Diya Gupta


Teacher, teacher

3:34 PM, Saturday, 21st June, 2014
Shaun works on fixing a volt meter to demonstrate Ohm's Law
The older Spiti children pose before performing for the Chief Minister
The 1,000-year-old Tabo monastery
Smoke billowed out from the bowl in great drifts. The audience watched with a combination of wonder and trepidation. What would this giant sorcerer from across the seas do next? He proceeded to dip a rag in soapy water and passed it over the rim of the bowl.

A vast bubble started forming, with grey smoke creating mysterious swirls within. A fortune-teller’s crystal ball. A divination bubble that begged the never-ending question – when, oh when, would it burst? Before thirty-one pairs of wide eyes, the bubble grew in might and strength, and then, like the wispy ephemera that it was, ceased to exist. Vast swathes of carbon dioxide erupted, enveloping the table and meandering over hands and fingers. On cue, the audience gasped a delighted “Ahhhh!” The sorcerer grinned happily from ear to ear. “And that,” he concluded, “explains the principle of sublimation.”

The dry ice experiment was one that we had been looking forward to for a long time. It had certainly involved the most effort! Finding a CO2 fire extinguisher in Calcutta was itself no mean feat. Carting it all the way to Dharamshala and then Spiti was positively Herculean – with many thanks to the Indian Railway porters! Finally, here was the day of reckoning: would it work? Would holding a cotton pillowcase over the extinguisher and releasing the gas form dry ice?

It certainly did. Before our eyes, large lumps of dry ice, each a frosty -70 degrees Celcius, fell out of the pillowcase as Shaun shook loose its contents. A delighted scientist wearing heat-resistant gloves then immersed the pieces in a bowl of hot water. The resultant smoke made me think of those fog-filled Hindi film dream sequences – generally the hero’s dream – where the heroine would materialise literally out of thin air. Nothing quite so Pygmalion-like occurred here, but the look on the students’ faces and the flood of Tibetan-speak that followed (they are meant to talk only in English while in school) showed that the science wizardry had had the desired impact. Although I’m not entirely sure they think of Shaun as a science teacher and not some crazy white voodoo man.

In the less spectacular world of English, my Class 6 and 7 students happily confided in me that they had all watched ‘The Evil Dead’, much to my horror. “You’re all far too young to see that!” I exclaimed. “Yes, ma’am,” chorused the girls. “It was very scary!” “No, no, no,” said the boys. “It was very funny!” I’ve also been shown books that they like to read – some ghoulish series called Goosebumps. Whatever it takes, vampires or ghosts, I’m pleased that they are reading.

The boys are all intensely obsessed with sport, especially the Indian Premiere League. “Ma’am, have you been to the new Dharamshala stadium to watch a match?” “No.” “Have you been to Eden Gardens to see the IPL?” “No.” “Which is your favourite team?” they kept asking. “Kolkata Knight Riders,” I said in the end. “Because I’m from Kolkata and I liked the TV show Knight Rider.” “Ours is the Chennai Super Kings,” they affirmed. “Because they are the best!” Equally valid reasons.

During a grammar quiz that I decided to hold one day in class – clutching at straws in getting the children to learn collective and abstract nouns! –most of the Class 7 boys insisted that their team name be Chennai Super Kings. The next day, however, while being quizzed on singular and plural nouns, and masculine and feminine gender, they did an about turn on nomenclature. “We want to rename our team Kolkata Knight Riders,” they said rather coyly.

I gave them a look before changing the name on the blackboard. Was it a teeny tiny bit possible that, in the magical combination of allowing a quiz in class and a cricket-based team name, I had risen in their estimation?

Although they didn’t win, the Knight Riders, you will be pleased to hear, did much better in grammar than the Super Kings.

PS: There is a brilliant video of the dry ice experiment that we hope to upload soon.

Diya on 11:24 AM, 21st July, 2014
Laura! I have managed to get my hands on an RL Stine 'Goosebumps' book! It's called 'Headless Halloween.' Intriguing.
Diya on 11:30 AM, 9th July, 2014
15 or more endings! Wowzers. I have been missing out! Still pretty ill, so hopefully the varied world of Goosebumps will cheer me up! :-)
Debalin Das on 9:34 PM, 7th July, 2014
Thanks! :-) Goosebumps was one of my favorites before Class 5. Only disappointment was that it used to be over within an hour. We even used to get a particular type of book in that series which used to have 15 or more endings! You could choose which page you wanted to go after finishing one or two pages. The choices would be written at the bottom of the page, depending on the potential outcomes of the story till that particular point. Alternate endings! :P
Diya on 1:31 PM, 7th July, 2014
Cheers, Laura - let me see if I can do a book swap with the kids! They were very intrigued by my children's copy of The Hound of the Baskervilles!
Laura Clark on 10:22 PM, 5th July, 2014
Oh no, get well soon! And enjoy the RL Stein book(s) if you get the chance - basic but compellingly creepy! :-)
Big Ben on 2:53 PM, 4th July, 2014
In your honour we'll do all three colours - fluffy boy's treat mind! x
Diya on 12:55 PM, 4th July, 2014
Hey Laura, cheers for the comment! Isn't the monastery just incredible? And yes, I'd never heard of Goosebumps! Must borrow one written by RL Stein from the kids! Thanks for the tip. Been poorly over the last two days - nasty throat bug! Seems like the kind of time when reading Goosebumps would be great! ;-)
Laura Clark on 11:58 PM, 3rd July, 2014
Great post, love to hear about Shaun's magic! And the photo of the monastery is amazing. Seriously, you never heard of 'Goosebumps'? I lived on those things for about 6 months in middle school - everyone read them, and I was the only one (I think) who suffered nightmares afterwards - the product of an over-active imagination! If you're curious to read one for a laugh, the best writer in the series (IMHO) was R.L. Stein - anything by that name is a representative sample!
Diya on 7:18 PM, 1st July, 2014
Big Ben! I will be devastated to miss you too! :-( Make sure you get Fluffyhead to buy you some Chimays - tell him they're in my honour! xx
Diya on 7:17 PM, 1st July, 2014
Cheers, Debalin! This blog wouldn't have been possible without you. And the fact that you liked Goosebumps shows me how old I am! ;-) Never even heard of the series!
Big Ben on 6:28 PM, 1st July, 2014
Popping in the office in a couple of weeks for a visit, and out on the afternoon with the fluffy boy for a few beers and a catch up. Gutted you won't be there GG x
Debalin Das on 11:10 AM, 1st July, 2014
Awesome read! The fact that they like Goosebumps reminds me of my childhood days. I used to gorge myself on that series at one time. :-P
Diya on 10:10 PM, 24th June, 2014
Hello Lindsay, really nice to hear from you - and wonderful to know that I have a regular reader who is also an English teacher! :-) You must tell me more about your experiences in Bhutan - it's a place I've always wanted to visit. I need all the help I can get in teaching arcane pieces of grammar! If you click the Contact link on the top right hand corner of this webpage, you will find my email address. Do drop me a line!
Diya on 10:05 PM, 24th June, 2014
Hi Katie, lovely to hear from you! So good to hear that you are enjoying the blog! Do you know which class Tenpin Nawang is in? I will convey your best wishes to everyone here. Sidhbari is indeed no longer scrubland but a lively hostel! Keep reading!
Lindsay Staniforth on 3:40 AM, 24th June, 2014
I've been interested in Spiti for years and am so glad Graham has passed this on . . . I'll be reading regularly. Lovely vivid writing. I'm also an English teacher, now retired, and have taught in lots of places including Bhutan. If I can help at all with ideas as to how to teach some arcane piece of grammar, please do ask; I might be able to help. Enjoy your stay there . . . you are tempting me to come myself . . .
Katie on 1:49 AM, 24th June, 2014
Hi Diya, Graham-la sent me a link to your blog earlier today & I have just caught up on all your posts! They have brought back so many happy memories and I was thrilled to read of the progress being made at Sidhbari (just scrubland when I was list at Yol hostel). It ha been 11 years since I was last in Spiti but it feels like yesterday! Please keep posting, if you are able to trace Tenpin Nawang I think he is my allocated sponsored child, I would love to see more pictures. Please send my very best wishes to Tashi Namgyal, Miss Kalsang and all the others. Katie aka Deyki
Diya on 3:32 PM, 23rd June, 2014
I'm so pleased you liked it, Jason, but what do you mean - as if I was there?! Just come here, and then you really will be here to experience it all yourself! :-)
Jason on 8:33 PM, 22nd June, 2014
Excellent writing, as if I was there!
Diya on 6:35 PM, 22nd June, 2014
Thank you, Sarah! So glad you are enjoying our news. Never a boring day here. It's evening now, and the obligatory cow is mooing away outside as I type! It'll probably chew some cardboard in a bit.
Diya on 6:33 PM, 22nd June, 2014
Laura - a big 'woohoo' back to you! I'm enjoying writing these posts so much - and the fact that you are all reading and enjoying them is brill! :-)
Sarah on 4:09 PM, 22nd June, 2014
So enjoying your news from Spiti - you are such an entertaining writer.
Laura on 5:04 PM, 21st June, 2014
Fantastic! I can't wait to see the video! Well done Shaun. This is more great writing Diya - I actually said a 'woohoo' out loud when I read your email announcing a new blog entry!
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