Latika Roy grew up in Monghyr a conservative small town in Bihar (where the ‘other’ lived across the street, never to be acknowledged, leave alone intermingled with). She had an overwhelming desire for the education her lawyer father provided her brothers but denied her. Instead, she was married off at 18 to S C Roy, a house master at the Doon School. A charming, flirtatious man, he did not fully appreciate Latika’s yearning for a life with more meaning than that of the Brown Sahib to which he then aspired. Through sheer determination,she taught herself English and then at the age of 22, escaped to Kodaikanal – already pregnant with her first child – to study education with the awe-inspiring Maria Montessori. (The audacity of this act is still stunning, even now, 75 years later.)
Well after the baby was born, she returned to Dehradun, now a trained Montessori teacher, and started her own school, first in a tent and then in the verandah of her Doon School campus house. Finally, adding rupee over hard-earned rupee and brick over hard-won brick, she was able to construct her own building in a colony in Dehradun. The Montessori School was a major educational institution in its day.
Later, she struggled through three paralysing strokes, dying in 1992 at the age of 74. In her will she had expressed a desire that the Montessori School continue to be associated with her name but, after she died, it was auctioned off on the block of market forces. Her husband, who nursed her through 14 long years and by then had a better idea of what a remarkable woman he had been married to, approached Jo and Ravi Chopra to do something in her memory. (Ravi and Dunu Roy, Latika’s youngest son, were close friends from their college days.)
That “something” was Latika Vihar, The Children’s Centre for Creativity and Fun, Dehradun’s first, and perhaps only, inclusive club for children. Just as Latika Roy’s life was a long series of natural next steps, everything in the Foundation she inspired has followed that first effort in creativity and the celebration of childhood: Karuna Vihar, the EICs, the CVT, the Training Centre, the Resource Centre . . . .
There is a picture of Latika Roy in one of our centres. In it, she is carving a stone statue and the combination of fluid artistry in her hands and fierce concentration on her face is something to behold. We like to think that spirit of grace and determination lives on in Dehradun today.