Inside the Marudam Farm School, at Tiruvannamalai, time is just a bystander, not allowed the privilege of calling the shots. Every morning a busload of chatty children – some well clothed, some bare footed, come bumping along a dusty road to be deposited at the 9.5 acre expanse of fertile land that’s their school. A large terracotta horse stands at the entrance and other semi-finalised sculptures and pottery experiments lie around. You spot cow gazing and hear birds chattering amid rustle of coconut trees. Leaving the bustle of town outside the gates, the school’s 70-odd children step into a world of sublime difference.

If the rains had been better, they would have been thrashing harvested paddy, but today the students are digging pits to plant lemon, tapioca and papaya saplings. Some are preparing a large mulch bed by spreading dried leaves, retrying it for a vegetable garden that will be sustained by diverting used kitchen water. Arun Venkataraman, a 48 years old man who founded the school together with his wife , Poornima. He being a qualified engineer who went to pursue a BA and BEd to become a teacher. Venkataraman initially taught gardening at Chennai’s school. Poornima use to be a teacher at The Theosophical Society’s Olcott Memorial School in the city. later on the couple moved 190 kms to Tiruvannamalai to start Marudam.

Marudam was started out of need to provide a space for ‘learning by doing’, academics, nature and ‘unstructured time’. Arun believes that an education system that constantly tells children what to think, dampens their curiosity and love for learning. On Thursdays, they climb Arunachal hills, mostly in silence. If one question is asked, together the answer is found. On returning they discuss what they discovered about the hill and within their own selves. Thursdays are also movie day.

The school follows a principle of democratic learning. The class size is small, only 4-10, to ensure the facilitators well understand the interests of the children. Mathematics is taught through baking, cooking, goat-rearing or even pottery, depending on whatever strikes a chord with the batch. One batch studied oceans and nothing else for an entire academic year of geography class. Ocean currents, tides, ocean-beds, depths, pressure, underwater life, they trawled through it all.

Two-Third of the school’s children live in Tiruvannamalai. Their parents are farmers, cattle reared, domestic help, drivers or small shop owners. the rest include children from expat families that have made a home in this town – famous for several spiritual centres in their quest for alternative lifestyles. to remain inclusive, the school allows families to pay whatever fee that can afford and finds sponsors to pitch in with the rest. Marudam welcomes all curious students with open heart.