Driving up to Mussoorie at night was not unlike winding our way up into outer space. Picked out in the darkness the lights of the settlements across the mountains seemed like star clusters.
Ahead though the headlights of the bus illuminated the side of the cliff on one side, and the concrete barricades between us and the drop we could not see on the other. Along the road there were signs that said: Speed Thrills But Kills. A group of men clinging on to the sides of their car, riding on the roof, wheeled past us into the night. Stupidity in that case seemed more likely to kill than speed.
Tin sheds hanging off the side of the road selling chai, a few plastic chairs for customers.
We travelled up and up and up to the hotel.
In the morning we could see where we were. 1800 metres up and the steep forested spines of mountainous ridges plunging sharply down; buildings descending the precipitous slopes.
The horn here is key to driving but in a different way from Delhi. The long parps on the air horn going into every blind corner and hairpin turn wards off collisions with on-coming traffic. There is not a gap small enough that will make a scooter driver reconsider aiming for it to get ahead of you.
At the top of the road to Mussoorie, at Libary Chowk, there is a statue of Gandhi, and a roundabout with a group of statues of dancing musicians in the centre. Traffic snarls crossly every few minutes and then clears away every few minutes after that. An old photo of the same chowk from 150 years ago shows the library building there, and a band rotunda where the statues are now.
Woodstock School. A different kind of exile from the people we met at the THF. $43,000 a year to send your child to board here. An exclusive bubble high up in the hills. The sons and daughters of wealthy Indians with a percent of international students from wealthy Americans and Asians working in or near India. You do not hear Hindi, Urdu, you do not see sari. English, jeans, T-shirts. Our students are paired with students from the school and have a great time going to classes. One of the students is paired with an Indian girl who can’t speak anything other than English. I see no temples or churches. They are applying to American universities, or going on exchange to Scandinavia. Wealth is a separate nationality. It understands airports and hotels, it speaks in transnational brands and chains, it uses the currency of westernised expectations and English. It is self-assured. Life will be alright, and alright for everyone they know.
On the noticeboard in the entrance hallway was a little information about the theme for week: Poverty. Like studying about medieval female saints, or the mechanics of fusion, poverty is something that can be studied as an abstract, distant concept. The community engagement wall shows the students doing extremely worthwhile and meaningful social action projects which are unquestionably good, and locally focused. Yet, it has a whiff on it. The begetters and sustainers of inequality and capitalism send their children to the victims of that system as temporary emissaries of idealistic good will.
True compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar; it comes to see that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring.
Martin Luther King
His speech, Time to Break Silence, is better than I Have a Dream because it is so radical. His long critique of America and the Vietnam War, and the American system, is absolutely prescient. I’m not one for conspiracy theories, but I feel like Rage Against Machine are right:
You know they went after King when he spoke out on Vietnam
He turned the power to the have-nots. And then came the shot.
They had no tour or plans for the teachers and parents at Woodstock so I went to the school library and read poetry. The old school building is old but without beauty. A series of functional rooms off a wide, high-ceiling passageway. The library is down a staircase, and mostly quiet except for the odd vacuous outburst of banter from some of the students.
One of the little volumes is by a former student of Woodstock. On the inside cover the author has written:
Woodstock, Woodstock, things longed for, regretted… we move from ourselves into ourselves, from that reality to this. I miss the clean breath of the mountains.
The children of the super rich here are lovely and kind and bond instantly with our kids. They are not the problem. They are the problem. There is no target. All of us swimming in the system we participate in, some of us complaining about the water as we float across its surface and fearful of the ocean floor.
The staffroom at morning tea time has about 30 teachers in it. There is wicker furniture, and a certain dishevelment. Piles of books, papers, newspapers. A large tea urn appears, over sweet chai, and a tray of cake. A man approaches me, he is tall and rather dapper, Indian in appearance.
He laughs. “I am John-Paul too. John-Paul Rajeshree.”
He wants to visit New Zealand one day to see the night sky. “I love the night sky. I photograph it”.
The teaching here for $43,000 a year is worksheets, and note-taking and listening in silence to the teacher. You can smell it, bullshit teaching, a mile away if you’re in the job yourself, and the smell is ripe here.