Photography by Rhea Gupte
Devarahubballi, 11 kilometers south-west of Dharwad city
Jump ahead to last year and I am in a book store with my mum and my boyfriend, trying to communicate the idea of this particular book in my head. It has been so many years and I have forgotten the tittle, the name of the girl and the narrative. Not much to go by, I suppose. Just as I am gesturing to explain, I turn around, to find this very book starring back at me. The little black and white illustration above the words I was trying so hard to find, Totto-Chan The Little Girl At the Window. I yell in joy and surprise, tears in my eyes. Serendipity always gets to me. Needless to say I buy the book and begin voraciously reading it one chapter after the other.
The book is a memoir of writer Tetsuko Kuroyanagi wherein, through each chapter she takes us with her into life at Tomoe Gakuen, a school run unconventionally and unusually by headmaster Sosaku Kobayashi. You see, after the desk banging and staring out the window, little Totto-Chan is expelled from her regular pre-school. Due to which, she takes admission in a new school, discovering a new way of living and learning.
There were certain points in my life when I began questioning the education system. When I had to do my taxes for the first time. Why the hell was this not taught in school? When I enrolled in a design institute which followed text book ideas instead of letting students really think. When in school, the number of marks one received somehow became the purveyor of the intellect of the individual. When certain parents were more keen to compare than to invest time in finding out what their child was good at and interested in.
Sosaku Kobayashi soon became my hero with the turn of each page and the end of each chapter. The way Tomoe Gakuen functioned in the book, was my answer to every question I had about giving a child a platform to grow and explore on their own, by giving them the means to think for themselves, rather than enforcing rules which they may not understand. Education is so much about nurturing oneself than it is made out to be, often diluted with the idea of meaningless tests and unnecessary pressure.
The reason I share this is because, Totto Chan’s mum was brave enough to take the alternate route to find something that was more suitable for her child. Similar to a few parents I met in Dharvad where these images were created. Some homeschooling, some keen to find schools which were based on concepts, some even running schools themselves. It was inspiring to me in many ways because at the core of it all, was making sure to never take their wonder away. Similar to what Mr. Kobayashi believed in.