The Bloon Toys Podcast #1: Hemangi Ghosh

In this first ever Bloon Toys Podcast, Isha, founder of Bloon Toys speaks with Hemangi Ghosh, one of the first parents and teachers at Tridha, the first Waldorf School in Mumbai. Hemangi Ghosh shares with us some stories from her journey, as well as her reason and conviction for believing in alternative education. Check out the whole conversation below and make sure to click on the hyperlinks to view videos of the some the best snippets!


00:00:00:00 - 00:00:41:18

Isha: Alright! This is really exciting. This is our first Bloon toys podcast ever, and I think this particular, talking to you Hemangi today is particularly interesting because, actually all three of us being here is quite an interesting confluence because Tridha has been central in a way to all our lives, you know, to introduce you to the audience, Hemangi was one of the founding members of Bombay's first ever Waldorf School, which is Tridha, which a lot of you would know.

Hemangi: I was not a founding member, it’s just, initial parent.

00:00:41:18 - 00:01:21:14

Isha: Initial parent of Tridha, who then became a Tridha teacher, and Radha was one of the first cohort over there. Radha now works with the content team in Bloon Toys.

Radha: Hello!

Hamngi: Radha was in kindergarten when I was there.

Isha: And Tridha was instrumental to my journey also, because I did my teacher training course there, which then led to many things, one of which was bloon toys and so thank you for being part of this, Hemangi, thank you for making the time, it’s really lovely to have you here today.

00:01:21:16 - 00:01:51:04

Isha: So to jump right in, how about we start just before Tridha was even brought into the picture, you know, it would have been around ‘99, and where were you? What were you doing? What was life like then?

Hemangi: It was a very interesting time, because my daughter was just born. She was born at the end of ‘97 and ‘99 I had just started working.

00:01:51:04 - 00:02:24:16

Hemangi: So I was at home for a year and a half, I think, and then I just started going out of the house and I was doing ceramics with a friend of mine, so I would go to her place and in her garage we had a little studio, and we would make stuff to supply in [the] Bombay Store, at that time.

00:02:24:18 - 00:03:09:15

Isha: Yeah so this was when she was just two years old?

Hemangi: Yes, yes.

Isha: So at what time did you start wondering about her education and where should she go?

Hemangi: That was when I was in my teens.

[Isha laughs]

Hemangi: So in my twenties, I sort of started reading Krishnamurti and his talks with students, and so already my bent of mind was there, and I wished that I could send my child at that time.

00:03:09:17 - 00:03:43:09

Hemangi: I already wished that I could send my child to a Krishnamurthy school, but that was a time of no internet and no phones and no computers. It was only through these books that my aspiration was built, and I didn't know of so many people who went to these schools, but yeah, that's one of the philosophers I could just read like, eating carrot. Just munch.

00:03:43:11 - 00:04:22:07

Isha: We’re going to bother you later for a proper reading list also.

Hemangi: Yes I would have shown because those books are always by my hands and I often pick them up and read them. They’re so beautiful and so pure.

Isha: So at that time, this is still '97, '98. It would have been very different from the way that people were bringing up their children, or what was…

00:04:22:09 - 00:05:00:10

Hemangi: [Laughs] Very much. So I was one amongst my friends who had my child early. A lot of my friends had their children later, after me, so they had already started sending their children when they were one, one and a half years old, to mother child classes, they would take the children, and then for toddlers, like pre, pre school kind of, you know, before they entered nursery,

00:05:00:12 - 00:05:23:23

Hemangi: and I was like, what are you all doing and why, you know, why is the need there? Just spend time with the child at home, you know, and they started sending their children to nursery and kindergarten. I was like, I don't want to, you know, I can't leave my child to somebody who I don't even know.

00:05:24:00 - 00:05:53:03

Hemangi: I decided that I will keep her at home and just be with her. At that time also this thought of children don't need nursery and kindergarten. I was groping with that thought.

Isha: So that's really interesting. So you came upon this thought of children not needing nursery or kindergarten by yourself, and then you would have discovered that Steiner said much the same thing, you know?

Hemangi: Yes.

00:05:53:05 - 00:06:20:23

Isha: So can you tell us about that. What does Steiner say about kindergarten?

Hemangi: Yeah, it is also in our culture. The children used to go to school. So if your grandfather's father took your grandfather to school, what would the entrance test be? Do you remember? Do you know?

Isha: The milk teeth having fallen off, right?

00:06:21:00 - 00:06:51:06

Hemangi: Yes and also the hand touching the ear, yea. It’s about the proportion of the body. So the hand, if you look at a child before say six, seven, it doesn't go. The head is so big that the hand doesn't go all the way to the ear. Yeah. So these were the two physical tests to see whether your physical maturity has happened, for now working with the head; working with your rhythms.

00:06:51:07 - 00:07:23:11

Hemangi: We have lost that. You know, we have lost that we have to give time for the physical growth of the child. If you see animals now, when they give birth, if you look at say a horse, who has just given birth, you know what the mother does?

00:07:23:13 - 00:07:53:16

Hemangi: She kicks the baby, and she kicks the baby because in that one minute, 2 minutes, the baby has to stand up. If the baby doesn't stand up, then he will not stand up, and for the mother, it is very important that the child stands and survives. So it takes just that one minute or, you know, very, very quickly, they have to [learn to survive]. [Whereas] we humans need a lot of time.

00:07:53:18 - 00:08:30:02

Hemangi: We humans need a lot of time. We humans need the first seven years to stand up for ourselves, on our own, and move on our own, and it's a very intense time, and we don't allow that now, to our children.

Isha: What's really happening in that zero to seven year period, you know, when the hand can't go over the head, and so physically these things that are happening, of the teeth haven’t fallen out yet and the hand [being] not able to cross over the body. What is happening inside the child in this period?

00:08:30:04 - 00:09:01:06

Hemangi: So we have such complex systems, that you know it needs time to flower. It needs time. Of course they don't mature completely in seven years also, we take another two septennials to mature, but in the first seven years, it is just the physical body.

00:09:01:08 - 00:09:40:09

Hemangi: It is the systems that are, you know, getting harmonised. The heart and the lungs, the breathing. If you hold a child, the front and back, and you sense the breathing, it's very abrupt, and it's fast and slow, and it's not in the rhythm yet, and through waking and sleeping and eating and excreting we, they sort of find their rhythm on earth.

00:09:40:11 - 00:10:17:05

Hemangi: So we need to give this time. So when you see a just born child, and you see that the child is really small, physically, and then what happens in one year?

Isha: It’s twice the size!

Hemangi: Yes, and from horizontal it’s vertical now, you know, so that we can see, such drastic growth, and because we are with the child, we don't see the drastic growth after that.

00:10:17:07 - 00:10:53:04

Hemangi: But if you look at a one year old child and a seven year old child, can you see the drastic growth? The child grows every two days. Every day, the child grows, you know. So if you miss one week of seeing the child and you come back and see the child, you say oh my God, what happened to you? Try it! It's a beautiful time for just observation. Just observe, how a child on its own is meeting its milestones.

00:10:53:06 - 00:11:22:03

Hemangi: There’s so much. I think it was Jean Piaget who said, you know, that a child learns the most in the first year, then in its entire life.

Isha: Yeah. So this also leads me to, one approach would be to just let the child be, and give the child that space to grow and develop.

00:11:22:05 - 00:11:48:17

Isha: But what I’ve also read in Steiner is that he also says, in case you can't give that space at home, in case you're unable to create a space for your child, that's when kindergarten comes into play, so what is that kindergarten like and how do you design it in a way to really facilitate this child’s journey in these first few years?

00:11:48:19 - 00:12:31:23

Hemangi: Yes. You know, kindergarten came to us very recently, and I don't know if my parents ever went to kindergarten, you know. So I think it is this time that we as human beings started becoming nuclear families. Earlier it was a joint family and the child happily grew up in that, because there were so many adults, you know, it was a mixed age group community, and the child happily grows. Someone told stories, somebody fed, somebody cleaned.

00:12:32:03 - 00:13:09:18

Hemangi: It was not only the mother or only the father and mother or parents, but it was a whole community, like they say, 'it takes a village to raise your child'. So care was given, and slowly with the nuclear families, this space was taken away for the child, and so [with] the coming away from the joint family, the kindergarten sort of becomes a space now for that.

00:13:09:20 - 00:14:02:14

Hemangi: Because of our education system, we haven't been able to look at kindergarten as a joint family. I think we are so strong with communities that if we can create a kind of community for children, you know, where mothers who have that age group, come together, cook, clean, do their stuff you know, which also [what] Steiner indicates for the class teacher or kindergarten teacher to do, her household duties in the class, cleaning vessels or ironing clothes, he talks about those things.

Isha: Along with a mixed age group of kids.

00:14:02:16 - 00:14:37:18

Hemangi: Yes. Now we are mixing ages only like 3 to 6, in the kindergarten, but, even for young mothers to come together, because they also, young mothers [also] need help, and somebody who's a little more experienced than you, you’ve just had your baby but somebody [who] has had their baby a year or two ago, can handhold and help.

Isha: That's a really interesting way of thinking about it.

00:14:37:20 - 00:15:04:12

Isha: Expanding the idea of kindergarten to like, harking back to what the village was in that life, you know, not just for 3 to 6 but for zero to adulthood.

Hemangi: Absolutely, because we all need support in that time. There are no schools and institutions or universities to teach you parenting, and nobody tells you when you get married what you have to do.

00:15:04:14 - 00:15:30:19

Isha: So to go back to this '97, '98 period now, when all this was happening, your own baby was two or three years old, and you were looking for a school. How did you do [it]? What happened? What was that journey like and how did you finally discover Tridha?

Hemangi: Yeah. It's amazing. You know, the universe is so amazing.

00:15:30:21 - 00:15:58:07

Hemangi: I was at my farmhouse, my father's farmhouse, along with friends and their children. We [had] just had a beautiful meeting there, and we were talking about all these things, about schooling and our thoughts, and I sort of was led, [because even] before that also we had talked about it, but that was the point where I said 'no'.

00:15:58:07 - 00:16:28:06

Hemangi: I'm not going to send my child to school, and I sort of announced [this] in my friends group, that I'm going to keep her at home. Everybody was so scared. What are you going to do with her, you know, and how can you decide not to send [her to school]?. Everybody sends the children to school.

00:16:28:08 - 00:17:01:24

Hemangi: And I said, I don't know but I can't see myself as a mother of a child that goes to these particular schools. I won't name the schools, but yeah, big schools. I myself was from an English medium school, which had say 2500 children, and I just, whenever I thought about it, all I was doing was nodding at myself.

00:17:02:00 - 00:17:33:24

Hemangi: No. No, and then I came home after that weekend and I visited my parents and I sort of sounded it out to them and they were like, you’re mad, you know, you’re going to ruin your daughter’s future and you don't know what you're doing and, all these things, but inside of me, I knew what I was doing was right.

00:17:34:01 - 00:18:38:08

Hemangi: I didn't know what. This was a space of not knowing, but that space was, I felt very potent, and that not knowing also had something in it. And that trust I had. And at that time, we used to get newspaper at home, and so one day Bombay Times came with a supplement along with the newspaper, and when I opened the front page, below, on the lower side, there was this article about parents who are starting something different and there was a picture of a little house with a big courtyard and big garden space outside, and there was a phone number, and since it was the weekend like Sunday or something, I said, okay, I'll call and find out.

00:18:38:08 - 00:19:07:07

Hemangi: I tried calling Monday, Tuesday, I think [for] three days, and nobody was picking up, and I was getting a little bit, that why is it and then somebody that week picked up and I asked, I said, you know, I read [about you] in the Bombay Times, and I would like to come and see you. And they said, yeah, yeah, you want admission for your child, come, come.

00:19:07:09 - 00:19:45:02

Hemangi: And I was like, really? Is it so easy, because people had told me you have to stand in line in the middle of the night to get admission forms for the school, and there were donations like I haven't earned in my life, so I knew I couldn't fit in there, so I went and there was this little house in Kalina, and there were more adults than children around.

00:19:45:04 - 00:20:14:12

Hemangi: I was like what are you all doing? Some were playing recorder, how do you do that? And [they’d say] yeah, we are learning together and it's easy. You can also do it, and that's how we just got in, both, my daughter is I.

Isha: That's serendipity.

Hemangi: Yes, absolutely, for me to decide I'm not sending her to school, and then to find something and just go in, you know?

00:20:14:12 - 00:20:42:05

Hemangi: There was no question, you know, because she did nursery, which I was saying no to.

Isha: So what about this nursery was so different from the other nurseries? Like what? I mean [what], immediately spoke to you?

Hemangi: They came in their home clothes, and there were so many adults around, and people would go in and come, you know, it was so home-like.

00:20:42:07 - 00:21:15:05

Hemangi: I remember seeing. So there were two batches ahead of her, and so she was in kindergarten, no nursery and there was a grade one. Three batches. There was a grade one, and while we were talking and we were all, you know, moving around in that space, one lady came out and one little bell she had, such a small little bell, and she just rung the bell and put it in her hand and walked inside.

00:21:15:08 - 00:21:43:03

Hemangi: And then, from all this mess that was happening in the garden, tick tick tick tick tick tick, you know, all these children, like rats behind a pied piper, like that, all these children they just followed her and went into the classroom and I was like, wow!

Isha: Yea!

00:21:43:05 - 00:22:14:02

Hemangi: Nobody had to shout, nobody had to blow a whistle and so yea, these two things, playing the recorder and this bell I think was a little wake up for me, and really a ringing, in me, kind of.

Isha: And how did your family respond to her in [Tridha]?

Hemangi: They went on, You don't know what board it is, who these people are and what you all are going to do? They don't even have uniforms.

00:22:14:04 - 00:22:43:10

Hemangi: So all these [were] things that were happening, but I used to keep taking them to the school and for any programs that we did, and I knew they would come along. You know, for me, I didn't need, I never took their approval even when I was young. I would just say, this is what I'm doing or where I need to go.

00:22:43:12 - 00:23:16:20

Hemangi: I never really looked for approval because I knew I thought little differently than my family.

Isha: And you were okay with that?

Hemangi: Yes, I was okay with it.

Isha: No it takes that. It takes you know, if you, if you look, from then to now, what began as a very, very niche, small movement has actually grown into quite a big movement.

00:23:16:20 - 00:23:50:08

Hemangi: None of us knew what we were doing, I think, you know. For each of us it came out of passion, out of a question that we had. We sort of invested blood, sweat and tears in it, our own children, were our investment in this. I'm so happy that it worked out for so many more children.

00:23:50:10 - 00:24:24:16

Isha: So when you say blood, sweat and tears, can you give us some stories of the times that perhaps it was sticky and difficult?

Hemangi: Many! We had decided that the parents will cook for the children, and send lunch, so if in the classroom there are 24 children, your turn as a parent comes every 24 working days, to prepare food for all 24 children, and send it to school.

00:24:24:18 - 00:24:51:08

Hemangi: Since us teachers were parents also, our turns also came and we had to be in school before 8, like 8 school started, so 7.30 I would like to go to school, because I need to prepare for my classes and all, but I have to carry my food also, my daughter's class food to the school.

00:24:51:09 - 00:25:21:07

Hemangi: So I would have to get up at three in the morning and single-handedly prepare a whole meal with roti, subzi, dal, chawal, dahi, raita or something you know sweet, and my daughters class friends, used to love parathas, so they’d say ‘haan it’s your turn, tell mama to get this paratha, this time.’

00:25:21:09 - 00:26:08:19 Hemangi: So imagine 25 [children], at least three, parathas [each]. So how many? More than 100 parathas to make in the morning.

Isha: That's completely crazy. Hats off!

Hemangi: Yeah and then, one starts, you know, finding ways and means, and then I remember, the children are growing, they need, like I remember class 4 or 5 when she [my daughter] was there, you had to cook for like 35-40 people so that 24 of them could eat, and maybe a class teacher and 2-3 teachers could eat. So yea, you had to cook a big meal.

00:26:08:19 - 00:26:54:08

Hemangi: And I remember, I said okay, one of my relatives had gifted me a rice cooker, so I would take the rice in the cooker and go there, and then in the staff room, I would, before lunchtime, so that the rice is hot and I don’t have to cook it and get it, so that much time was [saved] so yea, one finds ways of meeting all the needs. It was such a beautiful time.

Isha: But why is this, you know I always wondered, I've heard about this, you know, one person getting food for the whole class and I've always wondered why, from a child's perspective, how does that make a difference?

00:26:54:10 - 00:27:43:24

Hemangi: So what is the other option? What do you think that should have been done?

Isha: Everybody gets their own food?

Hemangi: Yeah. So that is what, if everybody gets their own food, again there’s so much of individuality, one, there is no sense of community, that you have to also provide for the community. I took it in that way. You know, also, I don't know you, but Radha I know she’s Jain and if she got her Jain tiffin every day and a Punjabi got their Punjabi parathas every day, and a Gujarati got their dhokla khandwi every day, you know, it was only so much, and they would eat that. Here what was happening was that, one thing is that as a parent, I have this sense of community that I own and am giving to. I prepare for a whole class.

00:27:44:01 - 00:28:14:21

Hemangi: Now think of it from the children's point. ‘Oh from their house this tastes nice,’ ‘you tell chole’ ‘you tell biryani’ ‘you tell this’ ‘you tell that’, of course it was vegetarian, but they knew whose mother made what best and then they could select all these things.

00:28:14:23 - 00:28:42:04

Hemangi: Eating from others’ houses also, you know brings that love, I feel, like I remember as a child when I was small, we had Sindhi neighbours and just the smell of that Sindhi kadhi, you know it's like 'oh!' I feel back to childhood. Every time they cooked they gave us and the other side neighbour was Kashmiri, so they would also [send over dishes].

00:28:42:06 - 00:29:20:21

Hemangi: So food you know, went from a Maharastrian house to a Kashmiri and a Sindhi house and that sense of coming together, I feel that sort of you know, that sort of help, in that nuclear family, the seclusion and inclusion. You’re getting secluded from something and you're getting included into something. So I felt, and I must say this, that as Indian culture, our food is all we are, you know.

00:29:20:23 - 00:29:44:22

Hemangi: If there is a birthday, if there's a marriage, if there's just people coming, all that we think about is what should we cook and kya khana banega?

Isha: That's really, really special. And in fact, it has so many, like life has changed so much, like even in my life, you know, from having neighbours where we’d go across to the neighbours house all the time, I don't even know my neighbours today. I've never gone to their houses and just walked in to ask what food is getting cooked in their home.

00:29:45:02 - 00:30:21:19

Isha: So just by this simple act to expand your community, you know, is incredibly special. So through your journey, what have been some of the most frequent questions that parents have asked you, because I’m sure you’ve met a lot of new parents who, came in much like you without any background of this kind of education.

00:30:21:21 - 00:30:54:00

Hemangi: Oh, so, yeah, the questions changed over the years. So earlier it was, you know, what is expected of me as a parent? What does the school expect from me if my child is here? Do I have to do these things? Then it started [being things like] will my child cope and now what board are you affiliated with?

00:30:54:02 - 00:31:23:15

Hemangi: Then the questions changed to how will my child do exams, and will the board exams be too much for my child and then it started going towards these exams and what kind of field my child would choose. I don't want my child to become an artist and all of these kind of weird questions started coming.

00:31:23:17 - 00:32:15:24

Hemangi: With that, the pressure to change things in the school also came, because initially what there was and what it has now become. Now, sometimes the parents don't even have any questions. They say ‘mein pass mein rahti hoon, yeh nazdik hain school toh, that is why we’ve come to take admission’. They don't have any questions. So yeah it's changed in the last 20 years.

Isha: But questions like this you know, will the child, through the children that you've seen grow up, both in mainstream schools where the focus is exams at the outset almost, you know the focus is being competitive and learning all that they need to learn, to children who grow up in an environment like this which is not competitive, but yes, they do have exams at the end of it.

00:32:15:24 - 00:32:42:04

Isha: Do you find that the kids, like Radha who come out of this, are, you know, less competitive?

Hemangi: You know, we’re still thinking of the pond. We’re still thinking about the milestones that we have in India have reached. But Waldorf education has been there since hundred years

00:32:42:06 - 00:33:14:15

Hemangi: Barbra Streisand has gone through Waldorf education. So in various fields, there are people who have been children in Waldorf schools, and have worked with this environment, and so, yeah, I think it's also every child's journey, their own self journey and they choose, I thank this generation, of Radha’s generation.

00:33:14:15 - 00:34:12:18

Hemangi: They really helped to get the Waldorf movement to India and helped us through the journeys that we had to take. I strongly believe that because of these first children it was possible, and they held it on their tiny shoulders, the whole movement.

Isha: Quick cut to Radha, so when you grew up, you didn’t of course know all the thinking that was going on around it at the time, but when you came out of it from the other side, from your perspective, when you came into the rest of the world, where this was just one type of education that you could have gone through, and you met the whole other bunch of people, did you see your own education as having been different?

00:34:12:20 - 00:34:59:11

Radha: I think so. I mean, also it was kind of reinforced by other people telling me how different it was, a lot of times, because I would tell them ‘I went to a Waldorf school, which is an alternative school,’ and then sometimes people would be like ‘oh, that's so radical, are your parents hippies?’ and I’d be like ‘no, they’re not hippies, they’re rather regular people, you know, my dad goes to an office in BKC and my mum is a teacher at a regular school or a principal of a regular school, so we lived rather normal lives. It’s nothing like that. I mean, is my school really so different that you think that, we’re really very different from normal people', so I think it was really reinforced from outsiders, this idea of the fact that my school and the way I grew up was different.

00:34:59:13 - 00:35:41:14

Radha: But I guess in retrospect, it definitely has in some ways made me who I am, and given me a slightly gentler world view, in some ways, not something that's so harsh and cold and unwelcoming, but something a little more softer and gentler and more graceful, in some ways. Does that answer the question?

Isha: Yeah. Yeah, it does. Hemangi, one more question, because Radha brought it up, and I know that you do a lot of work with doll making and working with your hands. Can you tell us a little more about this, and about how important working with your hands is and why?

00:35:41:15 - 00:36:28:12

Hemangi: [laughs] We should do another podcast [on this] because yeah, you're touching an area where I can just go on and on talking, but very briefly to say, you know, we are the only beings on earth that have this thumb, our hands have been able to do this and hold. It is a very spiritual act, what we do with our hands.

00:36:28:14 - 00:37:05:05

Hemangi: It is something that comes out of us. Dollmaking as such, I remember when I was, I was very passionate. I still have my first dolls I made, you know, they're like babies and it's like creating a baby, and I’d enjoyed my pregnancy so much that for me, that whole act of making the doll is like that, reliving that stage of pregnancy.

00:37:05:07 - 00:37:41:10

Hemangi: I remember when I was teaching and a few earlier teachers about doll making and to make the dolls and when the dolls were ready, this teacher, she came to me and said, ‘let me see your hands’. So I held it like this [palms outstretched]. And she says, ‘that's your womb’, and for me, that was I think, you know, my work was done.

00:37:41:12 - 00:38:09:18

Hemangi: What you create there is very mystical, magical, and spiritual. I think that is the whole essence of working with the hands and especially doll making. I remember seeing Radha so I used to take grade one. I never took kindergarten, but before in January I would enter the kindergarten, which used to be a space that I used to be very scared to enter.

00:38:09:20 - 00:38:45:11

Hemangi: So I would enter the garden just to see the children that are going to grade one, and I remember sitting there and I was watching Radha, and she was the only girl I was actually looking at in that batch, because I said, this one is going to be a challenge, because she sat there and everybody used to be playing, and she used to be, [doing] something or the other, she had in her hands and quietly, she never got up to run around or play or anything, one little corner she would take and her hands would be moving all the time.

00:38:45:11 - 00:39:32:14

Radha: It's true I barely ever ran around and played, I would always just be weaving a corner doing some handwork and actually I got really frustrated at grade four or grade three, because I would finish all my handwork really quickly, and then I would be given the next task by the handwork teacher and I would finish that really quickly, and then I would be given the next task and finally they would be like, ‘okay you’ve done four more projects and the rest of the class, we don’t know what to give you anymore, and then they would just invent stuff and that would really frustrate me, because they would be like 'no no no, take out this whole thing and redo it in another stitch'.

00:39:32:16 - 00:40:25:06

Radha: I’d always wonder, why can’t I go to the next project? Why am I just doing these things that, you know…?

Hemangi: I missed teaching Radha in the higher classes. It would have really been wonderful to have that challenge, but unfortunately, she went to another teacher.

Isha: I think, never say never. We're going to sign up for your class right now! Thank you for being part of this Hemangi, thank you for making the time, it’s really lovely to have you here today.

Hemangi: Thank you!

Radha: Thank you!

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