And, thus our paths converged….
I had not known some until that very moment. Few I’d known for only a week or so. Others – just a few months back. But those 48 hours that we spent together – the homeschoolers of Delhi (and couple of families – from Chennai and Hyderabad) exchanging thoughts, questions, answers, solutions, conflicts – left us all with an intense sense of connection.
The common string that tied us all together was our children and that we all either homeschool them or are in the process of. Again, we are all following different approaches to homeschool. Some are unschooling (like we do), some are doing eclectic homescholing, others are following a more structured method to homeschool.
But, what lay beneath that common thread (homeschooling), was deeper and even inexplicable.
Read on to know more and see some fun pictures.
Questions and Reflections
In each and every soul, I could sense a deep desire to do a little (may be lot) beyond the routine of everyday life, comforts and security.
Questioning our approach to existence
It was evident that these people were questioning their way of existence. Each was/is seeking a path to live a little bit more in harmony with the ways of nature, in ways that are sustainable and self-sufficient. And, by making choices that will allow them to break free from the rigmarole of a so-called happy, successful life.
All this, not because they are trying to prove they are special or different from the rest of the humanity. But because – and I could relate to that feeling – those measures of happiness and success have hatched more discontent than joys.
Facing the fears and priorities
The world our children live in today, has changed beyond recognition.
Today we’re severed mercilessly from everything that we – the adults and parents – had known as children: the neighborhoods that we could roam about freely; the roads that we could cycle on every morning to and from schools; the doors that we could knock on at any hour of the day (even night), the festivals that we celebrated as a community.
Fear rules our mind despite the elaborate security measures that are now an intrinsic part of our lives.
This air conditioned, sanitized, pest-controlled environment that we live in will never ever allow our children to experience the earth in its organic beauty and glory.
Eco-system and Us
Sadly, our children are hard-pressed to see how they are intrinsically a part of this vast eco-system. Living in our urban cell-like homes, we go to exotic places to experience nature. We have begun to see nature NOT as part of our day-to-day living – in the air we breathe, the food we eat, the night sky above us, the chirping of the birds during our morning walks. On the contrary, nature is now synonymous with exotic beauty – to be enjoyed in distant lands – once, or at best couple of times a year. Or, on television. Sigh…
Beauty? Actually, why even talk about it when the sheer existence of our planet has been pushed to the brink.
How much further can we push our planet? How much more will fear penetrate every nook and cranny of our being….?
These topics were close to everyone’s heart and we all shared openly – our concerns, vulnerability, helplessness. But, most important – WHAT can we do?
Global warming was brought to the forefront of our discussions by Dev Jain and his wife Hema Jain. Dev and Hema – along with their two children – have recently returned from the U.S. to India – for good.
I could see their angst and feeling of helpless over the enormity of global warming looming large over our planet. And yet, how we go on living in blissful denial – planning for the long-term.
The data that Dev shared to make us see the terrifying new math of global warming – was hair-raising and hit home. It made us realize how misplaced our priorities are.
Dev mentioned with distress, “the day isn’t far when water and clean air will count on everyone’s top investment list”.
Hema took us all through an introspective session wherein she asked us all to think about (and share) a question that our grandchildren might ask 25 years from now.
The question would be –
“How did you do WHAT you did to be able to turn around the miserable state of our plant Earth and ultimately restore its health and beauty.”
Hema shared that this question was asked by a Buddhist monk during a session that she had attended.
I think this question, in essence, is meant to evoke deep thoughts in the direction of what can we really do now – right-away – to secure the future of our planet Earth; to rescue it from the miserable state that it’s been pushed into by none other than we humans.
People reflected for their own answers and vision of what they might share with their grandchildren when they will be asked such a question.
I’m summing up some of the answers that I remember – not necessarily in the exact words that were used. Hoping to capture the essence. (Too bad I didn’t note those down to be able to share each and every answer in this article).
Dev said, this is what he’d share with his grandchildren: He believes every being on this earth is inter-connected in the web of life – be it humans, plants, wild life, water, land or mountains. This belief and reverence made him do all that he could to preserve and care for the earth as a whole.
Hema said, she would tell her grandchildren that it was her love for nature and the urge to give back to her grandchildren the whole and holistic earth that she was fortunate enough to be a part of as a child.
Rights of the Landless Farmers, Workers and Tribal Folks
Ravi Badri, who’s associated with Ekta Parishad, made us aware of the plight of the landless farmers, the bonded laborers and the tribals who have been marginalized in their own ancestral land and have been pushed to utter poverty and injustice.
He shared how Ekta Parishad is creating a non-violent movement at the national level by bringing groups and individuals together and demanding the central government for a uniform re-distribution of land, which is the democratic right of these people.
Ravi explained how re-distribution of land is the only way to rescue these folks from the brink of poverty and to substantially reduce violence that has gripped the Indian society.
On October 2 (Gandhiji’s birthday), Ekta Parishad will begin a Jansatyagraha march (padyatra) in which thousands of landless men and women will participate. The Jansatyagrahis will need support from us in whatever way we can offer.
If we can donate money, food, clean drinking water, oil, grocery, beddings, utensils – anything to help them carry out their padyatra, it’ll be a kind gesture of support and solidarity to those brave men and women fighting for their rights.
Besides supporting in kind, Ravi asserted – just a simple acknowledgment coming from us mainstream folks can boost the confidence and dignity of the activists working at the grassroots level. These people work year-round on a very, very meagre salary and no rewards or recognition whatsoever. You can contribute a resource, your expertise or your kind gesture. It’ll go a long way…
Among other reflections, we explored the possibility of sharing resources, reducing waste, co-creating a community of like-minded people who can possibly live together.
Stories, Science, Food and Art!
In between questions, discussions, soul-searching and some more questions, did we ever budge to play, have fun and feast?
You bet, we did! Boy, did we eat! And how…
It was heart warming to see Pratibha’s father peeling buckets-full of mangoes; breaking those pomegranate fruits with the rear end of the knife with wooden handles; asking if we’d like lemonade, or lassi or chai!
This family’s hospitality touched each of us.
Navin Pangti started the story-telling session for adults as well as kids. The stories he narrated were unique, interesting and scraped the layers of our hearts. Some of the stories he shared had a connection with his ancestral land – a village on the India-Tibet border.
One specific tale – about two sisters named Satya (truth) and Katha (story) made us think how it applies to our own lives. The underlying message was that when truth is told in its naked, stark form, it will repel people rather than make them see its value. On the other hand, when the same truth is presented in a manner that’s palatable – say a story – we allow more people to enjoy it, acknowledge and even embrace.
Soon others were chiming in with their own stories and overall it was a very interesting session.
Playful Art and Science with Kids
I shared my love for playful, open-ended art by organizing an art game with the kids. I call it the art marathon or relay art race.
So, the game begins by each kid beginning to draw/paint on an A3-size blank sheet. Every kid gets to do as he/she pleases for a minute or so.
And then, the bell/music goes and the kids have to move (read sprint!) around the table where all the art sheets are placed. When the music stops, the kids quickly find another art sheet – other than their own – to continue the artwork from where the previous kid had left.
The game continues in this manner for some time until each kid has got an opportunity to won on someone else’s art work. At the heart of this game, lies the spirit of co-creating, creative continuity, and working together as a group rather than getting attached to your own creation.
I could see how each kid approached another’s art work in his/her own way. Some were less attached/possessive than others. Some interesting observations:
- One guy would get overtly concerned about the fate of his artwork in the hands of another. He was quite artistically inclined and I could see why he worried over how another ‘art-mate’ would treat his vision.
- I also saw that this kid worked on every other art sheet with as much sincerity but felt hurt when others approached his work casually. The girls were a little irked with his possessiveness and had fun at his expense by painting (and giggling!) some random strokes when they got a turn to be at his art station.
- Yet another little girl couldn’t agree why she needed to continue painting what was someone else’s. She asked for a new sheet every time she moved from one place to another. I explained that this was a game and that they would need to continue from where the other left and try to do the best one can. But, when I wasn’t looking, she turned the sheet over so she would have a blank canvas! But then, after a few turns, she was happily playing in the spirit of the game trying out bold and vibrant strokes.
- A little guy – his mom told me me – had never shown interest in art or painting until that moment! It was wonderful to see him lost in colours…
I, for one, was having a gala time in the middle of all this artful fun!
Having a Blast with Lava Lamps
I conducted another fun activity – a science experiment. We created lava lamps in bottles using oil, water, food colour and baking soda. Pari and I’d done this before at home and it was an instant hit. It was as popular here with this group of kids. You can see how to create these lava lamps with magical effects.
There were a few things in my opinion that made this get-together so fruitful.
- The fact that it was held in an independent setting and not at any body’s home set us all free to engage every minute of it. We didn’t have to bother about cooking meals, logistics etc and that was a plus. Deep gratitude to Pratibha’s family for organizing this for us. The place had open-air, green space for kids to run about and play without us worrying about their safety. The kids were all independent most of the time. Infact, they even slept together at night, in a room reserved just for them.
- We spent most of the time in circle-times moving from one discussion to another. There was so much to talk about, questions to explore, listen to others’ stories and experiences. So, in a way it was nice that there was no place nearby to go for any sight-seeing or picnic. For that would have taken away from the deep discussions and reflections and getting to connect with each other and understand. We’d initially planed to have a dance-floor etc for some evening fun, but when the time came, every single person was so engrossed in the discussion, dance seemed a distraction.
Something that we could improve on next time?
I think that the open-ended free flowing discussions were nice. Since we were meeting for the first time in a manner like this, it gave us all enough room to open up, shed inhibitions and connect.
Next time perhaps we could also consider people to start discussion on specific topics, facilitate them and time them. This is how it happened at the Learning Societies unConference and I liked the structure. It helps make the best use of time, specially when time is short, and the number of subjects to explore are many! Also, if the group of people is big enough, there can be more than one discussion at one time and people can choose which discussion they would like to be a part of. But then, the number of people should be large to be able to do that.
My learnings and takeaways from the collective soul-searching that we did:
- Given how our natural resources are dwindling; given the global food crisis, crisis of space, population, clean air, water and lop-sided development, we need to look at ways to foster a culture of sharing, participation, gifting services and expertise and self-reliance.
- We could start sharing hand-me-down clothes, books, toys, prams, tricycle and other things that have outlasted their purpose in one family but could be used by another family
- It’s high time we stopped concentrating on mere “local hygiene” as Smriti Pateria put it. And expand our sphere of cleanliness.
- Some of the baby steps we could all take are: ban plastic bags in our homes, make our own solar cooker, recompost vegetable waste, reduce the consumption of packaged items, buy grains, lentils, sugar, wheat flour etc – loose instead of in packets; replace harmful cleaning agents like Harpic etc. with milder ones – soda, vinegar, soap; look at natural ways to keep ourselves cool in summers rather than use ACs all day long. Hema Jain shares useful tips for zero-waste from her own experience of living a self-sustainable life.
These ideas just scratch the surface.
I know that we all are keen to do a lot more to contribute towards a shared society. We definitely need more such get-togethers to get us thinking and then act upon.
Did I miss out on anything – Delhi Homeschooling meet participants? If so, please add below in the comments section. Also, please share with all what YOUR key take-away was from this get-together.
Others, from your own experience of participating in or organizing meet-ups, what has worked for you? Please feel free to share any ideas, tips or lessons learned