In the year of 1972, families from different villages of Tirap District, Arunachal Pradesh, were approached to send their young daughters to a new school, called Ramakrishna Sarada Mission Girls’ School (RKSM), and in 1973, around 58 students were enrolled. These girls were then given the opportunity to engage in different activities, such as painting, sewing, sports, drama, dance, gardening, writing and many more. They learnt not just from textbooks, but also the importance of emotional intelligence as a life skill. This was the first generation of students that RKSM saw, and my mom was one of them.
Years later, I was enrolled in the same school as my mom was. It was a residential school, so we stayed in dormitories. It taught us to share everything, whether they were books, stationery, toiletries or the food that sometimes we would sneak in away from the gaze of the teachers. This habit still remains with me, as I would probably share even a chewing-gum if someone I know is next to me, otherwise the guilt would kill me. This actually happened when I was in college, and my friend looked quite appalled when I offered her half a chewing-gum, right before she declined it.
In school, we had a lot of extracurricular activities and a lot of talents were discovered due to them. We had the artists, who could paint, sketch, do portraits. We had the Chess game experts, who, if you saw them playing, would remind you of one of those chess scenes from “Queen of Katwe”. We had the mass drill experts, who would lead us beating a gigantic drum on the playground to stretch and do warm-up exercises. We had Sports Day once a year where all kinds of sports were played and prizes awaited winners. There were also various competitions that focused on building our creative improvisation. The extempore speech competitions had chits of topics in a box; we would pick one before going to the stage, and improvise hard, like it was our last chance, oftentimes embarrassing ourselves. The fiercest competition was the dance and song competition between the four houses we had. Prop building for such events was done from scratch, like cardboard for ornaments and necklaces or paper for painting scenic backgrounds onstage. I participated in theatre. I acted as an evil king (fake moustache and everything) as well as a flirty Lord Krishna, all of which made me discover the joy of drama. However, the thing I am most thankful for discovering, during my years there, is my love of writing.
For the Hiroshima Nagasaki Day, my friends and I concocted the idea of performing a drama in memory of those who lost their lives in the event. I wrote the script, the others picked the actors and collected props. It was quite well received by everyone in the audience and it was then that I found my passion for writing.
We were then untouched by social media. ‘Facebook’ was just an urban myth for most of us. We had access to TV only on Sundays. It made us turn our boredom into inventing creative games with stones or marbles and making a ball by stuffing old discarded socks. We also gathered around sometimes to discuss certain books (unaware that it was more or less a book-club). Not to forget, there was always that one person who got her hands on the newest Harry Potter books during the holidays and we would all fall in a waiting list to borrow it from her. It was a humble life indeed.
At the moment, we live in a society with a lot of cultural dictation. We do not realize how vulnerable a person’s mind is when they are young. It can be conditioned in any direction depending on external influences. I grew up surrounded by simple and humble values. We made the most out of our days with what little we had around us. It taught me the importance of improvising in life, emotionally and physically. In Delhi, I have often been name-called stereo-typically by many young boys and girls, and so were many people I knew from my state. I was unable to comprehend it, the first time it happened, because where (and when) I grew up, children were the last people I would expect to be influenced by such misleading social habits. I have also been underestimated on various occasions based on my gender. This is where it becomes important to teach emotional intelligence as life skills, such as empathy, self-discipline, critical thinking, and many more. These are useful not just for the people who are targeted by such misleading values but also for those who gradually become their advocates.
In small towns, such as mine, the biggest problem was the lack of connectivity to the outside world. Due to the hilly terrain, remote location, and frequent power cuts, the internet was a luxury (there is some improvement now, though things are not as good as in urban communities). I remember that being able to download even a picture of our favorite Harry Potter star was rare, let alone accessing information which could keep us aware about the rest of the country. When I came to Delhi, there were young students discussing about politics, economy, and social issues. I remember feeling isolated and ‘lesser’, even, because I lacked access to that knowledge. All that creativity I had harnessed in school came to naught, as my first impression of myself outside the North East area became scarred.
In due time, what I learnt from my personal experiences is that it is not only important to teach values of self-development, but also have the right infrastructure to implement them. It would be helpful if more investments are made towards such holistic education, where life skills are as important as the syllabus, especially in the neglected areas of the country.
Years ago, when we visited our grandparents during the holidays, my grandfather asked my sister what she was doing. She had just enrolled in a Master’s program after finishing her graduation. On hearing this, my grandfather reacted with shock—“You have STILL not finished your education?”—to which we all had a good laugh. Now that I think about it, I realized that for my grandfather, education was not merely about textbooks and degrees; he equated it with the basic values of life. No wonder he was shocked. His sense of rationality was not socially dictated, it was different than what we believe to be rational.
Maybe that is the problem lying before holistic education. Not enough of us think that it is rational and logical due to years of upholding misleading expectations. What my grandfather said resonated in me, because it showed me a new perception, a new sense of normalcy, if I may say. Perhaps, that is what we need. We need to ask each other what education is for us normally and maybe when we change the answer, education can be approached differently to have more long-term and productive impacts.