The BITsian who left a high paying consultancy position to create pathshalas where students learn by doing!

Hey Hey, we have heard a lot about you, about your adventures into living in almost a jungle, to building your own community and learning programme. Tell us little something about your early life and educational background.

Well, I was born and brought up in Jaipur, I did my schooling here. And after school I fell victim to the wave of engineering and went to BITS Pilani, over there I learned a lot of new things it had a cool learning environment and after 4 years of college I secured a placement, entered into the corporate world through this consulting company at Hyderabad called Deloitte consulting. I worked there for 2 years, it definitely provided a lot to my professional journey and taught me a good number of lessons. At Hyderabad, besides learning so many new things, I had lots of fun, the environment was very levitating, new experiences, people, parties, so until about two years of my graduation It was very freeing and fun in all the ways.

Q – Lol, victim to the wave! Haha loved that dramatic tone over there! So you liked the corporate world culture initially, what happened after two years?

That was an interesting turn. I was suddenly feeling inquisitive about what I was doing, I started questioning myself, Is this what I want to do my whole life, is this what I want to put my heart and mind into. So through this reflective phase I eventually realised that this was certainly not what I’d like to continue for the rest of my life. I didnt want to get caught into the corporate wheel at such an early stage of my life. So I decided to take a break from it for a while.

Q – Wow, that’s quite brave! So what made you finally switch to teaching?

Around that time, I remember one of my seniors from college was in this fellowship called “Teach For India”. To me that was something very new and I was looking for something exactly like that, and that was sort of an epiphany to me, I immediately realised that “This is it man, this is the next thing I want to do.” I knew that it was going to be a completely new phase of my life, with new people and a completely different environment and I was thrilled about learning new things through it.

Q – Wow! And how did you landed up in the alternative education world?

Haha, it’s not like a different parallel world brother (laughing)! So while I was working for the teach for India fellowship. I was in Delhi during all this time and Delhi is the perfect hub for meeting all these educational experimenters. I remember one of my friends took me to this alternative learning school, called Mirambika free progress school, in Delhi, and when I went there I first discovered about the Alternative education schools, inspired by the philosophy of Sri Aurobindo and The Mother and I came to know how these school work in accordance with all the actual learning, keeping in mind what the children are studying and if they are actually learning something.

That really moved me. Impressed by their way of teaching, effectively engaging children and exploring together in the class and not making it just about the books, it was all so fascinating. And that was the point where it all started and since then it has been one thing after the other, I started my own learning place/center , started working over a project working with 1000 government schools in Delhi alongside my mentor. We set up on supporting children, teachers, then principals, starting our own non-profit organization. So gradually all of it started happening step by step, it was all so interesting to me.

Q – Wow! It feels like the universe was trying to build up this world for you, taking you there, where you were meant to be!

Absolutely! While all of this was going on I met Manish Jain, who is the co-founder of Swaraj University at Creativity Adda. Afterwards I started volunteering for them over there and sort of associated with alot of people in the very field. So how I came to work with Swaraj was that around 2016-17 I was about to move to Jaipur from Delhi and I remember only at that time Manish called me and told me that they were urgently looking for a facilitator at Swaraj and that I served the position well since I was already in the same field. And I was more than delighted to take the job because I was already planning on moving out of Delhi, so it was definitely an icing on the cake.

Q – Stunning, I am getting goosebumps man! Feels like the world really conspired to bring you here!

Well, the world is just your oyster. Whatever you believe in, whatever you think about, it will lead you there. Infact Swaraj is about that, with khojis coming in and seeking their path, trying to reach where they are meant to be!

Q – Khojis! Now that sounds super meta! Who are ‘Khojis’ and how to do khoj you :P?

Khojis are essentially the learners of the two year program at Swaraj. They have been named so because these people are mainly the learners who have come to us in search of the knowledge so in essence they have been seeking something, they are seekers, ‘khojis’. These ‘khojis’ usually get to know about us through word of mouth and that helps us in a way because the yearly intake of ‘Khojis’ at swaraj is just 20 per course, which is a very tiny number, so the number of people that we get that way are more than enough keeping in mind our intakes.

Moreover it also helps in having only genuine students who really want to learn something. Besides, Swaraj is one of it’s kind and it’s like a whole different world in itself, so it eventually attracts attention and the very eccentricity of it is the most thrilling part. It’s whole setting is different, mere 20 people, learning on a farm, open space classrooms all of it is such a beautiful experience.

Q – Wow, I feel like doing college again, but this time the Swaraj way! 😀
By the way, do you guys live together as a community in Swaraj?

Yes , Community living has been one of the elemental part of Swaraj since the beginning. At the campus we all live together, eat together and take care of the place together, be it cleaning, cooking, doing the dishes. All of us had this common place to ourselves where we were sharing our resources and we were living together and learning together as a community, which I would say is an exceptional aspect of Swaraj.

It immensely affects a person’s life. I personally believe that living together has always been the biggest challenge of humans in general, be it in families or relationships or organizations, so at Swaraj we thought about dealing with that challenge and making the learners grow together, as a community. With community living the learners get an equal ownership, it makes them develop a sense of kinship with their fellow learners and with the place itself, they become more responsible so the whole learning process is regenerated amazingly.

Q – Amazing! I am so stunned to know all this, I would be checking out Swaraj soon! So Chetan, I have one essential question for you….Where do you see yourself going from here? What is your ultimate goal with this educational journey of yours?

Well, when I see all these educational program which run across the country, be they at school or colleges or skill training, I feel like there can be a lot more involvement of people in them. The way of teaching can be modified in a way that it involves the students and makes them a part of the process rather than a giving taking process of bookish knowledge. To make the whole learning experience more fun and insightful.

So as of now my main goal is to create such learning environments, in my own organization as well as through different programmes, where people can kniw about the healthy way of learning where everyone can state their opinions and share freely. I personally see a lot of scope in it. And to be honest I enjoy it thoroughly, seeing people share things and seeing how such an experience impacts their lives all of it is just beautiful.

Wow, Chetan, we are stunned to hear you speak about your ideas, and this whole paradigm shift you are trying to bring in! Hope we are able to experience some of it soon! Thank you for talking to us today!

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