Even as one wall was coming up hill, down in the plains, another was about to be brought down. The Rishi Valley School is an expensive place for most Indians. It does produce very sensitive, free spirits but an invisible cost wall does run around it. JK had started a school for rural children in a 14 acre campus nearby but it had remained a place without much energy. In the eighties, even as the hills were regenerating behind a wall, Radhika Herzberger had taken over as the Director of the School. She is a scholar in Sanskrit and Indian studies. More importantly, owing greatly to her mother Pupul Jayakar's devotion to JK, Radhika had a proximity to JK which enabled her to internalise his vision. Radhika realised the need for making quality education available at the primary level everywhere. And that is how the Raos arrived in the valley.
Y A Padmanabha Rao and Rama [-pronounced closer to Ramaa than Raama] are both in their early forties. They met while at university in Hyderabad and discovered they were both looking for something they couldn't define. They were certain though, that conventional careers were not for them. What drew them together was their search for a worthwhile mission. They got married and went away to a village to try their hands at farming.
"Sidhipet didn't turn us into great farmers," smiles Rama. "But we found out what we wanted to do with our lives. Local girls, poor tribals would come up to me and seek one invariable favour: "teach me"! It struck me how the poor valued education ahead of even money." They soon came upon an advertisement seeking teachers -- in the rural school at Rishi Valley. Their mission awaited them.
But before we trace that, let us take note of something that seemed astir in Rishi Valley in the mid and later 1980s. Was it the emergence of nature's ecosystem or was it the collective unconsciousness of kindred spirits? In Chennai, V Shantaram, a chartered accountant in his late twenties, walked out of a secure career path to enrol in the Salim Ali School in Pondicherry to study ecology. He became an ardent ornithologist, his study of woodpeckers earning him a doctorate in 1989. He arrived at Rishi Valley to teach. Dr Ajith Gite had came over to be the School doctor. His wife Nalini hailed from Pune, but had spent her youth among tribals in the Dang district of Gujarat. She was an Ayurvedic doctor qualified at the Aryangla Medical College, Satara but says she learnt her pharmacopoeia from an Awary tribal chief in the Dang jungle. Ajith was a workaholic and died at the School in 2002. Nalini is creating a comprehensive herbal conservatory now. M S Sailendran is another chartered accountant seduced by nature. He came to the School as an internal auditor and stayed on. He is the School Bursar and a keen conservationist. Jayant Tengshe graduated from the prestigious IIT, Powaii. Instead of riding the conveyor belt to Silicon Valley, he surrendered to the gravitational pull of Rishi Valley. He teaches mathematics and works with Nalini in increasing the diversity of her collection. More recently young medical doctors Dr Kartik Kalyanram and his wife Dr Vidya Kartik have settled here to build the Rural Health Centre. Let us meet them briefly for now and move on. Their individual lives and works, as we shall soon see, will synergise and lock together with precision.