As kids, around the world, do have their Universalities so do the schools. A school is a school wherever it may be and whomsoever it is for. There are certain striking similarities irrespective of theirs diversities. It may be in a rural set up or in a posh locality of a metro or in a remote hamlet on the hills of the Northeast. Mr. Ratan Sen, a school teacher, would fondly recollect the very first day of his initial assignment to move with an inspection team to a school at an altitude of ten thousand feet somewhere amidst the mist-clad Sherchokp hills of Eastern Himalayas. Since his adolescence the mighty Himalayas would beckon him. But who knew what a lot of hardship they face who live in those beautiful hills. He never knew how awful it could be till he literally had it. The school they set-forth to visit was at a distance of about ten kilometers from the nearest road point. Reaching there at the said road-point, they came to know from the shopkeeper, Aapa Dangla, of the only shop out there that the branch leading to Yumrang School was in a very bad shape. Obviously they had to leave theirs vehicle parked near that shop cum residence, the sole habitable house in that vicinity.
There was a dense fog, on that day. The hills and the woods all around were all hazy. A continuous buzzing sound of a cascade nearby was very much audible but the celestial waterfall remained invisible under the veil of thick mist. After some refreshments and tea at Aapa Dangla’s shop, they all hiked up to the school of that sleepy hamlet, named Yumrang. Right at that turn to the leeward side as they were about to approach the tiny village, through the veil of mist, they saw some houses on a beautiful small valley. Horses and mules were grassing nearby. And Ratan could clearly hear the sounds of gongs and horns coming from a distant monastery.
While entering they found that the kids were shouting at the top of their voice singing some group song. Ratan was literally dumbfounded finding the crowd, at least a few hundred kids amidst those God forbidden hills. They came to know that many of those even the ‘little-ones’ would trek a few miles every morning to reach their school. No sooner they completed the group song they started talking to each other in their dialect, called Monpaa. Initially their conversations were like whisperings slowly the intensity rose. A bulky lopen, their vernacular teacher, scolded them almost immediately. The expression of his face was full of anger. And keeping the hands at the back he was gently swinging ‘a shining-cane’. A mere glance of that dreadful tool would be enough to scare them. He called to the kids in their tongue, emphasizing certain words in a repetitive manner. Those must be the necessary instructions for them to be disciplined in front of the outsiders.
After their morning assembly, they all walked in queues to respective classes. They were perfectly disciplined. They left the trapezium- shaped open space in front of the flattened-v-shaped school building. It was on the vast inclined hillside below the road. The office room was right at the centre of the traditionally made wooden building of the school. The top part of which was shaped like a monastery. One Mrs. Lheksung, a short and petite lady, the principal of the school, introduced her staff with us. Two Kindergarten teachers were seen struggling to put the string-tied hardboard-made-weather-chart just beside the door of the very next room. Their predicament was that the said chart had no panel to show the weather of a day, which was neither sunny, nor rainy or not even cloudy but fog all around. Both the mistresses were confused with clouds, fog and mist.
Meanwhile a strongly built disheveled man carried one student who had fallen from a Rhododendron tree nearby. Upon enquiry Ratan and his team members came to know that the boy was told to bring a few twigs of those heavenly blossoms to put in the flower-vases. The boy had bruises all over his legs, hands and face. Thank God there was no major injury.
The first classroom the team entered was a language period in third standard. One short lopen, Mr. Sangay Dorji, with a persistent–smile-on–his face was teaching them, that popular story of the tortoise and the hare. The inspector asked them, “Who won the race?” almost instantly a brown–eyed boy jumped up and said, “The tortoise sir, but sir what a tortoise is?” It struck none of us that a tortoise was indeed a very unfamiliar creature for them. So, one of them explained the salient features of the humble tortoise in as simple English as he could.
The next class Ratan and his team members visited was a math period in sixth standard. One thin Malayali lady was teaching problems of mensuration. On the faded blackboard she continued the drawings and writings. Though the class was quite silent but all the learners weren’t engrossed. Some of them literally paid no heed. Those students would rather have observed every member of the inspection team through furtive glances. A member of the team, one Mr. Venugopal, took a piece of paper, folded that and then tore a few parts. A perfect parallelogram was made. Tearing a triangular part from one side he joined that part with the other side and a rectangle was formed. Looking at the paper pieces a boy with untidy hairs and frazzled uniform raised his right hand. Venugopal got amazed when the boy explained the derivation of the formula, to find the area of a parallelogram, in his own broken sentences that was indeed a laudable endeavor.
Observing a few more classes the team returned to the office. The cook of the school, Aata Karma, arranged some eatables and tea. In the mean time two boys fought pugnaciously over a catapult. One of the two stabbed the other one with a sharp dart on his left thigh. Besides archery, people of that region, were fond of playing with darts. That boy was bleeding terribly and groaning. After cotton, bandage and tincture iodine he was sent with Aata Karma for the anti-tetanus injection. The inspection team members were told that the nearest health-centre was about fifteen kilometers away from that place.
Before leaving, they visited the store, science lab and finally the library. While coming out of the library Ratan noticed a ‘Placard’ hanging on the top of the door that read,
“Today is the most important day of your life”.