The Peoples' Institute for Re-thinking Education and Development

Grown up without Schooling: Interview without Ruchir Raju-Dipti

What about my child’s future? What about their career? Who will give them a job? How will they survive in this competitive world? And how would they find a life partner? Will they ever adjust to the real world?”

Most parents exploring unschooling are perplexed by questions related to the future of their child. These questions often deter parents from opting for a journey that breaks the bounds of our accepted norms around education and learning. One frequent question asked to me is, “are there success stories? Are there unschoolers who are now grown up and successful?” Here is my conversation with Ruchir — a 29 year old young man who has never been to school. Ruchir from Ahmedabad runs a design firm that specializes in online and print advertising and is happily married to an interior designer.

Me (Sharmila) — Tell us a little about yourself.

Ruchir — I am an only child of my parents — Deepti and Raju. My parents immersed themselves in working for social development during Jayprakash Narayan’s ‘Nav Nirman Andolan’ that urged people to live in villages and strive for upliftment of villages. They worked with a few trusts before they founded ‘Jeevantirth’ which means life pilgrimage in the year 1997. Jeevantirth is mainly working in the fields of Education, Environment, Rural Development and Human Rights related issues. The initiative believes in lifelong learning — Education through life and education throughout life and calls itself a ‘school for life lovers.’

I spent my childhood in a small village called Lotiya near Radhanpur of Gujarat. The village is located near the borders of Gujarat, Rajasthan and Pakistan. Since many children from the village did not go to school, they all became my out of school classmates. We spent time in the wilderness, roamed around in the village, herded sheep and did all sorts of things that village kids do.

Me — How did you learn to read and write? Did someone teach you?

Ruchir — I did not learn reading and writing the conventional way. During my early childhood days we lived in a house with a floor kitchen — meaning we didn’t have a kitchen platform. The chulha, the stove and containers were all on the floor. My mom had all her containers (spices, sugar, grains, pulses etc) neatly labelled in Gujarati (my native language). I learnt to recognise these labels. I knew which container had sugar as I learnt to recognise the labels. Even when she changed the container I knew which one had sugar. A child’s brain correlates things easily and soon I was able to relate the ‘chi’ from chini (sugar) to ‘chi’ from chidiya (bird). Similarly, I learnt other letters through the sounds it made. For me, “Letters were just paintings of sounds we make.” Soon I was reading books. I started writing as I would travel a lot with my parents. I learnt Hindi during these travels and by watching Hindi movies. By the time I was 11, I was translating small story books (Hindi and Gujarati) and after my 12th translated English books too. Recently I translated a NCERT book from English into Gujarati.

Me — There were many interesting projects you undertook during your childhood. Do share about some of them.

Ruchir — When I was about 12 years old, I started a handwritten magazine for children. I used to collect drawings, poems, stories, book reviews from children, write about my travel experiences and feature a friend in every issue. This 16 page magazine called ‘Fulzar’ was photocopied and sent to about 200 friends.

Me — Your family had a large network of friends. who would meet regularly. Do share something about it.

Ruchir — My parents had a large circle of friends even before they got married. They used to meet regularly. These meets were fondly known as ‘MitraMilan’. Most of these friends were student activists from different movements like Nav Nirmaan Andolan. These meets continued even after these activists got married. Their children would also tag along. Most children did not go to school. We would stay together for 2–3 days and have a good time learning from each other. The meets were full of fun for us children. We all usually went into the jungle, climbed mountains, bathed in the river during these meets. These meets were also called ‘Naahak Milan’ meaning meeting without agendas. These meets continue to happen regularly even now.

Me — Did you travel alone during your growing up days?

Ruchir — After my 10th NIOS, I had a year before I gave my twelfth. I used this year to travel. I traveled alone across the country. The purpose was to see new places. I touched almost every state except the Northeast and Kerala. I travelled mostly by train and sometimes by buses. I stayed with my dad’s friends, hotels, homestays, dharamshalas, ashrams — wherever I was let in. I didn’t have a cell phone then and would rely on public phones. Most often my parents didn’t know about my whereabouts. My stay at Shikshantar was the most remarkable. I met so many like minded people and made many friends. I met people who were as crazy and weird as me. I also recall my experience of staying with a family in Himachal Pradesh. I stayed with them for 5 days. I spent time with them, accompanied them to their farm and helped in household chores. This was the kindest family I had ever met. During that year, I learnt that if you are humble and kind, people will treat you with humility and kindness. So many people helped me and cared for me during my travels. I feel deep gratitude toward everyone who supported me during my travel.

Me — We are aware that you didn’t go to school. But did you complete your board exams i.e 10th and 12th examinations?

Ruchir — I used to frequently visit my kaka (uncle) while I was growing up. During one of my trips my kaka said, “you say you like to challenge yourself with new experiments and you say you like to try everything at least once. Have you experienced writing an exam? Look at how your cousin prepares for exams. Do you want to take on the challenge of studying and learn how to give exams?” I did not have an immediate answer. However, I loved challenges and experiencing new things. I thought –why not?

I took it up as a new experience and gave my 10th exam in Gujarati medium through NIOS (National Institute of Open Schooling). I thought of giving 12th exams too. However at that time the course books for NIOS 12th weren’t available in Gujarati. The only options were Hindi and English. I gave myself one year to learn English. I watched many English films with subtitles and English songs with lyrics. I started reading books and soon I was proficient in the language.

I am an introvert by nature and I am competitive too. It is said that school teaches competition, but competition came to me naturally. I guess I had to be especially since I was constantly comparing myself to myself. It helped me learn things. I am highly dedicated when it comes to learning new skills. I think one should have at least one skill which becomes the source of one’s livelihood.

Me — What did you do after 12th exams?

Ruchir — A friend of mine was enrolled for a course at MAAC (Maya Academy of Advanced Cinematic). MAAc is an institute for studies in filmmaking and 3D animation. They also had great faculties of graphic design. I found the course very fascinating. I saw the work they did and the way they taught and decided to enroll. The academy didn’t even ask for my board examination mark sheet. I spent almost three years at MAAC and specialized in graphic design and video editing. I started getting leads for work from friends and from my faculty. While I was at MAAC, I also participated in a film making workshop at Shikshantar. I also facilitated 10 workshops on filmmaking at Shikshantar itself. I interned for a couple of documentary filmmakers. I did every task given to me, though my interest was in post processing and editing though. Later, I used this experience to make documentaries for NGOs working on development issues and also established my own graphic design company.

Me — Tell us something about your company ‘Ideoxide’? What inspired you to start it?

Ruchir — I freelanced for a while. I took up projects related to graphics, design, animation, filmmaking etc. I realized that in order to survive as an artist and to justify the costs involved in my work, I needed to have a set-up. It is a common misconception that artists don’t need money. I teamed up with two of my friends who have different expertise in the field of art and created Ideoxide.

Ideoxide is a versatile multidisciplinary design and visual communication consultancy firm that specializes in creative ideas & strategic communication along with brand consultancy through comprehensive visual mediums like branding, packaging, photography, film, animation, web, UI and motion graphics, for brands across a multifarious audience. We aim to put you and your brand into limelight and help you create the market impact that you deserve.

Me — I hear that you are an animal lover. Tell us more about it.

Ruchir — In my free time, I used to go into the wild with my friend who was a local sheep herder. He used to gather up the entire village’s sheep and goats and used to take them in the wild and bring them back by evening. I spent most of my childhood roaming around in the forest. My friend had great knowledge about flora and fauna of the forest. He was a great birdwatcher too. He used to catch snakes and help out injured birds and animals he came across. I learnt to love and care for animals from him. At present, I have three dogs. I have had several cats and many birds. I regularly attend rescue calls of various animals and I can identify and catch snakes. There is a common joke in my neighborhood that if snake comes, don’t go out shouting “SNAKE! SNAKE!”. Go out shouting “Ruchir! Ruchir!”.

rutu and ruchir

Me — One question I have seen pop up during many discussions is about unschoolers finding their perfect match — a life partner. How did you find your partner?

Ruchir — My wife Rutu, is an interior designer. Unlike me she went to school and then college. Though our parents were good friends, we weren’t. We got to know each other while working together on a project. We had a seven year relationship before we got formally engaged and then married. I believe that when there is something in common, things can happen. Schools teach us gender based segregation, “you are boys and they are girls. Stay away from them, don’t talk to them, sit separately from them.” The divide of girls from boys begins from day 1 of school and we fail to understand the other sex. We become misogynistic or worse when we grow up. In a non-school atmosphere, I never felt that. I had as many female friends as male friends, if not more. I have always been comfortable talking to the opposite gender. Once you are comfortable with anyone, friendships are meant to happen.

Me — What kind of a father would you be if or when you have a child?

Ruchir — My parents always gave me a choice. They never pushed me into anything. They decided that if I go to school, they won’t stop me, if I don’t, they wont push me. I think the problem with most parents is that they do not give their children options. I am going to try my best to ensure that my child has a choice and that we will respect his / her decisions. Sri Aurobindo said that the first principle of teaching is: nothing can be taught. So I believe you can’t teach anyone anything. Teaching is a violent word. You can support a child in learning but can’t teach. It is enough to provide an environment where learning is natural. It just happens. Every child is curious enough to break things, open things, pull them apart and try to put it back together. That is learning. Every child bangs things together and tries to see what sound they make, and we tell them not to do that. Our problem is we teach our children to stand up and speak up for 2 years and then tell them to sit down and shut up.

Me — What is your take on the increased use of gadgets among children?

Ruchir — The previous generation was dependent on pen and paper. The generation before them was dependent on something else. Things change. Today gadgets play an important role in our lives. I don’t necessarily see them as a bad thing. The means of getting information has drastically changed. If used properly, gadgets are also a great tool for learning. Many studies have shown that kids who grew up playing video games have greater ability to coordinate, communicate and strategize. I am in no way encouraging children to play video games all day. I think outdoor play is equally important to one’s development. But I don’t believe that video games and gadgets are evil.

Me — What advice would you give to someone exploring homeschooling or unschooling?

Ruchir — Homeschooling for me is same as ‘Self Directed Learning’. This is what I did. I set my goals and tried to follow them. No one asked me to do anything. It was completely on me. If I succeeded, I took full credit, if I failed, it was on me. I didn’t blame it on anyone. I don’t think I can advise anyone, but if my thought process appeals to someone, they should take it as an advice. It is fine, if they don’t believe in it too. It’s simple — You don’t blame anyone for your failures or give credit to anyone for your successes as choices were made by you. I own my choices. I often tell new homeschooling parents to take a year off before committing to full time homeschooling. Let your child explore what he wants to do for a year. Be patient and see what he likes and doesn’t like. Do many things. Travel with him and let him travel alone. Your child will gain a year and will definitely not lose one.

Parents need to support their children in understanding that freedom comes with responsibility. You have the freedom of choice and hence a greater responsibility. A homeschooling child has a greater responsibility than a school going child. You definitely can’t blame your teachers for your failures. You have only yourself to blame.

Me — My last question — Where do you see yourself — say ten years later?

Ruchir — I am not really sure I have planned that far out in the future. The question itself is a bit “job interview-y” but I do know for a fact that I will be living in a village as I am right now. Learning is an unstoppable process and will keep happening. I dream of having lots of animals around me. As far as the career goes, it is going pretty well and I think I have enough skills to provide for me and my family.

Me — Anything else you want to add?

Ruchir — I also believe that life is a lesson and you learn it as you live it. I want to live a life of love.

Write to Ruchir <ruchirguitar@gmail.com>.

Sharmila Govande, a mother of three, has been involved in the field of education and development for the past 23 years. She has joined the unschooling movement recently. She writes, facilitates and hosts workshops on learning and development and focuses her energies on unschooling herself and her children. She can be reached at sharmilagovande@gmail.com.