I’ve been spending most of my time here so far at Bhavya, a “set-up” (not school, the founder says “call it anything but school”) serving about 30 kids from preschool age to teenagers. It’s not quite a free school, but fairly close–there is scheduled, directed instructional time, but that seems to be somewhat negotiable. I’ve been teaching card-weaving, knitting, and spinning, and just generally hanging out, mostly with the older kids.
These kids are amazing. One watched very carefully to work out the spatial logic of what was happening with the warp threads, and then worked out how to control the design to make a diamond. Others realized that limiting the colors actually increases the design possibilities, and started playing around with horizontal stripes, diagonals, and solid blocks of color. They discovered, in a few hours, the principles of figured double-face weave, which took me days to replicate from written instructions and months to really understand.
At one point, one of the younger weavers called me over and pointed to a section of his piece. “Is this a pattern or a mistake?” he asked anxiously. I countered with, “Do you want it to be a pattern, or do you want it to be a mistake?” He thought for a moment, and decided it was a pattern. Over and over again, I was asked “Can I do x?” and “What will happen if…” In most cases my answer was, “try it and see what comes out.” And even though they were asking, it never seemed like they were really expecting to just get an answer–it was more like they just wanted to double-check that it wasn’t all going to fall apart as they were experimenting.
In general, the kids seem to be allowed a lot of freedom and also a lot of responsibility. They come ask for keys to get at supplies that are locked up, climb trees to retrieve balls that have gotten stuck on the roof, and are comfortable giving their teachers a good-natured ribbing. At today’s birthday celebration, 2 teenagers set up and lit an oil lamp, and everybody wandered out the gate into the street when the guy pulled up with a truck full of coconuts (so much better than day-glo cupcakes!).
It’s difficult to tell who are staff members and who are parents–parents are required to stay with their children at the very young ages, and some seem to hang on quite a bit longer than that. They all interact with the students in more or less the same manner. At lunch, all the adults gather in the kitchen and pass around a mind-boggling array of food. Rotis, dosas, parathas, red rice, dal, different dal, different different dal. Paneer with mushroom gravy, Mamatha’s chutney, ash gourd, snake gourd, bitter gourd. Gooseberry juice with curry leaves.
I could keep going, but this is already really rambly as it is. Tomorrow I leave for Himachal, and all the kids kept asking me when I’m coming back. Soon, soon, I hope soon.