Holi hangover, much to the fraustration of the video crew lasted much longer than Holi, which itself was 4 days of celebrations. The remnant colour refused to come off, especially a particularly virulent shade of pink that seem to adorn a kid in every shot. The crew could use very little of the footage that they shot. I sat in on several classes as an observer, just to get an idea of what the school is about. It was the best time I ever had in school.
The kids come in to school; many walk 40 minutes or so, unless Dick-sir picks them up as we happen upon them along the way. “Good morning, sir. Good morning, madam,” they chirp. How many tiny tots can you fit in a Maruti jeep? As I pondered that question, another jeep passed us, bursting at the seams from the inside, and on the roof, chaps were sticking out like pins on a cushion.
When we arrived at school, the kids piled out and chirped, “thank you sir, thank you madam”. They then run off to ditch their shoes on shelves clearly marked with their class, or they just ditch their shoes. It wasn’t until the 3rd day or so that I noticed there were more kids than there were shoes. I say shoes but really mostly they were rubber or plastic slippers.
Dick said that most of their families have little access to clean water, which explains the general dustiness of the kids and the dilapidated state of their uniforms. The school gives every kid a meal a day during recess and they suck it all down pretty quickly. A lot of the kids looked underweight to me, the 6 year olds looking more like 3 year olds, the 10 year olds more like 7 year olds. In any case there is a distinct lack of chubby kids here. Still, when these kids play barefoot in the sun squealing and laughing, you couldn’t pity them.
Starting with assembly, the school is the exact opposite of the usual anglicized secular school that I’m used to. We sit in concentric rectangles (if that makes sense), the little ones towards the middle where a space is left for the performance of a play or a song. Everyday an older kid, 14 – 16 years old leads the session. They do motivation or visualization, singing, chanting, and meditation. It was universally acknowledged in class 4 that there was no mindfulness in meditation that post-Holi morning on account of everyone’s mind still on “playing Holi”.
The school’s concept of universal or integral education is geared towards development of compassion, universal responsibility and wisdom. That means that philosophy, mythology, and the development of the mind (meditation & yoga) in the Indian tradition play an important role, along with the usual academic subjects. Rather than eliminate spirituality from the curriculum, the teachings of all major spiritual traditions practiced in the community are honoured. The methodology involves promoting a “world view” based on familiarity with the nature of the mind and concepts such as interdependence. The first batch of graduates will be taking their national exams this year, and released into society. 16 seems a bit tender to me but these are the lucky ones among their peers.
On Saturday afternoon, we followed the kids’ music classes. They learn traditional songs, classical Indian dances, the tabla and harmonium. The dance teacher was in his fifties, very much a prima donna, he reminded me of Nathan Lane in “Bird Cage”. He made beautiful movements I didn’t think possible for a man. The little ones were pretty uncoordinated and vexed him greatly. We found it greatly amusing; he finally shut the door on us.