I grew up longing to be sent away to a boarding school in India. Fed by images of romantic school settings, mostly based on the books of British author Enid Blyton, I dreamed of “tuck” boxes and packages of goodies sent from home. I also had direct, first hand accounts of life at a boarding school – my father and uncle had both attended a boarding school as young teens, a school to which they both to this day, credit with much of their blossoming.
Most boarding schools in India are set on low mountainous regions, and there is a sense of seclusion about them. Many of them were established by Christian missionaries, and several were a way for British colonists to ensure a quality education for their children, but the concept of being sent away for schooling is familiar and far more ancient than the advent of any foreign group – the Hindu gurukul system is precisely this – a family away from one’s own, where one lives with a guru and learns ways of being and is educated.
We visited quite a few boarding schools on our holiday sojourns.To my mind, fed by British books, and the tales of my relatives, as well as our short visits, they also seemed to be like something out of a dream – brick or stone campuses, almost castle like, mists rolling in, with horse riding as an after school extracurricular choice.
The most seductive thing about the idea of boarding school, was not just the imagined goodies or freedom it might bring, but the idea that I would be with a community of peers ALL DAY LONG – that there would be no break from them, no separate home to come back to from which one might venture forth on play dates, but instead a shared room or dorm and joined meals, with time spent with hundreds of one’s compatriots, all day long, forever and with no parental supervision – or so I imagined. So what if might we might fade into the sunset – we would still be a united body, glued together by our shared experience of school.
Alas, this was not to be, and I went to school in the wild tumult of an urban metropolis. But several of my peers, did go to boarding schools in India. Their stories of life on campus floated back to me, and fed my romanticized image of life away from home. No one really talked about the lousy food or the rats running across hallways. As an adult, I can see both the pluses and minuses, and settling my younger niece in to just one such boarding school four years ago in south India, did much to dispel any last remnants of enchantment.
There is one image, though, one practice, dare I say spiritual practice, that continues to have a grip on my imagination. It is a practice insisted upon by the founder of several boarding schools – J. Krishnamurti. Krishnamurti was the hailed leader of a group of theosophists, but eventually came to denounce his proclaimed divinity, and in fact proceeded to to argue against organized religion. He established many boarding schools, all over the world.
At the boarding school he started in South India, the entire student community, all 360 of them, from 4th grade to 12th, are made to go as a collective body to watch the sunset every day from a particular vista point. In Krishnamurti’s words, describing the purpose of such a school:
This means giving the child the opportunity to flower in goodness so that he or she is rightly related to people, things and ideas, to the whole of life. To live is to be related. There is no right relationship to anything if there is not the right feeling for beauty, a response to nature, to music and art – a highly developed aesthetic sense.
My friends who went to this school describe this forced experience with a mixture of resentment and gratitude; they recall all to well their reluctance to leave their games unfinished to charge up the mountain to settle in to watch the sunset; but as one voice, they all acknowledge the slow feeling of gratitude that came over them as the sun set.
I can think of no better way to stay connected to the Earth, and to one another. What if all 800+ of us (520 adult members and 300 or so kids), were to go somewhere, everyday, to watch the sunset? I wonder what it would do to our sense of belonging and inter-ness to one another and the earth.
Will you go with me?