Shanta Gandhi, one of Avehi’s founders and the originator of the Avehi Abacus programme was a fierce and lively intellect, always asking questions.
Lover of science, dancer, teacher, writer, she was well past seventy at the time the project was initiated, but it was her enthusiasm and relentless
drive that kept it going through the initial phases.
She was born in a conservative Gujarati merchant family and fought to get herself educated, eventually travelling to England to study medicine at
a time when girls did not travel abroad alone. When she returned to India she joined the Uday Shankar Cultural Centre in Almora in 1941 to study
dance and became a founder member and leading dancer of Indian People’s Theatre Association’s Central Ballet Troupe.
After Independence, while many of her contemporaries chose to work among the urban working class, she wanted to do something with the poorest,
under-served parts of our country. Moving to Nicora on the banks of the Narmada in the early 50s to work with tribal children, she did foundational
work in education with those who did not have an opportunity for formal education, using stories, songs, play-acting, science experiments and other
immersive discovery-based techniques of teaching-learning. Much of this is now embodied in the Avehi Abacus curriculum.
In the early 60s she returned to theatre, becoming a faculty member of the then newly-founded National School of Drama in Delhi.
In the early 70s she was appointed director of Bal Bhavan, a position in which she pulled together all her interests - theatre, music, art,
literature, traditional crafts, puppetry, science and education. She attracted many talented people to teach there, and in her time, Bal Bhavan
was a place where children and faculty bloomed in a wave of all-round creativity. She was honoured with the Padma Shree during this period.
In the early 70s she was appointed director of Bal Bhavan, a position in which she pulled together all her interests -
theatre, music, art, literature, traditional crafts, puppetry, science and education.
Shantaji loved the young and never felt any generation gap; neither did they. She provoked them, argued and debated with them, made them marvel and laugh,
and enabled them to develop a scientific temperament and humanitarian values. Shantaji’s life demonstrated how one could learn from the past, immerse
oneself in the present and dream of a future by consistently and constructively pushing against prevailing boundaries. The team at AVEHI ABACUS PROJECT
were fortunate to have had her in their midst and to have learnt from her right till her demise in May 2002. She continues to inspire us at every step of the way.