Is Gandhi’s Nai Talim Relevant Today?

by | May 25, 2020

Kutch Heritage Arts Music Information Resources

Instituted after the earthquake of 2001 in Kachchh, Gujarat, Khamir originated as a response for economic rehabilitation of the creative industry of handicraft artisans of the district. Today, it has established itself as a resource centre that strengthens and promotes the industry through its wide spectrum of activities revolving around areas of livelihoods, developmental practices, sustainable tourism and education. Some of these activities include:-

  • skill and capacity development of artisans
  • trade facilitation of traditional handicrafts
  • staying relevant through innovation by using local materials and providing artisans with specialized techniques and technologies
  • enabling research and documentation of allied cultural practices

Khamir operates out of a unique campus in Kukma village, Kachchh. Located 15 kilometres from Bhuj, the campus does not only provides a space, in the forms of craft studios, for artisans to practice their crafts but is also a space for resource groups and institutions, buyers, suppliers and craft lovers from around the world to gather under one roof to exchange ideas, collaborate and learn. The space is always alive with potters creating clay masterpieces or imaginative textiles being woven by resident weavers. Through cultural engagement, experiential learning and research, Khamir connects a diverse public with artisans, creating an environment in which creative industries can be recognized as important pillars of society and be recognized as traditional, livelihoods with potential for growth.

Khamir’s space in Kukma Village, Kutch – An invitation to one and all to come and understand art and culture and craft of the region

Khamir primarily has three wings under the theme of education. Over the last few years, Khamir has conducted craft programs for government schools across Kutch, holding small workshops to introduce various crafts and innovations at Khamir such as plastic weaving, Bandhani (tie & dye), to students of different age groups, giving them a chance to experience hands-on through experiential workshops. Students, individuals, craft-lovers, design enthusiasts, tourists and travellers, people from all walks of life, make sure they visit the spacious campus, where there is a constant harmony of inquisitive folks, sound of looms, and smiles of artisans as they answer the same question a hundredth time with the same enthusiasm as they did to their first guest.

Khamir not only organises workshops, but also organises sustainable tours all across Kutch, soaking in the rich heritage, culture, architecture and unlimited hospitality that the Kutchi folk are popular for.

However over the last year, there has been a small team of three that has been dedicatedly working on a new venture associated with education. A venture, that had slowly started taking shape and it was time that the 60 odd family of Khamir which can be found at any time on the campus, consisting of the staff, the artisans of different handicrafts including the support staff such as the kitchen and campus care-takers, would now officially be introduced to all that had been working upon, the importance of the project taken up, and most importantly, to seek their approval for the project. It is important to note that the participants have been associated with this industry for years. While majority of them belong from the artisanal communities, most of them have dedicated years of service to Khamir and it’s people.

On 16th March, everyone on the campus had been gathered in the meeting hall. However, this was going to be no ordinary meeting. Over the previous week, our team of three had been working hard to devise the best possible way in which our family of 60 could perceive best, what we were about to present. It was a big task given that for three hours, no other activity would be conducted on the campus. The meeting began.

1st Activity Of The Day – A Treasure Hunt

Except for the three organisers, all the members were divided into ten teams of five people in each. Upon division, most team found themselves under-confident in winning the task. The plan was working. The teams had been divided in a way that brought together the members that had very different roles in the organisation, from each other. The team were required to complete the treasure hunt at hand. They would be given four riddles. Solving every riddle would lead them to a location within the campus. At the location, there would be an instruction to collect an item and answer certain questions. The only rule they had was to have fun.

Post forty minutes, a lot of runs and laughters later, all the teams were back in the meeting hall and had managed to retrieve their objects and answer some questions. Upon their return, the teams were grouped into larger teams. The task now? Narrate a story using the objects and the answers to the questions. What were these objects and questions that have been so painstakingly retrieved? Different items that were associated to a particular crafts such as tools, finished goods and products, raw materials and the answers were facts pertaining to science, maths, culture, history, market that were associated with the craft. In the narrations, the teams chose creative ways to express and share their stories with the audience. While some of them used the objects and answers to explain the entire value chain associated to their crafts, some also narrated the life of the artisans through role plays. But what was the treasure, one may ask. To everyone, their treasure was unique.

The Kala Cotton Value Chain team discussing their task

It was interesting to see together so many different crafts on one platform through these stories. While I have been associated with the wool value chain and it’s associated crafts for so many years, learning about the other crafts, realising the interdependency between communities was enthralling and that to me, is my treasuresaid a participant.I’m proud to belong to a region that is representative of such rich cultural history, values and traditions,” said another.

This was their introduction to experiential and contextual learning, as a method of education. The participants were also introduced to concepts of Kolb’s Experiential Cycle (read here), giving them a deeper understanding of how learning is a function of participation, reflections, formulating abstract concepts and putting them into theory. Where they shared the values they learnt and related their experience with the theory. To give a deeper understanding into the concepts of experiential and contextual based education, we indulged into our rich and influential history as one of the participants read out excerpts from a literature on Nai Talim.

As to the necessity and value of regarding the teaching of village handicrafts as the pivot and centre of education, I have no manner of doubt. The method adopted in the institutions in India I do not call education, i.e. drawing out the best in man, but a debauchery of the mind. It informs the mind anyhow, whereas the method of training the mind through village handicrafts from the beginning as the central fact would promote the real, disciplined development of the mind resulting in conservation of the intellectual energy and indirectly also the spiritual.

Excerpt from Nai Talim by M.K Gandhi, read more here

Furthering which, they were introduced to Anand Niketan, a Nai Talim School, with a firm belief in Gandhiji’s ideas on education taking into consideration the developments of educational thoughts and the challenges of modern context. Now that the ground was established, this helped us drive into the subject.

What has this team of three been working on for the past year?

Khamir is in process of designing a replicable series of expeditions with a holistic approach to conscious living system of children catered through the lens of craft. These expeditions are a series of experiential learning journeys that are curated to bring forth primary subjects through the context of handicrafts of Kutch. While experiential in nature, these expeditions cater to different learning styles of children, often using unorthodox learning mediums. Apart from deriving inspiration through Nai Talim, this model is based on two more core values – craft as livelihood and craft as way of living.

Handicrafts are not a mere extra-curricular activity as interpreted through many schooling systems. In most of the cases, it stems from sustainable traditional socio-economical and cultural practices by several communities where the ecology is out of many other is given the highest regard. For artisans, their practice of their craft has seeped into their way of life – governing their choices and decisions. The handicraft ecosystems have roots of a sustainable model of interdependence amongst artisanal communities. This model of education has been designed for students of the age group of 10-14 years, most of which are children of the artisans of Kutch. “Children of this age are the most mouldable and can easily develop muscle memory”, claims a master artisan. A pilot for this model was carried out in association with Shishukunj International School, in Sedata, Bhuj of Kutch district in Gujarat.

While the sheep were grazing, we were also grazing in the new sights and sounds and smells – there was tea being made by the maaldharis (who were herding them) using sheep milk. We saw how there were adjoining fields and there used to be a partnership between the farmer and the herder – one would get rid of the grass and the other would get free fertiliser – a relationship that benefit everyone!

Shishukunj International School, Facebook Post

Having told the team about the journey thus far, they reciprocated with much enthusiasm and assent which was evident in the extension of the meeting over time. Receiving a green signal from the community, as an effort to support the education of their own children, was all the validation that was required. While there is a long, dark and unpredictable journey ahead, the pathways to support the education system of India & attempt to create a unison of mind, body and soul are many. It only matters which road we chose, doesn’t it?

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