Sands of Time

Sands of Time

by Geetha Waters

Past the open sands on the west coast of Kerala, I saw the sun set into the Arabian Ocean. The light splayed over a mass of restless water heaving across a grey shoreline. The beach was littered by fishing nets, hamlets and children were vaulting over the sand dunes. I had gone there with my mother to visit a colleague of hers from her high school. They were having a witty conversation and I heard her speak of my school with some pride. I listened while the man looked at me quizzically.

My mother said the teachers at my school were lucky that they only had around twenty students in each class. They laughed and wondered what it must be like to teach under such salubrious conditions. I hadn't thought that it mattered so much. Why should that make a difference I wondered, the teacher would still do the same thing standing by the black board. But something in the way they looked at each other made me watch what went on at our school when I got back to Rishi Valley after my holidays.

Back in the Government School in Kerala I had watched my mother as she taught over fifty students at a time. I had gone to visit her friends and colleagues during the holidays since many of them had known me as a toddler. There was little room for anything other than knuckling down to the basics in their classrooms. What surprised me was the furtive look of children sitting together under one roof with a sole provider of knowledge. I didn't see the same level of fear or restraint at my school. I wondered if that was because the children at Rishi Valley were mostly from affluent families. It was a boarding facility and only wealthy parents from around India could afford to send their children there. My sister and I attended because my father was a member of staff. But that was not all. There was a concerted effort to address fear at the school, I realized, as I tried to figure out the difference in the atmosphere. There was also a concerted attempt to tone down the level of competition between students. That was part of the stated policy of the school.

Every time Krishnamurti came to visit, he would insist on children having the freedom to explore personal issues and voice their concerns through dialogue. Dialogue was a period of investigation and exploration when we jostled for a space to express our thoughts in a way that would convince our peers that we had something relevant to say! Expressing our opinions in this way had an enormous impact on our passion for learning. For one thing, I realized how frustrating it was to express myself clearly. There were time constraints, emotional constraints and concerns about etiquette. Savouring the inadequacy of words in this way was very much a part of our curriculum.

Watching the patchy way we described things and clung to our opinions gave us a vital clue to the nature of thought and its impact on discourse. Defining our feelings also created enormous room for error, we realized, leaving us open to a multitude of interpretations. The dynamic opened by discourse and inquiry into our feelings and opinion created room for self- inquiry. This gave us the opportunity to learn more about ourselves from an early age.

My mother died on the twenty seventh of July. She had no doubt in her mind that she had done the best for us by letting us attend the school even though it meant that we grew up far away from her. I am glad I had the chance earlier this year to explain to her how we had benefited from an education that involved us in a serious inquiry throughout school. Disclosing the nature of thought helped us to undermine the authority of the known. I will explain in the next issue how creating a compassionate ground for learning can help children to come to terms with the duality of existence.


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Sands of Time END