Narayan Desai, though he was the son of Gandhi’s secretary, Mahadev, called Gandhi ‘bapu’ or father, while his own dad was his ‘kaka’ or uncle. As a little boy living in the ashram with Gandhi, he attended until 5th grade Gandhiji’s school, Gujarat Vidyapeeth, where the teachers wore khadi and the students learned through crafts and local languages, but then his family and Gandhi moved to Sevagram ashram in Wardha and he was asked to attend the village school. Very quickly he realized that he was uncomfortable in such a place: the teachers did not wear khadi; they taught geography of the world without first teaching the geography of India; instruction was in English; and so forth. The exact opposite of Nai Talim, or Gandhi’s vision of education. It gave him a sense of angst: with the idealism for the struggle that he had developed, even as a young boy, why should he support such a school that was still caught up in the colonial system?
He raised his concern to Bapu, who took it very seriously, listening to everything that he had to say. Gandhi then invited the school’s headmaster, Sri E.W. Aranyanayakam, to have a conference with both he and Narayan, and when Gandhi heard confirmation of the actual condition of the school, he stated with firmness, having been recently writing about the state of the country’s educational system: “This cannot be called an education! I would not recommend such a school to any child. On top of that, Babla (Narayan) is an ashram boy, and has himself decided not to attend the school. Then how could I–or as a competent educator, how could you–force him to attend?”
But what would he do instead? Narayan had a quick flash of an idea, “Bapu, I will stay and work for you, and learn from that!” Words which must have melted Gandhi’s heart, but Narayan adds that looking back, perhaps Gandhi had been waiting for him to come to this realization all along…
Before Gandhi made his decision about Narayan’s schooling, he met with the school’s headmaster to get a more complete picture, but he also invited Narayan, still a child, to attend this meeting. What lesson or lessons can you draw from this example?
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