My history is sleeping in a soft bed under the warmth of a fleece blanket, can make any man lazy and I was no exception. The alarm did its bit, trying to get me out of bed and so did the house telephone. I had slept like a child and I wondered if I had any dreams. The knock on the door reminded me that my Juniors were up and ready for the day. The climb out of bed and my walk up to open the door, was like marching a long mile. As we exchanged greetings, I asked them to give me a few minutes.Walking up to the window I drew aside the curtains and beheld a clean green valley, bathed by the rain, shining under the morning sun. Well it was a perfect day. My morning chores done, we left room to enjoy a good , south Indian breakfast and walked out into the soothing warm sunlight. The bright blue sky was heart warming as we drove to school. This was the school I had seen yesterday, and had told my friends I would be taking them to.
A church built of granite blocks surrounded by a well maintained garden greeted us. It was built by the American missionaries during the middle of the 18th century and is still functional. I spent a few moments of prayer. Coming out I found my friends going around the garden beside the church taking pictures with the small class rooms as the background. The class rooms had wooden benches facing a blackboard of black limestone. The teachers seat was a chair and a table was also of wood. They looked antique but were they from the past ? I wouldn’t know. Yet they set me thinking which actually is the beginning of learning and the purpose of any school. I sat myself upon one of the benches for a few moments and also in the teachers chair looking over the empty benches wondering how I would have felt, had I been a teacher or a student.
The missionaries of this pastorate had built the school for the benefit of the children of the few natives, who were mostly working under them. It was a free education, primary level school. The school however in later years became too small for continuance and I was told that it was presently used for the children’s Sunday classes and related programs. The step garden beside the school had cobblestone paths, a sculpted lion head fountain, a sculpture of an owl perched on a stone pillar, archways and many flowering plants. Creepers gracefully climbed the walls of the school and graced an artistic feel to the ambiance.
I walked around and engraved upon a stone tablet among the bushes I noticed a verse that read “Kind hearts are the garden,Kind thoughts are the roots, Kind words are the blossoms and Kind deeds are the fruits.” This I thought could have meant the noble service and motto of the school and the missionaries.
This school was not a regular tourist attraction in the schedule of the tour operators, though I believe that it should be one. This was special. It was because one does not get to witness the history of the missionaries upon this cold mountains, that began from a church and classroom. It was special because it helped me imagine natives being taught to pray and their children being taught secular education. They were all learning character and western culture and a foreign religion from the Americans in a land, then ruled by the British.This tiny classroom in the school was mind blowing. It was akin to an atomic explosion that spread education, which changed the lives of the natives and their posterity from mere believers of myth, practicing an age old traditions into living an European culture. .
Going to school in my early days was more fun, for I had more freedom of expression than what I enjoyed at home. I remembered I had great teachers, who laughed at my every mischief, enjoyed my pranks, lifted me up when ever I fell and clapped hands to my success but yet who unfailingly guided me to what I am today. Were those children like me and did they have teachers as I had ? Only time would know and that too had gone by long before.
My friends were surprised at this find and felt happy about the visit to this school.I was happy that they were impressed with what they saw by attending school and learned from the experience, the meaningful verse etched upon a stone tablet left behind by the foreigners several centuries ago.
“Kind hearts are the garden,Kind thoughts are the roots, Kind words are the blossoms and Kind deeds are the fruits.” My experience on understanding the verse was that the institution was the garden, education the roots, love for other humans the blossoms and the enlightenment through these the fruits.
I was told that the church which was built by the American settlers who were Presbyterians. On leaving India it was handed over to the German Lutherans and is now being administered by the United Church and has a large native following. Sunday services I was told was conducted following the American practice. I climbed down the stairs of the church wishing to attend and witness a service but that would be on another morning. Today I was going to drive to a lake in a secluded forest reserve called in Tamil as the “Mathi Kettan Shola” meaning Madman’s forest or the Garden of the lunatic or the Forest were you would loose your mind.
Thinking about the trip from a place of religion and learning into a wilderness that promised madness I wondered at the paradox as well as the surprise element in it, if there would be any at all.