The Abode of Joy

It may not be out of place to describe here, the activities in the school which was set up in Sevagram to put these ideas into practice. Under the guidance of a band of dedicated teachers, "Anand Niketan" or "Abode of Joy", as the school was aptly called, survived, even when all other Nai Talim institutions were closed down during the Quit India movement and most of the active workers were in jail. It was a residential school where students and teachers lived together.

Shri Devi Prasad, who first joined as the art teacher in the Institute and who had been a student of Shri Nand Lal Bose at Shantiniketan, recalls those days with nostalgia.

Awaking early in the morning, the entire school community, consisting of its students and teachers, would undertake an hour's safai (cleanliness)  of the entire premises, including class rooms, dormitories, buildings, grounds, latrines. Time for bathing, washing clothes, and attending to personal cleanliness followed. The community then assembled for prayers, after which there was breakfast. Three hours of Sharir Shram (manual labour) formed an integral and perhaps the most important part of the curriculum. Here too, students and teachers worked together whether in the fields, or the spinning shed, or later, when the subject was introduced, in the mechanical engineering shed.

Study periods would be in the afternoons, after lunch and rest. No textbooks were followed, but all that was taught was related to the work done in the morning-, not just maths or economics, but science, social studies, language, literature, also, would be based on the work done. A session of games, in which students and teachers participated, helped to  build up an atmosphere of harmony and co-operation. At about 6.30 p.m. the whole Ashram community would meet for prayers. When Gandhiji was there he would always attend and on occasions, he would give a talk after prayers.

At times music and drama after dinner rounded off the day providing the children with opportunities of self-expression. Mention must be made of the Kala Bhavan at Sevagram where every effort was made to link art with life and for the child to be able to express himself.

The school functioned on a democratic pattern with students taking decisions on day to day functioning. Not only was there an aam sabha (general assembly) in the class, there was one in the school as well. The functioning school democracy provided students ample opportunity to learn through real life situations. Devi Bhai recounts one occasion when the children were determined to punish a habitual late-comer to the class and meetings, and were unanimous in their decision to 'execute' him, thus placing the teacher in charge in a quandary. He had no desire to impose his views on the children, nor did he wish that they go ahead with their horrifying decision. So, he suggested that he too face the same punishment, as he was often guilty of being late. Agitated discussions led the students to realize the enormity of the consequences of the punishment they had so innocently meted out and students came to the conclusion that he should be forgiven this time.

Safai (Cleaning) too, in the way it was done at the Anand Niketan School, was raised to an artistic experience. In a special class entitled Safai Vigyan, safai became a fine art. Techniques of how to make sweeping more effective by a mere twist of the hands, was taught. Simple implements were designed to scoop up the dirt so that not a trace of it remained. The sparkling cleanliness of the place led Shri Kishorilal Mashruwalla to once remark: "At this rate, we'd be putting flower vases in the latrines."