Today’s journey is entirely in my head. Sorry, no pictures. …Because what 11yo thinks to take pictures of everyday life?
When I was 11, we’d been living in Sri Lanka for a year, and my parents had selected an international boarding school in southern India to send us kids to. All of my memories of India are connected to school. Traveling to and from school, Class trips to other towns, hikes through the Eastern Ghats (the mountains where the school resided).
Dry, dry, hot, dry drives across the plains from whatever airport we had landed in, until the mountains suddenly poked through the dusty flatness on the horizon. Not like in The States, where there’s an imperceptible rise for hundreds of miles as it gradually gets hillier. Then cooling as we ascended beyond 6,000 feet and everyone on the bus pulled out sweaters. Rising above the clouds, to the melody of so many monkeys in the trees.
If you read my post “E is for Elephant”, you recall the strife between the Sinhalese and Tamil cultures in Sri Lanka? It touched me at school, too. In fact, this event precedes “E is for Elephant” by a couple of years.
Kodaikanal International School (KIS) is situated in Tamil Nadu, in the southeastern part of the country: the region that claims connections to the Tamils in Sri Lanka. KIS’ headmaster at the time I enrolled was Sinhalese, as were a number of the students.
At some point during 1980-something, something happened back home in Sri Lanka that was horribly racist against the Tamils. (I was obviously well-clued-in to the political scene. You can tell by my memory of the details.) They were being discriminated against in a big way by the Sinhalese majority-run government of Sri Lanka. That’s what I know.
Knowing there was a Sinhalese contingent right in their midst, the Tamil locals in and around the lovely hill-town of Kodaikanal, Tamil Nadu, India, rioted. There were demonstrations right outside our campus gates. Protest marches late into the night. The school imposed a strict curfew, and no one was to leave campus. My dorm was on a compound off-campus, so the rule was that we all made the short walk from our compound across the street to campus together in the morning, with one group returning promptly after classes, and another group meeting up after activities to return to the dorm.
I don’t remember being scared.
There were rules.
We were following them.
None of the rioters got onto the school property, as I recall. Presumably somehow, someone met with someone in control to state their grievances, because eventually (two weeks later, maybe?) it was decided that the headmaster would step-down and all the Sinhalese students would return, together with him, to Sri Lanka, for the safety of all concerned. That must have been awful for them. They hadn’t done anything wrong!
For the next couple years, I would hear chanting and marching occasionally at night from my dorm room, which had a window opening towards the road between our dorm compound and the main campus. I thought locals were just reminding us… or remembering… or getting rowdy or something. But there was no more curfew and our lives had returned to normal, so no worries!
Eventually I found out that what I was hearing “randomly” at night was a monthly Hindu festival, I think tied to the full moon! Can you imagine? The sound of religious chanting was permanently tied in my brain to riots, demonstrations, and the chanting of angry protestors. I guess it all depends on perspective. Maybe THIS was when I started getting jaded, years before the Sri Lanka incident.
The Moral of the Story: If you aren’t in the know, pay attention to those who are!