Diya Gupta


Learning New Tricks

2:55 PM, Friday, 6th June, 2014
Shaun at our kitchen table making an LED bulb glow through an apple!
Me, the Spiti river and our school and village in the distance
Children from the school dance in tradition dress
A deep lowing sound from outside the flat made us look up. That would be a cow chewing cardboard, I thought. I went to the window of our little kitchen to find out. Sure enough, it was a giant one-humped cow munching on cardboard in a satisfied manner, outlined against a craggy, dusty, snow-peaked mountain. I waited. Ah, there he was. A little boy running after the cow with a twig. This is our regular evening occurrence.

Children in Spiti have such boundless energy, inside class and outside. In sharp contrast to Shaun and me – the city dwellers from lower altitudes who gasp and wheeze for breath at 3,500 metres if they have to go up a flight of stairs or walk uphill – the children are entirely unfazed. They run and jump about everywhere, stopping only to mumble a ‘Good morning, ma’am’ or a Good afternoon, sir’ to Shaun and me with their hands folded.

The boys play cricket whenever they can in the small school courtyard that our bedroom overlooks. Not without accident, I must add – our bathroom window has only a polythene sheet and a thin curtain to shield us from the world. The glass must have been smashed some time back by an overzealous young batsman trying to score that elusive six.
Clearly, that glass was not thought worth replacing.

And broken windowpanes surrounding the courtyard bear testimony to the continued struggle between the fielders’ attempts and the batsman’s swing. I watched in horror from the room one day as a swarm of little boys nearly clambered up to the roof of one of the school buildings. “Whatever are they doing?” I asked Shaun. “They’re getting their ball back,” he replied.

I often keep guard outside the chemistry laboratory when Shaun has to go inside to muck about with things there that he might need for class. (He has performed some experiments for the students, which has delighted them – and him – to no end. But that is a story for another blog post!) One such day, it was break time for the junior section, and I was rapidly encircled by a bunch of small children who blinked and stared and smiled at me in a slightly unnerving way, as though I were a particularly interesting specimen they had chanced upon.

The girls continued to look at me and skip at the same time, and I in turn observed the rules of their game: you could have a go with the skipping rope only if your friend stumbled over the rope during her turn. And, of course, you kept count as to how many skips you did versus your friend. “So you like skipping then?” I said to the girls, in a vague attempt to make conversation. “Yes,” they chorused – wasn’t it rather obvious?!

The boys and girls play amicably for the most part: when an errant cricket ball enters the skipping zone, the girls throw it back to the boys. They seem to prefer to sit separately in class, though, and while I generally don’t have trouble managing the girls, the boys are certainly a lively bunch! I know I’ve had a good class when most of the boys have remained seated and have not thrown things or hit each other.

This is probably most un-teacherlike of me, but personally I don’t care if one boy does smack another. It’s like a territorial battle between barking dogs, when you just cross the road and leave them to it. What I do care about, though, is that they learn some English, and smacking each other does tend to come in the way somewhat. That’s when I march over to break it up.

Learning English. Now that is a slow process for children to whom it is very much a foreign language. And the onerous Indian syllabus that requires me to teach collective and abstract nouns, modals and auxiliaries, and types of sentences – things that are a mystery to most British people! – isn’t exactly thrilling. But we’re growing more accustomed to each other, the children and me, and when a boy from my class looks up from playing cricket during his lunch break and acknowledges me with a grin, I hope he’s remembering some English too.

Meanwhile, as night settles in and the stars are shining brightly and steadily in the sky, Shaun and I read and write and type away on our laptops at our kitchen table. A fusillade of barks makes us look up. That would be the mountain dogs, I think. This is our regular nightly chorus.
Ushasi on 2:47 PM, 19th August, 2014
Excellent post. Really enjoyed the stories about your students.
Diya on 7:34 PM, 20th June, 2014
I cater to all demands! More trainer talk coming up in the next blog posts. All hail to Big Ben! :-) xx
Big Ben on 2:06 PM, 17th June, 2014
Definitely an entertaining read, and it sounds like you are both having a great time. More trainer talk throughout the blog in future though please ;) x
Diya on 11:57 AM, 17th June, 2014
Yay! It's Big Ben on my blog! And I don't advertise trainers here. The blog must be a good un then! :-) xx
Big Ben on 5:39 PM, 16th June, 2014
Loving the updates GG! Thought I'd check in to see how it's going, glad all is well x
Diya on 12:47 PM, 16th June, 2014
Hi Nilanjana mashi! Wonderful to hear that you're reading the blog. Will keep posting on our experiences here. Love, Diya
Nilanjana mashi on 10:58 PM, 14th June, 2014
Hi Diya! loved reading it!Brilliant!! looking forward to hearing more about your teaching
Diya on 11:41 AM, 11th June, 2014
Why hello, "Bobby Chariot"! How do you do?! Teaching certainly does keep me warm here and out of mischief! Keep reading and commenting!
Diya on 11:38 AM, 11th June, 2014
Cheers, Laura! Hope you're safely back from travels and in the UK now. You'll like this - I'm reading out loud to the kids from a children's version of Sherlock Holmes, and they have to clap every time they hear a pronoun! They love the clapping! Wonder what Arthur Conan Doyle would have thought of that?! xx
Bobby chariot on 12:16 AM, 11th June, 2014
That look of blank incomprehension sounds like the one you displayed when faced with the lack of apples on a may time apple tree. Nice post goops. Keep at it, it'll keep you warm!
Laura Clark on 5:52 PM, 10th June, 2014
Lovely stories Diya, it's so vivid from your words, quite a picture you paint of life over there! Hope you can keep the boys from violence long enough to master the basics ;-) Fantastic photos - love the children's traditional dress! Looking forward to stories of Shaun's mad-scientist leanings in the lab! ;-) Amazing! Keep it up! Love L xxx
Diya on 3:52 PM, 10th June, 2014
Aw, thanks Ma! Keep reading the blog!
irene gupta on 12:46 PM, 9th June, 2014
Hi Diya, It was great fun going through your posts! The pictures are absolutely amazing! Spiti has been brought alive to us by you and Shaun. English is a foreign language for the children there,and it must be tough for them to deal with it.However, you and Shaun are putting your heart and soul in making studies fun and easy for them. You will be the driving force leading them towards a better and brighter future! ma
Diya on 1:54 PM, 7th June, 2014
Hey Rashmi! So good to hear from you. Some of the children are lovely and some are little terrors! The worst ones are the ones who look at me with blank incomprehension, like I'm an alien from outer space!
Diya on 1:51 PM, 7th June, 2014
Dunstan - hahaha - I thought you'd enjoy that pic of Shaun's! All blog requests accepted! There will be a post on the mad scientist and his experiments soon!
Diya on 1:48 PM, 7th June, 2014
Thanks so much, Sofia! I'm feeling the sympathy waves coming through all the thousands of miles! Keep reading! :-)
Rashmi on 12:27 PM, 7th June, 2014
Lovely, Diya! You sound wonderfully settled. The children sound like children anywhere in the world - full of too many beans!!!
Dunstan on 8:08 PM, 6th June, 2014
Awesome read Diya. I'm endlessly delighted by the photo of Shaun making an LED glow via an apple. Please write about some chemistry experiments. Thank you.
Sofia on 4:35 PM, 6th June, 2014
This is such a good post. Loved reading it, made me laugh and get a new sense of what you're up against on that side. Brilliant!
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