Raintree articles

Raintree is an IIT-B magazine for which we were asked to write an article which I have copy-and-pasted below:

We (Sunder and Sonati) live with our two sons Badri(12), and Varun(8) on our land outside Thekambattu which is a small village near Salem in Tamil Nadu.The boys do not go to school and neither do we “formally” teach them in any way.

So then, what do we do all day?

The two of us are busy with the house-work, the work on the land, the visitors… But this is about the boys.

They are, of course, involved with some of our work: they help in making roshogullas and in cleaning up the house before visitors arrive, for instance. But much of the day is theirs to do as they please.

I need to insert a disclaimer here: What I write is not to be taken as a formula…Nothing is static, and so, neither is our situation. The very fact of looking at a situation through the window of an article for Raintree distorts it somewhat. Moreover what the boys do, goes on for months and even years; and many things are connected to each other. What I write about causes and effects may well be hotly contested by the boys.

Anyway, here goes…

We have had many visitors over the years, many of them children; and our strategy has been to send them outdoors as far as possible. Outside there is less scope for “I want that” or ” He has taken mine” since there are plenty of items-sticks, stones and mud-to share around.

One upshot of this was that their play gave rise to plays which were staged at the Nesting Grounds amphitheatre (a large outcrop of rock). It was remarkable to see how well the children used the available spaces, trees, rocks… and incorporated them in their plays. The degree of improvisation was superb: no performance of a play was quite the same as the previous one. They learnt technique out of need, rather than being taught.

What was even more heartening was the degree of co-operation that developed betwen the actors; after all, a play succeeds or fails depending on the whole bunch of actors.

For us adults, this reinforced something that we already knew: children can resolve conflicts through a consensual approach rather than through “Might is Right”. It is for us to provide the environment where this can happen.

Simultaneously, in the same space and time, “shops” were opened: the evolution of these has been dramatic and multifaceted.

Initially, the children traded with a currency of small sharp stones, which was soon replaced by a paper currency called SSS and which had the symbol $$$. From playing at selling stones, sticks, leaves… the shops now deal in paper planes, masks, magazines, and a whole range of other merchandise. Badri Baba has religiouly published Sirius for six months now. Other friends produce magazines in their homes. There are online shops and e-magazines. And a Central Bank which controls money supply. New entrants get interest from the bank for six months, to get them going. There is also a cap above which the bank stops giving interest. These socialistic tendencies developed without any adult input (believe it or not).

It is indeed heartening to see children being inclusive and “gentle” with their rules, in what is inherently a competitive activity.

From the foregoing, you would have realised that what concerns us is how the boys relate to one another and to others. Relationships are what constitute the fabric of life; what all of us agonise about, and what give rise to heartache or contentment.

Technique, we have absolutely no worries about: whatever the boys have needed to learn, they have done so effortlessly and for the sake of the thing to be learnt; not for fear of punishment, or hope of an external reward. Be it reading and writing, drawing and painting, photography and filming, or cycling, they have learnt it in their own time and by themselves.

Since we cannot provide them with the opportunity for doing everything, we hope to network with others with similar concerns to provide children with spaces where they can learn whatever is on offer in a supportive environment.

However our paramount concern is not the technique to be learnt itself; but rather the means to that end.

The boys also wrote an article which was published in the same issue as a companion piece to ours (and upstaged ours according to the editors :-)). Here it is:

First, we woke up and started talking.

Then, after getting out of bed we went to the door and our dog, Bagli rushed in to meet us! We took her outside and went with her to the rock near our house, called the “Hippo Rock,” Then, we did our breathing exercise (of course, Bagli didn’t do it.)
Then, we were with Bagli until it was time to drink milk. Then, we fed Bagli and started doing “Potato Head Magic.”

Some years back, we had got a Potato Head Memory Game. After a few weeks of playing the memory game, we started drawing Potato Heads. Then, our grandfather gave us some Potato heads which he had printed from the internet.

Today, which is Feb 6, the day after Mr. Potato Head’s birthday (Feb 5,1975) we put some of the memory-game cards in a pile. The pile is picture-side down. You need to turn the top half of the pile picture-side up and put it next to the bottom half, which will still be face-down. Then, take the top card from the face-down pile, and the magician can tell which card you have picked by just looking at the “magic row” of cards which he has elsewhere!

This is how the magician does it: First, he takes the memory-game cards and makes two identical piles. Then, he spreads one pile into a row (the “magic row”) and the other pile is given to you to remove the card.
When you turn the pile picture-side up, the magician looks at the “magic row” and checks which card comes next. That will be the card that you just picked!

The previous day, Varun’s cycle had fallen and the seat had broken, so today he tried riding my cycle, which was bigger than his one. After a few minutes, he learned how to ride it!

After lunch, when Varun was going to get out the cycle, we saw a bronzeback tree snake and took some pictures of it. Then, I was writing Sirius

Last year, one of our friends, Lavanya, had started a rock garden. We all had rock-gardens, where you keep all the interesting stones, sticks, etc. that you find. Lavanya said “If you want any of the rocks from here, then you can give me another rock which is the same shape as the one you you want, and I’ll give it to you.” We also started shops. I started Dracoshop and Varun started “Noctis Labyrinthus” ( a place on Mars.) Later, lot of other friends also started playing the game. Then, we started using only stones which were small and sharp. But people didn’t use the money they earned to pay-they just picked up other stones. So we started using paper notes, which had a stamp on them. We called them $$$-$mall $harp $tones. The only problem was that there weren’t any ½$$$ notes, but the prices went up, so we didn’t need them. Actually, they went up because there weren’t any ½$$$ notes!
One of the things we sold were books and magazines. I have a fortnightly magazine called “Sirius.”It has 20 A5-sized pages. I was writing an article on Potato Head Day (Mr. Potato Head’s Birthday) in that magazine.
Another thing we had in the $$$ game was a Museum called “Gusev Crater,” also named after a place on Mars.
At tiffin-time, I stopped writing and had tiffin. Then, I was watching a talk on the computer.

After that, the cycle chain guard had come off, so we were fixing it on with a nail. The nail got lost, so we used a magnet to look for the nail. Then, we fixed the chain-guard using a nail and some string. After cycling a few times, the string snapped, so we removed the chain-guard completely.

After that, we started writing this article.
Then, Bagli found our spaceball, a ball which makes a noise when you bounce it. We took a video of that and then wrote what you’ve just read. And this. And this. And this. And this…

This issue (December2009-January-February2010) also contains other articles (including one by Jogesh) on schools and homeschooling. The pdf version can be downloaded here

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5 Responses to “Raintree articles”

  1. anu and krishna Says:

    You guys have expressed yourselves beautifully. Over the years we have struggled to express what we believe in to people who always question us about methodology and techniques. You have hit the nail on the head when you say,’it is not the technique but the relationships and the means to the end which are important’. Having had the privilege to have watched the evolution of the shops, magazines and currencies from the beginning, we can only say that their cooperation and creativity are amazing !!! Badri’s ‘sirius’ is a piece of Art.

  2. Piyush Manush Says:

    Oh my my, this is extremely very very good piece of writing .. varun & Badri u r just amazing ..keep writing & i am sure a lot of sense would get into the senseless world that we are living in …

    Keep it up Badri & hope to catch with u boys in the times ahead ..

  3. shilpa Says:

    I have been following your blog since more than a year, and it was a surprise to see your article in the raintree. I didn’t know you are an alumni of my very college (i am at IDC). Your blog is a delight!

  4. Detsung, Nilakshi and Duke Says:

    It was lovely and we are all enlightened. Only today! Nilakshi and Duke could go through your articles. Thank U !

    Rani Mahi is presently with Putul Dada and she will be with us by the middle of June!

    Keep in touch!

  5. Dr.Radhika Dhanpal Says:

    Children are innately curious andimaginative,it is couches and television which gets in the way.I have read an earlier piece by them about the burglary at home,i enjoyed that one too.

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