sc through correspondence. A correspondence course always gives people the idea that the person pursuing it is not good at studies, or that the person cannot spare time for formal education as he or she is working, or even that the person is too old to attend college. It was painful for Samyuktha to be put in any of these slots, and she recounts how she had to explain, everytime there was an introduction, the whole story of why she was doing a correspondence course to help her feel better.

A major part of the book deals with Samyuktha’s interest in weaving, and the chapter is appropriately titled, `A love story in colour.’ While weaving was only one of the subjects she chose in the first year, Samyuktha decided to take up weaving as her primary subject for the rest of the course. Why did she do so? She writes, “Weaving is a creative activity involving the mind as well as the hands. It satisfied my urge to work with people, in this case the weaving community. It opened up many other avenues for the future like creative design and marketing.” Samyuktha spent time weaving and travelling to places where weaving was a primary employment. She travelled to Saidapet in Chennai, Kanchipuram, and Benares. She also enrolled in a one-month training course in weaving, dyeing and block printing in Chennai. Her final stint during her three year programme was an exciting two months in Adilabad in Andhra Pradesh, where she stayed with a weaver family, set up a pit loom and wove fine cloth. In Samyuktha’s words…

`How can I describe how it felt when I gave three metres of cloth to my weaving master, Shankaran anna, back at Chennai? Or when my father got a kurta stitched with the material?…. How can I share in words the joy and pride felt when I wore an outfi t stitched from the cloth I had woven and heard people exclaim unbelievingly, ~What! You wove it yourself?’ My younger sister looked approvingly at me and said, `Now I can tell everyone that my sister is a weaver.’ (I wonder how many of us and our children would take pride at learning a craft?)

Samyuktha successfully completed her bachelor’s degree with a gold medal from IGNOU and went on to do textile design, and from what little I know of her, is happily married, with a baby to boot and successfully employed.

More important, she lists what she thinks her differently slanted learning gave her – a sense of independence and confidence, integration of higher education with her life and personality, and the necessity to develop a sense of direction, commitment and willingness to put one’s energy and soul in one’s work.

Is this a book of exotica alone? Quite naturally, any reader – parent or child, would wonder if this was possible for him/her. There are likely to be a number of pre-requisities – a sound school education, predisposition to hard work, initiative to start activity, and stamina to sustain it, supportive family, and also very important, continuous exposure to creative people and ideas. This is not to say that these are necessary preconditions; it is possible that without any or all of these conditions, children could do well if they decide to drop out of formal education.

“The purpose of writing this book is to show to readers – yes, there are options. You can choose how you want to pursue your higher education: how you can work systematically towards realising your dreams, in areas of your choice, if you want to. In the process, you will learn about yourself, what you like the most and fi nally, what really makes you happy. But this book is also to demonstrate to parents and students that there may be other interesting ways of going about the whole business of higher education. That we can dare to dream. Dare to think. Dare to be different.”

The book has a provocative foreword by Claude Alvarez – a foreword which supports Samyuktha and her venture wholeheartedly and critiques the education system ferociously. Attractive cartoons by the author herself dot the entire text; they not only serve to relieve reading, but give us a fair pictorial idea of Samyuktha literally dancing thaka-dheemi-thak, through all the pages of the book.

The reviewer works with the Hyderabad Book Trust, which publishes alternative low cost books in Telugu. She can be reached at [email protected] and [email protected].

How to order :
Other India Bookstore, Next to New Mapusa Clinic Feira Alta, Mapusa 403507, Goa.
Tel : 832-2263306/2263305
Email: [email protected]

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