Pradeep Pattanayak

If you happen to be a first-time visitor to Aurobindo Integral Education Centre at Ayodhya village in Balasore district’s Nilagiri area, you could be forgiven for mistaking it for a tribal museum. There are good reasons as well as to why someone will feel so. 

There are paintings depicting the tribal lifestyle pinned onto the school walls. These apart, there are installations as well made by arranging pieces of woodcuts and bamboo pieces showing tribal art and culture. 

The man behind this transformation is a 76-year-old man. He is Niranjan Khuntia, who retired as a clerk from a government school at Ayodhya village in the district. During his service period, he started Aurobindo Integral Education Centre from his own pocket. Now, he is spending his entire pension money towards transforming the institution. 

When asked what prompted him to take it up as a mission of his life, Sahu narrated an incident when the parents of a student took him out of the school and got admitted to another school because the student spoke in a tribal language while at home. 

This incident hurt Khuntia to the core of his heart. Then, he made up his mind that he would set up a school and try to protect tribal language, culture and tradition through it. He wants children to remember the tribal lifestyle and culture for good instead of going away from them. 

Even at this advancing age, he is busy with colours, brushes, saw, hammer etc to give shape to his imaginations which will teach students a lot about tribal lifestyle. 

“What he is doing will have a great impact on the students. Going to make the school beautiful, he is also planting varieties of flower saplings. He is doing all these things because he is able to see a possibility of development among tribal students,” observed Laxminarayan Singh, a local youth. 

Laxmirani Behera, a female teacher at the school, had only praises for Khuntia. 

“I am one among the first batch of students of this school. In those days too, he used to teach us by singing and dancing. He is also known as a good litterateur. He is around 75 or 80 years old, but still going,” said Behera. 

“During my service time, I hardly get any time to devote to the school. Yet, I worked for the development of the school during my free time,” said Khuntia. 

“After retirement, a thought came to my mind how to protect tribal language, culture and tradition. My prime objective is to protect the language for the good,” he added. 

(Reported by Biswambar Das from Nilagiri, OTV)