Sunehari Yaadein by Mr Suraj Prakash
Ram Vriksh Singh (1980) conducted an interview with Respected Mr. Suraj Prakash, our Physics teacher.
RVS: Sir, please tell us about your journey as a teacher, and how did you reach Navayug? What prompted you to join Navayug?
SP: I am highly satisfied as a Teacher and if I get a second birth, I shall like to become a teacher again.
I used to teach physics in Modern School, Barakhamba Road, New Delhi. It was early January 1973. Mr. J.N. Dar had been invited to address the morning assembly. Mr. M.N. Kapoor, the then Principal introduced Mr. Dar to the boys. Through him we learnt that Mr. Dar was a teacher, an eminent educationist. A Gandhian, who had taught in Modern School during 1928-31. Under the freedom struggle movement he gave up his job at Modern School and joined Vidya Bhavan, Udaipur, where Dr. K.L. Shrimali used to be his principal. After this brief introduction Mr. Kapoor offered the podium to Mr. Dar, who spoke at length to the students and the staff. Mr. Dar told us that it was not only the management or the teachers who contributed to the making of an institution, but also the children whose contribution is equally important in the growth of any institution. He shared that Modern School used to be at, Dariya Ganj initially. When the school was to shift from there, every boy was asked to carry a brick and march to Barakhamba Road, to lay the foundation of its new building. (Incidentally, a similar process was repeated at Navayug, when we shifted from Red Bricks, Netaji Nagar to I-Avenue, Sarojini Nagar. Children and teachers picked up various lab-equipments and apparatuses, Library Books, Sports Materials etc. from Red Bricks and carried them to the new campus at Sarojini Nagar).
Mr. Dar dwelled upon at length on his experiences as a teacher. After the assembly was over, at the behest of Mr. Kapoor he took a round of the school and eventually walked into the Physics Lab, where I was engrossed in an experiment. I was excited to have him in my lab. He started talking to me. He enquired about my background and shared his experiences as teacher at Doon School, Scindia and Vidya Bhawan Udaipur. I was surprised to learn from him that he had taught Biology at Doon School and had met Pundit JawaharLal Nehru when he had visited the Doons.
By the time we parted, Mr. Dar had already developed a liking for me. Soon after, he told Mr. Kapoor that he wanted me at Navayug. Mr. Kapoor tried to dissuade Mr. Dar telling that I (Suraj Prakash) came from a non-descript Agra University and not from the coveted Delhi University or so, and hence wasn’t quite the right kind of a teacher for a school like Navayug. Later on, however, he (Mr. Kapoor) called me to enquire as to what talks I had with Mr. Dar and what he (Mr. Dar) had asked me. I opened up my heart to Mr. Kapoor and admitted that I too had started liking Mr. Dar. On learning this, Mr. Kapoor revealed on me that Mr. Dar wanted me to join Navayug.
Later on Mrs. Uma Prasad, the wife of Mr. Baleshwar Prasad, the then Lieutenant Governor of Delhi (and a Member of the Navayug Board of Governors) also asked Mr. Kapoor to relieve me for Navayug School.
Now I realize why Mr. Dar insisted on my joining Navayug. Actually I came from a village background, and Navayug was to have Hindi as its medium of instruction. Most of the students to be inducted in class VI were to come from Hindi speaking families belonging to the weaker strata of the society. I was therefore, picked up as the natural choice to fit into the slot. Later on when I taught Physics in Hindi and used terms like घर्षण (for friction) and जड़त्व का नियम (law of inertia), my students could understand and grasp the principles very easily.
This in brief is the story behind my joining Navayug.
RVS: There were a good number of Government schools in New Delhi, besides a few very good private ones, when Navayug came into being. What according to you was the exact purpose of starting this school?
SP: Navayug was conceptualized in the year 1972, which happened to be the Silver Jubilee year of our country's independence. After giving due consideration to many other options, the Delhi Administration in general and the NDMC top brass in particular (comprising the likes of Mr. Yusuf Zai, Mrs. Gujral, Mrs. Ila Pant and Mrs.Vidya Ben Shah) zeroed on to starting a school for the Poor gifted children in the jurisdiction of New Delhi - which in their opinion was to make the real Silver Jubilee Gift for the citizens of Delhi.
RVS: As we all know, Late Mr.J.N. Dar was the founder Principal of Navayug. How did this happen? Was he a natural choice for the post?
SP: When it came to appointment of the Principal, Mrs. Uma Prasad (the then LG's wife) who had probably known Mr. Dar since his days in the Netarhat Vidyalaya, (now Jharkhand), suggested that he would suit the best for the job. Mr. J.N. Dar, thus, emerged unanimously as the natural choice to become the founder Principal of Navayug. But his whereabouts were not known to anybody. A hunt was launched to find him out. Eventually, it was learnt that he was staying at Varanasi with Dr. K.L. Shrimali, the then VC of BHU.
He was persuaded to take up the task for the sake of the poor gifted students, who were to benefit from the project. He accepted the offer on a few conditions. He said he won't appear for any interview for the post, nor would he accept any annual increments in his remunerations. Today, you fix my salary- he told. Thus his salaries for the entire tenure of his assignment as the Principal of Navayug School were fixed at Rs. 1800/pm.
He was offered a house, off-campus, which he turned down point blank and insisted on staying at the campus instead. (Later on I realized that his insistence on staying at the campus itself was primarily based on two reasons. At the first instance he wanted to make himself accessible and available to his students 24x7x365 hrs. This could be possible only if he stayed at the school campus. Secondly he didn't want his old wife to become a cause of worry for him, while he was discharging his duty as the Principal. He was already about seventy years old when he founded the school, and wanted to see her at least once during the school hours). It was therefore, agreed that Mr. Dar would be provided accommodation within the school campus itself. (I must admit here, that it wasn't easy for him to stay at the campus. He was provided with a big class room to put up with his family. This big room was partitioned with Mataji's saris, where at times, his entire family comprising his son, his daughter in law and his grand-son Jugnoo would stay with him. There was neither a kitchen nor a toilet. The family would use the Girls' toilet in the Red Bricks, Netaji Nagar. Despite all these hardships Mr. Dar stayed on campus, is a testimony to his simplicity and devotion to the cause of his students).
Once appointed the Principal, he told the founders to decide about the medium of instruction in the school, then and there itself. They in turn asked him to decide. Hindi- he said. Thus Navayug came to be a Hindi-medium school.
Then came the question of naming the school. Initially the school was to be named as "New Era School". Considering the target group, Mr. Dar insisted that the name should be in Hindi. Mrs. Gujral suggested that it should be Navayug Public School, as people had a craze for the word Public. Mr. Dar didn't like the idea. He insisted on dropping the tag Public, and name the institution as - Navayug School. This is how, the name came into being.
Navayug was to have all characteristics of a good public school, except the tag public. It was to cater to the educational needs of the gifted children coming from the relatively under-privileged sections of the society, who despite all their latent talent and potential could not afford a public school education. The very purpose of this school was to provide these gifted children with a comprehensive environment so as to enable them realize their potential and eventually grow into ideal citizens of the country and add up to the glory of humanity.
RVS: You taught us Physics from class sixth onwards. As you told, you were associated with the school right since its inception in the Red Bricks. Would you like to share some of your interesting experiences with us?
SP: I was appointed the Physics teacher at Navayug even before it started functioning. The school was inaugurated on February 16th, 1973. Eager to report for my new job, I put on my best suit and best tie, and reached the Red Bricks, Netaji Nagar, where Navayug School was housed initially. We all assembled in the hall where we were to receive the parents and the students, and the Principal was to brief us all about the future course of action. All the newly recruited teachers viz. Mrs. Mangala Navathe, Mrs. Veena Hora, Mrs. Kamal Sharma, Ms. Indira Yadav, had assembled there. Soon, I was to be confronted with the most bizarre thing I could have ever imagined. We found parents coming in different attires, some of them even in lungis. The assembly hall was buzzing with activity. Very soon we ran short of chairs. There were more number of parents than the chairs available in the assembly hall. Puzzled at the situation, we started looking at one another. As I was the only male teacher, Mr. Dar asked me to rush to the dining hall and fetch some chairs. I, a teacher straight from the coveted Modern School, had not imagined of this even in the wildest of my thoughts. I, however, put aside all my hesitation and rushed to the dining hall, which was located at quite a distance from the assembly hall. In several tranches of 2-2 or 3-3 chairs in each of my hands, I fetched those folding iron chairs from the dining hall.
I still remember the first prayer that we recited was मेरो मन अनत कहां सुख पावे (composed by medieval devotee poet- Surdas). All the teachers who joined initially remained with Navayug for quite some time, while Ms. Yadav worked with us for only about 5-6 months.After the assembly we moved to the dining hall. Same chairs were to be taken to the dining hall. I was to repeat the exercise, while Dar saheb picked up his own chair.
The mess was managed by Mr. Chandra Mohan Mittal. All the teachers and parents had meals. Halwa was served in dessert. When everybody had finished, the staff was asked to collect the utensils and wash them. We washed all the utensils. This was our first experience with the Navayug mess.
Again we went to the assembly hall to finish the admission process and other formalities related therewith. The parents left after collecting the uniforms, books, and stationery etc. for their wards.
After the parents had left and the whole buzz was over, I went to Dar Saheb. He asked me- साहबजादे आप मेरे साथ चलिए। … आप कुछ परेशान लग रहे हैं। I said," no, it’s okay. I can understand the things. After all its the first day of the school and I am happy that everything went on very well.."He wasn't satisfied- "No-no, it seems you are unhappy" he insisted instead. On his repeated inquiries and insistence on my opening up, I asked him- "Sir, can I ask you one thing? You had to ask your teachers to fetch chairs for the parents....Don't you have any peons in the school?..."He became serious, gazed right into my eyes and posed me this question- "साहबजादे, आप कुर्सियाँ किसके लिए उठा के लाए ? …सूरज बाबू, आज एक बात सीख लये जो पेरेंट्स हैं न, ये बहुत सामर्थ्यवान नहीं हैं। if we don't respect these parents today, their children will never respect them."
These sentences were quite an eye-opener for me. They were engraved into my heart and changed my whole attitude towards education in general and the parents in particular. So far I had felt belittled, serving parents who were not even properly dressed up, and many may be were doing small jobs for living But soon after Mr. Dar's friendly advice, I realized how important it was to respect the parents, especially while in the presence of their wards.
Then onwards, I always looked forward for his invaluable guidance in all realms of school education. He would tell me- "When you teach physics, go to the mathematics teacher and ask him how mathematics can be collaborated with physics, because there are many calculations in physics as well. Likewise when you teach physics you should also try to collaborate geography with physics." He would insist on collaborative learning and asked us to discuss among ourselves the various subjects we taught, so that the different topics in one subject complemented the learning of those in the other subjects. I, along with Mr.Vishnu Bhagwan Bhatnagar (the Mathematics teacher) implemented this while teaching physics.
As most of you are aware, Mr. Dar used to teach geography in his early days. Based on his experience, he would tell Mr. T.S. Shrivastava (the Geography teacher at Navayug) that he should, while teaching about the Sahara desert, ask his students to first read and then shut their eyes and imagine as if they are roaming in the Sahara desert and then describe what they were seeing there. Later on, when I went to America, I found that this was the latest technique of teaching being practiced those days. It was called collaborative learning.
RVS: What discussions you used to have in the teachers’ room or with the Principal? Was it any different from what you would have had in your previous schools?
SP: The Principal and the teachers were aware of almost everything about the students that could have a possible role in their overall growth and ensuring their wellbeing. We would, therefore, discuss each and every child's case, thread bare. Mr. Dar opined and ensured that every student must have a deep sense of self- pride and self-esteem and she/he should feel great about her/his parents. One of our students had lost his father quite early in his life. Mr. Dar had instructed every teacher that we should talk of everything but his father. Eventually this student got emotional support from the teachers and excelled in academics.
There were several examples where student’s parents were involved and requested for specific help. Offering due regard and respect to the parents boosted the morale and self-esteem of the students, which played a vital role in taking our students to the top of the line professionally.
Every child's family background and other details were known to all the teachers, but the child was never made to sense this. Each child was respected. We allowed the students to be on their own. They would play, they would draw and make paintings, they would laugh, and they would do a lot of other things that they felt like doing. This way all the children were provided an opportunity to develop all their faculties and attain all their potential under the teachers' supervision.
RVS: Mr.J.N.Dar was instrumental in giving a concrete shape to hundreds of Navayugians, who were fortunate enough to join the school as young students, during his tenure. As he was quite aged, and appeared to be a fatherly figure to most of the teachers in the school, can you please tell us, if he had any impact on the growth and grooming of the teachers as well?
SP: He motivated all of us to keep on learning and adding to our CV. When I joined Navayug, I didn't have a formal teaching degree. Modern School Principal Mr. Kapoor believed that the persons trained in a government institution should not join his school, and his school would instead train its own teachers. Later on, when I was in Navayug, I realized that it (lack of a formal degree in education) was a handicap to me, and I could not become a principal without a degree in education. Hence, I did my B.Ed. in 1982.
दर साहब ने हमें सिखाया कि सवाल पूछने की आज़ादी दो। बच्चे निर्भय होकर सवाल पूछें। बिना सवाल पूछे कोई लर्निंग नहीं होती। अथ़ॉरिटी से सवाल करें। Questioning is the basic foundation for the building of learning. Questioning leads to thinking. And thinking leads to learning.
Even we (the teachers) used to ask questions from him. For instance, I saw that potatoes were cooked without peeling off in Navayug. When asked, Mr. Dar told that the outer layer of potatoes contained phosphorus and hence it should not be peeled off. We were free to ask him any question, without the fear of annoying or displeasing him. He would invite us to ask questions.
He professed and practiced Situational learning. I shall like to quote an example for this. On 18thMay, 1974 during the time of Prime Minister Smt. Indira Gandhi, India went for the first nuclear explosion at Pokharan, Rajasthan. It was quite an achievement for the country and provided us with a splendid learning opportunity as well. The schools were closed for the summer vacations. Dar sahib telephoned me and asked if I had read the newspapers that day. Yes- I replied. Then what you are doing at home- he asked. What should I do- asked a puzzled me. He told me to rush to the school, in the wake of the nuclear explosion, as he wanted the students to learn about this. I used to stay far away at Kamla Nagar, near the Delhi University, North Campus. I told him that it would take me at least 2 hrs to reach the school. He said you come in 90 minutes. I had to change many buses before I could make it to the school. By the time I could reach the school he had already gathered about 200 students, who were all eagerly waiting to learn from me more about the nuclear explosion. I was asked to explain about nuclear physics. I told the students about various aspects of nuclear science and how a nuclear explosion differed from fusion, and so on. Such was his approach towards learning.
He would ensure that his students learnt from the happenings in their environment. He kept everybody abreast with the contemporary world and developments taking place. He also motivated all students to think and reflect in a creative manner about the latest developments taking place in their surroundings, in the city and in the country. The students were encouraged to write poems and coin slogans on occasions like swachchhata abhiyan or swasthya abhiyan carried out from time to time by the NDMC. It was all directed towards imparting a wholesome education to his students.
RVS: There used to be a lot of emphasis on languages, sports, cultural activities, debates, and such other extra-curricular activities. What impact did it have on the students' overall growth?
SP: Once I asked Mr. Dar, as to how did he view his students, which qualities he wanted them to have? What he spoke in reply to this, I would like to quote here. This could very well be termed as his philosophy or his mission statement. He said -
"Every Child should be physically fit, mentally alert and forward looking- who could adopt and adapt in fast changing technological era."
This he not only preached but also practiced. He also saw to it that an enabling environment was created towards ensuring this. He allowed us all the requisite freedom and autonomy to perform and help our students attain their potential. I had all the freedom to buy the best of the equipment available for the science lab. This enabled us to procure the state of the art apparatuses and gadgets for the lab, which came handy in teaching our subjects in the best possible manner.
RVS: Publicly, Mr. Dar would not speak on core science subjects. His talks would basically confine to character building, encompassing instances from the European history. Did he also inspire you to excel as a Physics teacher? Would he ever talk to you on your subject?
SP: As I told you, he himself had been a science teacher in his early days. He had a keen interest in core science subjects. He however, believed that all disciplines were inter-woven and the students should have a fair amount of understanding of all subjects. He therefore, insisted on an integrated approach towards teaching, wherein each subject was linked to the other. He also believed in connecting theoretical learning with the day to day affairs of a student's life, which in his opinion was to become a lasting learning experience.
RVS: We remember distinctly of three science teachers- yourself, Mr. H.C. Ohri, our Biology teacher and Mr. Subhash Sahai, the Chemistry teacher. All the three had distinct styles of teaching. Mr. Sahai was the most dreaded of all the science teachers. Would you like to comment on this?
SP: As you rightly said, we all had our own distinct styles of teaching. All the three of us did our best to bring about the best out of our students in our own way.
RVS: Mr. I.B. Kakkar, the successor of Mr. Dar, himself was a very good Physics teacher. He had taken over as Principal by the time the first batch went to write the first public exams ever. What impact did he (Mr. Kakkar) have on the academic performance of the students?
SP: Mr. Kakkar was probably the best physics teacher in India, during his days. I held him in a very high esteem. I offered to be his student and requested him to teach me while he taught. He wrote a good number of books and certainly helped his students to excel in their academics, especially in his subject of specialization, i.e. Physics.
In contrast to him, Mr. Dar was a great motivator. He sent me to NCERT and under his guidance, I became a TV teacher. I have given more than 100 lessons on TV and a good number of Radio Talks. All this I could accomplish just because of Mr. Dar's encouragement and motivation.
RVS: Mr. Dar himself took a lot of pains in improving our pronunciation. We still remember the long assembly hours, when he would make us repeat those Urdu words behind him. English was made compulsory on the play-fields and in the dining hall. We used to enact English plays, in order to improve our command over the language. Creative writing was also encouraged. What do you feel was the purpose of all these measures?
SP: Mr. Dar would, at times correct even us. He would narrate many stories from his teaching days, from Modern School, Netarhat, Doon School, Scindia School etc. Once I was going somewhere with him. On the way I told him-"sir, this is नेशनल School." Immediately he corrected me. He told that the word nation was pronounced as नेशन while its derivative national should be pronounced as नैशनल. I felt very good about it. We felt ourselves privileged and fortunate to have found in him someone who was eager to groom us. We would stay back after school hours, to listen and learn from him. Sometimes, he would take us to old teachers from Modern School. At times, just for company sake though, he would take me to the eminent Hindi scholar and authority on Hindi literature- Dr. Dashrath Ojha, who was teaching at the famous Hindu College those days. Such was his quest for knowledge and learning. Dr. Dashrath Ojha and Mr. Dar used to be colleagues in Modern School. While accompanying him to various places I learnt so many great lessons from Mr. Dar.
He wanted us to learn from the experienced veteran teachers from the Modern School. If you remember, two old teachers- Mr. Mathur and Mr.N.K. Bose used to teach Maths and English respectively, in the initial days of Navayug. They had already retired from the Modern School and Mr. Dar had specially invited them to enable us learn from them the art and technique of teaching.
At times he would discuss with us about the various dance forms in the country viz. Kathak, Bharatnatyam, Odishi etc. He himself would narrate about the various aspects of our culture and rich heritage.
Mr. Dar encouraged me to go to NCERT. He wanted us to get the right kind of exposure. I developed so much of interest in the council’s academics that I eventually became a TV Teacher in NCERT. Incidentally, we didn't have a TV in our school. So, whenever my lessons would be telecast on TV, I would go to the Govt. Schools and tell them that my TV lesson was being telecast and I wanted to see it. As I have told you, I gave more than 100 programs on the TV. Under Mr. Dar's guidance, I also got an exposure to give lessons on the Radio. I delivered talks on science, pollution and so many other topics.
Sometimes I went to the AIR with Mrs.Veena Hora (the Home Science Teacher), who also used to be an eminent radio artist those days. Thus Mr. Dar made us all-rounder. He groomed all of us.
Today if I am getting this life time achievement award, the credit goes to Mr. Dar only. (This interview was conducted on the eve of the Life Time Achievement Award received by Mr. Suraj Prakash from Progressive School’s Association).
While at Doon School, Mr. Dar taught Sanjay Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi as well and they used to worship Mr. Dar. Mr. Hari Dang, and ex-student of Modern School, had become the Principal of Air Force School, Subrato Park. Mr. Dang was a great mountaineer and had been up to the Mt. Everest as well. Mr. Dar was a great admirer of Mr. Dang and would most often talk of him. Once, it so happened that we were passing through the Air Force School. I suddenly remembered Mr. Hari Dang and told Mr. Dar- Sir, why don't we go and see Mr. Dang? Mr. Dar refused to do so, telling that Hari Dang was no more a student. Now that he was the Principal of a reputed school, it would be appropriate to seek his prior appointment before going to see him. He was a great disciplinarian and his company itself was a great learning experience for us.
RVS: Mr. Dar used to live right in the school premises. What was the purpose behind this?
SP: Once, I also asked him about this. He said, Suraj Babu, it’s a long hour school and my wife remains alone at home. So I must go and see her at least once in the school hours. This becomes my duty towards my wife. Secondly, I have to see to it that every child has reached home safely, and if someone is unable to go, he can stay with me. This I cannot do if I am away from the campus.
I would normally stay back till late. I remember an occasion when he asked me to come to his place after the school hours. When I reached his home, I saw a boy sitting and reading there. I thought he had not finished his homework and had therefore, been detained by Dar sahib to complete it and go home only after showing it to him (Mr. Dar). I asked the boy "Have you not done your homework?" He told he had done it, but Dar sahib had asked him to stay with him. Soon Mr. Dar appeared from his room and asked the boy, "साहबजादे आप रात को क्या लेंगे ? क्या आप दूध लेते हैं ?" The boy answered in the affirmative- "दूध तो मैं लूँगा। लेकिन मैं बॉर्नविटा डाल के दूध पीता हूँ।"
Mr. Dar took out a 5 rupee note from his pocket and asked me to fetch Bournvita for the boy. I was puzzled at this and didn't know how to react. He insisted that I must go and fetch Bournvita from the nearby shop. Mr. Dar ensured that each one of his student got facilities for better learning.
He told that the teachers should trust their students, even if it meant asking the students again and again, till the truth was revealed. If he ever felt that a child was telling a lie, he would go on asking question after question and eventually succeed in emanating the truth from his tongue. He believed that trusting a child was the basic principle of education.
"Trust a child, Trust a parent, and Trust a teacher. Only then you can become a trustee." said Mr. Dar.
RVS: Navayug had a day-boarding arrangement. The students are served breakfast, lunch and tiffin. In our days, the teachers invariably dined with the students. Did this have any bearing on the development, growth and grooming of the students? Did this also ensure a balanced diet to the young, under privileged yet gifted students?
SP: Very good question. Each teacher at Navayug was assigned a table. We were instructed that not a single Hindi word should be spoken at the dining table. Children should be made to speak small English sentences, like- Please pass me some water, please pass me on chapatti, please pass me on salad, I need some vegetable, I need some rice, please give some dal and so on.
In home science lab we used to sit together and prepare a balanced diet chart. We used to take out the calorie value for the food that was served. There used to be a register, in which the designated teachers were, on a rotation basis, required to record their remarks about the food, viz. today there was less salt, more chilly, less sugar, more oil etc. Mr. Dar would read the remarks regularly and discuss about them with the teachers.
RVS: The school uniform comprised half pants and skirts, inter-alia. Even the grown up boys and girls were made to wear such uniform. What was the reason behind this?
SP: When you all had grown up, even we suggested that the students have reached class eleventh and the boys and girls should be allowed to put on trousers and salwars respectively. Dar sahib asked us if there was any reason behind this. We told -yes, they are attaining puberty now. They have grown up hair on their legs. Hence these grown up boys and girls wearing shorts and skirts looks very odd. They feel embarrassed. They should, therefore, be allowed to wear full length clothes. He didn't agree with us, telling that there was only one game that was played wearing pajamas, and that was cricket. Rest of the games and sports were played in half pants and knickers. He asked us- when the sportsmen play national games in shorts, does the nation feel ashamed of them? Second thing he told in this context was that the boys and girls will develop tolerance for severe winters and summers, if they were made to wear shorts and skirts even during the severest of these seasons. He would quote the example of Hari Dang, who used to cycle all the way from Gwalior Potteries (located in Sarojini Nagar) to the Modern school, Barakhamba Road all along in shorts, even during the cold winters. His Mother would crib and say she will not allow her son to wear shorts and cycle all through. She requested the school to allow her son wear pants, which was turned down summarily. Later on, Mr. Dang admitted that this training had helped him to go to the Mt. Everest and brave the severe cold there- told Mr. Dar.
RVS: What according to you were the best moments you ever spent in Navayug?
SP: The Company of Mr. Dar was always the best moment. He would take me to NDMC. Because nobody in NDMC knew about Dar Sahib, they would call me up to ask about each and every thing that was to happen in the school. As I told, Mr. Dar had invited Mr. Radhe Mohan Mathur to be with us in Navayug School. Mr. R.M. Mathur used to be the Head Master in Modern School, from where he went to Bal Bharati School as Principal, and eventually retired from there. Later on he came to Navayug on Mr. Dar's invitation. Mr. Bose also came from Modern School. He was a thorough gentleman. I could very well understand that Dar sahib had called these teachers for a very special purpose. He wanted the young teachers at Navayug to learn from the old teachers, not only how to teach, but also to learn how to be humble, how to be gentle, how to be polite, how to teach English, how to teach maths and how to become good human beings. When he left Navayug, he also took these old teachers along. I asked him, as to why he was taking them with him. He said, my purpose and their Role in the Navayug Story is accomplished, hence I am taking them away from the school. Such was his concern for the old teachers.
When he was to leave the school, we called a meeting to decide as to how we should bid him a farewell. I used to be the staff secretary. At that time, Mr. Dar had gone to NDMC, and in his absence we were holding this meeting. He returned, while the meeting was still on. As he entered the room, the proceedings came to a halt. Everybody was silent. At this he said- Mr. Chairman, sir, please continue, when you are chairing the meeting. I said -yes, of course, I am chairing this meeting, but we are holding this meeting for a specific purpose and I have not invited you to participate in it. He said- since I am also a teacher, I also want to participate and contribute. I said- certainly, you can contribute. But you are not invited in this meeting. Therefore, right now, I request you to kindly go to your office, so that we can continue with the meeting. He said- and what, if I insist on sitting over here? Can you debar me from attending the staff meeting? I said- OK, then you sit and participate. I told we are discussing about how to bid the principal a farewell and thereafter we continued with the meeting. After some time, he said- Mr. Chairman, I want to make a point. I said- yes. He said- is it right that Mr. J.N. Dar, the principal is to be given a farewell? I said- yes. "Who else will be invited?"- he asked, and without waiting for us to respond he himself replied- "All the students, all the parents and all the teachers will be invited.” Further, he said that the school will serve a cup of Tea with biscuits and insisted that all arrangements shall be as simple as possible. When it came to gifts, he told that Mr. Dar will be given two gifts – an album of class- wise group photographs of the students and an audio cassette containing all school songs and prayers. He did not allow us to do anything else. He decided about his farewell himself in Gandhian Tradition.
Later on when we organized his sendoff party, it was attended by a good number of his old students, along with Mr. M.N. Kapoor and Mr. Jagat Mehta, who used to be the foreign secretary in the government. There were several instances where Mr. Dar demonstrated true concern for his colleagues.
I remember an interesting anecdote. We used to have a teacher who used to be very aggressive. Sometimes he would even thrash the students. Eventually, it so happened that he battered a boy so badly that the boy broke his arm. He was given a first-aid and the child went home in bandage. When the boy's arm swelled the bandage became very tight. The child suffered the whole night and so did his parents. Incidentally, the boy's father worked in the Home Minister's office. Chaudhari Charan Singh used to be the Home Minister those days and the matter reached up to him as well. Chaudhari Charan Singh called Mrs. Vidya Ben Shah, the President of NDMC and asked her to remove the teacher from job. Soon the principal started getting directives to sack the teacher. The entire Administration rose against him. The school started receiving letters after letter from Ms. Vidyaben Shah and so on to dismiss the teacher.
Mr. Dar didn't budge. He stood like a wall to protect his teacher. He called Mr. Banduni (the Principal's steno) and asked him to draft a letter telling that the teacher concerned was a very knowledgeable and noble person and he had beaten the boy under his (Mr. Dar's) instruction and hence he (Mr. Dar) was responsible for the injury inflicted on the boy. Therefore, he (Mr. Dar) himself was tendering his resignation.
Mr. Dar had instructed Mr. Banduni to keep this a secret and let no one come to know about it. Incidentally, I reached the school office and saw Banduni ji typing this letter. I asked him as to what he was typing. With some initial hesitation he confided in metelling that Dar Saheb was leaving the school. I was pretty upset on this. I met Mr. Dar and told him that this letter shall not be delivered to its intended recipient.
That very evening I engaged a taxi and all the teachers went to the boy's place and spoke to his parents. We kept pleading and persuading them to withdraw their complaint. At the same time we kept buying time by telling them that let us go and report the matter in the police first, let us meet the SHO at least and so on. This whole effort went on till midnight, and ultimately we succeeded in changing their hearts.
Eventually they withdrew their complaint. This episode is a testimony of the concern Mr. Dar had for his colleagues.
There is one episode I would like to narrate. Those were the initial days of the school, perhaps somewhere in 1974. Mr. P.N. Bahal, IAS had joined NDMC as its administrator. He was invited to be the chief guest at our school's annual function. Incidentally, my sister who lived in America had presented me with a tape recorder, which was quite a new thing in India. When Mr. Bahal delivered his speech, I recorded it on my tape recorder. When he had finished and he was to leave, Mr. Bahal asked us as to who was recording his speech. I said it was me. He asked me to accompany him and sit in his car with the tape.
From him I came to know that he wanted to remove Dar sahib from the school's principal-ship. He said that Mr. Dar was appointed the principal because he happened to be the samdhi of Mr. Prasad. I said- sir, you are an IAS and you can make out yourself as to how is this possible, since Mr. Dar is a Kashmiri Pundit, while Mr. Prasad is a Bihari. Then he said- no, Mrs. Prasad wanted Mr. Dar as principal, because he had taught in Netarhat, which fell in Bihar. Then I explained Mr. Bahal everything and tried to clear his doubts and misconceptions.
Mr. Bahal, however, was hell bent upon removing Mr. Dar from the principal-ship. In fact, Mr. Bahal was under the influence of many other NDMC officers, who wanted their wives to be appointed as teachers in this coveted institution, and as long as Mr. Dar was there, this could not become possible.
Sensing the gravity of the situation, I took all the teachers along, formed a delegation and reached Mr. Charanjit Singh’s place, who used to be on the board of trustees of the school. Incidentally, I had taught his daughter when I was at the Modern School. We explained him everything and saw to it that no injustice was meted out to Mr. Dar. Similarly we also met Mrs. Vidya Ben Shah and explained her everything. We said -you please stop this man. We told them that one day or the other Mr. Dar was bound to leave, as he was already an old retired person. But why should he be removed like that?
Mr. Bahal was finally so impressed by Mr. Dar, that when he was leaving he said- Mr. Dar is my friend, philosopher and guide. Such was the respect Mr. Dar commanded from all of us.
Whenever a dignitary would come from abroad, we would go to the airport to receive him/her. For instance when Sheikh Mujibur Rahman came to India, we lined up at the airport to receive him. Likewise, whenever Mrs. Gandhi used to go to deliver her independence-day speech our school children would go to greet her. We had lined up and greeted the Indian national hockey team comprising the likes of Ajit pal Singh, when they came home after winning the world cup.
On every 31st October our school children would go to Sardar Patel Chowk for celebrating Patel Jayanti. Likewise, we would go to the Nehru Park on 14th November each year for celebrating Bal Divas on the occasion of Pt. JawaharLal Nehru's birth day. This way our school children got a lot of exposure to show-case their talent and learn from the dignitaries.
RVS: Mr. Dar and other teachers joining Navayug in the initial years have had a lasting impact on the personalities of the Navayugians. They have fanned out across the globe and worship their Principal and the teachers like gods and goddesses. Any comments, sir?
SP :( Laughs) I don't know. We still meet the students. And we have developed a bond. We used to have a one to one dialogue and one to one interaction with each other. We always felt like a family. I remember an instance, when my son became one year old and we were celebrating his first birthday, suddenly about 50 boys and girls appeared from nowhere. They had pooled up some money and bought a tricycle for my son as his first birthday gift. It was such a wonderful gesture on part of my students. My wife was puzzled and quizzed why I had invited so many guests and not informed her about anything. I said, I never knew about this and had not invited anybody. So this kind of affection and love we had for each other.
My wife would prepare different kinds of pickles- mango pickle, lemon pickle and so on. And Sanjay Rana was very fond of eating her pickles. He would giggle around me and eat those pickles. Since he was very good at painting, I got painted from him the portraits of different scientists like Albert Einstein. Recently when I went to Bhopal, I presented him a jar of pickle prepared by my wife. We still share this kind of bondage with each other. And this is true of most of us. Children give us honour and love. And it is reciprocal.
RVS: We are glad that you were on the NCERT panel which wrote text books for secondary schools. Would you like to share your experiences working as an NCERT team? Did your experience in Navayug come handy in accomplishing your task in NCERT?
SP: I enjoyed going there. It was a wonderful experience. And whatever I learnt there at NCERT, I experimented when back to school. I would go there any time I liked, even on Sundays and holidays. As I used to be very factual about learning, I was placed on several editorial teams for compiling NCERT books. Professor B. Sharan used to be the Head of Science and Mathematics department in NCERT. He invited me to develop the module on Momentum and Kinetic Energy. He would tell me about great scientists like CV Raman and give me useful tips on several aspects of physics. He coached me and taught me so many things. He had taught in IIT and BHU and was a very nice gentle man. A teetotaler.
Once they needed to translate the NCERT physics books in Hindi. They immediately thought of me since they felt that I had a good command over Hindi and I could do the job well. So they called me for translating those books. That's how I happened to translate the ninth and tenth class NCERT Physics books in Hindi.
I used very simple terms to describe the fundamentals of science in Hindi. Until then the books used to have a very peculiar Hindi.
I know about a Professor who wrote original books in Hindi in which he described the Earth and the atmosphere in nicely chosen words, viz. हमारी अप्सरा पृथ्वी, हमारा अद्भुत वायु मंडल. This kind of terminology makes even the toughest of the subjects very engrossing and interesting and such writings appear to be very original.
It is no secret that there is a dearth of Hindi books on pure science subjects. I therefore, believe that all science subjects should be written in Hindi, using such terms and sentences structure which makes the subject easy to understand.
RVS: Do you have any regrets, sir?
SP: There is only one regret. It pertains to Mr. Dar. He made so many experiments on education, all through his life. But never documented any of those wonderful experiments. His experiments on education should have been documented. Except this one thing, I have absolutely no regrets. As I told you in the very beginning, I am rather fully satisfied with my life and if I ever get a rebirth, I would like to become a teacher again.
The interviewer's note:
This interview is based on a telephonic talk held with Mr. Suraj Prakash in the intervening night of 18 and 19th February, 2015. Mr. Suraj Prakash was to receive a life time achievement award the very next morning on the 19th of February 2015. Despite this, he spared about more than 2 hours to talk over phone, for which I express my heartfelt gratitude to him. It was indeed a very fulfilling experience for me. I must admit that my soul has been filled with light upon talking to him.
I have endeavored to make the inscriptions as factual as possible, an audio recording of the major portion whereof is available with me.
As desired by Mr. Suraj Prakash, all of us, his students and his ex-colleagues should give a serious try at documenting Mr. Dar's ideology and methodology on education. It goes without saying that each one of us, who has been fortunate enough to have received Mr. Dar's Mida's touch, has been transformed into a complete human being and a live masterpiece that he always wanted us all to become, yet in the larger interest of the mankind, as also in the interest of the budding educationists, the future gurus and the teachers to come, we should endeavor to bring out his principles of education in a book form. This would make a wonderful reference book on education and would certainly be the true tribute to our beloved late Mr. J.N. Dar, as also to his battery of teachers at Navayug.
Editor’s Note – While an effort has been made to retain the language and feelings of the interviewer. Some personal / intimate details have been intentionally dropped to protect the identity of the persons.