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Instilling VALUES


NEELA V. PATEL of Mattancherry has discovered what she terms is her way of `doing something for society'. She has been teaching children the Bhagvad Gita for some time now, with a few others and `at least a thousand children' have been taught by her so far.

Influenced by Swami Chinmayanands's teachings and his interpretation of the text, Neela joined the teaching groups initiated by the Chinmaya Mission and after being trained by them, went on to teach children.

The students are generally divided into three age groups - 6 to 10 years, 10 to 13 years and 13 to 15 years, and regular Gita classes are held. Very often, the teachers also approach the schools in the various parts of the town and offer to take a course on the Gita. So far she has taught at five schools in this area.

The initial lessons are in chanting. Various slokas, graded according to levels of difficulty are chosen and very often the teacher uses prepared material and cassettes. The cassettes help to explain the subtle nuances of chanting. Many buy the cassettes so that they can practice at home as well, and printed copies of the text without a commentary are used, many of them available for as little as Re.I, Rs.3 or Rs.5.

In the initial stages it is the chanting with its emphasis on intonation and pronunciation, which is given importance without necessarily taking into consideration the meaning of the text which would come at a later stage. Neela points out that the 6 to 10 age group is more sober and tends to absorb the material more rapidly. The philosophy behind this method Neela remarks, is that if they learn to chant now they will then learn the meaning later on and then hopefully learn to live the life that the Gita specifies. Chanting alone can be boring and there are sessions where concepts such as contemplation and good listening are taught. It is only a general kind of contemplation, as.on the beauty of nature and on their surroundings. They are taught to look around them and to hear the sounds of nature such as the sounds of the birds and so on. When it comes to understanding the meaning of the text there is, says Neela hardly any recourse to teaching, rather examples of qualities of the characters from the Gita are given. For instance the character of Arjuna reveals his brilliant concentration and good discipline. Arjuna was a good student of Dronacharya and students are told that if they possess qualities like discipline they will succeed in their tasks, like Arjuna.

The students immediately connect with the stories and they often know more about them then her own generation did mainly because of the T.V. serials. Neela feels that these T.V. serials have a good impactStudents are told that they should find out their good qualities and develop them and get rid of their bad ones, learning from their mistakes.

Asked what she believes the students learn from their contact with this text, Neela points out that they learn the Sanskrit language which makes it easy to learn other Indian languages, and they learn to cope with situations. They are told that they must compete not with others but with themselves so that they become better with time.

Even at a basic level the Gita's message helps. Students for example have to cope with the stress of modern day examinations. They get depressed if they don't get a reward. In this context bad grades can devastate a child and the Gita's teaching of not giving in to despair helps. It makes them feel that they can get better and they learn to deal with circumstances, both good and bad.

PRATIMA ASHER

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