Flight or fight?

Devika Nadig

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.

Fourth Stop – Dwarka – Nageshwar – K D Ambani School – 2013
A musical rain was embracing the verdant Western Ghats, as we drove up the winding road to our training venue and chanced upon Pooja and Alka wandering in the 150 acres of bio diverse forest without a care in the world. Both were part of a batch attending our School Leadership Program being held in Mahindra United World College near Pune. We have remained friends over the years with Pooja Sudhir catching up with me on lazy afternoons and evenings and Alka Agarwal inviting Shikshangan to her School, K D Ambani Vidyamandir, in Reliance Greens near Jamnagar. This is our story in her world.

We flew into Jamnagar and boarded a Reliance vehicle for a 45-minute drive to Motikhavdi, where the very large and impressive Reliance refinery is located, and checked into the guest house inside the best factory township I have seen yet – The Reliance Greens!

The morning saw us in the office of the erudite Mr. Sundaram, a gentleman who wore the mantle of his principalship rather lightly …mingling with the teachers and participating in the discussions as an eager learner. His accounts of birds knowing how to count as in subitizing (meaning rapid and accurate counting of a small number of things, like their eggs, for instance) remains in my memory as an illustration of mathematical thinking in animals. We worked with the teachers on the best strategies for teaching mathematics and I realize that the work Shikshangan has been doing with the aim of creating proceptual thinkers in mathematics in our classrooms, today finds an echo in the mathematical thinking mentioned in NEP 2020.

The winter chill in the evening found Vijay comfortably ensconed in an armchair, cradling a hot cup of coffee, while I stepped out for a brisk walk in sneakers, the lush green campus whispering an invitation to unwind the tensions of day life, and follow a curious and cryptic pathway… though I had been suitably cautioned during the day about encounters with wildlife. Wearing my forest-life experience on my sleeve and carrying a simple Nokia phone of those times, I braced the cold wind caress on my face, with dusk around the corner. Within 35 minutes, I was lost.

The 400 plus acres of Reliance township area green maze, enticing you down mysterious pathways where one can easily lose track of time and space. My basic phone was of no help in navigation and I decided to just keep walking till I reached some public space. It took another 30 minutes of wary walking before I got to the Medical Centre. Upon enquiry there I discovered that I was at the far end from where I had started. Worrying that Vijay might get anxious if I told him this ‘damsel lost in the woods ’ tale, I called Alka instead, who happened to live close to the Centre and was with me in minutes. Now confident with a partner, we turned around to walk towards the guest house …. It was going to be another hour’s walk, she declared!

The walk back was dappled with a few more unforgettable experiences…. A bushy tail in the well-manicured hedge emerged as a frolicking fox who looked me straight in the eye, almost asking, “Fight? Or Flight?” …and proceeded to take flight itself, perhaps finding a ‘threatening teacher’ expression on my exhausted countenance. My nonchalant companion had hardly completed her statement about how the campus had dozens of these, as also other species of the wild, when I was startled by the spectacle of an open jeep gently driving past us with a rear seat attendant – dangling a full grown cobra – did I hear you draw in a sharp breath? Yes a cobra, outside the open gypsy, the reptile’s head held between the falcon snake catcher*, the length of its body swaying in the breeze, with the noble, nature-sensitive aim of releasing the dangerous snake in a forest patch outside the campus. The township residents do not bat an eyelid at this routine run of the jeeps at dusk, but for a visitor, one step out of place in your walk and the rest is left to your breathless imagination.

The morning after this brush with the wild, we drove to Dwarkadheesh, and the deity inside the temple looked and felt familiar, beckoning you to find your own inner belonging. Krishna and his many avatars!

Dwarka is part of the Char Dham Yatra established by Adi Shankaracharya, the 8th century theologian and philosopher, in his quest for the unification of Hinduism. Legend has it that Meera Bai, princess and staunch devotee of Krishna, merged in union with her beloved at this temple:

More exciting was the trip from Dwarka to Bet Dwarka. Bet Dwarka is an inhabited island in the sea, at the mouth of the Gulf of Kutch and is situated 3 km off the coast of Okha, Gujarat. The only way to get there is by taking a ride on a motorboat from Okha to the Bet. Surrounded by the Arabian Sea on all sides, when you stand atop the furthermost tip of the Gulf of Kutch, the all-pervading sound of the melodious flute never lets you forget that this is the territory of Krishna….

The journey back to Reliance Greens had a short diversion where the driver made a surprise stop at Nageshwar, yet another Jyotirling, yet another ancient shrine that seemed to have lost its allure against the new temples of power. No queues, no milling crowds, just a meditative silence. Growing up with mandatory Sanskrit recitation as a pre-requisite for clear pronunciation, I have known the 12 Jyotirling Stotra for decades, yet I did not connect Nageshwar with this region. The stotra says ‘Nagesham Darukavane’, which I clearly hadn’t thought about geographically.

As we continued to drive back along the sea coast, the endless salt pans flanking the sea side of the road made a pretty white picture against the azure blue sea and this image is crystallized in my memory like the salt crystals themselves. A capricious and vagrant fragment of memory is of stumbling upon the Tata Salt factory at Mithapur. Too tired to walk in, I contended myself with posters of ‘Iodine Namak-Tata Namak’ and declined the driver’s offer of buying salt at a cheaper rate. Discounted salt?

Our last evening at Reliance greens culminated with my enthusiastic friend driving us to Jamnagar town for some must do shopping of original hand-dyed-and-tied Bandhej, leading me to a precious acquisition of a couple of saris I adore till date.

*A large scissor like instrument with a soft padding where it holds the rescued snake.

Illustrations: DIN TOON

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 devika@shikshangan.org.

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