I come from a family of teachers. I deliberately chose a non teaching profession but education always remained close to my heart, especially at school level.
There are two strong reasons for it. One, my father spent his entire life starting new schools in what was Mewar region of Rajasthan and two, he rightly believed that a school has the most important role in shaping the character of a child. He believed in it, worked for it and his work left a very deep impression on me.
So, when I was confronted with the question, “in which nursery school are we going to send our son? He is already two years old and next year we will have to admit him in a nursery school. Is there a nursery school like Chetan Balwadi (run by child development department of the Home Science college, MSU, Baroda)?”
I had no answer to my wife’s very innocently asked question. She did her Masters in Home science from MSU, Baroda, had closely observed functioning of “Chetan Balwadi”, and knew what exactly she was looking for in a nursery school. As such her concern was genuine.
I searched for the right nursery school through my limited local contacts and realised that there was none in Anand that came anywhere close to what my wife was looking for. Leave alone a Balwadi, even primary schools were Gujarti medium and not up to expectations.
The only English teaching school in Vidhyanagar was jokingly termed by my friend Ravindra Vaishnav working in Amul as “English Cheating School”. He used to say, “In this school, they teach English in Gujarati medium”.
You don’t care as long as you are a bachelor or not a parent. But once you have a child, your priorities change. In my case the concern doubled since my wife’s family too had deep roots in education (my father in law a very eminent educationist founded a number of educational institutions in and around Udaipur).
So now we were two intense people under the same roof sharing a common concern-education of our first child.
At this point I thought it best to share my concern with someone who will view my problem with sympathy.
Dr. Aneja offers a solution
Who better than Dr Aneja, I thought and headed straight to his office. He gave me a patient hearing. At the end of it he made with a suggestion, “Nagar, how about starting our own nursery school”?“But where”, I asked.“There is a school right opposite our campus. Try and find out if we can buy it off. I think it belongs to DN High school trust”.
I found the idea so exciting that the very same day, I landed at DN High school and met the managing trustee Shri Vithalbhai Patel with this ridiculous idea.
My conversation with Vallabhbhai (in retrospect) was most bizarre. After I introduced myself and exchanged greetings, I told him of our interest in buying off the school opposite our campus.
“People working in NDDB are from all over India and our jobs are transferable. We want to start an English medium school so that our employees don’t face admission issues when they are transferred to other states. We would like to start a nursery school to begin with and therefore we are looking for a suitable premise close to our campus. Can you please consider selling off that school premise to us (meaning NDDB)?”
Vallabhbhai was a very seasoned and highly reputed educationist. He appeared shocked and, I am sure, he must have thought that he is dealing with an utterly immature scatter brain. But he kept his composure, sympathised with me and offered an alternative. He asked, “how many children do you have in NDDB campus to start an all English medium nursery class”.
“Eight to ten “ was my reply !
Vallabhbhai was as calm as ever and said “ Although this number is low, we will nevertheless start a batch and hope that we finally get about 25 children from your neighbourhood institutions-Agriculture college and Veterinary college. Don’t worry, I will do the best I can but remember we can not sell the school premise. I hope you are ok with it”.
His answer was music to my ears. I was very excited, headed straight to Dr. Aneja’s office and gave him the good news. Few months later, Vallabhbhai started a new nursery school batch with, I think 8 children from NDDB campus. But this was a short lived dream. Parents of children from both Agriculture and Veterinary colleges refused to transfer their children from Gujarati to English medium. Naturally after couple of months, we has to rather grudgingly shift our children to the only English medium school in Vallabh Vidhyanagar. They were all admitted to senior KG.
I had just witnessed the death of my dream.
Focus shifts from nursery school to Kendriya Vidyalaya, V V Nagar
Next year, with great difficulty, almost three months after the start of the academic session I managed to secure admission of my son to Kendriya Vidyalaya.
It was at this time that I realised that although our nodal ministry was the Ministry of Agriculture, government of India, we didn’t have any of the privileges of the government employees.
Children of employees of NDDB were placed in general catagory for admission in central school while the children of employees of private companies like Elecon and Vallabh Glass got the second preference. The first preference naturally went to the employees of Indian railways and Indian post and telegraph departments.
To me it was a wholly unacceptable situation. It was like consigning the fate of our children to the mercy of state education boards. Our jobs are transferable anywhere in India and with every transfer, our children will have to face a new curriculum. How preposterous.
At this time, my priority shifted to somehow getting NDDB placed above Elecon and Vallabh Glass for admission in central school of VV Nagar. I met the acting principal of the school, Shri Goyal who advised me to take up the case with the Assistant Commissioner of Kendriya Vidhyalaya Sangathan, Shri Deep Chand Solanki who was based in Gandhinagar.
I made a case, Dr Aneja signed the ‘petition’ and I went to Gandhinagar to meet Mr. Solanki.
He was from Ajmer, Rajasthan and a very humble man. When I explained to him our problem and gave him the ‘petition’, he called his PA, dictated an order, handed me a copy and told me, “Mr. Nagar, from now on children of NDDB employees will be placed in second catagory. Afterall NDDB is an institution of the government and its operational independence can not be a reason to place it in general catagory”.
He then gave me a sealed envelope addressed to the principal of the school Shri Goyal and asked me to hand it to him as soon as I reach Anand. I did as advised by him. I will always remember with gratitude Mr. Solanki’s help in opening the doors of Kendriya Vidyalay sangathan for our children.
The principal Mr. Goyal acted swiftly and all NDDB children seeking admission in central school were admitted much to the annoyance of Elecon and VallabhGlass employees. I had a taste of their anger in the first parent-teacher meeting that followed the admissions. They threatened to take the matter up at the highest level in KVS, since these two industries were somehow contributing to the budget of the school.
Soon, Mr Goyal was transferred and Mr M Z Khan (kids of the school called him Amzad Khan after the famous villain of SHOLEY) came in as the new principal.
I gave him a courtesy call and in this very first meeting he told me, “Mr. Nagar, you managed to get away with it this year, but I promise you that from next year onwards not a single child from NDDB will be admitted in central school. Take my word for it. Mr Solanki is retiring and I will have this order reversed by the new assistant commissioner.” It was this direct threat that made me reignite my efforts for an NDDB administered school affiliated to CBSE.
BOHO Shishu Vihar (BSV)
Boho, the staff club of NDDB was started a year after NDDB offices moved from Multi-storey Amul office to the newly built NDDB campus in 1971. On the left is the Boho logo designed by Shri Arvind Swaminathan ( courtesy Boho Facebook page) who besides his normal work gave his time to organise and institutionalise some of the Boho activities in its initial years.
With this direct threat, we were back to square one. Start de-novo with the idea of a nursery school. But this time, I wasn’t alone. I had the full and unconditional support of two very compassionate senior ladies from the campus- Mrs Sheela Dalaya and Mrs Krishna Haldipur. We first toyed with the idea of starting a nursery as an activity of BOHO club and then make a case for a school affiliated to the central board of secondary education.
Mrs Dalaya and her daughter happily took the responsibility of managing BOHO SHISHU VIHAR and sometime in 1981-82, it became functional in the club house. The mother-daughter duo were fantastic with children who had a real blast. We had taken the first step but we were still miles away from our final goal-a CBSE affiliated school.
But operating from the club house was indeed problematic- the washrooms in the club house were designed for use only by adults. Small kids therefore needed assistance of an adult. We had to therefore look for an alternate place within the campus. None of the existing buildings however met the requirements.
At around this time, NDDB acquired around 15 acres of land from kheti wadi, where Anadalaya now stands. It had some old structures that needed to be demolished. VS Behla, who was the head of engineering was going to have a look at these civil structures and he casually asked me to join him. “Nagar, come for a walk with me”, he said and I readily agreed.
When we reached the first structure, we found it in good shape. I asked Behla if this building can be saved. He replied, ‘Sure, but what do you want it for’? “BOHO SHISHU VIHAR”, I replied and we were with Dr Aneja with a verbal proposal to get the building renovated.
In next one month, we had a fully renovated and furnished building ready to house “BSV”, the kids moved there and were very happy to see new colourful furniture and classrooms. We had, at that moment made a new beginning. That building still stands and houses the Oriental Bank branch.
The next part of the journey was not easy though. For next 4 years, we made no progress. So our kids went from BSV to Kendriya Vidyalaya. It was better than before but still very unsatisfactory as the KV was always short of trained staff and temporary teachers invariably failed to come to expectations.
Back to demand of a school
I was lucky to get full support of Mrs Dalaya and Mrs Haldipur. I shared my concern with them and they agreed to take the matter up with Dr. Kurien.
They too realised that the only answer was an NDDB administered CBSE affiliated school where children of the employees of NDDB, IRMA, GCMMF, AMUL, Tribhuvandas Foundation etc. can study without having to undergo the pains of a changed curriculum in case of the employee’s transfer.
To be honest, I was in no position to take up the matter with Dr Kurien all by myself and needed one of them to initiate a dialogue with him. Mrs Dalaya took the initiative, fixed an appointment with Dr Kurien and we three made it to his office at the appointed hour.
The meeting was a fiasco. Dr. Kurien check mated us with his opening remark, “What is this delegation? I don’t like delegations. Besides, NDDB has too many things to do and education is not our business. But don’t point at IRMA”, he added “I am talking of school education”.
We came out disappointed but both Mrs Dalaya and Mrs Haldipur assured me that they will continue to persuade Dr. Kurien. “Have patience and don’t loose heart”, they advised me. They were very determined to have a school that meets our expectations.
We continued our follow up and found Dr. Kurien softening his stand a bit but an assurance was still far away.
I was transferred to Bangalore in June 1986. About a month before the transfer- I guess in late April or early May, I was returning to Anand from Delhi. I received a message from late Shri ZS Chatwal that a separate car is not being sent to pick you up from Ahmedabad airport and that I should take a lift with Dr. Kurien in his car.
Car pool was introduced to save on unnecessary travel between Anand and Ahmedabad/Baroda airports only a week ago and I was perhaps the first one to get a lift in Dr. Kurien’s car.
Just as we were out of Ahmedabad municipal limits, Dr. Kurien opened the conversation. “What is this school thing you are after Nagar. You know it is a big responsibility and we can’t do everything. There are things that are best left to specialists. Why don’t you talk to one of these educational trusts. We can see how to support them”.
I explained to him why such a thing was not feasible since none of the local trusts were interested in adopting CBSE curriculum.
“All right, give me one good reason why NDDB should have its own school”. “If your argument is convincing, I will agree to your demand”.
I said, “Sir, besides NDDB we now have IRMA, GCMMF and possibly other institutions where you are recruiting professionals of high caliber with the expectation that they will have a long innings in Anand. But if a professional finds that his/her children will not have a good future just because lack of quality schooling, how many will stick in Anand for more than a couple of years? No professional would like his children to end up in a mediocre career? A good school will only support your dream of building quality institutions in Anand”.
I had not prepared for this reply. It came spontaneously, it came without fear and I was myself taken aback at this reply.
By this time we had reached outskirts of Nadiad. He gave me an intense look, smiled and said, “Can I have a nap now” and he promptly went to sleep.
We arrived at his house in Amul campus. He asked me to come in and take a seat in the living room. He went in to freshen up, called out Mrs Kurien and said, “Mollu, this fellow Nagar has been lecturing me right from the time we got in the car at Ahmedabad airport on why we should have our own school and has given me a headache. Now give us a cup of strong coffee”.
I looked at Mrs Kurien. She smiled and her smile conveyed that she knows him too well to believe what he said.
A month after this incidence, I was transferred to Bangalore. In between I had worked out a proposal for the school and what all formalities we will have to follow to get CBSE affiliation.
“Nagar, leave the school proposal file with your successor (PC Bardhan) and ask him to follow it with me” were his last instructions to me before I moved to Bangalore.
He gave me the news of NDDB board having approved the proposal to setup a school when we met in Hyderabad for the management committee meeting of Indian Immunologicals’ sometime in late 1988 or early 1989. “Nagar, you are getting your school. And I am going to call it “Doodh School”, he jokingly added (with pun intended at Doon School).
A couple of months later, one day my PS Sundaramurthy walked into my office in the Bangalore campus and said, “ Sir, one Mr. Neelkantan wants to see you. Can I send him in?”
Neelkanthan introduced himself as the newly appointed principal of the new school named “Anandalaya”. He asked me only one question-“Mr. Nagar, what kind of school did you have in mind when you moved the proposal”.
Well, finally ten years of patience paid of. Anandalaya has redefined school education in Anand and now a number of new good quality schools dot the landscape of the milk city. Although my son never went to Anandalaya, my daughter studied there and, to the best of my knowledge, is the only one so far to have done her 12th board exam with humanities stream.
From the forgoing, the first impression that anyone will get is that Dr. Kurien reluctantly agreed to the school. My own feeling is that it was not so. He took time only to ensure that Anandalaya emerges as an institution of class and character in education that Anand had not witnessed so far and sets an example to follow. It had to be like any of his other creations in Anand-no less.