Mr. Dar and the Inception of Navayug School: Some Reflections
- By Mrs. Leela Prasad Feb 15, 2020
In the month of June 1974, I arrived in Delhi. My husband had been transferred to Delhi, and I had to give up my lectureship at Patna College. One fine morning, as I was having my cup of tea, I saw an ad in the newspaper: Navayug Public School vacancy for PGT English, with the same pay scale as a college lecturer. The school was in Netaji Nagar, not far from where we were staying.
It was a strangely shaped red brick building with a banner, NAVAYUG PUBLIC SCHOOL. “My God!” I thought, “What kind of a public school is this?” It did not look impressive at all. I went in to give my application, and that was when I first met Mr. Dar. I saw a fair, bald-headed elderly man with a serene and gentle expression on his face. I didn’t know his name, and in fact, I thought he was British until the peon told me his name: Mr. J.N. Dar. I left my resume and came away a little disappointed at my first sight of the school – such a small, unimpressive building!
Then I got called for an interview. I was ushered into a tiny office, with the members of the selection committee, which included Mr. Dar, Mr. M.N. Kapoor, the principal of Modern School, and Mrs. Uma Sinha, a senior education officer of Bihar who had the reputation of being a strict disciplinarian. When I saw her I felt very nervous and self-conscious, but she never asked any questions. Mr. Kapoor asked me about my career and college life. Mr. Dar told me that the school had started with only class VI. I was shocked. Class VI! And they wanted a first or second class PG teacher with three to five years teaching at the PG level! I wondered what such a teacher would do for Class VI, and that too, in Hindi medium. I told the committee I had no experience teaching such junior classes. Then Mr. Kapoor asked if I would like to teach in Modern School. That sounded like a dream come true. The school had a very good reputation and Mr. Kapoor had obtained a Padmashree for his excellent Principalship. The school provided free education for the children of the staff, and for me an additional incentive was the accommodation of teachers in the school campus.
Mr. Dar did not complain or get angry, but spoke in a gentle, bantering tone to Mr. Kapoor: “Why are you taking my teacher away?” As a result of the interview, I joined Modern School and started teaching there. But gradually I realized that the school catered mostly to the children of the rich business community and politicians. These children would get rupees five hundred for pocket money and spend it too. Most of them were not interested in studies, and my sincere efforts fell on deaf ears. I also found out that campus accommodation was not given to lady teachers. So when Mr. Kapoor told me that Mr. Dar had rung him up and asked if I would consider teaching at Navayug, I decided it was time to say yes.
The next day I went to see Mr. Dar in the red brick building in Netaji Nagar. Dressed in immaculate white bushirt and trousers, he greeted me with a gentle smile and offered me a chair. We had a great chat about the school, and about the philosophy behind its establishment, which was a blend of the ancient gurukul system and modern education. A day boarding school with facilities for breakfast and lunch to build a strong body for a strong mind to flourish, to empower children to become responsible, skilled and innovative citizens of India, to enthuse them through music, art and drama to widen their mind and heart without boundaries. I was awestruck! I realized I was before a great educationist. His sincere concern, his earnest desire to ameliorate the lives of children coming from underprivileged segments of society, and his unreserved enthusiasm for the school’s mission began to manifest layer by layer. And thus started my association with Navayug school.
There were only 90 students in class VI, divided into 3 sections of 30 students each. It was a long day boarding school, from 8 to 5 pm. The children were given breakfast, lunch and tiffin. Mr. Dar believed that learning can’t be done on an empty stomach. The children were divided into groups of ten each, with one teacher, to have their meals. To Mr. Dar this enabled the children to learn the art of community living and sharing with others.
One of Mr. Dar’s great qualities was his genuine compassionate nature; he never denied leave to any staff member if she or he was in real need. On many occasions he would even allow them to swap their class with another colleague so that they could run home if their children’s wellbeing was of concern.
When the number of students increased, the school shifted to a big primary school in Sarojini Nagar. He was very fond of long assembly where he would encourage the students to overcome their shyness and participate in extracurricular activities. Every student was given an opportunity to participate by turn. They were supposed to keep a small comb and clean handkerchief. If anyone turned up with unkempt hair he would be sent to the barber at the school.
Another aspect of his character was his sanguine belief in high thinking and simple living which he not only propagated but also implemented in his own life. He never made any demands from the authorities for himself. He happily settled in two tiny classrooms which was given to him by the authorities as accommodation for his family. Mataji, his wife, was a gem of a person, very affectionate and hospitable. Whenever we visited her, either to invite her to a school function or for a festive occasion, she would not let us go without offering us tea and homemade cookies.
The school bell had its own character. The number of peals would indicate the periods, which were eight in number. A long peal was meant for lunch break or for an emergency meeting. In the new building in Sarojini Nagar we initially had no dining hall for students to sit with teachers. The kitchen was in a makeshift tent. These facilities were under construction.
One incident I vividly remember: just after lunch, when we had settled down to our classes, the school bell started ringing – a long peal. We all got alarmed. Some emergency! A fire, a death of a VIP, a mishap with students or a member of staff? With thudding hearts we all rushed to the meeting ground. There Mr. Dar stood, holding a plate containing half eaten food. Anger and hurt were writ large on his face. Our hearts filled with apprehension. Was there poison in the food? Was a dead creature found in it? “Who is the prince or princess here who had the audacity to leave so much food on the plate?” he said angrily. He reminded us of the sin of wasting food when thousands of children were starving in the world. It was a lesson to us to value food and not to waste it.
It isn’t an exaggeration to say that Mr. Dar was a paragon of motivation and positivity. Once a few of us complained to him that some children that the NCERT had selected were below average. I have never forgotten what he said. He said that a teacher should never say to any child that he or she was good for nothing, and that such a statement would have a very damaging effect on the personality of the child. Every child had got potential. He or she might not be good at English or maths, but could have talent in other fields like music, painting, dramatics etc., and it was the duty of a good teacher to inspire the child to develop that potential to the utmost level. Once the confidence was built up he or she was bound to excel in life. I learned a major lesson that day. At many critical junctures in my teaching life, his words stood before me as a guideline.
In a few years the school earned an excellent reputation under the guidance of Mr. Dar, and the devoted teaching faculty that he had selected. It then became clear to me why he wanted such qualified and experienced teachers. The base, the foundation has to be strong. Then only can one build the edifice.
As a result of the school’s success, Mr. Dar started getting a lot of pressure to admit children from affluent families and officials of NDMC. The responsibility of selecting children was given to the NCERT. About 1200 to 1500 children had to take a test conducted by NCERT, and only 90 were selected on merit for admission to class VI. No other admission was allowed in any other class. Mr. Dar did not admit his own grandson when he did not qualify for the merit list by a very nominal margin. This kind of honesty is very rare in today’s world. This was another aspect of his character which I admired.
Mr. Dar had a great deal of energy despite his age. He would seldom be sitting in his office. Most of the time he would be everywhere else – with children in the dining hall, or playing football with children in the playground, or as a substitute teacher in a classroom if the teacher was absent.
The national education policy does not allow people to work after retirement age, and Mr. Dar was already nearing seventy, so he had to leave Navayug. I must say his departure ended a golden era of Navayug school. By laying a strong foundation he brought the school to a level that nobody would have imagined when it first began, and the school continues its proud tradition today.