The ND Story

Once upon a time, the Navadarshanam team members were young and idealistic.

Om P. Bagaria got his B.Tech. in Mech. Engg. from IITKharagpur way back in 1963, and was immediately seized by his uncle who recognized the value of his design skills for the family business. Energetic and creative, he immersed himself in R&D work, leaving the running of the business to other family members – until a big strike jolted him into taking an active role in management-labour relations. During this phase, he was attracted to the Moral ReArmament movement, where he learnt that the union leaders who were traditionally seen as foes could actually become fellow-fighters for a bigger cause. When he turned the searchlight inwards, he began to see where he needed to change (‘remember, when you point a finger at others, there are three pointing at you’). Since then, he has divided his considerable energies between R&D work, which he still loves, and social causes. Apart from MRA, he has given a lot of his time to other organizations and campaigns (such as campaigning actively for Rajmohan Gandhi against Rajiv Gandhi in Amethi). He has also been an active spiritual seeker, learning skills in yoga and meditation from different sources. One spiritual teacher who gained his admiration was Swami Sahajananda, and at one of his visit to this Swamiji’s ashram (in1986), he heard a lecture on “The Tao of Physics” by Ananthu, from which time onwards the two have become very good friends.

Ananthu’s degree is not in Physics but Electrcial Engg., obtained from Madras IIT in 1965. Unlike Om, he is not a born engineer, and prefers to live in the world of ideas, ideals, equations, thoughts (and worries!). Rather than being immersed in work involving electrical apparatus, he was bothered by the fundamental question ‘what is electricity?’ (as distinct from the effects of electricity that we are all so familiar with) – a question to which his teachers could not give any satisfactory answer. He was also bothered by the state of affairs in the world, and so when he went to do his M.S. at Stanford Univ., he spent less time in studies and more in social change movements – he was a founder member of FREA India, and the India-Pakistan Peace Corps. He returned to India in 1969, and was active in the J.P. movement and other such social causes. But he did not have the guts to leave his job until his marriage to Jyoti in 1976, who encouraged him to give up his career and join the Gandhi Peace Foundation.

Jyoti’s background is in Sociology – she studied, then later taught, it at St.Xavier’s College in Mumbai. But her passion was not so much the theory aspect of the subject, but the actual application of it in relationships. She was active in the Social Service League, and loved to relate to people – including students – at a human level. She was doing her Ph.D. at TISS under Dr,Gore when she met and married Ananthu, then she shifted to Delhi. Later, she joined the Humanities dept. of IITDelhi, and together with Ananthu started a Study Circle which delved deep into the fundamental questions bothering us – why are social change movements not able to bring about the desired results? What is the way out of the rat race we are caught up in? Many concerned individuals, most of them professionals, including faculty members of IITD and Delhi Univ., were part of this exercise. It is this Study Circle that eventually gave birth to Navadarshanam.

The first conclusion that the Study Circle came to was the need to take a fresh look at the concept of ‘development’ and ‘success’. The competing ideologies prevalent those days – capitalism, communism, socialism, and different combinations of these – all accepted a notion of progress that was exclusively material-oriented, and we felt this was the root cause of our ills. We also realized that this discovery is nothing new – it has been the essence of the message of Gandhi in the recent past, and before him Tolstoy, Thoreau, Emerson, after him Schumacher, Illich and the likes.

As most of us were from the science-technology backgrounds, one question that bothered us was – what role do we impart to science and technology if the Gandhian approach is to be adopted? Do we turn the clock back on the industrial revolution? Apart from the impracticality of such a step, we realized that is not what Gandhi had in mind. He talked of a new science that would recognize Love as the fundamental Law from which all other laws (including those governing physical phenomena) are derived, and this in turn would lead to ‘miracles that will dwarf the miracles of modern science’. What we discovered, much to our delight, is that the two revolutions that form the foundations of 20th century physics actually point in this direction – and that the founders of Relativity and Quantum theories (Einstein, Schroedinger, Heisenberg etc) have emphasized this, but this aspect has been (deliberately?) ignored in our universities. Ananthu immersed himself for several years in this very interesting subject, finding in it an answer to the question about electricity that had bothered him since his student days. Hence his talk on “Tao of Physics” that started his friendship with Om.

Three years passed by. In the mean time, Swami Sahajananda set up a new Ashram nearer Hosur and Om became a frequent visitor to Atheetha Ashram. One day, he said to Swamiji: “ Why don’t we invite Ananthu to carry out practical experimentation on the lines of his Gandhian thinking on a small piece of land next to the Ashram, taking advantage of the spiritual sheet anchor provided by you?”  Swamiji enthusiastically endorsed the idea.

Jyoti and Ananthu discussed this idea with two other prominent members of their Study Circle in Delhi. One was Rama Pai, the botanist who had become a farmer and had given up chemical farming and was fascinated with Fukuoka’s ideas. Another was Dr. Partap Agarwal, who  had taught anthropology in Colgate University in America and then come back to India to teach Industrial Relations at Sri Ram Institute in Delhi. Later he joined Friends Rural Center at Rasulia in Madhya Pradesh to work on Natural Farming –Rishi Kheti—as explained in Masanobu Fukuoka’s famous book: One Straw Revolution. He had found a kindred spirit in Marjory Sykes; Sudeshji and the children too fondly remember the years they had spent with her.

Ananthu, Jyoti, Rama Pai, Partapji, Sudeshji and some of their friends were on the look out for some land not too far from Delhi for working on the soil. Just then came Om’s phone call from Bangalore and it was too much of a coincidence for them to resist. Soon enough Ananthu, Jyoti, Partapji and Sudeshji lifted anchor from New Delhi and set up base in the Ashram. Swamiji didn’t believe either in smallness or in ‘slow and steady wins the race’. Before we could catch our breath, in April 1990, Navadarshanam came into being on 115 acres of land 10 kms away from the Ashram.

Thus, a shared thirst for ecological and spiritual ways of thinking and living brought together this disparate group of persons from such diverse backgrounds to give birth to and to nurture the idea that is Navadarshanam. Community living on the land has yet to become a reality and self-reliance still eludes us but it is no small miracle that, fourteen years down the line, we are still working together, learning to grow spiritually beyond, rather through, our differences.