Smt.Mira Kalbag : Amma of Vidnyan Ashram
Vidnyan Ashram at Pabal near Pune has been flourishing since 1983, working towards fulfilling its goal, “ Education through development & development through Education.” Dr. Kalbag strongly believed the dictum “learning by doing” is the natural method of education. To introduce this natural method of learning in the prevalent education system, Dr. Kalbag established Vidnyan Ashram. Vidnyan Ashram is a laboratory of education to experiment and test this hypothesis.
Dr. Kalbag was a senior Scientist in Hindustan Lever (now Hindustan Unilever Ltd.), Mumbai, but he gave up his lucrative job and settled in a draught prone village like Pabal. He could take this bold step in his life only because of the strong and unflinching support of his wife, Mrs. Mira Kalbag.
There is a lot of truth in what the ashram workers quip “Dr. Kalbag looks after ‘Vidnyan’ (Science) in Vidnyan Ashram, while Amma takes care of ‘Ashram’. “
Smt. Mira Kalbag is “Amma”( mother) to all the students and workers in the Ashram. Amma came to Pabal in 1983 with Dr. Kalbag. Pabal is a small village near Pune. When they came here, there was neither facility of phone nor proper transport. Quite often Dr. Kalbag had to travel to different places for his work, but Amma seldom moved out of Pabal. She started a tailoring and stitching class for the girls in Pabal and the neighbouring villages. She trained more than 600 girls in a span of 16 years, from 1984 to 2000. She laid stress on empowerment and personality development of these girls. Meditation, discussions and her pearls of wisdom have moulded the lives of many girls.
Amma stopped the tailoring classes after 2000 due to her age. All the same the age factor does not come in the way of her counselling the students/ workers and the women of the village. Everyone feels free to discuss their personal problems with Amma and get guidance from her. Amma extends strong moral support through ‘Vipassana’ and meditation to those who come to her to get solutions to their problems.
The kitchen in the Ashram is an ideal example of Amma’s management skill. She insists that no food should be wasted as many remain hungry in our country. Each one in the Ashram tells at the beginning of every month how much food he/she is going to consume for each meal. Accordingly only the required amount of food is cooked every day. There is a simple chart, which displays how many people are present and how much food has to be cooked. Amma has standardized everything in the kitchen, e.g. how many chapattis can be made in a given amount of flour, the oil and ‘masalas’ to be used in vegetables etc. The uneducated kitchen ‘Maushis’ have been taught to cook as per these standards. Strict cleanliness is maintained in the kitchen. Each one is expected to wash his/her plate after eating food, the utensils are inspected for cleanliness and kept in their proper place. After washing the utensils, the waste water and scraps of food are diverted to vermi compost pit. With these minute details, Amma had managed the working of kitchen very well. In this way, the expenses on the food cooked in the Ashram is kept under control. To affirm the positive effects of balanced diet on the health of the students, each student’s weight and haemoglobin count is recorded at the time of admission and the same is checked every three months to note the difference. There is always an improvement.
For last several years Amma has been practising Vipassana. Every day in the evening, mass meditation is practised for 15 minutes in the Ashram. This is followed by a discussion on different topics. This discussion helps the students to express their thoughts clearly and contributes in changing their attitudes positively. This is also an informal way to teach and inculcate ethics.
After the demise of Dr. Kalbag, Amma continued to stay in the Ashram steadfastly. She has stopped being actively involved in the day to day management of the Ashram. She has delegated that duty to the young workers in the Ashram and has remained in the background. She extends her valuable guidance when necessary. “Simple living and high thinking” has not just remained in the scriptures but has been proved by her exemplary behaviour, and ensured smooth transition.
Even at the age of 87, she gets up early in the morning and participates in all the chores of the Ashram enthusiastically. One should learn from Amma how to be firm but not harsh and inculcate discipline without creating resentment.
According to Hindu philosophy, a person should retire from ‘Grihasthashram’ and practise ‘Vanaprasthasram’ after a certain age. Dr. Kalbag and Amma practised this philosophy in their life and dedicated their life towards educating the youth in villages.
“Village Development through Education” is the philosophy of Vigyan Ashram and the method of education based on this philosophy is “Learning by doing” which needs to be recognised and practised generally everywhere.
With advancing age, her movement on campus got restricted, from walks to all corners to finally only her room. Also her hunched back caused difficulty in standing for long periods and later even to sit for long. Later even her meals were delivered to her room. She however continued to wash her own laundry most of the time. She exercised by walking within her room several times in a day.
During the winter of 2017, while exercising in the evening, she collapsed on the floor. It had given her a bad back. She valiantly tried to become mobile again but then after 2 days it was decided to get her to Mumbai by ambulance for recovery.
Her age and gradual declining strength hampered her faster healing. Finally on 18th March at @ 8.45am, we lost Amma.
As per her wish, her body was to be donated for medical education. This was inspired by her mother several decades earlier. Dr. Kalbag’s body was donated and now her body to was given to further the cause of hands on medical education. Due to her age her eyes or organs could not be harvested for others benefit, but she continued to be a resource for students, as in life, and beyond.
The lives of Dr. Kalbag and Mrs. Kalbag were exemplary for ‘Simple Living – High Thinking’.