Familiarity often veils our perception of things, events and beings that are mysterious and wonderful.How wonderful are stars that twinkle in the sky and delight children who are not yet familiar with the world? And what about the play of colours! We may paint hundreds of paintings with colours but can we ever reproduce a real and natural colour! And what about the glow of the colour? The rainbow of colours still looks marvellous to us because it is not everyday that we see the rainbow. And look at flowers – flowers that are fresh and wet with dew drops. How delightfully are our hearts captured by them as we pick them, touch them with tender fingers that are tuned to the freshness and tenderness of the flowers. Such was my experience one morning when, in a garden, I beheld a bunch of beautiful fully blossomed water lilies floating steadily in the water without being touched by the wetness of the water. There, I realized the true purity that is beautiful but unattached. What a message those water lilies were conveying to the depths of my soul! Is it not said that an ideal personality should bloom like a lotus which is above all likes and dislikes and remains untarnished even when floods of water are poured over it! Sthitapragnya, one whose intelligence is settled, has rightly been compared to the water lilies. Water lilies, in our Indian tradition, symbolises divine consciousness. To be near a water lily is to be in the vicinity of God, and we feel transported in adoration of the highest and the best. And that’s when this question popped in my mind – can we provide this experience to the children? And what shall we do for that purpose? It is not a question only of flowers and water lily. It is a question of everything in the world. It is our familiarity with the world that veils for us the wonder of everything. That is why there is a deep prayer to make our eyes so sublime and fresh that whenever we look at anything in the world we feel like Wordsworth – the daffodils continue to refresh our minds long after we have seen them. He was, perhaps, one great poet in the world whose love for nature was so intense that even to read his poems makes us partake into his experience as nature vibrating the spirit.This brings us to the subject of poetry. What is poetry? If not an intense expression of the freshness of emotions, colours, sights, perceptions and events that can transport us into the world of unfamiliarity and the world of wonder. Such is the value of education on poetry. As Shri Aurobindo has said, “Poetry, Music and Art are a complete education of the soul.” Unfortunately, in our present age, we do not allow our children to have leisure to find company in nature, and we overcoat their minds and hearts with grossness that may look glittering but has no gold in it. We need to change our entire attitude towards education.What a delight it was that day when I had this contact with water lilies who had in their heart an inexpressible Smile. The flame of this smile lit up my entire being. This led me straight to the children seated in the near ‘prison homes’ of schools, deeply in need of that Smile.Let us set the class ablaze with this Smile. Let us bring freshness in education, leisure in education and time to look and enjoy so that the objects of our perception bring to us their freshness and enliven the deepest recesses of our hearts.
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<!– /11440465/Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>The word ‘Samvaad’ can be roughly translated as a ‘Conversation’. Typically, a conversation requires two or more parties – unless one is referring to a soliloquy or an intense reflection within oneself. I am keeping my fingers crossed as I plan to embark on one such inner journey.But, for now, if we wish to facilitate the cross-pollination of ideas, wisdom and worldviews that run the risk of being lost, we need to create spaces for such a healthy exchange, among dialogue, discussion and dissent. Spaces that put people at ease to express their perceptions and experiences, and concerns. Such spaces would facilitate intense listening, caring and sharing. Just as infrastructure development entails brick and mortar, nation-building requires the building blocks of dialogue, discussion and dissent leading to collective resolutions, breakthroughs and progress. This is important in a diverse country like ours. This collective consciousness can also help remove prejudices, build new bridges and instil hope and optimism.Last week, I got to taste the flavour of one such grand conversation or Samvaad, which was focused on tribal people across the globe. This saw the coming together of over 1,500 tribal men and women of about 100 tribal groups from 22 states of India and some from Australia, Canada, Zimbabwe, Laos and Kenya. Organised by Tata Steel in Jamshedpur, Samvaad has been a regular annual event, held from November 15, the birthday of the tribal hero, revered as Bhagwan Birsa Munda.‘Aspiration of Tribal Youth and Leadership for Future’ has been this year’s theme. Showcasing a variety of tribal handicrafts, medicine, cuisines, sports, art and culture, Samvaad has come to be a ‘one-stop-shop’ for exchange across dimensions of tribal life and culture. Workshops on topics ranging from social entrepreneurship, malnutrition, environment, introspective theatre and livelihoods were also held with many practical insights on how to address these challenges in tribal communities and spawn new success stories.In keeping with the spirit of Samvaad, top musicians like Pt Nayan Ghosh, (Sitar), Pt Pushparaj Koshti (Surbahar), Pt Nityanand Haldipur (Flute) and Pt Ulhas Bapat (Santoor) ferried the participants in their inner journey and Samvaad, too, through meditative and contemplative music.While every aspect of this event had something refreshing, I particularly loved the simple yet powerful personal narrative of the legend, Tulasi Munda, affectionately called Tulasi Aappa from Keonjhar, Odisha. As she pranced up and down the stage, with her cloth bag slung across, the 70-year-old Padma awardee was as fiery as she was authentic, confident and compassionate. Inspired deeply by Vinoba, even though she was herself uneducated, she decided to educate tribal children with whatever she knew and learnt. She has educated thousands of underprivileged since 1964. ‘Give, give and give’ was her message. Whatever is given with good intention will empower the giver to give even more, she said with great faith. Following the message of Tulasi Aappa’s life, if each one of us made an inventory of what we can give, we ourselves would be amazed. We can increase the spirit and quotient of giving by liberally offering knowledge, skills, education, insights, information, art, craft or resources to those who need these. There is, perhaps, no one who cannot offer anything.Can we create spaces all around us for such conversations or ‘Samvaads’ to happen? Can we embark on this journey of giving to make a better world and spread the Joy of Giving and Living?
<!– /11440465/Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>Nearly 14 years ago, one of my weekly ‘high’ moments used to be the two-hour long video conference with promising students of the state. These high school kids would share their innovative ideas and breakthroughs across various subjects. These sessions were interactive, with top-class mentors at our end, who would guide and enthuse these students too. The experience inspired me, gave me my share of positive ‘highs’ to cope with the blues and battles of the week.Every now and then, one bumps into some of these youngsters who have started work or research. They recognise me and express their gratitude for those sessions that recognised their ideas and inspired them. A few months ago, I met Karan Jani, a scientist at the Georgia Institute of Technology, working in Relativistic Astrophysics, with the Laser Interferometer Gravitational wave Observatory (LIGO) team. He shared that after high school, he chose to pursue a Bachelors in Physics at a top university in Gujarat. However, it lacked real life role models and a stimulating academic environment. These factors, along with the social ‘down-casting’ of pure sciences, made him move to the US to pursue his passion for supercomputing in Astrophysics.Nearly a year ago, when the historic discovery of G-waves happened, I had written about it in this column- “G-waves in the present instance were emitted from the merger of two black holes. One black hole was as heavy as 29 suns, while the other had the mass of 36 suns. They orbited each other, about 1.3 billion light years away. As the two black holes collided with each other, a portion of their combined mass was converted into energy, as given by Einstein’s famous E=mc2 formula. This energy was emitted as a strong gush of g-waves, christened ‘chirp’ that was detected by LIGO.”Earlier this month, Dr Weiss, 85, Dr Thorne, 77, and Dr Barish, 81, architects and leaders of LIGO, were awarded the Nobel Prize for Physics. The kingdom of science calls for a phenomenal penance of patience. It took exactly 100 years for Einstein’s prediction of g-waves to be actually observed. Dr Weiss considered the award as recognition of his work of about a thousand people over, “I hate to say it – 40 years.”Given this phenomenal breakthrough and achievement, two questions come to my mind. I was wondering if such brilliant scientific minds, including those who are in their seventies and eighties, could inspire, nurture and mentor young minds? Also, can prizes such as these be considered for the entire group of a few hundred or thousand team members spanning several decades across several continents?I discussed this with Prof Shashank Chaturvedi, the outstanding scientist who heads the Institute of Plasma Research (IPR), right here in Gandhinagar. IPR is incidentally, one of the key partners of the Indian LIGO, which should be up by 2024. He responded, “By the time scientists retire, their knowledge gets recorded in scientific papers. But the public, and children in particular, never get to know of the excitement they feel about their work. It is equally important to publicise new scientific amp; technological challenges on the horizon and absolutely new applications of existing knowledge. Scientists retire at 60-65 years of age, still having 15-20 years of active life before them. This is a vast untapped pool in India. A focused national programme, organising them to communicate with school children in classes 8-12, would do wonders for attracting talented youngsters into the science & applied science fields, making India a technology powerhouse within a generation.”On these lines, can we aspire to create spaces for identifying and mentoring this talent to pursue its passions with tremendous patience, some dispassion to the outcomes and more compassiontowards nature, to sculpt and drive a new India?The author is a Harvard-educated civil servant & writer, and has worked in the education sectorjaya[email protected]