How does one write about someone who, to begin with, was a total stranger and who, in less than a month, became more than a mother to you, and remained so, all her life?
The year was 1975. I had just graduated and joined the Rajghat Education Centre run along the revolutionary vision of education and life expounded by J. Krishnamurti. Ms. Ahalya Chari, affectionately called Ahalyaji or Chariji by all who knew her, was the Director of the Centre. A well-known educator, with a distinguished record of service, she had been Principal of the Regional College of Education, Mysore, and Commissioner, All India Central Schools. She had been drawn to Krishnamurti's teachings and had left other prestigious posts in order to explore this vision. Aware of the limitation of schooling, she was discontented with mere attempts at educational reform.
I was young, just twenty-two years old, impatient to bring about a radical change in the world, and she was a wise woman, in her mid-fifties, aware of the complexities of running a school, leave alone bringing fundamental changes in its functioning. To her credit, I must say that she respected me for my passion and never curbed my enthusiasm for innovation and radical change. In fact she provided me with a rare experience of thinking and working together.
It was then that something more than a mother-son relationship began to flower and I could not have asked for anything better. Together, we began to envisage a different kind of school. We spent hours together, thinking about the nature of the child's mind and its needs. We set about altering the day's schedule, the curriculum, teaching methods, ways of evaluating, reporting and so on, to suit the growing child. More important was the spirit with which we functioned. Between us there was intimacy and sensitivity, and also objectivity and the freedom to criticize. The sense of impersonal responsibility had pushed out differences of age and experience, where it mattered. Over and above this was the administrative challenge to take other teachers along with us, although some did not share our intensity or concerns!
Later, I saw that grooming youth with care was natural to her and had become integral to whatever responsibilities she undertook. So was the meticulous eye, the painstaking care for detail and the diligent attempts at perfection. Even in her later years, when she was past 80, the way she looked after her room and belongings was an aesthetic treat to observe. She loved the good things of life, enjoyed music, good food, elegant clothes and good company, and yet there was a sense of austerity about her.
Till the very end, she remained warmly committed to whoever she knew: family, friends, students, colleagues and countless individuals who sought her friendly guidance. Since retiring was alien to her nature, one saw her pushing herself all the time. Her sense of responsibility never waned. Untiringly, she groomed the right people and handed over the baton of several responsibilities at the Krishnamurti Foundation that she had so ably directed. The work mattered and she was not one to hang on to it for her own sake.
To the best of her ability, she tried to live the teachings, which were so close to her heart. She never stopped learning. A few months before she passed away, she was discussing with me how she could have delved deeper into the teachings and whether being too emotional prevented that! I feel Ahalyaji's was a rich and full life in which introspection and action were evenly matched, along with a warm concern for the individuals who were indeed fortunate to have been with her.