Free From School
By Rahul Alvares

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Public Domain Books

Chapter 12: You Have Sight, I Have Vision

I was at home for practically the entire month of February, partly because my parents themselves were away for nearly half the month and had asked me to help in the house during that time. Also, I had to re-plan my programme for the last few months of my sabbatical and some time was always needed for replies to be got from the people we had written to.

I found that I had completed most of the things I had set out to do during my sabbatical though there were a few areas like honey bees for which definite programmes had not yet been worked out.

I busied myself during this time with writing out those special essays of the past couple of months that I had not yet completed (though my daily diary was up-to-date and in perfect order).

I also set up the earthworm vermicompost pit in our backyard. It was my dad’s idea that I should put into practice immediately the vermiculture that I had learnt, since managing garbage is becoming a problem in almost all households. His idea was that once I mastered the technique of setting up the vermipits by trial and error at home, I could set the same type up with little variations if needed for friends of ours and later for anyone who wanted this useful method of garbage management.

Dad suggested that I prepare a large vermipit which would be suitable for any family having a large compound like we have and also one or two small vermibeds which could be used by people living in flats who do not have lots of space of their own. We would keep all the pits going by putting waste into all of them from time to time and this way I could get experience on how the big and small pits both worked so that when people asked for such information I would readily have it.

So to start with I had to construct a vermibed. I began with the tank itself which was to be of brick. We had a labourer doing some odd jobs at that time at our house and he said he knew a bit about how to cement bricks together, so he and I constructed this 3’ by 2’ by 4’ high tank of bricks. We mixed cement and sand in some rough proportion with water. Within a day we had the bricks placed one over the other with the cement mixture holding it all together. This was easy stuff I thought as I wrote out my record of how many bricks and the quantity of cement and sand we had used to construct the bed.

Next day, I dutifully wet the construction twice as instructed in order to have the cement set. Imagine my shock when on the third day I found that our entire tank was shaking and ready to collapse. I rushed off next door to my neighbour Guru who took one look at the tank and told me that we would have to take down the whole thing and start from scratch again. Apparently we had not used the right proportion of cement and sand mixture, or laid the bricks right. Nor had we laid any foundation for the structure. Masonry was not that simple, I realized.

I immediately got down to carefully removing each brick without damaging it as the bricks were to be re-used. Guru, the expert mason, then came over to construct the tank, and I helped. In fact, we built two tanks that day: one large and one medium. I then prepared the vermipits and Yesu, our maid, was instructed to henceforth put all the household wastes (except paper and plastic) into the pits, alternating between the different ones.

We also started vermiculture in a wooden crate. Eventually the crate was used as a seed bed and a fine crop of jackfruit seedlings was raised in the box. The other two vermipits (of brick) function well, and all our household waste is processed by the earthworms.

At the end of February, I was eager and ready to set out again. Although some contacts for the study of bee-keeping had been made by my dad, I was personally not very much interested in the subject. Crocs, snakes and the wild had gripped me and I was longing to get back to the Croc Bank.

I also had another totally unrelated and unconnected programme that I wanted to accomplish, namely to improve my eyesight by taking a course on eye care and learning eye exercises at the Eye Clinic at the Aurobindo Ashram in Pondicherry.

I came to know of the Eye Clinic through Farida, one of the resident staff at Croc Bank. I have been wearing glasses since class IV when my mum made the discovery that the reason I was not copying lessons from the blackboard was not because I was inattentive or disobedient but simply because I couldn’t read clearly from the blackboard at all. Then came the visit to the oculist and the mandatory spectacles.

But I fervently wished to rid myself of these glasses ever since I heard that with eye exercises one can improve one’s eyesight. In fact, I had begun doing eye exercises with Sister Gemma, a Medical Mission Sister who is associated with my parents’ work. I had continued these exercises when I was at the Croc Bank, where Farida seeing me at it, had told me about the Eye Clinic at Aurobindo Ashram where I could get proper training.

As I was also eager to return to my favourite Croc Bank and since Pondicherry is not very far from Mamallapuram I proposed to my parents that I be allowed to go to Pondicherry via Bangalore, complete the eye course there and then proceed to Croc Bank where I could spend a fortnight or so before returning to Goa. This would comfortably keep me away during the month of March when my brothers would be studying for their school finals and I would return in time to enjoy the April-May vacations when our cousins from Belgaum, Lucano and Ricardo, would join us for a whole summer season of mangoes, jackfruits and umpteen picnics on the beach.

My parents approved of my programme and on the 26th of February, I set out for Pondicherry. By now I was quite familiar with the routes and did not need anyone to pick me up from the bus stops on arrival. However, I had phoned Bernard at Auroville earlier and made arrangements to stay with him at Auroville for the duration of the course.

I travelled by an overnight bus from Goa to Bangalore, rested briefly during the day at Hartman’s place and caught the night bus again at Bangalore bus station arriving at Pondicherry at 4 a.m. There a cycle rickshaw fellow managed to cheat me of Rs.40 by promising to take me to Auroville but instead depositing me at Aurobindo Ashram which was more or less next door to the bus stop.

I had to get into another local bus to get to Auroville which was more than 10 kms away and after walking a short distance was greeted by Bernard, whom I knew, as I had met him some months earlier on my first visit to Auroville. I stayed free of cost at Auroville in a room in Bernard’s quarters, sharing with him the meals he prepared.

I cycled twice a day from Bernard’s house to the Ashram. At the Ashram, I used to do my eye exercises and then return home. I did a total of 45 kms of cycling per day i.e. 360 kms of cycling for the nine days that I was there.

The Ashram itself was an old building. Before you entered you had to leave your slippers outside and place a plastic tag, with a number, on them; another tag, with the same number, you carried in your pocket as you walked barefoot up the stairs of the ashram. The place reminded me of a retreat centre with people in meditative moods and soft Indian classical music playing continuously.

The first exercise was the most terrible one. I would have just reached the Centre after cycling in the sun when honey drops would be put in my eyes. I then had to stand sweating in the sun with my eyes burning because of the honey. (Honey is sweet on the tongue but burns in the eyes.)

The next exercise would be struggling to read fine print in the dark with only a candle light burning. Next, one had to carry out the same exercise in normal sunlight, outside. There was an exercise involving eye movement through the use of a small rubber ball, then the reading of a chart with letters and words of diminishing size in varying degrees, bathing the eyes with steam, much in the same way as inhalation is done, and then cooling the eyes with cold cotton packs. Finally, there was the colour treatment, where one stares at bright colours reflected over a lamp in a darkened room.

Each exercise had to be performed a specific number of times with small details like opening, shutting and blinking of the eyes controlled to the finest degree. After I finished I would return to rock music on a walkman, on my way to Auroville.

There was no charge for the 10 day course at the Ashram but at the end of it I paid Rs.77 for the material needed to enable me continue with the exercises-namely, 4 bottles of eyedrops, 2 small jars of honey, one rubber ball, two charts and two booklets with fine print.

I benefitted a lot from the course and within a month or so, after regularly doing the exercises, I was able to read without spectacles. I still do the exercises, though not so regularly, and the best part is that after having been a regular wearer of glasses I now have to use my glasses only occasionally, like when watching TV or movies-which I do very rarely anyway since we do not have a TV set at home.

After the course was over I was eager to get another look at the Croc Bank and as per the prior arrangements made on telephone I set out for Mamallapuram, once again, on the 7th of March.

A funny, but expensive incident happened to me on the way.

I got to the interstate bus station early that morning and waited till 8 or 9 a.m. for the bus going to Mamallapuram to arrive. I started asking around and eventually I was directed by a bus driver to the Mamallapuram bus.

Before I could reached the bus a man dressed in a conductors’ uniform walked towards me. “Where are you going?” he asked. “To Mamallapuram”, I replied. “Come, come with me”, said the man. We both got into the bus, I took a seat and he put my luggage on the overhead rack. “Ticket”, he demanded. “How much?” I asked. “25 rupees”, he replied. I handed over the amount to him.

Shortly after the bus had started on its way, and to my astonishment, another conductor appeared and started issuing tickets to the passengers. I explained that I had already paid Rs.25 to the other conductor only to find that there was no “other conductor”, only a clever cheat who had taken me for a ride while the bus was still stationary. I had to shell out another 18 rupees for my journey to the Croc Bank! What I found hard to accept was that the man was able to cheat me in front of all those passengers sitting in the bus. No one thought to tell me that he was not the real conductor.

This time I stayed at the Croc Bank only for a week as Rom, Harry and everyone else on the farm were leaving for Kerala to continue with the National Geographic film programme and there was little else I could do at the Croc Bank with everyone away.


Chapter 1: A Fish Shop in Mapusa  •  Chapter 2: Learning a Bit of Farming  •  Chapter 3: Plant Festivals  •  Chapter 4: Learning about Mushrooms  •  Chapter 5: A Trip to Kerala  •  Chapter 6: Snakes Alive!  •  Chapter 7: A Vacation within a Vacation  •  Chapter 8: Earthworms  •  Chapter 9: Spiders  •  Chapter 10: Crocodile Dundee  •  Chapter 11: Learning to Teach  •  Chapter 12: You Have Sight, I Have Vision  •  Chapter 13: Surveying a Forest  •  Chapter 14: Chief Guest At Belgaum

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Free From School
By Rahul Alvares
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