I met Jane Sahi at the learning network conference. Her keynote talk on ‘Dialogue’ was very interesting. She has been running an alternate education school, Sita School, for over 30 years now. They are located in Silvepura, a village 25km north of Bangalore. Intrigued by her talk, the focus on art in the school and the name of their home (Vishram), I decided to visit.
It was quite straightforward getting there. Bus from Airport road to citymarket at 6:30 AM (30min, Rs. 9), then bus to Tarabanahalli from citymarket (90min, Rs. 10) and an auto to Silvepura (Rs. 44 :D). I’ve been using the BMTC public transport and like it more with time. Buses don’t jolt you around, unlike autos. You don’t have exhaust billowing on your face and the bus fare is a small fraction of the auto fare. So I got to Vishram, and two dogs came running out. I stayed put in the auto till someone came to fetch me! (I deliver under pressure though: like the time when Mike Nolan at the Oasis farm in Austin made me kneel and open my arms to hug his three dogs!) The dogs followed me around the rest of the day. There were two more and they made sure they kept me under watch!
At the entrance to Vishram was a beautiful piece of art made from clay. It blended into the lush greenery all around. Everything was fresh after a rain. I walked towards the school area. The school day was just starting. As I got in, the children finished their morning prayers. They chanted a Sanskrit hymn and an English hymn. This structure had three classrooms around a central courtyard. There were 2 other buildings for classes. One was for the youngest group – they apparently love the space since they can scream and play and not disturb others around!
I chatted a little with Jane over coffee and then joined her in her English class. Jane moved to India in the late 60s. She was about 20 then and was inspired by Gandhi. She came in to Rasulia, a Quaker center in Madhya Pradesh and then spent about 6 months in a village in Madhya Pradesh. Her husband Jyoti and she settled in Silvepura in the early 70s.
Not all children in the surrounding areas had access to schools and Jane started Sita School in response to this situation. The school has children upto class VII, at which point they write the state exam and join other schools for higher classes. Children belong to 4 groups I think based on their learning ability. It is a Kannada-medium school and children learn through an activity-based approach. When I was there, one of the groups that had been doing a project on food was preparing the lunch that day. They had sprouted a few varieties of dal and a saru was being made out of it. They had also made this salad dish from grated carrots, soaked moong dal, coriander, grated coconut and green chilies. These would be served with ragi muddai. I just asked them about ragi and they started off telling me what nutrients it has, that is gives you strength etc! Some of them were grating the carrots, some grating the coconut, some chopping coriander and so on. The cook made the muddai. That was quite a sight! The pot was on the fire and a Y-shaped-stick balanced it. She had one foot on this stick and was vigorously mixing the ragi in to the rice using two sticks, that were being turned in a circle.
I sat through Jane’s English class that had 5 children. Different things from the garden had been brought in and labeled – stick, grass, leaf, leaves, root, mud, stone, seeds, thorns and one more which I now forget (despite the memory game we played in class). Flower! So initially each of these were identified, Jane made the children say the names. Then the games started. We all turned around and she hid one of the things and we had figure out which one it was. The kids totally enjoyed it! Then she covered all 10 items and each child had to remember one of the things and we played the memory game. The next one would have to repeat all the things mentioned till now and one more. That was quite a bit of fun. Then she brought out some picture cards and the corresponding names. All of them were placed blank side up. So we had to pick the card and pick the name. The initial few tries would be guesses but soon we were keeping track of what turned up where. Again, much fun and the kids were learning the names of the objects shown in the picture cards happily.
Jane, in her Lnet talk, had mentioned having been involved in a project by NIAS to introduce art into govt schools in Chamarajnagar. Their living room had some beautiful paintings that Jane’s husband, Jyoti had made. At lunch, I met Amal, an artist who was spending some time at Vishram. From him, I learnt that Jyoti and two of Jane’s sons had an art workshop in the village, about 10 minutes from Sita School. When they mentioned pottery, I got all excited and wanted to see the place. So post lunch, Iona, a friend of the Sahis, and I accompanied Amal to the workshop. I met Roshan there, who was carving Jesus on wood, for a chapel. He showed us around the workshop. It was a bright an airy place, equipped with a brick kiln. He showed us some of the pieces that had been made there. I loved these long pipes with patterns hollowed out, so that the light placed inside could spread out. Reminded me of a storybook I had seen at the Learning Net conference, Pot of Light. A little girl asked the potter in her village to make her a pot of light. The potter thought about how he could do that and he finally chanced upon an idea. He made a pot and created a pattern with holes on it, so that the light placed inside would disperse beautifully! There were many small glazed triangles in different colours that are used to make larger patterns.
The land around the workshop was alive with a variety of trees and plants. Benches to sit, a sand pit, a tiny pond, a rock garden, a totem pole – all these had been added in and they blended beautifully with the greenery around. We went back to the school where I had tea with Jane and headed to the city. There was a bus right from Silvepura to Shivaji Nagar. I enjoyed the trip and am hoping I can visit more often – want to work with clay :)