Kireet Joshi

Kireetbhai

Kireet Joshi or Kireetbhai as he was fondly called was the Registrar of the Sri Aurobindo International Centre of Education from 1958 to 1976. Kireetbhai was born in Gujarat on 10th August 1931. He completed his university education in philosophy and later joined the Indian Administrative Service in 1955 and was posted to Surat.  As a student of philosophy at the age of 19 he was so moved by The Life Divine that he read the whole book in just 18 days. That proved to be the turning in his life and he decided then itself that sooner or later he would follow Sri Aurobindo and Mother; accordingly, he first came to the Ashram in 1952 at the young age of 21. The Mother remarked about him: “he is a good boy”. He spent a week in the Ashram and came back again in 1955. Finally he left the IAS and joined the Ashram; the Mother gave him work first in the Press and later in the library.

On 4th November 1958 Pavitrada came to the Library and informed him that his name had been proposed to Mother to become the Registrar of the Sri Aurobindo International University Centre; Mother’s reply was that Kireet should himself decide whether he would like  to take up the work. Kireet was stunned and he replied that he would do whatever the Mother wanted him to do. On hearing this, Mother reiterated that it iwas for Kireet to decide. So on 6th November, Kireet sent word to Mother that he was willing to take up the responsibility. Mother expressed great happiness. On 9 November, Mother visited the school and blessed Kireet and led him to his office and asked him to get a big table and start his work immediately.

Kireet had very little time to reorganize the school as it was to open on 16th December. Within just a month, Kireet laid down, in a new way, the overall structure and organisation of the Centre of Education. Here are some of the main features of the organization  that took place during this period:

1. The Higher Course was restructured. It was divided into the Art and Science sections. Earlier, there was no clear demarcation between art and science courses. From this point on, like in other institutions, art students and science students were divided into two distinct categories with different compulsory subjects.

At the same time, two other courses were introduced, the Common Course which was compulsory for all students and the Optional course open to both Art and Science students. In the Common course, both Arts and Science students had compulsorily to study selected books of Sri Aurobindo. There were five books in this course, The Ideal of Human Unity, The Human Cycle, The Foundations of Indian Culture, The Life Divine and the Synthesis of Yoga. These were studied for one year. Thus all students of the Higher course had to study these 5 books spread over the three years.  In the first year, The Ideal of Human Unity was studied, in the second year, it was the Human Cycle and The Foundations of Indian Culture, and in the third year, the Life Divine and The Synthesis of Yoga.

But in the Optional Course, the same books were studied over a period of two or three years. This more intensive study of the books was optional and was open to both Science and Art students. Each one of these books was studied after a preparatory course; thus for the book The Ideal of Human Unity there was a course on World History; for the Human Cycle, there was a course on Sociology, for the Life Divine there was course on Philosophy, both Western and Indian, for the Synthesis of Yoga, the course was History of Religions and for the Foundations of Indian Culture, a study of Indian History was added.

  1. It was also during this period that the Boards for all subjects were constituted. Thus there was an English board, a French board, a Mathematics board and so on. A group of teachers was selected to form the Boards and these teachers overlooked all the details concerning their respective subjects. Their work was mainly to define the syllabus, the course, the text books and to monitor the overall performance of the students and teachers in their subjects.
  2. A whole new system of evaluation was determined. This system was based on the following: Regularity, Punctuality, Behaviour, Homework, Class Tests and Quarterly Tests. This last item – quarterly tests was introduced in 1959. All students of the Secondary and Higher course were to sit for tests four times a year, reduced from 1960 to three times a year. These tests conducted  over a period of two weeks, were held at the end of March, June and October. The test for more important subjects like English, French, Mathematics etc were  of three hours each,  while for the other subjects they were of one and a half hour each. The results of the quarterly tests had a great bearing on the evaluation of the students.

The most striking feature of this system was firstly the great importance given to the study of the works of Sri Aurobindo and secondly the need of preparation for these studies by an introduction to the topics covered in the books.

Another important development that took place was the connection established between the University Centre and the Government of India. Till this time there was almost no connection with the Government of India. It was Surendra Mohan Ghose who proposed to Mother that we should approach the Government. Accordingly after detailed consultations with the Mother, Pavitra asked Kireet to write a letter to the Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru. Kireet wrote and sent it to the Mother for Her approval. Mother was so happy with the letter that she got it published in the February issue of the Bulletin. The letter was sent to the Prime Minster Nehru who was very impressed. He was prepared to help in every way possible. However the University had to be recognised by the UGC as a separate legal entity. That would mean that the University would be distinct from the Sri Aurobindo Ashram. The Mother did not want that and so the name of the Sri Aurobindo International University Centre was changed to Sri Aurobindo International Centre of Education. This happened on the 1st of January 1959.

The Government sent some members of the UGC to see the education system. They were impressed and it was decided that the Government would help through the Ministry of Education. The Ministry sent some officers to see our school and again they were happy with the work. It was then decided that grants may be given to the Centre of Education under two headings. The first one was a computed figure of the salaries of the teachers and the second one was for specific demands like Laboratory equipment, books and office equipment. That is how the grants from the Government of India started. Once the grants were started, Kireet had to go to Delhi every year for 10 days or so. From Delhi he used to write to Mother daily and Mother would send a telegram every day with her love and blessings. In January 1973 Kireet returned from Delhi and came straight to the Mother’s room at about 7 pm. I too was present there. Mother was very happy when Kireet recounted that some senior officers were showing a lot of interest and openness to Sri Aurobindo’s concepts of education. At this historical moment The Mother said the following words,”Whenever you are called upon by Indira Gandhi to assist in the Education Department, you should respond positively and accept it.”

After he became the Registrar, Kireet used to meet Pavitra almost twice daily. He would report the happenings in the school and if he had any questions he would give them in writing. The next day Pavitra would get the answers from the Mother. This continued till May 1969. After Pavitra’s passing away Mother asked Kireet to meet her every Sunday in the morning. Later in 1971 Mother started meeting Kireet almost daily in the evening when he would read out to The Mother some of his writings meant for the youth of India or for general educational concepts in the light of Sri Aurobindo. From November 1972 Mother began to meet Kireet, Tanmaya and me every alternate day from 1900 to 1930 hours. These meetings lasted till the 30th March after which Mother stopped meeting most people.

It must also be noted that the period from 1959 to 1973 was a period of intense activity in the school when many experiments were made. These included the evolution of the Free Progress system and the examination system. Kireet was assisted in the administration by a small team, some of whom had direct contact with the Mother. Those were really exciting times when under the direct guidance of the Mother many seminal ideas and concepts were tried out and put into practice. It was during this period of 14 years that most of the concepts and ideas of education were developed and it was from these sources that Kireet drew his inspiration in his work with the Government of India and later on with the Government of Gujarat.

It was in 1959 that I was inducted to the office of Kireetbhai and have worked with him till 1974. In our work and especially when we were trying to give a practical shape to the Free Progress, there were sometimes sharp differences among us; but all these were harmoniously settled among ourselves and sometimes with the direct intervention of the Mother. It must also be noted that there was a lot of negativism from some teachers and others. This was true even when he went out to work with the Government of India. Kireet faced all these with equanimity and full faith in the Mother. No doubt he sometimes felt hurt but he always left it to the Mother. His benign poise in these circumstances was an object lesson for some of us who were close to him.

I kept in touch with him even when he was working in Delhi and later on in Gujarat. I have even some letters from him. Our relationship was very frank and affectionate. Right to the end of his life, I kept in close contact with him, visiting him in the Nursing home. Always it was the feeling of love and affection bound by our love for the Mother and Sri Aurobindo.

Kittu Reddy

September 2014

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