Frustrations Part I (Hoping there's no Part II)
Every time I step into Leh I step at least fifty years back in time. Or so it feels like. And every time I step into the school I am stepping into a set ripe for a Bollywood melodrama. How things get blown out of proportion here. And somehow I am able to live with most of what ensues, although I can’t seem to make sense of it most times. What I hate most is when I somehow manage to get myself entangled in the frivolity that is often practiced here, made weighty by messed up values or mere thoughtlessness, if you know what I mean (of the people, by the people, for the people). Keeping away from these matters is a highly recommended strategy, talking in the general sense. But if it is about protecting the dignity of the mentally tormented teenagers I teach, especially the teenage girls, I have decided I must get involved. The horrifying truth is the tormentors are the teachers themselves, some of them carrying out that role with special dedication. They picture themselves as the moral guardians of the school, which would perish without their prudence and were we to be deprived of their guidance. Sometimes I fear this place will mess me up. I will become like them. It is a very scary thought. It therefore becomes absolutely indispensable to develop a discipline to stop and think. Stop and think about what I am doing and why I am doing it.
Some of the things that happen here in the name of discipline and morality are detestable. Laws are not being broken, but human spirits are certainly. What I have come to terms with and yet cannot is the ageist culture of this place. And closely intertwined with this ageism and what I absolutely cannot tolerate is the tendency of the system, like everywhere else in the country, to exist against the female gender. The consistency with which the female adolescent in the school is broken and not allowed to feel the hurt is frightening. I put myself in their shoes and I really doubt if I’d come out of the slow torture sane. Some screwed up teachers in a screwed up social system are screwing up the students to fulfill their moral high calling and suit their egos. It doesn’t end there, though. The moral hand extends to encompass the younger teachers who have been neatly categorized as “subjects of the privileged old” in the school hierarchy; and to this "authority" they must bow down out of utter respect expected to be magically generated merely as a result of the number of years they've lived on earth. Let me clarify one important observation I’ve made in this respect, an observation quite general but very specific to this circus of a school: age does not ensure maturity. Take one good look at some teachers here, and you will see what I mean. Most of you living in the real world must know this by now, though. The proof is all around us, irrespective of the geographical context.
So yes, I get frustrated sometimes. It is extremely hard to maintain an objective mind in the nonsensical rhythm of things here. I am afraid I have started becoming like them. Maybe a part of my frustration is my age that limits me in a number of ways. Youth is a major handicap here, a manifestation of the ageism I have mentioned. It is almost as if the youth don’t count as people. They have absolutely no voice. If someone does try to speak up it is taken as an offense that must be silenced immediately with punishment and disciplinary actions. I am not undermining the need for order and discipline here, especially in the school setting. But what I witness in this obsession with discipline and morality is the utter lack of dignity with which they are carried out. Need not the “authority figure” herself/himself practice discipline for that matter? The manner in which the students, more particularly the teenagers and even more so the teenage girls, are “disciplined” is quite wild, not to mention morally degrading and insulting to them. It makes you wonder where their propriety disappeared if indeed these moral guardians were so “proper”. I have stopped myself from speaking up sometimes because that will be taken as a slight and disrespect, like I and other young people couldn’t possibly have anything substantial to contribute. But afterwards I wonder whether I should have spoken up. Then I wonder again how that would be received if I did indeed. So you see what often happens here is that the lesser-pressing things (possibly completely inessential things rather) occupy the space that should rightfully belong to far greater matters needing consideration, like understanding and appreciating adolescence. We are so caught up in “respecting” and “not offending” that we forget about the welfare of the students put under our care. Now that’s irony for you.
I have often found my mind meddled with myriad little things regarding the affairs of the school, and I am constantly surprised and disappointed at myself for mulling over petty matters those actually are. I really wrack my brain to figure out how a huge issue is so often made out of a non issue. Then I leave it for future contemplation. Maybe I should just let it be for the simple reason that there’s no reason to this madness. Madness needs no reason. I started out suggesting that Ladakh must be backward. But perhaps that is not what it is. Perhaps it is confusion extending to the spirit and identity that has made the people here, and by that I mean the adults, the way they are. Perhaps. But there are exceptions out there. I have met them, though they are few, and I hope to meet more of them. I still absolutely love this place. I just have a little problem with most people I have met. So maybe it is not only the people that make a place. My experience so far suggests. God loves Ladakh, and I pray He raises more of His people here in the coming days.