It was almost a year ago that my husband Julian and I decided that it was time for us to take a career break, to reflect on where we were in our lives, to leave the treadmill of work and commuting in South England, and to gain some experience of another culture. I was about to complete an eight-year stint as a class teacher in Michael Hall Steiner Waldorf school; this following some 17 years of teaching in state schools. Julian had been working non-stop for twenty-seven years in schools, teacher training and most recently university lecturing. Our plan was to look around, be open about the possibilities and to see what came our way. What did come our way was Rajghat. A conversation with a friend resulted in our making contact with Uma Kalyanram, a KFI trustee, whose friendly and positive response made us feel certain that an experience at Rajghat would give us an opportunity to become more familiar with the teachings of Krishnamurti, to review our lives, to grow in a totally new environment, and hopefully to make use of our skills and experience. Thus it was that in early January we left a cold, damp London and arrived in the sunny, green oasis of Rajghat. Our immediate impression was one of warmth, not only in the weather (an obsession with the English) but even more so in the people we met. We were struck by the commitment and working together of the teaching staff, and when the children began to arrive, by their open, unspoilt attitude and mood. It has been such a pleasure to take an evening stroll along the 'K trail' ( a path that encircles the campus) and to be greeted by the children with a friendly 'Good evening Caroline Di, good evening Julian Sir'. To be called 'big sister' seems such a compliment after years of 'Miss' or 'Mrs. Ritchie'.
So what was to be our task at Rajghat? It had been suggested before we left England that we might like to be involved in an English drama with the younger classes for the cultural programme to be held on Annual Day a few weeks away. The theme was to be woven around nature and the seasons: did we have any ideas? I have always felt that narration of a long poem or epic lends itself well to drama with large groups of children, since there are opportunities for individual speech and for group work. And if it is a literary piece the actual study of the text is something worthwhile in its own right. With these thoughts in mind I had tentatively suggested that we enact Hiawatha by Longfellow. The reply that we gotwas full of enthusiasm, and it turned out that the drama would fit with the project work on different cultures planned for the sixth grade.
The Song of Hiawatha was the first published work of the American poet, Henry Longfellow (1807 . 1882). Longfellow took a great interest in the history and folklore of the Native American Indians, particularly the tribes who inhabited the shores of the Great Lakes of North America. The original Hiawatha was a real person, a Native American lawgiver who succeeded in the fifteenth century in uniting a number of warring tribes. He became confused, however, in the native folklore with a legendary hero who was the son of the West Wind, Mudjekeewis. It is the story of this legendary Hiawatha that Longfellow tells in his poem. The original poem includes many scenes and adventures, but for the purposes of our production the story was cut significantly. Our abbreviated version of the poem ended with the tribes of North American Indians, which had previously been at war, being united through the marriage of Hiawatha and Minnehaha. Not an insignificant message for our times.
So with some five weeks to go, the work began. From the beginning my policy was to include as many pupils as wished to be involved, in fact every student from the nursery class to the sixth grade who was not needed for another part of the cultural programme. The text was divided into passages for different groups. Actors and actresses for individual roles, including some students from older grades, were selected. Songs were learnt, and soon the hostels were ringing with the melodies of Hiawatha. Meanwhile, the dancers worked out and practiced their steps. When it came to costumes and props the whole school seemed to be involved: tepees were sewn with story pictures which had been researched by sixth grade students, head-dresses were embroidered in the craft lessons and in the hostels, the carpentry team were busy making quivers and bows and arrows, costumes were gathered together and stitched. Rehearsals took place after classes every afternoon at the stage under the large banyan tree in front of the school building: a perfect setting for a drama that takes place in a forest. Rehearsals were popular, not least because of the possibilities of playing around the tree. The management of our cast of over 135 children was truly a team effort and the spirit of fun and enjoyment was maintained without tempers becoming frayed.
Longfellow's language was clearly a challenge for some children, but they seemed to be carried by the regular meter and by the strong images of nature.
Here is an extract from the poem:
Then the little Hiawatha
Learned of every bird its language,
Learned their names and all their secrets,
How they built their nests in Summer
Where they hid themselves in Winter,
Talked with them whene'er he met them,
Called them 'Hiawatha's Chickens'.
In parallel with the drama, preparations for theAnnual Day exhibitions were running apace. Here, Julian joined the vibrant Maths Club which prepared many displays of mathematics in action. He also worked with a small group of students on a Web design project. Again, the commitment and enjoyment of both students and teachers was impressive. When the day dawned we were quite overcome by the obvious pride with which the students took the visitors around their projects and the pleasure that they took in explaining every last detail of each exhibit.
Another enjoyable experience for us was preparing a song for the cultural programme to be performed by a small group of teachers and pupils. Our first surprise was to discover that the melodies of several favourite British folk tunes had been used by Tagore as settings for his poetry. Thus it was that we found ourselves singing 'Drink to me only with thine eyes' in harmony, under the stars, just a stone's throw from the river Ganges. This was followed by the beautiful 'Koto baro bhebhe cheena' to the same tune accompanied by the tabla.
During the second half of our stay, life settled down to a more steady routine. We both become involved with curriculum development in the school and had the pleasure of team teaching in many classes.
One of our strongest impressions has been a sense of community in the school; this is somehow illustrated by one of the most moving experiences at Rajghat, the morning assembly. The wonderful assembly hall is filled with adults and children singing and chanting together, providing all with a reflective and enriching start to the day: this is a privilege that few children in the West will ever experience. It will take a little more time and reflection to understand fully what this experience has meant to us, but we leave with a feeling of gratitude for a full, varied and exciting three months with a group of adults and children who will always remain close to our hearts.
There is no rushing a river. When you go there, you go at the pace of the water and that pace ties you into a flow that is older than life on this planet. Acceptance of that pace, even for a day, changes us, reminds us of other rhythms beyond the sound of our own heartbeats.