How Gandhi swept up a revolution in Chitradurga

C. NAGANNA writes: Belagere Krishna Sastry will turn 90 next year. But age does not slow him down when he starts jogging down memory lane. An orphan at a very young age, Krishna Sastry faced all the hardships that a disadvantaged background poses. But he has never allowed adverse circumstances to dictate terms to him. He became a matriculate against all odds and chose the vocation of a teacher because he instinctively realised that he was most cut out for it. With his diligence and single-minded devotion, he built a school brick-by-brick roping in the munificence of like-minded people. And today that school has grown and graduated to be a junior college in his village in Chitradurga district.

Krishna Sastry’s little book Yegadagella Aithe (There’s everything in yoga) dealt with the life of a rustic-mystic called Mukunduru Swamy. That caught the imagination of the reading public. His admirers have now painstakingly collected his recollections in audio cassettes and transcribed them into books. The following piece is from his recent volume Yele Mareya Aralu (The bloosom behind the leaf) which captures the exemplary routine of school teachers of a bygone era.

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TEACHERS’ ASSOCIATION

By BELAGERE KRISHNA SASTRY

That was the time when I had joined as a temporary teacher at Heggare (the period, probably, was 1942-43). A teachers’ association had come into being. The education department of the government itself had formed the association. Teachers of some 8-10 schools would gather in a place on the second Saturday of each month. They would discuss the government circulars, besides taking stock of the lessons covered.

Every teacher was expected to bring his students to give a model lesson for about 15-20 minutes. Who should teach what would have been made known well in advance. After the lesson was over, the students would leave. The teachers would then have an elaborate discussion on the lesson taught during the day. The areas that needed to be improved; the portion to be dramatised; the supplementary material mentioned/ not mentioned—all these would be discussed.

It was almost like a training course. Besides, some teachers would also narrate their experiences. They would sing ballads and songs. They would read some sections of plays. These activities were as attractive as the model lessons.

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I used to go to Mahatama Gandhi‘s Sevagram. I recorded the new experiments Gandhiji had made every time I visited the ashram. I would notice people like Mahadev Desai, C. Rajagopalachari, Sarojini Naidu, Vallabhbhai Patel with Gandhiji. Whenever they visited the villages, Gandhiji himself would sweep the streets to bring awareness in the villagers. Those who were with Gandhiji would also participate in sweeping. Some volunteers engaged in sweeping and some others collected the garbade in baskets and dumped it outside the village. This went on all through the day.

It so happened that a heap in front of a house was left uncollected by oversight. The lady of the house drew the attention of Gandhiji and told him, “Bapuji…look, they have left this heap here.” Gandhiji rushed to the spot immediately.

Sardar Patel, who was present, got angry with the woman. He gestured as if he was going to hit her with the broom he was carrying. Gandhiji held back Patel’s hand. The Sardar was angry because the woman could have cleared the heap instead of asking Gandhiji to take note of it.

Understanding what was going on in the Sardar’s mind, Gandhiji said:

“If the woman had enough awareness to sweep the garbage in front of her house, where was the necessity for us to come here? We are here to teach them precisely that.”

Patel stood there silently.

During the evening prayer, Gandhiji told the assembly:

“Many of us do not know many things. We can’t say that we have understood everything. We go to villages to make them understand certain things which they do not know. Sweeping is not the only job we have. We must also purify their minds. Not only that; there are many things we can learn from them.”

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Remembering all this, I gave a suggestion during the teachers’ meeting at one Saturday meeting of the teachers’ association that we too could think of replicating Gandhiji‘s model. The meeting, in any case, was scheduled to take place at two in the afternoon. But we were expected to reach the village around 7.30 in the morning.

The teacher of the village had the responsibility of arranging breakfast for all the teachers. In addition to this, he was supposed to keep some fifty brooms ready. Some teachers would sweep the streets starting from the school, making small heaps at regular intervals. The rest of the group would collect the garbage in baskets and throw it outside the village.

“Observing this, the people of the village would be motivated to clean up the streets by joining us. They will learn to keep their surroundings neat and moreover they will have a bond with the school. They will think about the school, about the children and start thinking about the requirements of the school. This is the best way to inculcate in them a sense of responsibility vis-a-vis the school. We can carry on our other programmes in the afternoon as usual.”

Some found this suggestion attractive. Some others expressed doubts. But the teahcer who was to conduct the next meeting said, “We will make this experiment in our village next month.” He was asked to make arrangements for the meals and brooms with the help of the villagers. In case the help was not forthcoming, they could arrange the funds from the teachers’ association.

By the time we went to the village, many people had already gathered there learning about our programme. After our breakfast, we started sweeping the streets. The people also joined us with gusto, singing and lacing all the activity with their rustic banter. They filled the pits with mud and stone and levelled them.

Around 12.30 pm we all went to the ground-level open well outside the village and took our bath. The meal was arranged at a village leader’s house. The teachers’ meeting started at two in the afternoon. The villagers said, “we are practising a drama, please stay back and see the practice.” Since the next day happened to be Sunday, we agreed.

After our night meal, we assembled at the temple. The actors played their roles without any costume. It was a musical play. They enacted it very effectively. Our activity caught the attention of the neighbouring villeages and everyone started inviting us, “Please come to our village… our village.”

We went to different villages each month, swept the streets and watched their plays. We were able to build schools, temples, roads and bridges in many villages as we were inspired to arrange benefit shows. The most positive fallout was that the villagers developed a strong attachment to their schools, to the extent that some 8-10 villagers would gather at the back during the assembly at 7.30 in the morning. They would collect the list of the boys who had not turned up that day and pick them up from whererever they were and bring them to school promptly. The next day a different batch would do the job.

In addition to doing such tasks, we would arrange the recital of epics during the night time. We would carry on the recital of Jaimini Bharata for months together. We were astonished at their keenness, earnestness and enthusiasm during the recitals though they were illiterate people. This led to the bond between them and they started feeling that the entire village was one unit and the work of the village was more important than everything else.

One cannot say the same situation prevails today. The reason for that is obvious.

(Translated from the original Kannada by C. Naganna.)