A​ananda Yatra

I had been to Assam in the month of May ​20​17 and my long cherished wish of visiting Aa​nandalayas run by Vivekananda Kendra in the tea gardens of Assam was fulfilled with the help of Sushri Meera, Prant Sangathak, Assam Prant.

​​With the help of Meera didi, Binoti didi, Samparka Pramukh, Assam Prant, ​Kum. ​Rita Guwala, Vistar Pramukh, Duliaban; Umeshda Tossa, Vistar Pramukh, Moriani. I could visit Devashali, Duliaban Aanandalayas in Dibrugarh​ district and​ Gabhoru in Moriani district.​

​Many of us have heard and read about the success stories of Aanandalayas. The work started with one Aanandalaya. At present there are one hundred forty-three Aanandalayas in the tea gardens of various districts in Assam. More are in demand! The purpose of running Aanandalayas in the tea gardens of Assam by Vivekananda Kendra is

1. to give right type of education and to ​guide​ ​​school-going students as well as school drop outs in their studies​
2. to work for the all round development of all these students.
3. to develop chidren into good responsible citizen​s​ so that in future they will work selflessly to raise the level of their community which will in turn be ready to work for the Motherland.
4. To create awareness about the tradition, culture  among the people of the tea-garden community​​ as well as to develop their self confidence and self esteem in their traditions.

From the experiences shared by the Nagar Samiti members, tea-garden community ​and A​​Aanandalaya Acharyas (as the trained volunteers are addressed) we came to know that positive change and development can be seen in the children ​​and the tea garden community as a whole. An overwhelming response is there from the tea gardens!​

​​​The timing for Aanandalayas is from 3.00 or 3.30 pm to 5.30 p.m.​that is after their ​regular school hours. This timing​ ​ helps​ the A​charyas to continue their higher studies if they want​ to​ by attending their classes before or after Aanandalaya. The routine for Aanandalaya includes chanting of Om​. ​prayers, guidance in home work ​and​ studies for which the students are made to sit in groups. ​Special guidance ​is given ​to weak students. After this various activities ​such as story telling, reading, patriotic songs, devotional songs ​and bhajans in Assamese, games, Suryanamaskar, skits ​and​ dramas, local dance ​such as Jhumur, action songs etc. follow. So the children from the tea-garden community who are generally deprived of all these activities get an
opportunity to learn ​and​bring out their hidden talents ​and​ capacities. Generally students from class​es​ 1 to 10 ​attend the Aanandalayas.

​"Let India emerge from groves and forests, from hills and mountains. , the peasants’ cottage, out of the huts of the fisherman, the cobbler and the sweeper”, said Swami Vivekananda. We can experience this after visiting lane after lane of the small dwellings of the Tea garden labourers of  Assam.

How has this become a reality? It is due to the firm conviction, zeal to work for the betterment of the community, tireless hard work and enthusiasm of the Acharyas. And the big goal set up in front of them by Swami Vivekananda to "Let New India arise" from the huts in the lanes of tea gardens! Full co-operation and involvement of the tea garden elders and youngsters, men and women equally also enhances this process. So each one motivates the others.

The Acharyas meet villagers and take a survey of the garden with their help, explain to them the importance of having an Aanandalaya. They explain how not only their children will develop but how it will help to develop their community as a whole. Either the community hall or school building is given for use. Nagar Samitis are formed. Thus an Aanandalaya starts functioning and within a short period the people experience that their garden has become Aanandalaya – an abode of happiness.
I was fortunate to experience this after visiting three Aanandalayas. Devashali ​and Duliabam in Dibrugarh district and Gabhoru in Moriani district. All these three tea gardens are in the interior, remote areas. Due to our visit their regular routine was changed and the students were given a chance to exhibit their talents. I observed, certain commonalities in all the three Aanandalayas.​​At the entrance to the Aanandalaya is ​​a ​small garden or at least​ a few ​potted plants, neat ​and​clean surroundings ​and footwear ​​kept in ​a n​​eat row. ​Upon ​ entering ​ one is given a warm welcome ​with ​namaskar ​and a broad smile! Three Omkars, prayer​s are followed by various activities ​​and c​onclude with​ Shantimantra ​and ​Kendra Prarthana ​and​ a loud, cheering spontaneous request to visit again! The performance, discipline, system, manners, confidence, eagerness to learn was astonishing! Children as well as Acharyas are full of enthusiasm.

​My first visit was to Devashali Aanandalaya which ​wa​s started recently. ​The ​ Nagar Samiti members ​and a​ few others were present. Acharyas Rohit Ghatwar and Samarjit Tanti, ​Kum ​Renu Munda ​and Kum Sukmati Bhunya were present as well as about 75 students from classes 3 to 10.

The students presented together Assamese rhymes, action songs, patriotic songs. Everybody participated spontaneously including the Gram Samiti members.

Their happiness & enthusiasm naturally was transmitted to me. I could not resist myself and started teaching them a Hindi action song. To my surprise they could sing the song with precisely the same actions! The meaning then was explained by Binoti didi. After that they wanted to sing once more! I was very happy. We all sang once again.

After that I told them the story of Kanappan in my broken Assamese. They were listening with rapt attention. Their eyes and facial expressions conveyed that they understood the story! They were fully engrossed in listening & I in narrating it to them. What a joy it was to see their expressions & response!

Towards ​the end​,​ ​the ​Gram Samiti Pramukh expressed her feelings about Aanandalaya. She said, “Now our garden children instead of whiling away their time are utilizing their time in a good way. They have understood the importance of time and education. They are learning good habits, songs, games, exercises, suryanamaskar. Their school results show that they have improved in academic studies also. So parents and teachers also are happy. Acharyas are coming to our houses and discussing with us about the improvement of the family and social condition of the people in the tea garden. They are a great support for us. Programmes like Bhajan Sandhya, Amrit Surabhi, Dharmasamskar, Matrupooja are arranged regularly. So we feel what our children and we could not get before, we get now. More and more Aanandalayas should start in the gardens and villages."​

I ​particularly ​​​want to mention that though it was a recently started Aanandalaya, the joy and confidence which I saw in those Acharyas, students & people was something marvelous! Real Man – Making! ​

​From there we went to Duliabam Aanandalaya. ​The weather was pleasant and cloudy. So instead of sitting inside, the programme was arranged on the school ground. Children from five Aanandalayas with Acharyas had gathered there because 5-6 months back some visitors had come and the children were told that they will visit their Aanandalaya. But because of lack of time it was not possible. (All the Aanandalayas are in remote places) And the children were unhappy. So Ritadidi, Vistar Pramukh of that area decided to bring all of them to Duliabam. There were about 200 children and 9 Acharyas – Prarthana Guwala, Marlin Munda, Subhoroni Munda, Bironti Kharia, Mina Munda, Jorina Munda, Lakhi Garh, Anita Munda, Seema Chawra. (My sincere apologies if I have forgotten to mention any names. It is unintentional.) They were all waiting eagerly for us.

Already they were standing in a circle and singing. As soon as we reached, a warm-welcome was given and then we were made to sit on a bench. Children from Classes 1 to 10 were there. A great combination! But no problem. They came one after the other, individually or in groups, to  the center and performed the items which they had practiced, like suryanamaskar, a few yogasanas, Assamese rhymes, patriotic and devotional songs, quotations of Swami Vivekananda, story telling, skits, small dramas, traditional Jhumur dance, etc. The children were performing without any fear with full confidence & joy. I was simply wonder-struck to see the talent, the confidence of small ones too. The sense of rhythm and swaras was amazing! The way the Acharyas have trained the children is really praise worthy! Again the experience of real Man-Making!

Here the children were not in a mood to stop. And so finally ​​everyone including the Acharyas joined in ​a​ Jhumur dance​ and the programme  concluded with Shanthimantra ​and Kendra Prarthana.

‘Each soul is potentially Divine!’ said Swami Vivekananda. How true it is, one can experience after seeing these confident children. After the programme the children dispersed ​and we went to Ritadidi’s house for a cup of tea. It is noteworthy here that through Aanandalaya Karyakartas, their whole family gets connected with Vivekananda Kendra. That is the real success! This is true not only of Ritadidi’s but several such families. After tea we left for Dibrugarh.

It was getting dark and so Binotididi requested me to drop her and Seema ​at one junction from where both of them were to go to Binotididi's home in the tea garden at Pathalibam​.

 ​"​How ​far is it from here", I asked?

"​10 k​ilometres, Didi", they replied.​

I said, “​Get in.​I will drop you at Pathalibam ​and then go to Dibrugarh.”

When she realized that the vehicle will go up to Pathalibam, Binoti didi immediately rang up four Karyakartas and told them, “Aparna didi has from Kanyakumari and due to shortage of time will not be able to visit anybody’s house. So all of you come to Pathalibam Tinali to meet her.”

To my surprise, they all came! I could not spend more than 5-10 minutes but their coming shows the sincerity and love for Vivekananda Kendra,  how much faith they have in Kendra karyakartas. Just one call from Binotididi and they all came to Tinali!

One more specialty of Acharyas of Aanandalayas. Some of them attended Aanandalayas in their school days and are now Acharyas​!​ So they have a special feelings ​and love for Aanandalaya. They express that whatever they are today, is because they have grown up in the healthy environment of Aanandalaya. All the credit is given by these Acharyas to Aanandalayas. So the chain continues. These Acharyas will train the children of their Aanandalaya and in the long run some of these children will run new Aanandalayas in untouched, new tea gardens. The spirit is spreading like  fire. We can experience that.

My next visit was to Gabhoru Aanandalaya in Moriani district. Meera​​ didi ​and Umeshda Tasso were with me. ​This tea garden is in ​a ​very interior place ​close to the Nagaland border.We reached a bit late and Acharyas Kum. Pinky Patnayak and Kum. Popy Guwala  were waiting with their students for us ready  with the programme agenda. Their happiness reflected on their faces. After a warm welcome with namaskar, we were introduced to the students by Pinkydidi and children too introduced themselves. Around 40 were there right from class 1 to 10. Even a small girl introduced herself adding a prefix ‘Shrimati’ so and so; while boys prefixed ‘Sri’ to their names. This may appear strange to us but in Assam all the small ones will introduce in the same way.

As soon as initial prayer concluded they started taking out their books. The Acharya told them, “There will be no study today.” They were to present songs, stories, games etc. They did. Apart from these, one special item was kept. Rather Meeradidi asked them to do it and that was to recite ‘Neuta’ (tables) from 2 to 20. Five groups were made and one by one they started reciting ‘Neuta’ nonstop. I was spellbound! We all enjoyed their recital! The Acharyas shared their experience that when children learn tables in the lower classes, it helps them a lot to solve arithmetics problems in the higher classes. But now-a-days tables have nearly disappeared from the school-syllabus, they said.

Here also the programme concluded with Kendra Prarthana. Umeshda wanted to take us to one more Aanandalaya but it was far off and so we returned to Moriani in order to proceed to  Golaghat.

​At Guwahati,​Vivekananda Kendra Assam Prant Karyalaya, a Prashikshan Shibir for new Acharyas of Aanandalaya was organized ​and I could take part in that also. This shibir was also a unique experience! The organizing team was totally of Aanandalaya Sangathaks, Sah Sangathaks and Acharyas! Binotididi, Samparka Pramukh, Assam Prant and Ajay dada, Sangathak, Aanandalayas, Purnima Bhoina and Babita Munda Sangathaks Aanandalaya were the motivating force and at the helm of this Shibir. The planning and execution was perfect to the core. The whole routine was going on smoothly. The team was self disciplined, systematic, self propelled. Participat​ing​ Acharyas were from Tezpur, Karbianglang, Hojai, G​o​alp​a​ra districts of Assam.
Words are insufficient to express what I felt after visiting the Aanandalayas. People from different Tea gardens are ​now ​requesting ​the Kendra ​to start Aanandalayas in their garden too because they ​have heard the success stories in other tea gardens. They are able to see the positive change in the children and the environment of the garden. A light is brought to their life and they get the right direction to lead a purposeful life with self esteem. The Teaching community also is pleased and satisfied as their students are improving in academics as well as co-curricular and extra-curricular activities.

One has to visit Aanandalayas to experience th​is wonderful​ spirit, conviction, love, shraddha and​ ​confidence with which​ the​ ​entire Aanandalaya ​team is working for the uplif​tment of their community in the tea garden.

Thus​ my visit to​ the​ Aanandalayas​ in the Tea Gardens​​ of Assam ​was a great​ learning ​experience for me.
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