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Education: For Life, Through Life
Mahatma Gandhi led the struggle for India's freedom so that a new social order could be established in our country. He had no quarrel with individual Englishmen but he was totally opposed to the British system of education and administration imposed in our country. While strengthening the Indian National Congress as a political instrument for achieving Indian Independence, he established number of institutions to build up a new society. One of the last such institutions was the Hindustani Talimi Sangh (The All-India Basic Education Society) to promote education based on a socially useful productive craft. It was meant to replace the mere book-centred system of education introduced by Lord Macaulay to produce only clerks for British Indian Companies.
When Gandhiji looked out for a suitable person to carry out the scheme of Nai Talim (Basic Education), his eyes fell on a couple who had been working at Tagore's Vishwabharati in Santiniketan. Shri E.W. Aryanayakam and his wife Smt. Asha Devi responded enthusiastically to Gandhiji's invitation to come to Sevagram.
Aryanayakam was a Jaffna Tamil from Sri Lanka, who had had his early education in what was then known as Ceylon and later in England. His wife, Asha Devi was a highly educated Bengali lady from Santiniketan. 'Nayakamji', as he was affectionately known, agreed with Bapu that unless the skills in some useful craft were acquired by the children and academic subjects were correlated to the craft, mere book-centred or play-based education would neither help the child to realize his full potential nor make him grow to be a good citizen.
Nayakamji's mother-tongue was Tamil. But he had mastered English language and had also picked up Bengali well enough in Santiniketan to feel at home there. He studied Hindustani and could communicate in the 'Rashtrabhasha' without difficulty. He was able to acquire a working knowledge of Marathi as well. He had an all-India perspective and felt as much at home in any part of India as in Sri Lanka; nay, nowhere in the world did he feel that he was a stranger.
Nayakamji followed a strict code of conduct in his personal life and was a strict disciplinarian. He and his wife led a simple life on a grand monthly allowance of Rs 75 each. It was a pleasure to watch him handle a teachers' training class or a class of small boys and girls. Like his Master, he would go on spinning while talking to visitors or giving directions to his staff. The couple brought to the austere atmosphere of Sevagram a touch of the aesthetic sense of Santiniketan.
Nayakamji and Asha Devi had to face a great personal tragedy when they lost their only son Anandmohan in Sevagram. However, the couple overcame their grief and sorrow by moving closer to the two hundred children that were then Studying in the Basic School in Sevagram.
N. Krishnaswamy