The journey of a thousand miles began with the launch of Shikshangan in 2008 and continued much beyond this distance by covering the length, breadth and depth of our country. In the course of these journeys and the many interactions they brought, Vijay and I learned from individuals, communities and multiple stakeholders in the education landscape. I reckoned it would make sense to share these experiences with a wider audience, with the aim of documentation and a hope that these will both entertain and educate. Each tour was unique and I hope my storytelling skills will amuse and not lose – readers.
Some of our travels took us to ancient temple towns, creating the opportunity for encounters that made me confront my own ambiguous relationship with religion, but in the process, led me to interesting discoveries – about myself and my teaching practice.
Seventh Stop – (Part 2) J. Krishnamurti – Raj Ghat Besant School – Mirzapur – 2016
“There must be a cultivation of the totality of the mind, and not merely the giving of information.” – J Krishnamurti
Raj Ghat Besant School in Varanasi is the second oldest school set up by the Krishnamurti Foundation India, established in 1934 by Jiddu Krishnamurti. Named after Dr. Annie Besant, it is located on the banks of the Ganges, with its lush and sprawling campus spread over 400 acres, stretching across both banks of the Varuna. Varanasi gets its name from the two rivers – Varuna and Assi, the famed Subah Benaras being the highlight at Assi Ghat.
Krishnamurti (1895-1986) had a profound impact on human consciousness and the JK schools were founded with the aim of bringing about a radical transformation in student thinking. While imparting academic proficiency, the Krishnamurti schools attempt to awaken intelligence and sensitivity in the child in a non-competitive environment . . . unsurprisingly therefore, not the natural choice of parents who thrive on competition! JK questioned everything in an attempt to find truth in rationality; critical thinking that NEP calls out in 2020, has been in practice in these schools for long.
Our module on Thinking Skills was in consonance with the school ethos, invigorating both ways, with the Principal Ram Kumar and teachers questioning every idea that Shikshangan presented, thus leading to inspiring and provocative discussions of Krishnamurti’s philosophy, which spilled onto the long and meditative walks we took post coaching sessions in the expansive campus, with the Ganges flowing gently by our side.
At a crossroad on our walking path, Ram paused upon a space called Buddha Place, marked with a large, flat, uncut granite slab, which became a satori moment for us. Legend has it that Gautam Buddha had passed this way on his arduous journey from Bodh Gaya to Sarnath looking for his five disciples, resting here for a while. Were we on the same revered trail? Retracing the footsteps of Siddhartha Gautama, the Buddha? Sarnath is just 7.5 kms away from this spot, yet the need to go there evaporated as we stayed back for a brief moment of meditation on the venerated fieldstone.
What could Sarnath have offered that this trail didn’t? A quiet discovery away from the tourism glare was a time traveller experience, rather rare.
Krishnamurti was being groomed as the next ‘Maitreya’ (future Buddha) or World Teacher, by Anne Besant and the Theosophical Society, but he rejected this mantle and withdrew from the organization, which believed him to be a ‘vehicle’ for teaching the World. JK said he had no allegiance to any nationality, caste, religion, or philosophy, and spent the rest of his life travelling the world, speaking to large and small groups, as well as individuals – so did Buddha!
Abandoning the Sarnath plan, we took a 45 minute boat ride on the Ganges from Raj Ghat to Dashashwamedh Ghat to witness the dazzling spectacle of Ganga Arati, and though Vijay was not keen on partaking of this, he did not have a choice because we were sailing in the same boat – literally! I enjoyed releasing oil lamps into the flowing river and watching them go far with a steady flame despite them being given spur by more than a gentle breeze.
Beyond, was a dinner tryst at the Taj by the Ganges – with Baba and the petite Pooja Madhok, owners of the Sunbeam Dalimss group of schools. Baba is synonymous with Banaras. A tycoon owning gyms and schools – (build the body and build the mind), himself a body builder, ghazal singer, classical music connoisseur, speaks Bhojpuri as effortlessly as impeccable English and regales you with furtive tales of celebrities he knows very closely. An interesting anecdote was about the nomination of our Prime Minister in 2014 from Varanasi. The nomination was proposed by Giridhar Malaviya, (grandson of Madan Mohan Malaviya) and Padma Vibhushan Chhannulal Mishra, a noted classical singer of Varanasi. In that solemn moment while the nomination was being formalized, Pt. Chhannulal broke security cordons, and in true Banarasi style, pulled out Shiva temple’s‘Itra’ from his kurta pocket and dabbed it on the PM’s hand saying ‘Theek Ba? Kaisan Houaa?’ (Slang Bhojpuri – Are you alright? How are you?). . . leaving all dignitaries on the Taj Nadesar Palace grounds stunned! Unforgettable anecdotes woven intricately into entertainment by Baba, the skillful raconteur.
A week of relentless training of teachers from Raj Ghat to Sunbeam Schools and we sought respite by taking a sojourn along the Ganges to the exquisite Chunar Fort, splurging on the way back on world famous carpets woven on the banks of the Ganges, the oldest hub of carpet weaving being in Mirzapur, Uttar Pradesh. The genesis of carpet making is attributed to Mughal emperor, Akbar. Chronicles say that a caravan of Persian carpet weavers was waylaid and injured by dacoits on the Grand Trunk Road (part of NH 19 in India today), when the weavers were rescued and given shelter by locals in this region. In gratitude they shared their weaving skills, thus giving birth to the renowned carpet industry of Mirzapur.
Sunbeam School arranged this visit, connecting us with the best carpet business family in Bhadohi, Mirzapur, whose hospitality was the epitome of Uttar Pradesh’s grace. Their disarming warmth, prompted us to discard all self-restraint and we satiated ourselves with soul-stretching, hand knotted rugs and kilims. A single Bhadohi carpet can boast up to 425 knots per square inch – the penultimate figure in premium carpets.
The lockdown since March 2020, made us housebound and sensory pleasures sought from travel souvenirs are heightened with remembrances of good times when we travelled and trained teachers. The Mirzapur carpets scattered around our home held a special place in our hearts – till the release of the gruesome web series, Mirzapur!
Since then, like the sleepwalking Lady Macbeth, who is worried about blood on her hands – I have asked Vijay more than once, are our carpets of clean enterprise? Or did we end up unknowingly meeting with a Kaleen Bhaiyya in Mirzapur?
And he just laughs ….
The author has been engaged in the domain of school education for the past three decades. She is the co-founder of Shikshangan Education Initiatives, Pune, along with Vijay Gupta. The scope of their work includes teacher development by sharpening pedagogical skills and working with school leaders on their instructional and organizational leadership skills. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.