Diya Gupta


Having New Eyes

12:09 PM, Friday, 21st November, 2014
Cards for Ma'am Diya and Sir Shaun
Saying goodbye to our students
Shaun talks to the students at our last assembly
Shaun and I have lived in Spiti for six months. We have watched the weather change from icy May, with the snow melting away from the mountain tops, the days growing hotter and the evenings pleasanter. Towards the end of our time here, we feel as though we are coming full circle. Snow is rapidly filling the mountain tops again, the ‘tandoors’ need to be lit at night, and warm coats and scarves have made their way out of the shelves. The children will be leaving for home soon, on a short break to pick up their winter clothes, while ‘tandoors’ are installed in every classroom. Winter has come!

Over these six months, we have discovered a rapport with the children, which varies depending on whether we are talking to the younger ones (“Ma’am Deeeeya! We want chocolates for winning the grammar quiz!”) or the shyer, but often cheeky, older ones (“Genius Sir Shaun! When is your genius brother Adam going to visit?” – Shaun likes to declare himself the science genius in all his classes, hence the salutation). We have forged new identities: Sir Shaun (who is very pleased indeed with his knighthood) and Ma’am Diya did not exist until Spiti.

We have many new friends who invite us over to their place and offer us so much delicious food – Indian, Tibetan and Chinese. Have you ever tasted laping, a type of mung noodles, soaked in soy sauce and garlic, and sprinkled with a generous coating of Tibetan red chillies? Shaun manfully works his way through the dish, trying not to let his ears and face go any redder because of its heat; I slurp up the noodles greedily, relishing the taste while my tongue happily burns a little. Sometimes I give in to my insistent hosts and have a second helping. Shaun politely refrains.

Fried green peppers and thin noodles called ping make their way into our bowls, as do finely sliced potatoes cooked with a red chilli or two, scrumptious cauliflower, chicken curry, and rice. All this is washed down with lemony local beer or ‘chang’, with perhaps a shot or two of the local spirit distilled from barley, called ‘arak’.

Shaun and I feel part of the community, as we help eight other teachers make momos and soup. Our momo-rolling skills are definitely of the beginners’ variety. They are laughingly labelled by the experts, who deftly roll beautiful momo bundles in a variety of styles, as the “rat momos” because of our momos’ long shape. We drink cardamom tea, eat the steamed momos in front of the ‘tandoor’, play with two puppies, and while away a merry winter’s evening with friends.

At our last morning assembly, the whole schools gathers together. We are showered with ‘khatas’ – the traditional Buddhist scarf for good luck – and cards from all the classes we teach. “Ma’am, we have made a very beeeeg card for you!” shouts out one of the Class 7 boys. “Well, I have a beeeeg suitcase, so don’t worry,” I respond, much to the boy’s friends’ amusement.

In the evening is our ‘dinner party’, the celebratory send-off at the school for volunteers and guests. Gift after gift is presented to us – an antique incense holder along with scent-laden local incense sticks, a copper statue of Green Tara, a stone-encrusted jewellery box inside which is a bracelet, a patterned hand-woven shawl, and many, many hand-knitted Spitian socks for friends and family.

Most breathtaking is a hand-woven traditional Tibetan rug, thick and soft, resplendent in colour, across which coil two Tibetan dragons. Quite simply, this is the most beautiful thing Shaun and I have ever owned. Now we need to find a home somewhere to match it.

The real party, of course, begins later, once the formalities have been dispensed with, the speeches made, and most importantly, dinner eaten. Bottles of beer make their way into our hands, the speakers on the music system start belting out tunes, and everyone is up on the dance floor moving together in a circle, as is the Spiti style. We have our very own DJ – the school’s music teacher – who gets merrier as the night goes on. Even two power cuts can’t quash the enjoyment – when the lights go out, everyone just starts singing!

The next day, we say goodbye to the children, who are now heading home for a short break – we will have left Spiti by the time they are back. Little hands wave constantly at us from cars as they bend round the corner and disappear. Many of the older children wish us a happy journey. A girl from Class 10 says that she will miss us, and blushes and laughs when we say that we will miss her too.

Two days later, all our Tibetan friends, a Buddhist nun, and several other people we know come over to see us off very early in the morning. We are gifted even more ‘khatas’, wishing us well for the long journey ahead. And we are also gifted two necklaces made of colourful threads, blessed by the Dalai Lama himself. How precious they must have been, yet given away to us so happily! Shaun and I still wear them.

The school jeep, carrying the principal and several others, has agreed to drop us off at Manali. We drive for the last time through what Shaun and I consider a wonderfully scenic route, through the mountains of Spiti, past little villages, up and down two mountain passes, towards Manali. As we set off, I wonder again on that quote by Proust – “The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes." It seems to me that Shaun and I have found our new eyes.
Vivienne hodges on 11:18 PM, 15th May, 2015
Wonderful, your writing makes me want to visit. X
Diya on 8:54 PM, 14th May, 2015
Thanks, Dunstan! Shaun and I miss Spiti terribly. London isn't a patch on it...
Dunstan on 5:26 PM, 14th May, 2015
Don't think I commented before. Now that we are another six months further along... Beautiful post, Diya.
Debbie on 3:52 AM, 2nd February, 2015
Wonderful blog. Are you still in India or back in Blighty? Please email me Debbie xx
Diya on 10:40 PM, 6th December, 2014
Hi Peter! Great to hear from you, as always. It feels good to have shared our adventures with so many interested readers, like yourself. Thank you for keeping on reading. Ma'am Diya and Sir Shaun advise a healthy dose of the Himalayas for your next holiday! Will be back in the UK at the end of this month, and will get in touch then.
Peter on 4:28 PM, 6th December, 2014
Hi Ma'am Diya and Sir Shaun. Thanks for sharing this wonderful adventure! Good luck with you next endeavour.
Diya on 1:50 PM, 22nd November, 2014
Cheers, Laura! Will upload a piccie of the dragon rug on Facebook. We should meet up and discuss four pairs of new eyes! ;-)
Laura Clark on 2:54 AM, 22nd November, 2014
What a lovely final note for the Spiti adventure: the presents sound so thoughtful and generous (would love to see a pic of your dragon rug!). I'm sure your new eyes will stay with you always - I know ours will after 8 months all over the world too.
Diya on 11:16 PM, 21st November, 2014
Thanks, Ma!
Irene on 11:13 PM, 21st November, 2014
It often happens that people with good eyesight fail to see what is right in front of them… Diya and Shaun had the eyes to see not just the beauty of Spiti but its very essence! Thank you for sharing it with us. ma
Diya on 11:03 PM, 21st November, 2014
Thengoo, my darling sister! I will keep writing for sure.
Diya on 11:02 PM, 21st November, 2014
Hi Vivienne, thank you. It's great to have readers like you!
Disha on 10:41 PM, 21st November, 2014
I agree with Rashmi. One of your best, most heartfelt posts. Loved it! Please keep writing!
Vivienne on 9:46 PM, 21st November, 2014
What a great send off, your blogs do bring tears my eyes, your story telling is wonderful.
Karen Holmes on 6:24 PM, 21st November, 2014
What a beautiful report, it made me cry. How you must have grown through giving so much of yourselves. Memories to last a lifetime x
Diya on 3:52 PM, 21st November, 2014
It was a great send-off, Jason! Will definitely show you the rug - it is a thing of beauty, made by someone we know for a whole month. Incredible! And I love that quote too. I think about it a lot. Makes me want to read Proust! He is from your fatherland! :-)
Jason on 3:21 PM, 21st November, 2014
Wow! What a wonderful send off! So human!! And you got a Green Tara, things can only get better! I am looking forward to seeing this rug too. Love the quote at the end of this article, very fitting :)
Diya on 2:34 PM, 21st November, 2014
Hahaha, Rashmi, I love your comment! It's so sweet. Very glad you enjoyed the post, babu.
Rashmi on 2:19 PM, 21st November, 2014
Diya, this has to be your best article till date. Maybe because it is so close to your heart... I could picture every image in my mind. Such a privileged experience this must have been. The feeling of joy and happiness comes through beautifully. As you can see, I can't stop gushing!
Diya on 1:38 PM, 21st November, 2014
Hello Janet! Yes, of course I remember meeting you in Somerset - how could I forget your beautiful house and all the wonderful food?! Thank you for your comment. It is difficult indeed to return!
Janet Millar on 1:23 PM, 21st November, 2014
Well done, both of you. You may find it difficult to return. From the beauty of Spiti and the emotional intensity. Warmest wishes, Janet We met in Somerset
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