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.

 

Krishna Somashekar

Class of 1995

I am a consultant for product design and development. What I do is to provide mechanical design and develop- ment support for companies who want to build their own products. This is chiefly for products that have to be mass produced. Skills that I have developed over the years include Computer Aided Design (CAD) and manufacturing techniques for mass production of components made of plastic, sheet metal, pressure die cast, and rubber.

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.

~ Complied in 2005

Shabari Rao

Class of 1999

Many people ask me what an education at CFL has meant for me. The short answer is – it defines who I am, more than any other single thing.

The longer answer is….

I studied at CFL for 9 years (1990 – 1999) and it took the next ten years to process the education I got there! I was one of the first students at CFL (the third to be precise!) and my relationship with the place and people is very special and important to me. Many of my dearest friends are from there.
An education at CFL is a very intense experience – to put it mildly! It took me ten years of being out and about doing many things, meeting different people and living in many places to put this education into context and understand just how much it shapes my life everyday. The choices I make in terms of work, personal life, money and a lot more is informed by an approach to life that was introduced at CFL.

After school I went on to study dance – an undergraduate degree in Choreography and a professional diploma in contemporary dance studies. I worked with a performing company for 5 years and then decided to focus on dance and education. As part of my work I teach in schools and community settings, work with teachers and teacher educators, get dancers to use pedagogical understanding in their teaching, and write curricula for the performing arts in schools. My work in education is also greatly informed by my experiences at CFL. I went back to teach at CFL for two years (2008 – 2010) which was fantastic both personally and professionally! Personally I got to see the school from a totally different perspective, and this made my appreciation and respect for the education there far deeper. Professionally, being at CFL as a teacher helped me to clarify and articulate my approach to arts education.

Now I’m off again; plans to pursue an MA in arts education will take me far away from CFL, but the learning that started there keeps me interested and excited about life!

~ Complied in 2009

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!

~ Complied in 2013

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.

~ Complied in 2009

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.

~ Complied in 2005

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.

~ Complied in 2005

Sandilya Theuerkauf

Class of 1996

CFL has been part of more than half my life. A lot of the people I relate to are in some way connected to the school. I came to CFL in 1994 when I was 16. I studied for the tenth and later chose Biology and Art for my A levels, and did both exams with a lot of difficulty, especially for my teachers. I was not academically oriented but I had strong interests. This is why I feel that CFL was the right kind of school for me, because I was encouraged to find out what I wanted to do with my life. I was interested in nature and in CFL I was helped to direct that interest. Another important aspect of the school which affected me very much was the feeling of community, that we were a group of people doing something together. That connectedness has stayed and I feel responsible for the school even now.

The move to the new campus was an important part of my learning as at that time as I was part of the survey of the new land. During the survey we looked at everything on the campus: trees, plants, birds, rocks, soil. We made a contour map of the land and another to suggest where the buildings could come. The idea of doing something with the land became exciting to me. These are questions I have engaged with over the years. I have been helping CFL to manage the land, and have also been working with the children to try and make them more connected to their land. I took part in many nature study programs, and have planted lots of fruit and forest trees and grown crops on the campus. A large part of the land has been left wild and we have taken steps to improve it so that it can support more of the local biodiversity.

I feel very affected by the way the world is going these days, globalization, climate change, environmental degradation etc. What can I do to have a more positive impact? What kind of a life can I lead, knowing all the problems that exist, and can I somehow make choices and decisions keeping these in mind?
These days I do lead a simple life, with the good fortune of not having the pressure to pursue a ‘career’ or earn a lot of money. I live in a rural area, farming and looking after a piece of land. I also work with school children doing nature programs. I not only engage with the land in a practical and functional level, I also enjoy being creative with stone, wood and soil as another way of relating to the earth.

~ Complied in 2009

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.

~ Complied in 2005

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.

~ Complied in 2009

Richa Bhavanam

Class of 2011

It seems somewhat redundant to say that my schooling years played a formative role in making me the person I am today. Of course at CFL, we would, at this point, have hour long discussions on who this person is, what it is that constitutes our identity, the nature of the self, etc. But for the purposes of this profile, let’s just say that my experiences at CFL, to a large extent, form the filter through which I view the world.

Spend thirteen years of your life in one place, and it’s difficult for it to not be home, especially when you have a campus and a community that’s as lovely as CFL. Having said this, there were periodic bouts of dissatisfaction and unhappiness at various points in my journey: home-sickness, an urge to experience the ‘freedom’ of the outside world, disagreements about certain stances and boundaries… yet, there was something that kept me there. In hindsight, perhaps it was the openness and togetherness that in my opinion form the corner stones of CFL that did the trick. There was nothing we could not talk about, and in this process, there was a sense of thinking together, which I have found to be crucial in any venture that aims at some kind of progress. This, along with the flexibility that a school like CFL can offer, has allowed me to explore and understand a spectrum of things ranging from myself, to immediate social and natural surroundings, and then to larger themes such as the human condition and spaces that are inhabited by nature and wildlife. This exposure was most vivid in my senior school, perhaps owing to the liberty of designing my own programme, which allowed me to incorporate a variety of interests, making it the most enriching segment of my CFL career. I thoroughly enjoyed all aspects of it: activities such as art, pottery and photography, projects that led to an intimacy with forests, dialogues that were so thought invoking that they would sometimes take priority over other classes and meals, table-tennis and yoga, the academic component that was headlined by psychology and sociology, as well as the half-hour of quiet time every evening.

Now, having completed an undergraduate degree in Philosophy from St. Stephen’s College in Delhi, I find myself in a similar place as I was in the summer of 2011: contemplating ‘the future’ and trying to find the balance that fits my ideals of what I want my life to be into the canvas of the reality that I am faced with. While there is an affinity towards questions that the humanities engage with, I also experience an increasing urgency to delve into more ‘hands on’ areas such as photography. In either case, I am acutely aware of the fact that my ambitions and decisions are shaped by my education at CFL; it has given me the security to pause, rather than be carried away by the pressures of mainstream society, as well as the independence to carve out my own niche, whatever that may be. Some questions that were discussed in CFL continue to form an undercurrent to my everyday life, like those that address the nature of humans and emotions, in terms of trying to understand insecurities that are sometimes defining and uncertainty that is as inevitable as it is uncomfortable. Most of all, what I learnt from CFL is that the process of questioning is in itself relevant, sometimes more so than the questions themselves. This yields a sensitive and receptive mind, which, for me, is fundamental to the kind of life that I would like to lead.

~ Complied in 2015

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 a Masters in Social Work from TISS, Mumbai, in 2007. Since then I have been working in the development sector and have experience in counseling, project management and documentation.

My first job at Positive People’s Company included counseling clients from various corporate companies, conducting trainings and writing for the monthly e-bulletin. I then moved on to Karnataka Health Promotion Trust, which works primarily in the field of HIV/AIDS. In the past two years, I have been responsible for managing different projects on the field, developing manuals and other documents, organizing workshops, writing papers and attending national and international conferences to present them.

My parents admitted me to CFL when I was eight 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, it was not the only point of focus. In fact, “quiet time” and being by oneself, activities that seemed so mundane, were given much importance. Further, several co-curricular activities such as pottery and music were offered and there was freedom to do just what we wanted.

Given this context and the fact that I was then a hyper-active and restless child, CFL was liberating from the confinement of classrooms and the strict decorum that was required to be followed. I therefore, never understood the need or significance of “quiet time” and I hated the classes that were slotted for this activity. But gradually, as years went by, I began to realize that it had become an integral component of my life, and on days when it was absent, it made me feel incomplete. I also saw that responsibility and freedom were two sides of the same coin. In addition, I began to appreciate the holistic perspective with which we were being educated in this school.

While it is hard to highlight the difference(s) that CFL has made in my life, I can safely say this school has helped me discover a way of living, which I cherish. There is a sense of security, which enables me to question and respond to life and its various challenges.

~ Complied in 2009

Ananda Siddhartha

Class of 2007

Before coming to CFL I studied for two years in a fairly conventional school.

I still remember my first taste of CFL. My father and I drove to Shibumi and when we reached we walked around for a bit. I saw a few kids in class but most were outdoors, playing on the jungle gym and generally having a merry time. Everybody looked so happy. I wanted to be a part of it. For the next ten years, I was a part of an incredible journey which I will never forget. I treasured each and every moment. And I treasured it more after I left school and joined college. At college, I was lost. The time and space that I got from myself was non-existent there.

After spending ten years at CFL (1997-2007) I did my bachelors at Christ College. I went on to do a post graduate diploma in journalism from the Indian Institute of Journalism and New Media (IIJNM) after which I completed a Masters in Media and Cultural Studies from TISS, Mumbai.

I am currently working at Pipal Tree, an organization which is concerned with issues of climate change, food security, promotion of traditional millets based mixed farming among other things. I am also going to start working part time at IIJNM.

The impact that CFL has had on me is hard to describe. It has made me appreciate the finer things in life. There was always a sense of belonging and of community, something that is hard to find in the rat race outside. The way I lead my life today is something that I seemed to have picked up in school; The awareness of one’s surroundings, simplicity and the ability to relate to others at a personal level.

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 time for a couple of times a week these days. Being at CFL, one was naturally connected to the land. There was both an appreciation and a natural interest in nature that came about which still remains.

The balance between academics and extra-curricular activities is what appealed to me the most over the years. In college, holistic education was ‘taught’ to us. In my opinion something like this is not taught but is naturally brought about through the system of education. In CFL one was given the space to find meaning and ones identity by pursuing what one wanted. For me it was pottery. I spent a fair bit of my free time in the pottery shed.

Looking back, what I appreciate most is the people behind this unforgettable part of my life. The time and energy put into making the school what it is is something I really appreciate.

~ Complied in 2015

Arjun Jayadev

Class of 1994

I have finished my PhD in economics at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst and have begun teaching as an assistant professor at the University of Massachusetts, Boston.

I was one of the first batch of A-level students at CFL. It was a wonderful couple of 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 every- one—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.

~ Complied in 2005