JK's original bid to acquire a 1000 acres for his school had not quite succeeded. His loyal colleague C S Trilokekar had in the 1930s, gone from village to village in a bullock cart and assembled 300 acres, which were largely bereft of trees. Overlooking this near desert, were barren, rocky hills all around. The annual rainfall of 700 mm, while not immodest, meant nothing given the bald hills and the tree-less valley. It was in this landscape that early experiments in learning were made.
The School's experiments to evolve a way of imparting education yielded some form in the 1970s during the tenure of Dr S Balasundaram as its Principal. Balu as he came to be known had followed the genial Gordon Pearce. It was during Balu's tenure that Radhika Herzberger, the current Director, arrived as a teacher. N Subbiah Naidu joined as a Physical Director. Dr N K A Iyer was the Estate Manager. S Rangaswami, who was a lecturer in the Indian Air Force joined as a teacher and broadened the environmental consciousness of the School. JK himself, seemed to be devoting a lot of his time to Rishi Valley during the seventies. He seeded two significant initiatives. In 1976, he started a school for children in the surrounding villages. He also urged that the School take to greening the campus and the land beyond as an active part of its curriculum.
Iyer, the Estate Manager began an extensive planting programme on the campus, involving students. He was a naturalist and a hands-on man. Iyer began the tradition of the School declaring a holiday whenever it rained well enough for seeding, planting and bunding. Students would swarm out of classrooms and dig into the soil. [Iyer, after leaving the School, was to create his magnum opus in Kolar District of Karnataka. Read that story here.].
Rangaswami, in addition to being an experienced teacher, is a man who has truly imbibed the essence of JK's teachings. Which is this: the only worthwhile religion for mankind is, love for and identification with nature and all creatures upon this earth. He is today, into his eighties but retains a sparkling mind that is passionate about ecology. "When I first dug a small pond in 1975, I knew nothing of water conservation techniques," he says candidly. "I was looking to tempt birds to settle in the emerging woods." They dug another water body up the south hills and called it the Last Lake. Recurring years of drought earned it the rib that it was a 'Lost' Lake. Birds did begin to come, though. Rangaswami took to teaching ornithology both as a fun activity and as a technique to gauge the health of the environment. Students were co-opted into becoming observers and reporters of bird arrivals and behaviour. Rangaswami has remained the snake man of the School, and a fairly busy one as an abundance of small game has bred a variety of snakes. But we are getting ahead of our story to 1990. It is still the 1980s in our narration.