It was on a crisp winter morning, when the entire teacher body of Rajghat Besant School sat in the eastern verandah of our magnificent assembly hall that it was announced that articles were invited for the Journal of Krishnamurti Schools. Being relatively new to the school, there were many things I was yet to explore, and the Journal was one of them. As the librarian for the senior school library, I had seen the issues of the Journal neatly stacked on one of the shelves but had not had the time to go through them. That same afternoon I picked up one issue and sat reading. Afternoon turned into evening and I found myself still engrossed in another issue of the Journal.
The articles were informative and interesting; they left me amazed at the sheer passion, earnestness, energy with which the ideas were put forth. Be it about teaching mathematics, taking children for a walk, understanding each child as a fresh poem or creating a compost pit—energy was there in all of them. It was the same energy, earnestness and passion that I observed each day in many of my colleagues here at Rajghat. I had been associated with teaching and education, but nowhere had I found the energy with which this KFI School reverberated.
Here our morning began with moving and melodious singing from Geetayan (the school song book) and the chanting of Vedic hymns, followed by a teacher's study meet. Each teacher found time to attend the meeting once a week. After reading an extract from one of Krishnamurti's books, we chose to discuss issues. With this soulsoothing start, the day unfolded in a most natural and unhindered way, but this question always lingered at the back of my mind—what was my role here as the senior school librarian? Was it only to issue and take back books, keep the decorum of the place and be responsible for the books, or was it something more? What energy was I transmitting which the students received in our interactions? What learning was taking place? Of course, sensing the urgency with which Krishnamurti addressed us in his books, I was aware that he expected much more than what I was grasping. It actually seemed frustrating at times not to be able to argue with him in person about why he could not see that I could not see what he expected me to see. I could not visualize where I stood in his vision. How was I to light that flame of learning that would result in transformation of consciousness? This question, in various forms, strikes one ever so often, jumping out of his books. My day started with this question and ended without an answer.
In the library, groups of students came and left, and each new day I won new young friends. To connect with each child, to get the feel of their borrowing patterns and the favourites of different age groups, I had conversations with each of the groups. We shared our stories, we discussed the first books we had read, our favourite authors and, yes, also why some of us felt that it was a waste of time to read something other than the prescribed textbooks.
The Dewey decimal classification system was used in the library, and the books were classified accordingly. The library records were completely computerized, and the exact location of any particular title could have been located with a click of the mouse. The place seemed more or less in order. The restlessness was within me. I needed to be clear about my role as an educator, or rather, as a human being.
We maintained a file, apart from the usual book cards, in which we noted details, like the name of the book and also of the student who had borrowed it. At the end of the month we had a clear picture of a student's reading habits, favourite books, authors. Getting students to return books on time and being considerate to other readers in the library were areas where extra effort was needed.
The students were repeatedly reminded to be punctual about returning the books they had borrowed, but the desired effect was not achieved. Surely, there was insufficient listening between us. Why did books need to be returned on time when the book was not needed by another? Was it because of others or was it important for our own selves to be punctual? Was it important to be responsible, be it for returning books or reaching the morning assembly on time? Being true to our commitment and honest to ourselves was a lesson we all needed to learn, whether in the library, in the playground or in life as a whole.
We placed a few sheets of paper with the header, 'Late Returns' and three columns: 'Date', 'Name' and 'Remarks,' and kept them on the librarian's desk. Students who returned books late were required to fill in the columns and write a reason for the late return of the book. The child invariably paused and then wrote down something like, 'I am sorry, this will not happen again,' or 'I will be responsible and will be on time, next time.' I also asked them if it was important to adhere to the rules and if so, why? We engaged in a little whispered discussion then and there. With delight I noted that the names of the same children did not appear on 'Late Returns' again.
A clay pot full of water with flower petals in it greeted every visitor to the library. Soft instrumental music and the smell of incense created a serene atmosphere. Entering the library, the children automatically grew quiet. The soft background music and the soothing fragrance made them pause, listen, smell and then settle quietly with their chosen material. There seemed no need to remind them, every now and then, to be quieter so as not to disturb others. If ever there was a need, a gentle touch on the shoulder did the job. Of course, there were some who required more than a symbolic gesture; but even with them, no more than a quiet talk was ever necessary.
In our library committee meeting, we discussed the matter regarding circulation of books amongst students. We felt that categories other than fiction were not being borrowed. To get students interested in the different and diverse sections of the library was a challenge.
The first thing we did was to organize a book talk for each class separately, and students were encouraged to select books from different sections. The students gave vivid accounts of the books that were suggested to them and this made others interested in those books. Thus by word of mouth and by speaking to the regular readers individually, we tried to make students interested in books from other genres. At the end of the session we decided to have a Book-Lovers Meet. It was open to all and attendance was optional. The venue was the library and the time was late night, after dinner.
To our pleasant surprise a large number of students turned up on that cold winter night. The guest speaker, an English lecturer in a local college and an avid book reader, set the tone for the evening, and student speakers, one after the other, created a mesmerizing atmosphere. Gone with theW ind, The Moon by Whale Light, Greek Mythology, A Fistful of Rice, Artemis Fowl and India Unbound were some of the books spoken about. Tolstoy's Anna Karenina and Ibsen's plays were discussed and Jonathan Livingston Seagull and Restless Earth were searched for. Sitting in the cosy library annexure, huddled together, the young faces were alight with eager excitement. They listened to every word of the speakers. At the end of the meet no one was in a hurry to leave, and books were being reserved. Hot cake, baked by a helping teacher, was truly more than the icing on the cake.
Encouraged by this response, we rearranged the library and weekly displays of books were given more care. It was truly heartening to see students walking into the library pausing to take a second glance at the displayed books; and it was sheer joy when they selected one from among them. Long forgotten books, hidden somewhere behind hundreds of others, in some remote corner, were getting a feel of the young hands.
The help from the language teachers came in handy. The students were given assignments to write book reviews in their language classes, and poem recitations were organized. These activities introduced even those children to books who had shied away from them earlier. It was heartening to see the non-readers too, browsing through the shelves, even if only for their book review assignments. Neat and wittily written book reviews started pouring in. The ball had started rolling. We kept a 'recommend books' file at the entrance to the library. What was a trickle in the beginning turned into a torrent as the titles and authors' names filled the pages. We were flooded with suggestions. The talk of books was in the air, and excited and happy faces started pestering me for recommended books.
Having been in the school for some time by then, I had begun to experience the freedom each one of us had in expression of thought and idea and also in its execution. On our request the school authorities sanctioned a handsome amount for the purchase of new books. More than two hundred new books were added to the library. From To Kill a Mockingbird to the Meluha and Nagas trilogy, from Eric Segal's Love Story to the Percy Jackson series, Marquez, Tagore, Premchand, Dostoyevsky, Coetzee, Yeats, Ghalib, Pamuk, Sawant and, of course, Nicholas Sparks, the students' all time favourite: the list was unending. The new arrival section brought fresh energy to the library and yet the craving for more books was not fully satisfied. We had not been able to acquire the whole list of recommended books. We decided to have a book fair in the library. The fair was planned for a whole week. Each section was allotted a time slot and each child a fixed budget.
The excitement of the book lovers could in no way be contained. Posters, banners, bookmarks, quotations—all poured in. The night before the fair the whole campus was decorated with hand-made materials. Book reviews of suggested books were displayed at strategic places. The whole place wore a festive look. To see the students discussing, exchanging details about books, and trying to fit the books they wanted into their limited budget was heartening. The books chosen and bought by most of the students gave us encouragement and hope for the future. The books are being read, and the library is planning to have the next book-lovers meet when the contents of these books have been shared.
Amidst the hurly-burly of all these activities and the daily routine, my question remains unanswered. Am I clear about my role? Am I transmitting the energy that will help light the flame of learning in the hearts of my young friends? I know I will have to find my own answer, and I will have to be my own light and come out of this darkness on my own.
The air has turned warm; the trees are now bare. The colours in nature have changed mostly to brown and the end of the summer session is nearing. From my librarian's desk I see a child taping these lines onto the display board: 'One who can read but does not read is to be pitied for he/she is in a worse situation than those who cannot read at all.'