My rendezvous with Mr. JN Dar
- Mrs Savita Sahni , April 2020
I came across Mr J N Dar ,the Principal of Navyug School, Sarojini Nagar in October 1976 when I was interviewed for the post of subject teacher in English. I was grilled by the Interview Board about my subject but Mr Dar just reminded me that I would be compromising with my career if I took up that job as I had been a lecturer and a Commissioned NCC officer to boot having trained in NCC College for women, Gwalior .Also Navyug had longer working hours as it was a Day Boarding school. I assured him that I had no problems with timings and that I would find it a challenge to teach talented children after having taught adults for a considerable time. I had done justice to my interview but honestly, I was not interested in it. An interview is just a chance to prove yourself to yourself. I found myself become a member of their faculty ,to my utter disappointment as I was well ensconced in my previous job as a lecturer and I had no intention of joining . I had appeared for the interview to please my parents as they wanted me to be back in Delhi from Amritsar. My parents got the upper hand on me as I had been selected. Anyway I had to reluctantly accept the appointment. By and by I fell in love with the ways of Mr, Dar and the sweet innocent but keen to learn young students. it was a drastic change for me.
Navyug School was ,I learnt, an experimental school meant for talented children from the economically weaker sections of New Delhi . It was a gift from Mrs Indira Gandhi the then Prime Minister to citizens of New Delhi. Education was free. It was more like a residential school with the only difference that the children went home in the evening to be with their family and had the pleasure of their company which students in residential schools did not. It had all the trappings of the best residential public schools in India. It even had preps like them where teachers attended to their home task given to them in school. They didn’t have to carry all the note books back home. The staff was selected from the best of schools and colleges as they were required to have at least three years of experience in teaching. Surprisingly B.Ed. was not required as they were more like lecturers who were subject teachers only. They were not given the normal TGT or PGT designation. It made me feel better as I was still a lecturer though I was as time went by in addition to Senior classes given to me at least one section of a junior class was given too. Mr, Dar called it vertical teaching. He felt class Vi students needed the best teachers as their base in the subject had to be strong. It made sense.
Initially , It all sounded foreign to me as I had six year’s teaching experience in colleges in Delhi and Punjab. Anyhow ,as I was in it for better or worse. I began to enjoy my interactions with young inquisitive minds and the way they hero-worshipped you.
The school was only up to class X then the first class being class VI. I felt quite awkward in this scenario. But Mr Dar who looked middle aged but was nearly 70 though very agile and active like a young man reassured me that by and by I would adjust to the environment . He made me feel at ease. Day by day he went on impressing me with his asides on how to handle those students especially the junior wing. It indeed was annoying in the beginning as junior students didn’t stick to their seats. They were all the time complaining against each other. Dar Saab was always seen going up and down stopping to talk to everybody, a student ,a teacher or any other employee in the corridor
We used to have long morning assemblies where we all sang regional or patriotic songs led by the music teacher Mrs Wadera. The House master addressed the assembly giving details about the activities for the day. So did Mr.Dar . He made everyone feel special and expected them to take up both academics and co-curricular activities with equal fervour. Sometimes the assembly was extended as the breakfast was not yet ready! Students were invited on stage to fill the waiting time. They were made to speak on anything they were familiar with.
Breakfast consisted of cottage cheese ,boiled eggs and bread or wheat porridge with a glass of milk. There were two dining halls where breakfast and lunch were served. Even those who didn’t like milk and were addicted to tea sipped a glass of milk as if it was nectar. I am talking about adults both insiders and outsiders. Children of course couldn’t say no to it under the supervision of their class teachers.
After the meals sometimes a long bell was rung to assemble in the dining hall . Dar Saab would have a plate in his hand in which he had collected left over crumbs of bread or chapatti or salad or vegetables or daal. He would give a stern lecture on wastage of food when the country had millions of mouths to feed who couldn’t have two square meals a day. Thus reprimanded everybody remembered not to leave anything on their plate. They took only what they could finish . Children being naughty continued to have their fun in the dining hall. Mr Dar would tell the teachers to give English equivalents of vegetables or pulses served for lunch to the junior students. Although they lined up to get their food there was a room decked up with a dining table and chairs near the dining hall where table manners were taught to the youngsters. One of us was put on duty to do that.
The school meals consisted of some favorites too. Samber. and Punjabi Karrih were relished by everybody . The whole school could feel the aroma of the pungent smells of these dishes. Even now students try to recreate those recipes but they have not been able to copy them There was something called cronyism which mixed with spices made them delicious and special. That is the magic of eating together. Dar Saab and maata ji headed this big family called Navyug that has never put us apart to this day. Ex-students identify each other sometimes when they sing the same songs or simply exclaim they used to love Samber and Karrhi back in school in a get together in the forces or multinationals or any other place of work or social circles or even when they are abroad. Teachers run into them almost everywhere as they recognize them even if the teachers can’t.
Everyday there was a learning situation in school. Once one of the male teachers hit a child as a punishment. The child had a fracture in his hand. Mr, Dar was very upset. Corporal punishment was not allowed. He had harmed a student. This was unforgivable. Mr. Dar collected the entire staff and all of us led by him walked to the child’s house to apologies to his parents for this unruly behaviour by a teacher.
In fact he wrote a letter to NDMC to resign from his post as he was the head and he was equally responsible for any such episode in school. He had such moral standards. Later everything was sorted out and the school functioned normally. His resignation was not accepted. He was so popular with NDMC officials as he had maintained good relations with them too.
Memories come flooding from that era. I used to be sent on trips with other teachers along with a co-ed group. In the summer vacation once we had taken a trip to Haridwar, Rishikesh and Mussoorie along with around thirty students both boys and girls. While coming back by train to Haridwar a few boys tried to get off the train while it was still moving at the platform .Unfortunately one of them got hurt on the leg and was bleeding profusely. He was immediately taken to the railway hospital and got help in time. The trip was then cut short and we headed back to Delhi, As soon as we arrived in school the boy with a serious injury was taken to Mr.Dar’s home as he lived on the premises of the school with family. He was given some home remedy and looked after by his family. That night the boy stayed with Mr, Dar. His parents were informed the next day when he was better. This is how Mr.Dar would treat every child in school. Often weak students who needed coaching in certain subjects stayed with Sir overnight. The school for us all was, indeed, a home away from home.
Mr, A K Bhatnagar ,the counsellor was often sent to children’s home to know more about them so that they could be handled accordingly. This was education for all of us, We all felt so connected like a big family caring for each other and showing concerns for each other.
What impressed me as an English teacher was that we had full freedom to prescribe books for junior classes. Apart from NCERT books we hunted for graded books so that English medium and Hindi medium sections both could be prescribed books according to their difficulty level. I rather liked this freedom. Board class used to be given extra coaching. On Sundays sometimes we were called to teach English to those students who were weak in English. We didn’t mind at all. Mr.Dar always set an example before us. He was for us a role model.
There was a swimming pool in the school premises itself. Every student was given training in swimming early in the morning before the school started. We often found their swimming costumes drying on the class room benches. No teacher objected.
Mr Dar was fond of tea. if anyone of us wanted tea we would go to see him for some concocted reason. Sure enough tea was brought in. Sometimes we saw school peons or office staff or cooks sitting in the chairs around him in the office as if they were equal to teachers or honored guests .They were treated with as much respect as anybody else. This was quite admirable. No class or creed consciousness was found in him.
Sometimes if he wanted any guest to leave as his work was being hampered he didn’t dismiss him but simply folded his hands to say namastay! The guest understood that he was not welcome anymore. He had to leave.
I would often read the newspapers from the News Paper stands outside the library. If he happened to be there he would advise me to tell children they should read the Hindi News Paper but speak in English. It was his way to teach children how to have command in both the languages.
He would talk about small little things like how to have a good turnout. Once early in the day, he had called a number of boys to sit down in chairs kept in the school ground as he had called a barber to give them a crew cut. All of them had long unruly hair which he objected to. Where can you have such spectacles in schools? Dar Saab even taught students how to shake hands. Extend a fully stretched hand to shake it smartly with a strong grip. Tell me who would teach manners learned in elite society to children who came from economically weaker sections. He was turning them into gentlemen and ladies They had quality education from a man who had worked in the best residential schools in India. He himself had been a Geography teacher. He often went as a substitute teacher to certain classes to teach Geography with figures drawn on the blackboard. He used to call them Thank You Periods as you were obliging some absent teachers.
Sports played a great role in the school curriculum. Teachers were put on duty to supervise game periods where a match was being played. Lessons were given by the sports teacher Mr. Kakkar to train them in different sports. Often special coaches were called in to give practice to various teams who had to play against teams of other schools.. Even teachers played table tennis or badminton in their free periods. Every skill that we learnt in school as teachers came in handy in life. He was changing lives for the better both for students, teachers, and other employees too. Kitchen staff and watch men and peons also accompanied students and teachers on treks and trips. It was a learning opportunity for them too.
Debates, Declamations, poetry recitations, dramas, Dance-dramas, group dances like Bhangra, Lavni, group songs and what have you , all were part of the curriculum. Whenever any foreign dignitary came to Delhi our students were invited to receive them at the airport with flags in their hands.
This was an inclusive, holistic education imparted in Navayug school, Sarojini Nagar under the larger-than-life figure that was our revered Principal Mr. Dar. The staff he had chosen was also well qualified and they devoted themselves to the school completely. To this day both ex-students and the old staff members are performing their duty towards Navayug Sarojini Nagar School. As many more branches of the school have come up they are transferred to other branches too but their training by Dar Saab puts a stamp of class on them They pass on the experience gained there to other branches too sometimes as teachers sometimes as Vice Principals or sometimes as Principals. Their enthusiasm is infectious.
This write-up is my humble tribute to Shree J N Dar, a great human being, a great teacher and,a great role model for anyone who came into contact with him.