FOUNDING OF ASIM SCHOOL, UJJAIN, INDIA
Founded by Swami Jnaneshvara
and Swami Nardanand
(There are several PHOTOS at this link which
cannot be included in the newsletter.)
During April 2006 I was visiting my friend Swami Nardanand at his
ashram in Ujjain, India (See Siddha Ashram link). It's a small
ashram, with about twenty rooms, and a handful of most loving people
living there. It's is a modest, though comfortable place on the banks
of the Shipra River, in the heart of Ujjain. If you're not familiar
with Ujjain, it's considered to be one of the more sacred cities in
India, and is home to one of the four kumbha melas, which are large
spiritual festivals every twelve years in each of those locations;
many millions of people come.
There was a little girl--four years old--and her mother staying there
at the ashram. The little girl seemed rather quiet, maybe somewhat
distant. But she had a very watchful eye. Later, I found that she was
very playful and talkative, even though timid. She also has a big
curiosity, and she is extremely bright.
When I asked Swami Nardanand about her, he said that she and her
mother had been there in the ashram for about a year. A year before,
someone affiliated with the ashram told him about this little girl
and her mother, and that they were living on the street, as they had
for a very long time, and asked if he could help. The father and
husband had died, and there was no extended family. They were from a
laborer culture with very little income, and that small income became
zero with the death of the man in the family. Swamiji Nardanand said
that when he first knew the little girl she was much like a wild
animal. That wasn't said as an insult, but a realistic description of
her state after having spent so much time living the way she had.
Swami Nardanand took mother and daughter into the ashram, providing
them with shelter, food and clothes. Mother does some chores around
the ashram to help out. The little girl doesn't do much; she doesn't
go to school and has no friends her own age to play with.
One day, about a week after I first saw the little girl, Swami
Nardanand and I were sitting outside having lunch. I noticed the
little girl was sitting some twenty or so feet away, which prompted
me to ask Swami Nardanand, "What is her name?" He answered, "Sim"
(pronounced "seam" or "seem"). "Hmm," I said with a little nod, as we
continued with our food. "What does it mean, her name, Sim?" I
asked. "Limited," Swamiji said. "Limited!" I blurted out. "Her name
is LIMITED?" "Bounded," Swami Nardanand added. "Limited? Bounded?" I
said again. "How can anyone have a name like 'limited' or 'bounded'?
No wonder she...." I stopped short of words going further along those
lines. I asked, "Can we change her name? Can we call her Asim, which
is Unlimited or Unbounded? Is there such a word? Asim?" "Yes,"
Swamiji said, "It means Unlimited, Unbounded." "Okay, then let's call
her Asim; is it okay with others, and her mother, that we call her
Asim?" "Why not," Swamiji said with a smile. So we started calling
her Asim, one who is unlimited, unbounded.
Asim had a little chalk board someone had given her. It was about a
foot wide, and she had one piece of chalk that was about an inch and
a half long. She mostly scribbled, but one day I noticed she was also
was trying to write some English letters. That drew my attention.
Someone had showed her some of the letters. I don't know much Hindi,
but English, I know pretty well, at least compared to a four-year-old
who speaks Hindi, but no English. I sat down beside her and wrote the
letter "A" and said out loud the sound for "A." She repeated it, but
poorly. I said it again; she tried again. After a few times she got
it. We went on to "B." Before long, after several "classes," if I may
take the liberty to call them that, she was doing pretty good with
her "ABC's." It turns out that she is amazingly quick to learn, and
what is most delightful is the fact that she is very interested, very
curious. She so much wanted to learn, and to practice the ABC's.
"Swamiji," I asked, "this little girl only has this blackboard and
one piece of chalk. Can we buy here some books?" Swami Nardanand got
one of the young men in the ashram to ride the motor scooter to the
market and buy four children's books. It was possibly the best two
dollars (actually less) that I've ever spent! Asim instantly loved
the books and started looking through them. They had pictures and
both Hindi and English words. We also sat down together and went
through some of the words. I could help her with the English word for
the picture, and she helped me with the Hindi word for the same
"Swamiji, what about school for this little girl, for Asim?" I asked
Swami Nardanand. "She's very bright, and likes to learn. Why isn't
she in school? If there's not a school for her and others like her,
we should start a school?" Now, that's music to the ears of Swami
Nardanand. He loves children and loves serving, and has a very gentle
way of being with people. "Okay," he said, with a particular
inflection and facial expression that I can't describe very well in
writing. It's the same "Okay" that comes with a little grin whenever
I propose some new cultural experience for him when he has visited me
So, it was decided! We would start a school on the grounds of the
ashram; a school for girls, for the poorest of the poor, who have no
other options in life. I had been through New York City a few weeks
previously, and some of the people attending talks had donated some
money. We used much of that money to make the first donation towards
Asim school. On the way back through New York, I had the joy of
telling people how their donations were being used for this little
girl, Asim, and others through Asim School.
Please don't misunderstand this; Ujjain is not some backward place.
It is a wonderful city, with an ancient history. It does, however,
like many places in India and the rest of the world, have a few
problems here and there. There are many schools in Ujjain and the
rest of the state of Madhya Pradesh. But still, there are some
children who have no options in front of them, as they don't have the
economic resources or family to participate in formal education.
During this visit to Ujjain, we were with many fine people, both in
celebration of various occasions, and to give talks on meditation and
spiritual life. We were extremely well greeted by people. Some of the
people participating in these gatherings have gone on to voice
support for Asim School.
On the same day that we decided to start Asim School, I asked Swami
Nardanand if he could call some people to arrange a press conference
to tell the public about the plans. Swamiji is quite well known in
Ujjain and the state of Madhya Pradesh, so the media was quick to
respond. Newspaper, magazine and television reporters came to the
ashram the next day to hear about the plans for Asim School and the
story of one little girl. We told them about the background of her
and her mother, about learning the ABC's, and the rest of the
conversations and decisions. I also told them that I am not some
foreigner coming there trying to tell them how to educate their
children. The media was very cordial and genuinely interested in what
we were doing.
Swami Nardanand and I explained to the press how the school would
start with children Asim's age, and take them through twelfth grade.
Each year a new class of students would start, so the school would
expand systematically. In the ashram there are also several very old
women without families or money, and for whom Swami Nardanand
provides shelter and food. They will be part of a "grandmothers"
program, where they, in their elder years, will help with the
children, who also have so little. The "grandchildren" will get
grandmothers, and the "grandmothers" will get grandchildren. We even
found that there will be a few "grandfathers" as well.
During the press conference one university professor said he would
personally come by and help teach the children. A benevolent woman
said that she would provide clothing for the next year for Asim and
all of the other children. The day after the press conference I was
on a train to Rishikesh, in another part of India. The timing wasn't
planned that way; it's just how it worked out. A few days later Swami
Nardanand said that people were out looking around in Ujjain and the
many villages in the area, looking for the poorest of little girls.
They are finding a few. The same little girls who might have
previously been ignored were now being joyfully sought out.
This is a really fun story, isn't it. It really happened like this.
When the media asked about how the idea for the school came to us, I
told then that when I looked in the eye of this little girl I saw
God. I asked them if they too didn't also see God in her eyes. Later,
in telling the story to others, many people say they see the grace of
God in action.
Through the efforts and donations of kind-hearted people, some of the
children who would otherwise have nothing, like Asim, will be served.
The inauguration of the school is scheduled for July 10, 2006, which
is Guru Purnima, the annual date of the celebration of the guiding
force of grace called Guru. Classes will begin at that time.
More information will be posted [on the site] from time to time.
UPDATE, June 17, 2006: Enrollment in the school is now 60 girls,
including 15 girls in residence. Two teachers have been hired. One
caretaker for the children has been hired. Application for
registration of Asim School has been made with the Government
Education Department. School will begin July 1.
Donations to Asim School: