Ahalya Chari was Principal of the Regional College of Education (now called Regional Institute of Education, Mysore, RIEM) in its early years when I joined the institution as a lecturer. That was in 1967. It was under her tutelage and guidance that I grew as a student of education and a teacher-educator. Under her charismatic leadership, the college emerged as a leading teacher-education institution in the country. Her professionalism, eminence as an educationist and celebrity status enhanced the stature of the college and its sphere of influence among educational thinkers and practitioners.
Chari's identification with the RIEM was total: even after she left the college to assume higher responsibilities in the Union Ministry and even with her post-retirement engagement with the affairs of the Krishnamurti Foundation India, she never missed an opportunity to visit the college and meet the staff, students, employees and well-wishers. Developments in the college—staff movements, programmes, student and alumni affairs— were always on her radar.
Starting from the date of my initiation into the profession, my association with Chari continued over the years. What brought me closer to Chari was our shared love of philosophy and engagement with basic issues in education: meaning, aims, and processes of education, the distortion of knowledge aims in schools, the danger of virtual reality replacing learning from nature in the euphoria of information technology, the relationship between human beings and nature, and the way society seems to have forgotten that childhood is an intrinsically valuable stage. We also shared our distress at the neglect of the philosophy of education as a knowledge field, and particularly the overlooking of J. Krishnamurti's educational ideas in teacher-education programmes.
Ahalya Chari's understanding of education, both as a discipline and as a practical undertaking, was deep and profound. Her love of Krishnamurti's educational philosophy was infectious and it was not long before I came under its spell. I enjoyed the 'tasks' she set for me: a journal article Placing Krishnamurti in the Philosophy of Education, a critical review of Partial and Total Insight: Constructivism and K's Pedagogy by Lionel Claris. The Journal of the Krishnamurti Schools, which was her brainchild, is a treasure-house of quality readings on a host of educational issues—both theoretical and concerning school practice—from the Krishnamurti perspective. In my reviews of the field for the Surveys of Research in Education, I hailed the Journal as a significant contribution to the starving field of philosophy of education. She organized a seminar on John Dewey (her favourite philosopher) at Valley School, providing a lively platform for philosophers of education, with me presenting a lead paper on Dewey. As regards 'value education', the buzz word of the times, she was critical of the manner in which the issue was being discussed (she rightly felt uncomfortable with the very formulation 'value education'). She proposed a creative approach to engage children in value thinking and decision making, avoiding didactic approaches. Her Thinking Together (published by NCERT), a collection of episodes built around the day-to-day lives of children, stands out as a very original piece of writing on the theme.
Ahalya Chari was looked upon as a mentor in the Krishnamurti schools. It was her desire that I associate with them as much as possible. She involved me in scouting talent for them. She wanted me to visit the schools and spend time there as often as possible. I enjoyed my visits to some of the schools and interacting with the students and teachers. She used to share with me her vision and plans for the future of the schools and I had expressed my desire to be in touch with developments therein.
Although as principal she was burdened with administrative tasks, at heart Ahalya Chari remained a teacher; she longed to spend more of her time with students and teachers, talking to them, teaching them and working with them. For us, the initiates, she took on the role of mentor, inviting us to her teaching sessions and special talks. It was a great learning experience, listening to her on varied educational themes. She was a captivating speaker. I still remember sitting enthralled listening to her lectures on Knowledge and the Disciplines. Her lectures stood out for their meticulous preparation, scholarly exposition, analysis of ideas and smooth and pleasing delivery. They ranked as virtuoso performances.
The restructuring and reformation of teacher education programmes was a passion with Ahalya Chari. The Regional Institutes of Education had been set up to demonstrate a model of integrated teacher education, spread over four years in a multi-disciplinary set-up, and Chari worked tirelessly towards wider adoption of the model. She wanted to develop an innovative teacher-education programme tailored to the special features and needs of the KFI schools. It was my privilege to work with her on this project.
Ahalya Chari was a great teacher and a philosopher of education. She was a mentor and guide to me all through my life. Her abiding engagement, till her last breath, with concerns of school education and teacher education has inspired me (and my likes) to keep the fight alive without giving up. She was deeply distressed at the commodification and commercialization of education. Evolving a new design of teacher preparation, addressing the implications of the Right to Education Act, promoting the Regional College of Education-type integrated programmes—these were some of the 'projects' with which she continued to wrestle till the end.
Ahalya Chari exuded humaneness and culture in all her dealings in life, college administration and governance, teaching and relationships. She loved life and lived it the Platonic way, seeing life steadily and seeing it whole. Her passing away has created a gaping void in the academic world of educational thinkers. I feel intensely the absence of a great teacher and a great person from our midst.