19 Aug 2017

Relinquishing Responsibilities – Anirjeet

Our last post of 7th August, 2017 (Two Shocking Incidents – by Anirjeet) has set the alarm bells ringing, not in Sri Aurobindo Ashram, Pondicherry, as much as in the Sri Aurobindo Centres closely connected with it. The inmates of Sri Aurobindo Ashram will naturally pretend ignorance and vehemently deny these incidents out of sheer fear of retribution from the Trustees, for whom it is a question of public shame and accountability. And even if the inmates reluctantly admit in private a watered-down version of the two incidents, they would gallantly come to the rescue of the Trustees by saying that these were after all isolated incidents in the otherwise island of peace and psychic growth of the children in the Sri Aurobindo Ashram Centre of Education. But then if you look backwards, these kinds of incidents (relating to drugs, sex and alcohol) have happened before, and it is only recently that the skeletons are tumbling out of the musty and suppressed annals of Ashram history. Yes, the island of psychic growth and mental creativity does exist in the precincts of the Ashram School, and more so in the larger environment of the Ashram itself (I would be too stupid to deny that), but then the stormy seas are raging close to the shore and sometimes make sudden inroads into its sanctity and take everybody by surprise. The question is why do such things happen, and what preventive measures can be taken with regard to them?

One way of dismissing the question is to throw up your hands in despair and attribute it to the falling moral and spiritual standards of the Ashram and of the world in general. It is the transition of Kaliyug to Satyayug when all sorts of untoward things will happen and the lower nature of mankind will rear its ugly head and the formidable forces of life have a field day. Sure, we all agree with this rather sad assessment of the present times, but then what do we do in spite of it? Moreover, why don’t these incidents occur so often in outside schools where they are dealt with due severity, if the management is not corrupt and the politicians are not manipulating it? What then is specifically wrong with the Ashram management, especially that of the Ashram School?

I am sure this very question will be taken by the Trustees as a sign of extreme arrogance, for according to their faithful cronies, they are by definition above all questioning and should never be challenged. Nonetheless, given the fact that they have not been anointed as the next spiritual Gurus of the Ashram and have frequently exhibited human failings, to say the least, I will come forth with a few frank suggestions. The first suggestion stems from the most glaring drawback of the Ashram management in general – the older generation never never never passes the baton to the next generation. The result is the present rule by octogenarians (or even nonagenarians) who don’t want to relinquish responsibility because they want to work till the very end of their life, or at least till they are not bed-ridden permanently in the Ashram Nursing Home and are waiting for their visa clearance for their last journey. Actually this is done in good spirit, for their work (as a teacher or departmental head) had been individually assigned to them by the Mother herself – in the good old days each work was personally chosen by the Mother herself and the inmate took it as a blessing and mission of his or her life. All this is inspiring and should make one sympathetic to their spirit of “work unto the last drop of blood”, but what happens to the day to day supervision of work, say, in the School premises, which means going around the classrooms and keeping an alert eye on naughty children bunking their classes or up to some mischief? How can the octogenarian (or nonagenarian) manage that now when he himself (or she herself) needs the support of a younger person to even physically move about? Is it not time for the community to make them realise that it is time that they guide the younger generation to take over their work and leave things to the Mother, instead of clutching to the baton until the very end and wait for disastrous events to strike at the very core of Ashram life?

There is one big difficulty with this apparently easy suggestion of mine. The younger generation is most often not ready or not willing to take the baton at all, because who wants to take upon himself (or herself) the thankless task of disciplining rambunctious teenagers running amuck like wild horses set free from their stables? From that point of view, the generation that grew up under the Mother’s care, which took upon itself the burden of running the Ashram School, and is now teetering on the brink, was far more responsible. But their inability to prepare the next generation of caretakers has left a yawning gap. I am sure other gaps will soon appear in the Ashram edifice as we go along, because who can replace the binding factor that Mother represented to the life of the Ashram? I come here to the second factor that works at a huge disadvantage for the Ashram – free voluntary service, or rather taking community work as part of one’s sadhana. The older generation had sufficient inner motivation to become exemplary in work to those who were under them. Departmental heads worked harder than their assistants, chief accountants were in their chairs before the clerks arrived, heads of technical services knew what work to distribute when the workers strolled in, and teachers set examples of sober wisdom and good behaviour which left a lasting impression on the students. This was the primary advantage of the Ashram School over the regular schools outside. Not the free system of education (whatever that means), not the intensive physical education that Ashram students get, not the drama and the singing and the dancing that Ashram students are exposed to, not even the books of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother they have to read, but it was this invisible moral and spiritual influence of a couple of hundred teachers on their students, and the overall salutary effect of the yogic atmosphere of the Ashram. Not a single teacher of the Ashram School was paid; I repeat, because it is hard to believe for people living outside, that there were no paid teachers in the Ashram School.  The same arrangement continues to date but it has now turned into a big disadvantage and become an albatross on the neck with the fading of the older generation.

The way most secular schools avoid untoward events is to adopt a “No Nonsense” approach and assign the supervision of the children to their respective class teachers. I suppose the Ashram School pretends to do the same, but then it does not succeed in such a simple matter because it cannot enforce discipline in the absence of punitive action on the irresponsible teacher – if at all the blame can be squarely laid on one person, for each one is likely to throw the blame on the other. Dereliction of duty would be met in outside schools either by a stern warning or an outright dismissal of the negligent teacher by the management. But what can you do with a work force of volunteers who would willingly abdicate their jobs at the slightest admonition? Or if the class teacher happens to be the daughter of a Trustee, which is what happened in one of the two incidents mentioned above? Not that there are no committees or teachers’ meetings in the Ashram School to discuss about disciplinary issues; these secondary structures have always existed, but when did they function successfully? Not only the Ashram School, but the Ashram itself is well-known for its classic failure in collective decision-making, except perhaps in the field of physical education.

In admitting the difficulty of managing such an institution, the reader might get the impression that there is no better option than to repose full trust in the present Trustees for the administration of the Ashram. But what if the only thing that concerns the Trustees now is the politics of remaining in power at all cost and ceding nothing to the next generation that weakens their positions? The Registrar cum Managing Trustee of the Ashram had recently shot into limelight by taking the most severe action on meek and unprotesting inmates, such as Vishnu Lalit, Radhikaranjan Das and R.Y. Deshpande, for reasons that can hardly be termed as dereliction of duty. In fact, these inmates had bravely stood up against a most virulent attack on Sri Aurobindo by an American inmate of the Ashram whom the Managing Trustee was mollycoddling for inexplicable reasons.

The need of the hour is therefore to democratise and have a wider basis for the decision-making process without letting things go out of hand, in which the Trustees can work in tandem with the inmates of the various departments of the Ashram in order to arrive at practical solutions with collective good will. If this could be initiated with the right spirit by the Trustees themselves, it would certainly convey the positive impression that they are for once not merely busy hushing up criminal acts or acting vengefully on those who have stood up against them, but also care for the actual administration of the Ashram. Even this exercise, I am sure, would have been conducted in the distant and recent past, but how long will the inmates of the Ashram be satisfied by sham meetings and committees which pay lip-service to the Trustees? For one day or the other the Trustees will have to win over the hearts and minds of the inmates of the Ashram in order to improve their collective life. Until then mere chest thumping and winning Court battles with money and influence and calling for revenge on those who have challenged them will certainly not arrest the steady and what seems now the inevitable deterioration of Ashram life. 

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