இயற்கை முறைக் கல்வி

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Lessons from the Soil

Here is an article about my life journey that appeared on the last (16th) page in the Kamiiritu in 2007.


On reflection, I have spent most of my life answering a question that most adults pose casually to children, ‘What do you want to become when you grow up?’ As a young girl, I fancied becoming a bus conductor blowing the whistle, or a gardener getting all dirty. But, school had a different plan for me, and for endless years I kept to a routine of uniforms, homework, exams, pin-drop silence, memorizing reams of text… All else was seen as distraction.

Life and its rules constantly perplexed me. To wonder, wander, do the things one enjoyed, I was told, would come in the way of ‘a successful life’, which was all about work, money, power and fame. Emerging a topper had to be the non-negotiable goal. My million life-questions were silenced by an unconditional trust placed on elders who had my best interest at heart.

My conditioning (from school, home and all around) soon pushed me into chasing careers that would make me rich and famous. After my school years, I got busy with becoming, first, a fashion designer and then, a commercial artist. But my exposure to the myriad social issues forced me to reject them for being purely commercial and adding no meaning to my life. Then, after exploring being an animal rights activist and a social worker, I finally became an environmentalist, busy solving all the world’s problems. However, an increasing exposure to the complexity of developmental issues surrounding me (WTO protests, mindless industrialization, staggering rate of rural-urban migration, riots and wars) left me bewildered and confused!

I believed getting a degree in International Development from a reputed university, would provide me the wherewithal to change the world for the better. Well into a masters program in International Development, I set about preparing for my doctorate in Environmental Economics based on this premise.

According to my academic understandings, the third world could be developed by the benevolence of the first world aid agencies, executing projects that could be planned, executed, monitored and evaluated by ‘development experts’ through elaborate project proposals and reports. Like all my other international fellow learners, I positioned myself comfortably on the launch pad for a career in the UN or a multilateral organisation. My aim was to work hard, get to the top, and command enough power to make decisions that could change the world. I derived a world view, which made me believe that if we could assign economic value to the scarce natural resources, then we would learn to use them wisely.

And yet, there was an uncomfortable feeling at the pit of my stomach all through, that urged me to get to the root of it before moving any further on this path. I took a break from university and decided to travel across rural India to learn ‘development’ firsthand.

For six months, I backpacked with a resolve to learn without any plan or agenda, and get at the root of the rather vague sense of discomfort about what I was taught. I was deeply touched by my experiences with the ordinary people and the land. What emerged was a society based on a very different set of values like simplicity, selflessness, humility, cooperation, trust, and reverence for nature, shooting down all my notions and ideas about development. I was slowly coming to understand the complexity of the systemic rot, and could place a lot of, until then, seemingly independent pieces of the puzzle, together.

I stopped believing that tinkering here and there was going to help. The very worldview of people as being purely rational and selfish, and of nature as resources to be exploited to endlessly chase economic growth as a way towards human happiness was the problem that needed to be addressed. We needed to reclaim our own traditional worldview of nature as our mother and sustainer, of all life as sacred and one, of human happiness as lying outside materialism, and of change as something that essentially starts from within oneself and radiates out into the world. It was with the ‘educated’ mind, a creation of the modern processes of schooling that the real problem lay. I returned to India with a commitment to deschool my mind, and begin to truly learn by living a life that involved all my senses.

After a ten-year marathon of frenzied action, physical and mental ailments took over, bringing my work and personal search to a complete halt. I had to allow myself to be healed. For a whole year now, I have been trying out an experiment in humility and reverence. Inspired by Fukuoka, every day that I spend in my garden, I have been learning to observe life with its yearning to express itself in all its glory and abundance.

Today, the purpose of my learning is no longer to ‘become something’. On the contrary, it is to shed my arrogance and learn from nature how to live and heal holistically. It is to learn how to be a humble participant in life’s beautiful processes.


dhrugeese said...

Hey Sangi..
It's interesting, how we create and play 'roles', which are sort of reinforced by others. These seem to form the basis of stereotypes etc.. and then people have this image of 'some concerned activists' or some '-ists' out there, who are doing something good. We seem to create expectations for ourselves and others about how to behave and what stand to take and so on.. it's hardly a rational process, and can be quite maddening. I wonder, is it possible to not do any of this? Is it just possible to just be a roleless human being?

S said...

lovely piece... could find a lot of resonance with what you said... though i've a long way to go in this, looking into myself and learning from grounds-up...

and dhruva, i think it is possible to be a roleless human being as you call it... i feel that's in a way the core of sangeetha's learnings too...


ravi srinivas said...

Are you the sangeetha sriram who has written in the recent issue of Kalachuvadu on green revolution. I saw the brief note in their website.

Sangeetha Sriram said...

yes ravi, i am the same sangeetha. you may write to me at sriram.sangeetha AT gmail.com

Sangeetha Sriram said...

dhruva, it may be difficult to be a 'roleless human being, but not impossible. in any case, figuring out how to do it i feel is the very purpose of our lives!