I joined the National Council for Teacher Education (NCTE) as its Chairperson. It took me forty years to cover my professional journey. It has been an unusual journey. At its starting point I was a theoretical physicist and at its terminal point I found myself as the Chief Teacher Educator of the country. I did not travel a royal road. I did not know my destination but continued with my journey choosing my path at each crossroads from my heart and not from my reason. It crossed my mind that the story of my professional life may be worth my writing it even if I were its only reader. It seemed to me an unusual story with turns and twists. Writing it gave me the thrill of living my professional life all over again though in a fast forward mode. I am keen to conclude the story by writing its last chapter.
I was the second Chairperson of the NCTE. My predecessor who faced its teething problems left me a basic structure I could build on. The principal task of the NCTE was to lay down minimum norms for programmes of teacher education for all stages of schooling from pre-school to elementary to secondary to senior secondary and for the education of teacher educators for each of these stages of school education. The programmes of teacher education are as diverse as are the professional qualifications of teachers required by schools for taking care of the school curriculum. A school needs teachers to teach languages, mathematics, science subjects, social science subjects, art and craft, home science, physical education, guidance and counseling etcetera. The task to be performed by the NCTE is therefore noble. The people of the country want good teachers for the schooling of their children. As Parliament is the voice of the people of the country it created NCTE and assigned it a mandate to be discharged by it with utmost care and responsibility. The future of the country depends on the quality of its teachers who teach its children.
I took up the task entrusted to me with humility as I was aware of the challenge before me. I held the view that the use of self-bootstraps would improve the quality of teacher education institutions if the stakeholders were aware of the minimum norms laid down by the NCTE. They could scrutinise whether their institutions functioned as per the NCTE norms. The year was 1999. Access to theInternet was increasingly spreading in the country. I decided that a website should be created for the NCTE and all norms laid down by it be posted on it. Information available on the web could easily be searched and browsed with the software that came loaded on PCs. The website of the NCTE was created and in addition to the norms of teacher education programmes, digital texts of books and monographs published by the NCTE were put on its website for easy access. I realised that teacher educators were not comfortable in using computers in their work. I am commenting on the conditions as they prevailed fifteen years ago in an age of fast-changing information and communication technologies. I decided to develop multimedia self-learning CDs on learning how to use a PC. These CDs were developed in English and Hindi. When I joined the NCTE data on physical and academic infrastructure available in the 2500 teacher education institutions recognised by the NCTE was available on files maintained by its Regional Centres in Bangalore, Bhopal, Bhubaneswar and Jaipur. I wanted this data to be digitalised and put on the NCTE website. I made it a priority task.
I was not firm in the saddle as the Chairperson of the NCTE when I received copies of the FIRs filed by the Police Department in the state of Bihar against teacher education institutions recognised by the NCTE. These institutions were functioning in gross violation of the norms of the NCTE. Non-bailable warrants were issued against senior functionaries of the NCTE, some outsiders associated by the NCTE, some officials of the MHRD and the proprietors of the defaulting institutions. I was surprised and shocked when instead of supporting me in carrying out an internal inquiry of what went wrong I was intimidated both by politicians holding high office and senior bureaucrats to suppress acts of omission and commission including wilful complicity of persons associated with the NCTE in criminal acts of fraud. As I was swimming against the current, I found myself increasingly isolated and under stress.
I wanted to get out of the mess I found myself in. But my friend and boss Mr. Kaw, the Secretary Higher Education in the MHRD, read to me from the Gita and told me, “ You cannot leave the battle field and like Abhimanyu fight even if you perish in the end.You have entered your chakravyuha.” I received reinforcement to these words of encouragement from my former Education Minister in Kerala Mr. Chandrasekharan. He invited me to have breakfast with him in Kerala House on Jantar Mantar Road. He quoted to me from Winston Churchill, “To each there comes in their lifetime a special moment when they are figuratively tapped on their shoulder and offered the chance to do a very special thing, unique to them and fitted to their talents. What a tragedy if that moment finds them unprepared or unqualified for that which could have been their finest hour.” I realised I should prepare myself for being pushed out of the job as I was considered a threat by well-connected persons.
Asha’s brother Arun had a house in Noida. He renovated it for us. We moved into it. I wanted a roof over my head in the event of finding myself in the bleak scenario I foresaw. It was a commodious house in the Sector 36 of Noida. Our friend Dr. A. K. Sharma had settled down in Noida after retirement and we had him as our friend for company.
The tragedy of our country is that instead of following rules we like to violate them, particularly, if violations result in pecuniary gain. We indulge in breaking rules with impunity if we happen to have the protection of influential persons. It is unfortunate that those in power, instead of guiding persons who approach them for seeking favours they pressurise instead the persons responsible for enforcement of rules. They demand that violations be condoned and go to the extent of issuing instructions to persons like me to allow violation of rules and facilitate exploitation of their institutions. I could not be made to do it. The senior most person from public life to whom I was accountable would take out his displeasure and tell me, “I am disappointed in you.” It became a way of life for me and I lived under constant stress as I did not yield to unreasonable demands.
I occupied myself with creative activities. I decided to make multimedia CDs on value education. The first multimedia CD I made was ‘New Education for a New India’ with the help of the Gnostic Centre in Delhi. It was around Sri Aurobindo and the Mother’s thoughts on education. It had beautiful visuals and was well received. I was contacted by Muni Kishan Lal Ji a disciple of Acharya Tulsi. He explained to me the concepts on Jeevan Vigyan (Science of Living) formulated by his gurus Acharya Tulsi and Acharya Mahapragaya Ji. He wanted me to make a multi-media CD on Jeevan Vigyan (जीवन विज्ञान)to be used by teacher educators both in pre and inservice education of teachers. One day in the evening I received a message that I should reach the official residence of the Prime Minister (PM) by 8 am the following day to meet him. I did not have any communication in writing for coming to the Prime Minister’s residence. I was told that I should not worry about it and reach the Reception Office at the Prime Minister’s residence with a photo-id. In the reception I saw two Jain munis, Muni Kishan Lal Ji and Muni Mahedra Ji, and two other persons whom I had met before. The officials in the Reception Office asked the Jain munis to use the official vehicle for going to the Prime Minister’s bungalow from there. They pointed out that even the Home Minister of the country has to follow the security procedure of using the official car of the PM for going to the Prime Minister’s residence. The munis said, “In our life we have never used any transport and we walk barefoot. We have walked 10 km to reach here.” Perhaps after consultation with the Authorities responsible for the Prime Minister’s security the munis were allowed to walk to the residence. I also walked with the Jain munis to the official residence of the Prime Minister. The munis occupied the main sofa in the living room. I sat down on a chair placed against a wall. After some time the Prime Minister entered. He had undergone knee replacement surgeries recently and was walking somewhat unsteadily. The munis kept on sitting and did not rise. Muni Kishan Lal Ji said, “How is your knee, Atal Ji?” The PM replied, “I am fine, Muni Ji.” Prime Minister sat down on a side sofa next to the Jain munis. Muni Kishan Lal Ji said to the PM, “पहला सुख निरोगी काया।” The Prime Minister followed it with, “दूजा सुख हो घर में माया।” I witnessed the informal conversation between the Jain munis and the Prime Minister. I was surprised when Muni Kishan Lal Ji said to me, “महेश्वरी जी, प्रधान मंत्री जी के पास आइए।” I went near the Prime Minister and stood before him. Muni Kishan Lal Ji addressed me, “महेश्वरी जी, प्रधान मंत्री जी के समक्ष संकल्प लीजिए, कि मैं जीवन विज्ञान का सीडी एक महिने में बना कर आप को दे दूँगा।” This was a most unusual method for obtaining my commitment for getting a task done. One other proposal placed by the munis to the PM was to rename Sri Aurobindo Marg as Anuvrat Marg. I did make the CD within one month from that day and handed it to Muni Kishan Lal ji in a village between Rohtak and Bhiwani.
I made a multimedia CD on innovations of some selected primary school teachers from Gujarat. They made presentations on their innovations on teaching-learning supported with visuals on slides. I came in contact with Swamini Purna Nandaji of Chinmaya Mission. She suggested that she could conduct a workshop on moral education. She pointed out that Chinmaya Mission has an Ashram in Siddhabari, located inside a pine forest, facing the Dhauladhar Mountain Range in the Kangra Valley. The Siddhabari Ashram has facilities for the boarding-lodging of three hundred persons. A workshop on moral education was held in Siddhabari. It was attended by over 200 teacher educators who came from the District Institutes of Education and Training (DIET). It was a participative workshop and resource material on value education was developed in it. The developed resource material, video clips from Swamini Purna Nanda ji addresses, and question-answer sessions were suitably integrated in the CD.
In Mysore the Ramakrishna Ashram runs an innovative teacher education programme at its institution known as the Ramakrishna Institute of Moral and Spiritual Education (RIMSE). The President of the Ramakrishna Mysore Ashram Swmai Atmavidanandaji offered to conduct a workshop for teacher educators on the innovative teacher education curriculum developed by RIMSE. Teacher-Educators from the Southern states participated in this workshop. The resource material developed was around universal values and not spiritual values and was secular in character. Swami Atmavidanandaji recorded in his voice prayer songs sung by the children of the Ramakrishna School in the morning assembly. The songs with words written in English and Hindi were made available on the CD for use of teachers in their schools. This CD was also well received as it also contained step-by-step instructions for yoga exercises and guided meditation.
The Keshav Vidyapeeth, Jamdoli, Jaipur, ran a boarding school attended mainly by students from the Northeast. I was invited to be the Chief Guest of its Republic Day function. I was given a ceremonial Guard of Honour. I unfurled the National Flag and inspected the March Past. Its students are taught martial arts. A special demonstration of martial arts was the highlight of the Republic Day celebrations.
The Union Minister of the Human Resource Development (MHRD) instituted an inquiry against me. Mr. P. K. Kaul, formerly Cabinet Secretary and India’s Ambassador to the United States of America, was made the Inquiry Officer. I paid a courtesy call on Mr. Kaul basically to find out from him the details of records he wanted from the NCTE and offered my support and that of the NCTE administration. He asked me my background. I told him that my initial education was in UP. But I came to Delhi with my father when he was posted in the Central Government. I completed my secondary and college education in Delhi and went abroad for higher studies. He thought for a while and asked whether I was the son of Bhola Nath Maheshwari. When I answered in affirmative, he responded, “Your father was a senior officer in the UP Government. I was guided by him in the initial years of my service. He was a highly respected officer.” He asked me about my wife. I told him, “I am married to the niece of late Mr. P. N. Jain, a friend of my late father.” He reacted and said, “Mr. P. N. Jain was my boss. I was the Deputy Secretary and he was a Joint Secretary in the Ministry of Finance.” He asked me to make available to him for scrutiny 25 files randomly selected from the four Regional Centres of the NCTE. He took his time in completing the task that was assigned to him by the MHRD. In his Report to the Minister of MHRD he recommended that the NCTE required strengthening. Additional academic and administrative posts be given to it for functioning more effectively and for providing academic resources to the teacher education institutions in the country. He commended my work and praised me for my integrity and efforts in streamlining teacher education in the country. He appreciated the newly created NCTE website as a resource and for bringing in transparency in the functioning of the NCTE. He opined that maintenance of transparency is essential for discharging corruption free regulatory functions by the NCTE.
On attaining the age of 60 I decided that I would like to take voluntary retirement. The senior bureaucrats were surprised as generally persons seek extension in service and not voluntary retirement. I had fought my battle from the chakravyuha I had entered and defended till the end my institution and tried to prevent its exploitation from the onslaught of vested interests.
I was keen to return to mathematics and theoretical physics, the subjects I grew up with. I had to make them my low priority for the past sixteen years in view of my administrative responsibilities. I now conclude the story of my academic life and my unconventional professional journey.