We started our Netarhat Journey at the ungodly hour of 4 O’Clock in the morning. This was to avoid getting blocked by a call for Bandh given on the day of travel (10th Dec. 2003). I had the driver bring the Tata Sumo the previous night. We loaded all the computers and other items early morning at 3:30 and started our journey with a lot of anxiety. Some stretches of road had so dense fog that nothing was visible but thankfully it was limited in extent. We were cruising nicely and crossed Lohardagga without any incident.
Next, we came to Ghaghara around 7 AM and were stopped on the way and asked to not proceed any further. Help from the Police through Varun Mishra proved a nonstarter as the roads were blocked by trucks. We waited for an hour or so and took the help of local leaders, who helped us in getting ahead. They also gave us the names of their local unit leaders in case we faced any problems.
We were again stopped near Bishunpur and had to wait for 15-20 minutes before they let us proceed. The next stop was at Banari where bandh supporters were sitting on the road. But they let us go without any problem. After this, we crossed the Koel River and were a little relaxed. I took the first photograph (using the Kodak digital camera that we have donated to the school. Pictures here have been scaled down in resolution to suit the low bandwidth of the internet.) of the day showing going up the valley. Now we started moving up the torturous climb to Netarhat. The road did not seem to have changed much. It was difficult to say whether it had become better or worse as compared to earlier.
On the way, I kept clicking along the way in the hope of capturing some beautiful scenes to share with all of you.
Finally, we reached the school around 11:30 AM. Thank God, we, the vehicle, and all the equipment survived the Bandh. As I entered the gate Anil Singh (188, my batch mate and now a teacher at Netarhat) immediately recognized me after 27 years. (Of course, he was expecting me. I am not sure he would have recognized me in an unexpected situation.) We immediately met Principal Karn Jee, who was visibly relieved seeing us survive all the disturbance. I also informed Varun Mishra (SP, Lohardagga, and Hatian) immediately that we were safe.
After some food (we had none since the previous night due to Bandh on the way), we started to unpack the computers in the old aero-modeling room. Electrical work was going on in the Old assembly hall. We went and finalized the layout of the furniture and the electrical points.
I made the suggestion of inaugurating the projector by showing the students a movie on the 10th evening. since they were going away on the 12th for vacation. It was agreed but turned out that Sixth Set had a Sahbhoj arranged at the same time. Anyway, it was decided to manage both of them. A new white screen for the stage was taken out and fixed on the stage and after some tightening of the screen to remove wrinkles, we could get an acceptable quality picture, clearly visible from the back. It was fortunate that Video CDs are easily available in Netarhat now (Progress!) and Amitabh Bachchan’s “Baghban” was selected to be shown. I did not know that the tradition of showing movies had stopped nearly 15 years back when TVs and VCRs became available. So students were seeing movies together after that many years. They watched the movie in pin-drop silence until near the end when they clapped several times. I was planning to go back to the computer installation but continued to watch the historical movie show (of course, I had seen the movie earlier, courtesy of ICICI bank), just in case any technical difficulty arose. The movie was shown on the generator so electricity was not a threat. It was a great feeling being with all the students and watching a movie in the Netarhat workshop.
After the movie, we were invited to the Sahbhoj being hosted in the Sixth Set since there was a change of Ashramadhyaksha in one of the Ashrams. Before this, a small cultural program was organized. Of course, after the movie people were ready to move to dinner fast but this young kid on the right (who had just come a couple of weeks back to the school) captivated everyone by the beautiful poem he recited. He was so small that his dress was oversized. But looking at him and others sitting below in the room, netarhat does not look any different from our time.
The next day (11th Dec) was the last day before students went on winter vacation. Karn Jee warned me that there was a special assembly in the morning and that I should get ready in time and be there in all senses. I had to give a talk to the students! The talk part was not much of a problem since the last one and half years of teaching at my university have prepared me for that. It was the morning cold that I was facing after a long time. Thankfully immersion rods and the availability of electricity made that task also easier.
Coming to electricity, it turns out that the upgradation of electricity from 11 KV to 33 KV transmission line was in full swing. Due to this, they used to switch off the electricity in the daytime and leave it on during the night. Voltage was low (110 V lamps worked better! USA in Netarhat(?)) and was expected to improve with the installation of the new transmission line. The water supply was normal since electricity was available at night.
This was a special assembly and results were announced. I was given the honor of distributing the certificates. I was lucky to touch that piece of paper since Neeraj and others from my batch always made sure that I did not come in the top three positions to be able to receive that paper. So I had all the fun in life touching so many of them at one go. There was a report from the visit to the NDA (National Defence Academy) by the students. Anshuman Chatterjee went with the students and gave a good report on the visit and also the fact that the students had done well. I got my chance to talk to the students for an hour about my career path, my research, my new institute, and what we (NOBA Parivar) are trying to do to modernize Netarhat. I am not sure how much of that was useful to the students since they must be thinking about their journey home the next day. Especially keep in mind that 300 of them had just joined and this was their first visit home.
We had a meeting with all the teachers at 12:00 noon in the staff room. We discussed the various requirements of the school where we as NOBA members could help. I have made a separate write-up on requirements but there were a few requests related to cultural and sports activity. School needed time to think about what they needed since most of the requirements were vague and details were not available. The requirement for a Gym and Yoga facility is urgent and the Principal gave me a list, which I have passed to Delhi NOBA to find out the price etc. Before the meeting, I clicked the photographs of as many teachers as possible. I will put this up on the Netarhat School website.
I have also made a list of requirements for the school and will be putting it up on the web soon.
Around lunchtime (11th Dec.) rest of my students came by bus since they had got stuck in Ranchi due to Bandh. After a brief rest, I got them to work on the installation of software, etc. You can see them at work in the photograph.
I was requested by some teachers to give them an introductory training in computer use. So I took revenge on the teachers by trying to teach them. I wanted to use the projector for doing this. This showed the teachers the effectiveness of using the projector as a teaching aid and it made my life simple as well. Of course, I am not used to teaching introductory computer courses, so I do not know how it went. But I showed them the various uses of computers: word processing, spreadsheet, presentation software, e-mail, internet, etc. I also took this opportunity to explain to them the process we had used to collect funds through the web and how the status of APCL – Netarhat fund was transparently being shown to any NOBA member around the globe, and how we have used e-mails to discuss issues of mutual interest. Some of them informed me that enthused by our effort many teachers had started purchasing computers. The picture on the left shows the introductory training of teachers going on.
My team members took the opportunity to visit the sunrise point on the 12th morning. Unfortunately, I fell sick at night and had to take rest. Finally, I bid goodbye to everyone and started my return journey at 2 PM and reached Ranchi around 6:30 PM. The picture of the sunrise and a beautiful tree from the garden of Netarhat School is shown below.
Finally, I wish to thank all of the NOBA community and APCL management, who came out to support this venture. I also wish to put in a record lot of hard work Kedar Jee and others at Ranchi NOBA put in to make this a successful trip. They of course have a much more challenging task of organizing the Golden Jubilee Celebration. Good luck!