The new boys dorms – Chandan and Chinar – were completed a little over a year ago. The accommodation was spacious and the architects had provided for an open quadrangle with courtyard corridors lining the periphery. However, this central space had been used as an ad-hoc construction dump as the dorm was being built up on four sides. Clearing and cleaning up – that usually follows construction – never took place presumably because the builders were stretched for time. We were thus unfortunately saddled with a lovely space filled with all sorts of ugly building rubble.
At the start of this term, the boys of Chandan – 16 in all – expressed a desire to work on this dump and convert it into the sort of space that was originally envisioned for it. As house-parent, I was excited about their proposal. Working collectively towards a common goal would give the boys – a mixed group of class 10, 11 and 12 students – the chance to grow comfortable in each others’ company. They were new to mixed-age dorms and themselves unsure if it were possible to work and live happily together in a dorm such as this one.
And thus, around the end of June, we began work. The mission was to create an aesthetically pleasing central quadrangle, with flower beds on three sides and a vegetable patch on the fourth, surrounded by a central lawn with a grassy mound where the boys imagined themselves basking in the winter sunshine. There were other fanciful plans as well. For instance, Jai of class 12 – full of enthusiasm and energy – visualized creepers and climbers crawling along pergolas and pillars and drew images of artistically designed seating spaces. But voices in the group and also from outside suggested we work in a phased fashion and leave such embellishments for later.
One such voice was Gogate Sir’s – a retired plantation and forestry expert, responsible for growing much of the tree cover here at Sahyadri School. He happened to be visiting in June and helped us draw up a plan of action. We were to first dig up the periphery – two feet wide and three feet deep –then make the flower and vegetable beds by filling up the pits with a uniform mixture of clayey soil and filtered sandy soil, and finally plant seeds and saplings after giving due consideration to their individual requirements for growth and our desires for an aesthetic spread. Work on the lawn – digging up 6 inches of central space, filling it up with a mixture of loamy soil, clayey soil and manure, leveling it after having planned for drainage and then planting the grass – would begin only after the flower beds and vegetable patch were completed.
And so for the better part of three full months, we divided ourselves into flexible groups of 5 or 6 and worked in three shifts of 45 minutes each. We worked in the mornings, occasionally in the afternoons and almost always in the evenings. We worked when it was sunny, when it was cloudy and sometimes even in the rain. We worked with spades and pick-axes, with rakes and sickles, with trays and wheel-barrows, with sieves and shovels and with our minds and our hands. In the process, we dug out rocks, stones and broken pieces of glass, taps, gloves and concrete slabs, iron rods, leather jackets, bricks of odd shapes and bags of cement. But we did more than dig. We carried. We filled. We planted. We watered. We moved. We mixed. Interestingly, these actions were not restricted to our relationship with the land. They were also apparent in our relationships with each other.
At times we were excited and thrilled at our progress. At other times we were despondent at the seemingly endless work required. A few of us were sometimes tempted to shirk, but when we saw others toil with cheer and good spirit, it brought us guilt and the urge to chip in and compensate. We realized and discovered much in the process – about how difficult and unpredictable life must be for a plant as much as for a farmer, about how it takes hard work and consistent effort and then some luck to grow well, about how we occasionally need to spade back to prevent boundaries from being breached, about how we need to be alert to the growing of weeds that drain health and nutrition from within, about how easy it is to pluck, how difficult it is to bear…. We may have learnt these in the context of gardening, but these were lessons for life.
At last, we did it. Or so it initially seemed. Forty to fifty different species of flowering plants and several vegetable varieties were planted. Most of them have responded well and have flowered and grown. The lawn was also readied with the help of didis working for the gardening department. Shankar dada, Satish dada and some of our parents – from whom we got guidance, tools, resources and lots of good wishes – are happy with the progress and fairly sure that the lawn and garden will be flourishing by the end of the year. We can already see birds and butterflies and ladybugs and frogs. A dusky crag martin couple recently made a nest for their three newborn chicks. It was interesting to see our boys watch the birds so intently. One of them even made a toilet for the little ones with the help of old newspaper!
But yet we cannot say that the work is done – and not just because we still have pergolas and creepers and seating spaces still to grow! In fact, the work will never be done. For we have only lately realized that our plants need watering every evening and that the weeds periodically have to be dug out and that the space regularly has to be cared for and looked after. The journey doesn’t end. It just moves from one phase to another, before eventually passing on from one generation to the next. At one level, the journey of the Chandan quadrangle is a microcosm of the journey of a school. At another level, it appears to mimic life itself.
– Rishi Jayaram