Alumni Profiles

Over 150 students have graduated from CFL since it began in 1990. They have pursued a variety of interests and livelihoods, in areas including economics, land work and conservation, physics, design, art, social work, dance and education.

For a compilation of Alumni writings, extracted from the souvenir published on the occasion of the educational conference Worlds of Fear: School Cultures held at CFL campus in December 2015, click here.

 

Alok Utsav

Class of 2010

I’m a freelance cinematographer and filmmaker. I tell stories through film, and help others tell theirs. I also run a production house for film and video content in Bangalore.

I came to CFL from a “conventional” school at the age of 13, so I had had a taste of mainstream education. At no point during my CFL days did I ever look back and wonder about what could have been. I wholeheartedly embraced the freedom it had to offer, though it took me time to recalibrate. All through my childhood and well into my teens, I struggled with setting goals, expectations and achieving deadlines, despite a lot of support and input from the system. In hindsight, I definitely didn’t overcome these hurdles and patterns during my time in school. What I took away from school were a set of tools that clicked into gear later in life.

I graduated from CFL in 2010, and joined Srishti School of Art Design and Technology without too much of an idea of what I wanted to be. The transition from CFL to a relatively rigid college structure, with grades, peers, competition, and unforgiving deadlines really helped me to put a lot of what I had picked up in school into perspective. The switch wasn’t easy, but I found myself approaching and engaging with my own work differently than I had before. Luckily for me, art and design require heavy amounts of (self indulgent) introspection, communication, questioning motives and downright getting my hands dirty to get anywhere satisfactory.

I always had an interest in photography and film, and it was actively nurtured and developed in school. I was exposed to art, theatre, photography, incredibly diverse people, environments and locations, which broadened my horizons and helped kickstart my art practice.

In Srishti, I majored in film, while experimenting with natural building, product design, animation and user experience in college. I finished art school in 2015, and I’ve been freelancing since.

I’ve had a very eventful and blossoming professional career as a filmmaker. It takes me all over the country to shoot sports, concerts, advertisements, documentaries, short films, corporate films etc. Once in a while I do stop, question and reassess my bearings, to make sure I haven’t lost my voice. It’s a privilege that I recognise and acknowledge, that I know I can afford because of my background. I’d like to believe that my education keeps me somewhat grounded, self-aware and constantly questioning. Although I’m told I deserve a kick once in a while.

~ Compiled in 2019

Richa Bhavanam

Class of 2011

It is hardly surprising that CFL is my home in many ways, given that I spent thirteen years there. But, it is not just that. While it seems somewhat redundant to say that my schooling years played a defining role in shaping me, I cannot deny that I have gone back to my education at CfL as a reference point for various choices that I have made over the years. And, in making these choices, I have very much appreciated the space to pause and reflect in situations that are otherwise teeming with pressures and expectations. This is most definitely a quality that is rooted in my schooling, where the attempt to be watchful of ourselves and our surroundings became as much a part of our daily lives as any other school activity.

Having said this, there were periodic bouts of unhappiness and dissatisfaction at various points in my time at CFL; home-sickness, an urge to experience the ‘freedom’ of the outside world, disagreement about certain stances and boundaries… Yet, there was something that kept me there. In hindsight, I suspect it was the sense of thinking together as a community and listening to one another that bound me to the place. And it is this sense of thinking together that I value and hope to inculcate in all my interactions.

This was the reason that I chose to study Philosophy at St Stephen’s College, where the class sizes were extremely small and the course was discussion oriented. Post this, I moved back to Bangalore and followed the urge to explore photography. I now work as a freelancer, mainly in the fields of photography and film. I most enjoy working on themes connected to humanities and nature.

My work and interests are strongly based on exposures that took place during my senior school years, which was the most vivid period of my education. The liberty to design my own programme allowed me to fuse a handpicked variety of academic subjects along with other activities, including photography.

My biggest learning from CFL’s way of education, might be the idea that the process of questioning is itself relevant, sometimes more so than specific questions or answers themselves. This idea yields a sensitive and receptive mind, which for me, is fundamental to how I would like to navigate my path.

~ Compiled in 2019

Nikhil Fernandes

Class of 2003

After I left CFL, I attended Colgate University, a liberal arts college in New York state. I received a BA in Physics, with a minor in Applied Mathematics, and graduated in 2008. While at Colgate, I did research on laser optics and superconductor physics, and I volunteered with Habitat for Humanity, an organization that builds houses for low- income families and helps rebuild after natural disasters. After Colgate, I joined Cornell University for a PhD in Applied Physics, and I study novel nanocomposite materials with a view towards alternative (solar and geothermal) energy applications, a field I hope to eventually work in.

CFL has been such a large part of my life, both at home and at school, that it’s hard to separate its impact on my life from everything else. I do think that CFL has given me the ability to introspect, the gift of emotional detachment, and the curse of having to say “Nothing, really” when asked what I’m thinking about when I become quiet.

Looking back with a few years of distance, perhaps the single most important thing I’ve taken away from CFL is not a lesson I learned at school, but the example set by the people who gave up their time, and in many cases otherwise lucrative careers, to fill a need they saw. Of all the things about CFL that may have changed the direction of my life, that may well prove to be the most significant.

~ Compiled in 2009

Amay Narayan

Class of 2010

In some ways, pinning down how a “CFL education” impacts and informs one’s life is a very tough ask. Much of what one imbibes from the school is intangible, and sometimes you realise only several years later how you have been influenced by the education. Nonetheless, I shall attempt it.

I graduated from CFL in 2010, having gone through my entire schooling there. Upon leaving, I had a keen interest in learning music as well as pursuing my academic interests. I moved to Bombay and joined St. Xavier’s College, while continuing to learn Hindustani Classical music. While I thoroughly enjoyed living on my own in a new city, and learning music, the curriculum at St. Xavier’s seemed dry and devoid of any inspiration. I dropped out and applied to universities in the UK. I then finished my BSc in Economics from the University of East Anglia, Norwich, and then completed my MA in Economics from Simon Fraser University, Vancouver. I then decided to move back to Bangalore instead of working abroad and have spent the last few years working as a research fellow at Azim Premji University.

For me, CFL’s education is neither a means to an end, nor some extremely abstract concept/experience that one tends to leave behind after finishing school. I say “for me” because being part of CFL is a deeply subjective experience, and every student feels it differently. In my own life, I have tried to simplify the ideas and processes that began in my schooldays and found new ways of relating with them over different stages of my life. It can feel overwhelming, and somewhat distant, to think about “well-being”, “the self ”, “finding peace”, in a grand, macro sense. For the majority of us graduates (me included), we end up subject to the usual stresses of life: getting jobs, earning a livelihood, developing deep relationships, raising families. I don’t personally believe that detaching oneself from this “mainstream” is in any way an answer in itself. Instead, I increasingly feel that the power of CFL education lies in being able to relate to it from a myriad different realities and standpoints. Whether you are a banker, a doctor, a teacher, or working in an NGO, it does not necessarily change the questions one grapples with.

To still be able to engage constructively with these ideas in the everyday, I have tried to explore them in the microcosm of my own daily life. This has been a deeply fruitful experience, and as with all such processes, it leaves you with more questions than answers: What does it mean for me to live responsibly? To be sensitive, open, reflective? To understand my own emotions better? I explore these questions for myself at a very simple, practical level. It might mean delving into an unpleasant interaction, or a tough relationship, to figure out why I react a certain way. It might mean asking myself honestly if I really do need whatever I am ordering on Amazon. It might mean swallowing pride, apologising, and owning up to a mistake. These are challenges I face regularly and having a schema to approach them which, I hope, helps me develop as a person over time, is invaluable.

By starting on this small scale, I have found this method eminently useful. It allows for a critical, honest appraisal of oneself in the everyday. It allows, hopefully, for me to reinvent myself periodically, learning from my own patterns and past. It allows me to meet life’s uncertainties and my own uncertainties and insecurities about myself with both humility and confidence. Most importantly, it let me recognise that these questions, emotions, patterns are universal, and there is no single truth or right answer to any of them. In times of struggle, this has helped me have a perspective that lets me distance myself from my own churning and understand the struggle through a completely new lens. My troubles seem to always be at the centre of my universe, but it is so easy to feel like it is the centre of the universe.

CFL gave me a lot to grapple with. One could argue that it made life harder! Perhaps living would be far easier without this lifelong, often torturous process of wrestling with oneself. CFL also gave me other precious things, like a love for being outdoors and in nature, a stunningly good academic experience, and several deep, meaningful lifelong relationships with both peers and adults. However, by helping me start down this road of simple self-discovery, if one can call it that, CFL gave me a strategy, a schema, to tackle each day of ordinary life, one at a time. It is more than I could ever have wished for.

~ Compiled in 2019

Nandini Ram Mohan

Class of 1995

I have been working with various NGOs as a designer in textiles and beadwork. I have also been working as a teacher trainer for rural women and have been involved with design oriented training and with the marketing of products. My work has taken me to various parts of the country such as Gujarat, Rajasthan and Tamil Nadu, and also to Ethiopia.

I am currently in Bangalore working with schools and doing craft work with children.
CFL allowed me to pursue my interests in a non-academic direction. It gave me various experiences in the art world and encouraged me to follow my instincts. I experienced many other dimensions of life in the school: travel, hostel life, handling problems, just allowing events to happen. We were never protected as students. We were always encouraged to go and find out for ourselves and not to be passive.

Something valuable I learned at CFL was to treat all individuals equally. This attitude helped me in my work—in a village you relate to people as they are, not as someone entirely different from you. Similarly, in schools, each child is who he or she is and is accepted as such.

This attitude helped me, in my teaching and other work, to bring every individual’s artistic ability out, regardless of his or her level.

~ Compiled in 2005

Arjun Jayadev

Class of 1994

I am a Professor of Economics at Azim Premji University. I was an Associate Professor of Economics at the University of Massachusetts, Boston before that. I was a post-doc at Columbia University and received my PhD from the University of Massachusetts Amherst.

I was one of the first batch of A-level students at CFL. It was a wonderful few years, partly because the school was finding its feet at that time and things were gloriously unstructured. I very much felt like part of the adventure that the teachers had undertaken. The relationships that I built with my classmates and my teachers were and are among the most special in my life.

CFL was much more than a school. It was (and is) a vibrant community of people who had the courage to break away from the imperatives of society and in doing so gave everyone— students and teachers alike—the chance to explore deeply together some of the most compelling questions that arise in life in a happy and caring environment. Even if I was not aware of it at the time, this was an extraordinary gift.

For most people, school prepares you at best for a career. For me, CFL provided me with the confidence to explore my interests outside that box. More crucially, the questions which were asked in CFL about life and relationship militate against glib answers. They are things which I carry about with me unconsciously.

A full quarter century has passed since I left CFL. I find that age doesn’t necessarily bring wisdom. The world continues in its ways and I in mine, all the time looking for more clarity on the questions of how best to live this life.The questions remain, even if unanswered.

~ Compiled in 2019

Ini Periodi

Class of 2011

I dived into my Bachelor’s (in Communications Studies) right after school. Having been exposed to both the corporate world through college and the NGO world throughout my life, I realized during my year off, that education was perhaps the best balance for me as a career possibility. The field seemed optimistic, challenging and exciting enough. This led me to pursue my MA in Education at Azim Premji University. I have also been extremely privileged with all the learning spaces that I have been a part of, and taking up education seemed like the best way of giving back what I had received all my life.

I graduated from APU in 2017, carrying with me several interests that I had picked up during the two years there; love for sociology, children’s literature and empowering people through making knowledge accessible. The work that I do now involves each of these areas, both independently and as a combination at times. I teach sociology to 11th and 12th graders at a school called Creative, and I am also involved in the Kannada translation initiative at APU. I have slowly started venturing into work related to children’s literature, dissemination of the same and library work after completing a Library Educator’s Course in Goa.

I have always considered myself very lucky to have found a home and a family in CFL. At every stage, as I moved from one educational institution to another, I have observed different aspects of the school’s philosophy get highlighted and challenged in my own head. And it is reassuring that CFL is a space that is not afraid of letting its students or alumni question it endlessly at any point. In fact, it sows the first seeds of that. And because one carries this sense of skepticism wherever one goes, it becomes difficult to accept/take anything blindly; but at the same time, it makes it also extremely easy to be open to new ideas, experiences and challenges, simply because one is able to take oneself less seriously and be less rigid. That is perhaps my biggest take away from school.

The idea of ‘watching patterns of thoughts and emotions’ has only taken different meanings as I have grown up and made sense at a deeper and deeper level. And this in itself has been an interesting journey. All the other spaces that I have been a part of, have contributed to and revealed different facets of the question. But I’m grateful to CFL for instilling it in me in the first place. And it is these very values that dared me to feel my way through life and be micro ambitious, doing things that has given me peace and meaning at the point of time without perhaps compromising on rigour. It has relieved me from the pressures and stresses associated with high ambition and success, because it becomes possible to question the very nature of that ambition itself.

~ Compiled in 2019

Anna Theuerkauf

Class of 2003

After finishing school in 2003, I taught at Srishti, an educational institute for children with special needs. I was the class teacher for a pre-vocational unit in the age group of 12 to 14. The group consisted of 10 children with Downs Syndrome and mental retardation. Our goal at Srishti was to help them live independently to the extent possible. At the moment, I am looking at working with children with physical disabilities.

I can’t yet evaluate the impact CFL has had on my life and work. Since I haven’t yet experienced any other systems in a strong way, I can’t really say. But I lived in CFL for half my life and it felt like my family. People helped me in many ways, both big and small, and this has made me what I am today. The place taught me to think for myself and pursue my own interests. It made me feel that my interests are as valuable as anything else.

~ Compiled in 2005

Deviah Aiama

Class of 1998

I am currently a programme officer with the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), an inter-governmental and civil society organisation that finds pragmatic solutions to global conservation and development challenges. I work on advising bioenergy policy and project developments to include appropriate measures that protect biodiversity, value ecosystem services, and improve access to sustainable energy equitably. Prior to this, I worked as a policy analyst for the Government of Canada (Department of Natural Resources) on climate change, renewable energy and sustainable forestry policy development. I have an inter-disciplinary Masters degree in Environmental Studies, and a Bachelor of Science degree in Environmental Biology, both from Queen’s University in Canada. I attended CFL while growing up in Bangalore, from 1993 to 1998.

CFL was much more than an educational experience. Its balanced approach to academic and extra-curricular pursuits enabled me to identify my environmental interests early on. For example, CFL’s “School in the Forest” program (in partnership with the Gurukula Botanical Sanctuary, Wynad) created a lasting awareness of conservation and sustainable living. CFL provided encouragement and opportunities for me to explore these interests. I was also exposed to a lively exploration of music, dance, theatre and fine arts. I still miss the thrill of performing on stage! In addition to a high standard of academic training, CFL also provided forums for meaningful introspection through regular dialogues between teachers and students. Conversations that inspired me to better understand my thoughts, emotions and actions – this learning continues.

My CFL experience has had a profound influence on me, both educational and personally enriching.

~ Compiled in 2005

Aditi Chandrashekhar

Class of 2005

I joined Centre for Learning (CFL) at the age of six and for the next 12 years I was a learner there. When I joined, CFL was a day school and just before I entered my teens, CFL entered its own campus at Vardenahalli village. From then onwards, it has been a residential campus, which served to enhance the effect of the school environment on all the residents. As a teenager, it was a ripe time for me to take in and question the various aspects of the multi-faceted education and interactions within our small and close-knit community.

Just a little background about myself, to put things in perspective: In my high school I decided to be a teacher of science and mathematics. I went on to study an Integrated MS in chemistry at IISER and then taught IIT aspirants for a year. Later I worked at Azim Premji University, helping them set up their science undergraduate programme. I am now doing my doctorate at Indira Gandhi Centre for Atomic Research, Kalpakkam.

For my generation, teaching is not in the set of most attractive career options, and neither does it have a promise of quick money. Nevertheless, I strive towards my dream of being a science educator. I don’t worry about what is a smarter way to live, or who is better off than I am. This is not an attitude I cultivated, but an attitude that I grew into at CFL. It was not taught it in a classroom in so many words, but by an environment that does not believe in competition, taught me that motivation from within was far more important.

CFL has a non-hierarchical structure that functions on collective discussion and decision making where the student-teacher divide only exists for functional purposes. Such a system sounds like it would waste a lot of time and get people nowhere in the end. It is to be seen to be believed, how much it nurtures and develops an individual’s growth. Today I have the courage to question and express my own feelings, and equally respect the concerns of others (sometimes even in critical circumstances) because there was no power equation in my school, and hence in my head.

There were activities like “culture class” and “quiet time” that I found trying and wanted to avoid as a student. At that time I felt it was a complete waste of time. Now I have partially realised that they might have been meaningful sessions. There is, of course, a set of ideas that some students cannot comprehend and might even dislike. As the environment provides the forum to express one’s opinion freely, there is a danger of the occasional student turning out to be a rebel. This was something that was an occasional worry to me, though on the other hand there is no control experiment where it can be understood what the same student might have turned out to be if they were in the so called “mainstream.”

There is no guarantee that a student from CFL would do something that makes an enormous difference, but for myself I can say that whatever I do, I do it and look at it with an attitude and spirit that makes all the difference. This is the biggest and lasting contribution that my school has given to me!

~ Compiled in 2013

Ananda Siddhartha

Class of 2007

I still remember my first exposure to CFL. My father and I had driven to Shibumi and as we walked through the gates I wondered whether he had gotten the wrong address. The campus reminded me more of our farm than the schools that I was used to seeing in the city. We wandered around, peering into the classrooms and looking at the various trees that were growing. While the older students were in class, many of the younger ones were outdoors, playing on the jungle gym, climbing trees and generally having a blast. Everybody looked so happy. I wanted to be a part of it. Luckily, a couple of months later I was accepted as a student and went on to spend an incredible ten years at the school, a period in my life which has really defined me as a person.

After graduating from CFL, I went on to complete an undergraduate degree, a post-graduate diploma in Journalism and a Masters from the Tata Institute of Social Sciences. I have now applied to a PhD program.

Although I valued my time while I was still studying in CFL, my appreciation for the school grew after I graduated. Joining the rat race made me realise that I had not left a school, but a vibrant community where each person was given the time, space and where necessary, support they needed to discover themselves. The myriad extra-curricular activities on offer and a large campus to explore really gave one the freedom to find and follow their passion.

At times, I was a slow learner but that didn’t stop the teachers from putting in the extra time and effort needed to bring me up to speed. This was in sharp contrast to my time in college where it was very easy to be left behind. The fact that the number of students in my class was almost twice the number of students in the whole of CFL didn’t help!

Although days at CFL were structured, there was never a sense of rigidity. It never felt like we were forced into doing things. A part of the daily routine at CFL, quiet time, was something I enjoyed and still find the time for a couple of
times a week. Being at CFL, one was naturally connected to the land. This still remains. We have a number of plants both within and on the balcony of our home.

The time we were afforded to explore the flora and fauna on the campus has left a permanent mark on the way I think about the relationship between humans and their natural surroundings. After completing my master’s I have worked with organisations which have been involved with issues of forest governance, forest policy, tribal rights, food security and agriculture. I am currently working with an environmental research organisation in Bangalore where I am exploring how current approaches of wildlife conservation are affecting the livelihoods of people.

Looking back, what I appreciate the most are the values that were instilled: the respect for fellow human beings and the natural world. Finding like-minded people is something that I have found hard to come by which is why my closest friends are still from CFL

~ Compiled in 2019

Lakshmi Viswanatha

Class of 2002

I passed out of CFL in 2002 and went on to graduate in 2005 in English Literature, Communicative English, and Psychology. I then completed an Master’s in Social Work from Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai, in 2007. I have been working in the development sector for more than a decade now. In the past eight years, my work has been in the field of maternal and child health, with a special focus on health and its intersectionalities with gender and equity.

My parents admitted me to CFL when I was 8 years old. Coming from a conventional school with uniforms, textbooks and strict teachers, this set-up was entirely novel. While academics was an integral part of this education, other aspects, like being fit, “quiet time” and cleaning up school, were given equal importance. CFL was liberating for me, from the confinement of classrooms and the strict decorum that was required to be followed in most other schools.

For the first 5 years or so, I didn’t really understand the need or significance of “quiet time”. But gradually, I realized that it had become an integral component of my life, and on days when it was absent, it made me feel incomplete. Further, the structure of CFL helped me embark on an endless journey of introspection. I also saw that responsibility and freedom are two sides of the same coin and appreciated the holistic perspective with which we were being educated.

I consider myself very lucky to have had the opportunity to go to a school like CFL. It was not so much what the teachers said, but what they did not say, that has shaped me. So while it is hard to highlight the tangible difference(s) that CFL has made in my life, I can safely say that it has aided my discovery of a way of living, which I cherish. There is a sense of clarity and security, which enables me to question and respond to life and its various challenges.

~ Compiled in 2019

Shabari Rao

Class of 1999

Has it been 20 years since I graduated from CFL?

Yes, it has.

And just like a good pickle, my experiences as a student there have soaked right into who I am and it’s difficult to separate the mango from the spices!

At this stage of my life, I think of myself primarily as a researcher: my work is driven by questions and curiosities. I am interested in the potential and role of the body in learning, in knowledge production, and as a site of knowing. The theoretical structures that my work is grounded in are theories of performance, embodiment, education and phenomenology. Performance is the medium or language of my work. Education and performance are the contexts in which I work. And sometimes, I write.

My interests, in some measure, have been shaped by the questions and experiences that CFL provided. Questions around identity and self; experiences rooted in the body and art.

The ability to resist defining my work through easy categories comes, at least in part, from being comfortable with uncertainty, being able to question the ‘way things are’, and having trust that it makes sense somehow: all qualities that are embodied by the project undertaken by the CFL community.

And yet, CFL is not a constant. It has changed and evolved a lot over the years, as any dynamic entity will. CFL now is not what it was in the 1990s and neither is the world! Still, my experiences and memories as one of the first students of the school are precious to me, and shape me in ways that are revealed to me in different aspects and stages of my life.

~ Compiled in 2019

Minti Jain

Class of 1999

I completed my Masters in Environmental Conservation Management, after which I assisted a few projects at Ashoka Trust for Research in Ecology and Environment, Bangalore. I later joined Down to Earth Magazine, a wing of Centre for Science and Environment, New Delhi. I worked there as senior reporter, which entailed traveling to different states in India and reporting on urban issues. At present I’m working for Saahas, where we do waste management across Bangalore.

During my school years, I was described as a very quiet and shy person. I did however, have a part within that was burst- ing to express itself, but something held me back. Perhaps it was fear of being anything less than perfect. But I also had the determination to overcome all my fears, however big or small. The atmosphere at CFL certainly assisted me to grow on this path.

At CFL I was encouraged to be myself and discover what that is rather than ‘become’ something. There was a lot of space and opportunity for this to happen. Apart from many extracurricular activities, we were exposed to a range of work environments and societal situations that broadened our horizons. Even the academics were taught in a way that encouraged a lot of self-learning and minimized peer comparison or pressure from teachers to produce any pre-determined results. At the same time one’s limits were pushed equally in every direction, whether it was mathematics, sports, helping with the daily chores of sweeping and mopping or regarding each one’s behavior toward the other… nothing was neglected. We had scheduled class time when we were left to do no activity but just sit and observe what was happening around and inside. And there were sessions when we had to share our observations, feelings, thoughts, problems; this really helped to look closely within and at one’s behavioral tendencies.School meant a space where learning took place for both students and teachers. There was no punishment for any ‘wrong’ doing. I found it very clever of the teachers to make the students themselves feel responsible for what they did. This was much more effective in producing corrective action and in later years to be able to make one’s own decisions with some clarity. This also gives very little space for blaming anyone else for one’s action.

~ Compiled in 2009

Krishna Somashekar

Class of 1995

I am an industrial design and development consultant for products that are typically electronic accessories. I help individuals and organisations who own intellectual property in their effort to building products. What I bring to this effort include: knowledge of materials, manufacturing processes, embedded electronics, embedded software and industrial design. I get involved from the initial conceptualisation of a product up until the finished product rolls out of an assembly line.

During my CFL experience I had a lot of catching up to do because of my learning disabilities. I of course also faced many hurdles and challenges that one encounters when growing up. But I always had the feeling that I belonged to a very responsible community and I accepted most of the responsibilities that came along with it.

Looking back at my CFL experience, I consider myself very fortunate to have grown up in CFL. The school is probably responsible for making me take up a lot of ownership and pride in what I do. Ownership, pride, thoroughness and some good fortune seem to be the fundamentals for a job well done. In short CFL worked out well for me.

~ Compiled in 2019