Well, this post isn’t going to be nearly as negative as the title sounds.
With regard to the first part, I’m back at Buchanan! Leaving Mandiram was a lot sadder than I ever imagined it would be, but I guess I should count it a blessing that I was able to spend time there at all, especially given that it was a much, much more positive experience than I ever dreamed it would be. I had to fight back the tears (not entirely successfully) as I left on Tuesday morning and sincerely meant it when I told everyone I would come back to visit before going home to the US in July. There’s no way I’m leaving without seeing Raju, the balika girls, the wardens, or all the other people I’ve come to love there one last time!
Upon arriving to Buchanan I found only the headmistress, Omana Teacher, and Mariyamma Kochamma, who were all registering new students. It was so good to see them but after just a minute or two I had to look on in amusement as the two aforementioned teachers debated about whether I’ve gotten ‘more fat’ or ‘more slim’ during summer vacation (the first view argued by Omana Teacher; the second by Mariyamma Kochamma). In reality I don’t think my weight has changed at all—in fact I know it hasn’t because I have a scale. By now I am unsurprised by such comments, and have never taken them offensively, but I couldn’t help think of Mandiram, where no one ever made remarks, positive or negative, about my appearance, what I was wearing, etc. It was refreshing to spend 3 months not being scrutinized!
Nevertheless I really was happy to be back at Buchanan, especially the next day, which was the first day of school. Getting to reconnect with all of the teachers, students, and especially the boarding students was just as fun as I imagined it would be. It ended up being a somewhat tedious morning, though, because even though all the students came for the first day, it was really just continued registration and sorting out the divisions—there was no actual class. Thankful when lunchtime rolled around, I went back to the hostel to wash my hands and who did I find but ALEENA!
You may remember that before summer vacation, I blogged about the students who would not be coming back for the new school year; Aleena was one of them. Her mother’s job was being transferred to somewhere in
North India, so her family was moving there. Aleena might have the wild imagination of a fifth grader, but is not one to make things like that up, so I was resigned to the reality that the new school year at Buchanan would be sans-Aleena. Imagine my delight, then, to see that boisterous little (now) 6th-grader standing on the front porch of the hostel!
After the initial ‘oh-my-gosh,-what-are-you-doing-here?!?!?’ (she explained that her mother’s transfer got delayed a year), I gave her a hug and quite honestly said “Aleena, seeing you is the best surprise of my day.” And off we walked to lunch.
The other unforeseen development of the day was the arrival of a new warden. I had heard whispers of it among the teachers in the staff room, but it wasn’t clear if Gracy Kochamma, the current warden, was leaving (which would have been really sad; she has come to be my Kerala ‘grandmother figure’—I love her dearly!) or if there would be two wardens (which didn’t make sense, as there are only about 15 Buchanan boarding students). Turns out that there are, in fact, now two wardens—Gracy Kochamma will continue to be responsible for the Buchanan boarding students, and the new warden, a retired, long time teacher, is in charge of the TTC (teacher training course) students.
I’ve probably mentioned in the past that I live with the TTC students. As young as 18 or as old as 23, they are my friends and my peers. Our hostel is located right next to a smaller building that houses Gracy Kochamma and the Buchanan boarding students. In the past, everyone answered to Gracy Kochamma, who could be strict at times and whose word was always the last but was/is very much loved and respected by all of the children, the Buchanan boarding students and TTC students included.
The TTC students have always had a lot of freedom. After dinner, especially, we would lock the doors of our hostel and be on our own until morning, Gracy Kochamma in the next building over should we ever need anything. The TTC girls were diligent with their studies but also took ample time for socializing; they lived according to their own schedules. Sure, they would sometimes spend the evening hanging out or listening to music, rushing to finish their homework in the morning before class, but part of being independent is learning to manage oneself, one’s balance between work and play, and being responsible for the consequences of one’s actions, whether good or bad.
Well…party’s over, folks. The new warden is not only directly in charge of the TTC students…she lives IN our hostel. Right across the hall from me. She made it quite clear on the first day that things were going to be changing around here: now the girls will have a daily schedule, which begins at and includes plenty of study time at various intervals during the day, and two small windows of limited ‘personal time.’ During ‘personal time’ they are allowed to talk, but during study time there should be complete silence. Their rooms will be inspected regularly for neatness/cleanliness. ‘Lights out’ is at . This is a HUGE change from the study-when/how-much-you-want, stay-up-as-late-as-you-want, do-whatever-you-want-(within reason) way of life before.
I have mixed feelings about the new military regime; on the one hand, it doesn’t really affect me or my daily comings and goings at all. On the other hand, I’m a big fan of the value and lessons of independence—being self-reliant, reaping what one sows, whether positive or negative, and learning from it all in the process—and dislike the idea of treating the TTC students like mindless children who have to have every action and behavior dictated to them. A third point of view is the what-doesn’t-kill-you-makes-you-stronger route; perhaps they will in the long-term benefit from the disciplined environment and routine.
In any case, it will be a difficult adjustment for them. I, for one, am just so happy to be back with all of my friends, from 6th grade Aleena and Praseela to 9th grade Athira to 23-year-old TTC student Sanu—I have missed them all so much! I even got a big welcome from Amamma, the cook. She speaks zero English and is one example of many from this year of the bonds and friendship that can be formed even with little to no verbal communication.
In the staffroom today Manju Teacher observed with delight that I had a birthday over summer vacation and am now 23—‘prime marriageable age!’ She and the other teachers then started talk of finding me a ‘tall and beautiful’ Malayalee husband in the next 6 weeks so that I can stay. They are so funny—I just love them :)
As time dwindles, it becomes more precious. May Maggie, Jim, and all the YAVs all over the world continue to make the best of our last 6 weeks. We’ve come along way, haven’t we?
“I have been very happy with my homes, but homes really are no more than the people who live in them.” –Nancy Reagan