The Pune Centre of the Krishnamurti Foundation saw the birth of Sahyadri School in September 1995. It was Krishnaji's oft-expressed wish that there should be a school in Western India. The late Sri Achyut Patwardhan's tireless efforts towards realising this dream started about six years ago. He travelled extensively within India, met several prospective well-wishers and donors to acquire suitable land. It was our great good fortune that Mr. N. Firodia, the well-known industrialist whose grandchildren had studied in the Rishi Valley school offered to donate about 100 acres of land, 63 km away, off the Pune - Nasik Road. The initial planning of the physical needs of the school was done by a group of young educationists from our schools in the year 1991.
Situated close to the source of the Bhima River in the Sahyadri ranges, the school is located on top of the Tivai hill. It is a very uniquely shaped dissected plateau rising steeply to about 140 metres from the Chaskhaman dam on the Bhima river. This plateau is surrounded by gently sloping beautiful valleys on all sides. The landscape is stark and rocky; the dark coloured rocks owe their origin to prehistoric volcanic eruptions. The vegetation is mainly scrub, with the exception of the slopes which have fairly dense forests of teak, jambu and other trees. It is on the eastern lower slopes of the Sahyadri in the Deccan plateau, on the border of the rain shadow area. Rainfall ranges from 100-120 cm annually in the south west monsoon season; strong winds blow from the west most of the year. In summer the surrounding hills are brown and appear barren and hostile, but after the rains, the vast depths of the hill ranges turn a lush green. The view from all sides is breathtakingly beautiful. Far away from the crowded atmosphere of any township, the place has immense silence.
Since the last three years, after Achyutji passed away, it fell to his brother Sri. P.H. Patwardhan to follow up and execute the project. For him to have undertaken such an awesome project required grit, determination, total commitment and an intense desire to bring to fruition Krishnaji's wish. All the hazards of meeting the bureaucratic requirements in getting the land cleared for construction, getting one and a half kilometres of winding ghat road constructed to reach the plateau - all took time. By mid 1994, architectural plans were ready for starting the first phase of construction which included classroom clusters, four dormitories, the auditorium, dining hall and kitchen, the library, administrative block as also a few staff quarters. The plan was to start Classes 5, 6 & 7 with at least 60 students. In November 1994, Sri. Rimpoche Sandeep laid the foundation at a very solemn ceremony.
By August of 1994, a core group was formed consisting of Mr. Sasi Upasani who was already working on the project with Sri. Patwardhan and was to be the Bursar of the school/centre, Mrs. Uma Kalyanram who had had considerable experience as a dynamic teacher at Rishi Valley School, Mr. Jayant Sathaye who was at one time Principal of Rajghat Besant School and myself. We were to work on planning and organising the setting up of the school in the Centenary year of Krishnaji's birth. We met at periodic intervals at Pune and started planning the work in the various fields. These included identifying and ordering equipment, suitable furniture for classrooms, dormitories, library, laboratory, offices, dining hall, kitchen, stores etc. Several visits were made by us to the industrial estates in the suburbs of Pune, to Telco Township and other places, to select suitable materials. Classroom furniture had to be specially designed for the different age groups, care being taken to ensure that there was a sense of space, colour and movement so as to make the classroom activity-oriented and ensure that group dynamics was possible. Library books and textbooks were ordered and a well equipped library with nearly 1000 books and various periodicals was set up. Admission procedures for students had to be looked into.
We sought help from our own schools, particularly from Rishi Valley, since Sahyadri like Rishi Valley was to be a fully residential school. We were overwhelmed by the goodwill and support we got from various sources through our contacts with Rishi Valley and the KFI. Administrative systems were set up and we were overjoyed when Uma Kalyanram agreed to our request that she undertake to head the school during the initial years. This was a highly satisfying arrangement as she has all the required experience and expertise and a contemporary mind. The need for an administrative officer to be in overall charge of the place was filled by the appointment of Group Captain (Retd) Sivaraman who has considerable administrative experience. His association with Rishi Valley for several years through common friends has given him an understanding of the philosophy of the Krishnamurti schools.
Teacher selection was another important area. It was understood that none of our schools could spare anyone of some experience; so we had the formidable task of assembling a group of sensitive, competent, young teachers. We secured the facilities of a friendly school and its staff in Pune for the purpose of teacher selection; they went through an extended interview which included classroom teaching as well. We took particular care to select candidates who evinced an openness, sensitivity and willingness to participate in our daunting endeavour.
Elaborate procedures for student interviews were also laid down. It entailed interviewing parents and spending considerable time with each of them, getting across the philosophy. All the same we could see that it is a measure of the tremendous goodwill that exists in our country for the Krishnamurti Foundation and for our schools, that the anxiety and eagerness to gain admission to this new school was beyond our expectations. Although our target was to take only 60 students to start with, we finally admitted 90 students and as of now the strength has increased to 100.
The teacher community and all staff finally moved into the campus in mid August 1995. Together we engaged in the task of setting up the school - classrooms, dormitories, offices, library, laboratory, dispensary and residences. Simultaneously over 3-4 weeks before the students arrived, we opened the school with an intensive orientation to the philosophy of the school and what it means to create an atmosphere of freedom and friendliness, what it means to be rightly related to each other, to the child and to everything around us. We spoke of establishing a deep sense of order in the school and of how to make the child think on his/her own, how to motivate the child to attain excellence in every field. While attempting this, we were actually aware of the difficulties involved in communicating these insights in a completely new set-up.
While in our existing schools a few new teachers who join every year are part of an organic set-up already functioning, at Sahyadri the situation is totally different. Every teacher - with one or two exceptions - and every student is new to this atmosphere and culture. The task of the Head and her team proved to be much more challenging and arduous. The children could not initially comprehend the easy and informal atmosphere and friendliness and they also found it difficult to cope with the freedom given to them. Constant dialogues, discussions and guidance are necessary and it has to be an ongoing process. Sri. Patwardhan and Dr. Sunanda Patwardhan periodically meet the staff community and in the dialogues and discussions they initiate, bring about a different dimension to this process and a clarity to the various apparently different questions.
During our planning period of over six months before the school started, the team had identified and contacted, with the help of friends and our old students, various personnel in the fields of art, craft, theatre, mass communications, science, music etc., to organise a very enriched co-curricular programme. The academic programme is undertaken rigorously over the five days of the week. Saturdays and Sundays are kept apart for these activities, workshops and for hikes and treks which started on the first week-end itself. There is already a very active programme of music, dance and drama. A ballet depicting excerpts from Ramayana was staged as part of Diwali celebrations in the very first year. Within a short time, a beautiful community of teachers and students has come into being.
At the time of writing, the school has been in session for less than two months. Looking back at all the odds that the project went through, it is a miracle that the school nascent community has established itself remarkably well. One of the senior trustees from our Foundation who visited the school within two weeks of its 'birth' was pleasantly surprised at what he saw and remarked that it appeared as though the school has been in existence for quite some time!
We have now entered the second phase of construction to meet the requirements of the projected growth of the school - Class 8 in 1996, Class 9 in 1997 and so on. By 1996 / 97, a study centre will come into being as well, which should bring people who are interested in the teachings of Krishnamurti to the campus. As the school and the centre grow, it is bound to get more and more challenging and we would welcome help in the form of visits and interaction from friends and colleagues.