Uttarakhand Stories

From Hammer to Chalk: A teacher who built, painted and taught in a remote Uttarakhand school

by Abhay Aswal
Sep 11, 2017

A good teacher is like a candle, it consumes itself to light the way for others.

 

The above line perfectly sums up what it means to be a teacher. They say a teacher is someone who deserves respect more than your parents. It is not a mere profession but a great responsibility bestowed upon few chosen souls to be the guiding light for the generations to come. However, one man in far reaches of rural Uttarakhand has redefined the definition of the word ‘teacher’. For he not only brought education where there was none, but also sacrificed a life of a householder for the upliftment of education in the region.

Meet Ghanshyam Dhaundiyal. And here’s his incredible story.

Born and raised in the hushed hamlet of Latusain in the Chamoli district of Uttarakhand, Ghanshyam Dhaundiyal completed his Bachelor of Education from DAV, Dehradun. While we puny humans seek lucrative job opportunities in the cites for a comfortable lifestyle, he returned back to his village to provide education to those who couldn’t afford it. After giving 4 years of his service at a primary school at Jhumakhet in Gairsain; in 1999, he was transferred to Syuni Malli – a virtually inaccessible remote village in Chamoli district. This transfer changed his life. And of nearly 400 inhabitants of the village.

 

A primary school in Syuni Malli in Gairsain (Chamoli). (Image Source)

Let me put things into perspective first. In order to reach the Syuni Malli village, one has to trek 5 km uphill in an almost-perpendicular ascent. No bus, car or motorcycle will take you there. Simply because, there is no road connectivity. The school in the village do have a bicycle though. More on that later. When he visited the village for the first time to take in-charge, he couldn’t believe his eyes. For a village with no road connectivity, one could imagine how neglected education must have been. The dilapidated school building was only a shove away from turning into rubble. One more night of incessant rain and the ceiling would kiss the floor in no time.

If it was any other person, he’d be gleeful seeing the condition of the school – for he’d have a perfect excuse to seek transfer out of this god-forsaken land. And if his transfer request is rejected, he’d become a tourist rather than a teacher and enjoy the scenic beauty. Once his service period is over, he’d leave with a customary goodbye. Nothing would have changed at Syuni Malli. A school still in shambles. Children still deprived of education. Men still without purpose. Women still without respite.

Where an ignorant sees a difficulty, a learned soul sees an opportunity. Ghanshyam couldn’t just walk away after seeing the condition of education. Instead, he vowed to bring Saraswati back to this remote village, even if he had to do it on his own. With his bare hands. Literally.

He found something we all spend our whole lives looking for – a purpose. He made Syuni Malli his karmabhoomi. 

The Creator

His first job was to resurrect the dilapidated school building. Without school, there could be no formal education, he knew. If education is a prayer, school is the temple. For monetary assistance, he communicated with everyone in the administrative hierarchy – from Gram Pradhan to officials at state education department and brought to their notice the plight of the school. When the funds provided were insufficient, he took up the hammer himself and worked tirelessly until the building was erected.

Yes, this is a school in a village without road connectivity. (Image Source)

Setting aside the hammer, he picked up a paint brush to paint the whole school all by himself. Knowing the importance of inspirational quotes and paintings on the walls of a school, he became an artist and painted beautiful imagery all over the school premises. Not only that, he also brought electricity and water facilities to his school – all of it paid from his own pocket. With the help of few NGOs, he even installed computers and projectors to keep his students up to date with latest technology as well as pedagogy. The library in the school is filled with books, magazines and newspapers.

In his 18-year tenure as a teacher at Syuni Malli school, Ghanshyam has spent around Rs. 5 lakh from his own pocket to turn once-neglected Syali Malli school into an exemplary institution. In this time period, he also refused promotion. Twice.

The Bicycle of Happiness

Such was his affection towards his students that Mr. Dhaundiyal would try his best to fulfill what his students asked from him. When the students request for a bicycle so that they could learn how to ride, he bought one from his own pocket. For a school which is 5 km away from the nearest road, a cycle is as ironic as it can get. It’s also a mirror to the administrative incompetency of the bygone governments. However, for the students, it was a mechanical delight. They would often take turns to ride the bicycle in the school premises in their free time.

Ghanshyam teaching one of his students how to ride a bicycle. (Image Source)

When his students expressed their desire to learn to play music instruments, he himself learned them first and then taught them. As a result, the school is now equipped with almost all popular music instruments – be it string, brass or percussion. What’s more, the students get to showcase their music skills during cultural events at Republic Day and Independence Day celebrations.

The Fruits of Labor

Ghanshyam not only change the face of education at Syuni Malli, but also made the villagers aware of the importance of education. In a village were girls had to shun education after class 5 and boys after class 8, children now could dream bigger. Two of the school’s alumni have been selected into Rajiv Gandhi Navodaya Vidyalaya – a government-run residential co-educational school which imparts quality higher education to the selected/talented students belonging to rural areas of the district. More than 20 students of the school have participated in various sports at state-level since Mr. Dhaundiyal took charge. Shanti, a Syuni Malli student, won first position in a 200-meter race in a state-level competition.

While Mr. Ghanshyam Dhaundiyal have been bestowed with several accolades in his 18-year tenure for his exceptional service, he never yearned for them. For a selfless soul like him, the spark of hope in the eyes of his students is much greater than any award.

Abhay Aswal

Abhay Aswal

A cartoonist who enjoys doodling. Enjoys writing, movies and art. And football. And sarcasm. And travelling.

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amit Says

It is really such a inspirational story. Well done Ghanshyam Dhaundiyal Ji.