Gandhi Day at Rabindranath Tagore Institute 

— Dr R Neerunjun Gopee 

After a very warm welcome by the Rector Mr Mahend Gugapersad and the Deputy Rector Mrs Buckhory, I was led to the auditorium. The first thing that caught my eyes after I had sat down was the board on stage on which the following was written: 

Watch your thoughts
they become your words
Watch your words
they become your actions
Watch your actions
they become your habits
Watch your habits
they become your character
Watch your character
it becomes your destiny…
In Vedanta, it is considered that every individual is born with a certain disposition, a mental carry over from previous lives which expresses itself as inertia, activity or harmony: tamas, rajas, sattva. One of them usually predominates, and roughly speaking that is what determines one’s character.  

Educationists talk about moulding a child’s character, and all my experienced teacher friends have shared with me that throughout their careers they have not only imparted knowledge, but have also, and importantly, tried to promote character formation in their students. Character, according to these experts in practical child psychology – if I may put it this way – can definitely be influenced for the better, and this observation of theirs based on their close contact with growing children, their experience and their thinking is in line with what Vedanta says about destiny: that it is largely of our own making.  

Even if we are born with a certain disposition, it is not a fixed, rigid thing. There is the possibility of change, much of it lying within our own capacity. What the teacher does is to awaken us to the potential, make us aware of it and guide us towards its fullest expression. That is why teachers are such important people in our lives, and also why dedicated teachers receive so much of gratitude in return from the students who follow their precepts and achieve success.  

During his address on the occasion of the celebration of Gandhi Day last Monday at the RTI, at which I had the honour to be present as Chief Guest, the Rector explained how at the RTI the emphasis was as much on preparing the pupils to pass their examinations so as to pursue their career paths, as it was on social character formation through involving them in several activities which develop and enrich the personality: this was also what Gandhi thought was one of the goals of education, not mere book learning. Thus, music and dance and other cultural activities were encouraged, and at the RTI many students actively took part in such activities. 

The varied cultural programme gave an insight into what this actually meant for them, when pupils performed in several items, amongst others:  

Classical by Music Department:  

1.’ Raghupati Raghava’ and ‘Tabla-Sitar -Vocal by Form II and Form III students;
2. Rajasthani Folk Dance by Amba, Ambika and Group;
3. Kacchapu Veena by Thakur Chakrapani from India. 

1. Bollywood Medley dance by (Lower Six ) Keshika and Hasita;

2. Tamil Medley dance by Ashini, Aurelie, Mathieu, Deven, Kavissen and Group.  

Their performance was of a very high standard, and most enjoyable. I particularly appreciated the Rajasthani folk dance, not least because of the colourful costumes worn by the girls. They were absolutely bursting with energy, and as they spun around on their legs and their skirts flared out into a circular tent the effect was truly mesmerizing. Memories of trips to Jaipur, the forts of Rajasthan, the Sariska tiger reserve and other sites of visit came to the surface.  

I remember that morning when we drove with the family alongside fields of mustard stretching out in the distance, the carpet of yellow flowers shining in the midmorning winter sun – and again, inevitably, Wordsworth’s The Daffodils came to mind. I remember Regis Fanchette saying, as I read out the poem from Palgrave’s Golden Treasury, “ ‘not ten thousand saw I…’! The emphasis must be on the thousands, like this, ‘ ten thousand saw I…’ ” I never forgot that lesson, and learnt to read poems properly. To say that teachers like Regis Fanchette — from Form I — helped to form my character is to put it mildly! 

The auditorium was packed full with students, parents and grandparents, and also about 200 inmates of the Krishnanand Ashram who would be entertained to lunch. I was requested to say a few words about Mahatma Gandhi, and I gave as example to the students how, when he was a law student in London, he used to walk almost ten miles daily to attend lectures in order to save money. He was being supported by his elder brother, and the moment he came to know about the latter’s difficulties, he wrote to him to stop sending the condiments that he used to parcel out to Gandhi from time to time. At some point he even stopped consuming salt, again to save on money, and he survived on boiled spinach without salt for several months. I spoke briefly about the Dandi Salt March, and pointed out that the Government of India had, in the 1960s, brought out a collection of Gandhiji’s writings in 100 volumes, totaling about 50 000 pages. Phew! 

I was very happy to feast my eyes on the beautiful complex of buildings nesting in the sylvan surroundings, with the lovely hills as backdrop on the azure horizon. Perfect setting for learning indeed. I was present when the foundation stone of RTI was laid in 2000, and if I am not mistaken it was Shri Atal Bihari Vajpayee, then Prime Minister of India, who had come for the occasion. He would no doubt be gratified to learn that the seed he planted has borne fruit: in its short nine years of existence, the RTI has already produced two laureates, last year. Testimony to the excellence of its staff and their students, and propelling the vision of their Rector to be complete human beings ready to serve society wherever they may be. 

Hats off to RTI and all those associated with this wonderful institution – keeping its promises, with many more miles to go…

* Published in print edition on 7 October 2011

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