Josna Rege

52. Himalaya

In 1960s, Education, India, Music, places, Stories on June 14, 2010 at 1:46 pm

photo by Karl Hagen

For three years in the mid-to-late 1960s, I went to boarding school in Darjeeling, six thousand feet above sea-level in the Himalayan foothills. Every March I would take a small plane from the plains down in Calcutta (Kolkata) to Bagdogra airport in Siliguri. From Siliguri it was six hours of winding vertiginously up into the mountains by jeep or bus or, for the lucky ones, narrow-gauge railway. Our school’s main building was an unheated stone castle, wreathed in mist most of the time. We slept under three blankets throughout the school year, which lasted until November, when the school closed down for the winter months and most of the students made the long journey back down to the plains. For a month beforehand we all sang GHD (Going Home Day) songs rich with school slang; one of our favorites, sung to the tune of “The Camptown Races”, went:

Going Home Day has come at last, doo-dah, doo-dah/Going Home Day has come at last, Oh, doo-dah day/We travel all the night, we travel all the day/We spend our money on the DHR (Darjeeling Himalayan Railway), doo-dah doo-dah day.

Down from old Mount Hermon, on a rutphut (ramshackle) bus/After nine months mugging (studying), back to home, to fuss/Teachers are so bucky (trouble-making), prefects are the same/Everybody’s happy, waiting for the train.

Ghoom, Sonada, Kurseong, all are left behind/Though our journey’s very long, I’m sure we do not mind (all shout: We do!)/When we reach Sealdah (railway station in Calcutta), hail it with a shout/Paan, bidi, cigret (the cries of the station-vendors), kick the teachers out!

All the English-medium boarding schools in Darjeeling were run by Christians of various denominations, on the model of British public schools. There was St. Joseph’s and St. Paul’s, both boys-only schools, and the all-girls’ Loreto Convent. Mount Hermon, the youngest of the four, was unique in being coeducational and was run by Baptist missionaries from Australia and New Zealand (although it had been founded by American Methodists). The schools had been established during the days of the British Raj, when Darjeeling (originally Dorje Ling) became a summer getaway for wives and children of the British civil servants stationed in the sweltering plains. Twenty years after independence,  the quaint little town was inhabited by Indians, Nepalis, Tibetan refugees, Sikkimese, Bhutanese, and a few Britishers who had stayed on. There were still vestiges of the colonial days in the Mall, where tourists could get pony rides, buy cakes and milk-shakes at Glenary’s, go for a drink at the Planters Club, and—if they could afford it—stay at the elegant, old-world Windamere Hotel, where afternoon tea and sandwiches were still served in the British style. By our day, though, one could just as easily find salt-and-buttered Tibetan tea in Darjeeling.

Despite our school’s mostly-non-Indian staff and its British boarding-school traditions such as the house system, school ties, and the tuck shop, the students themselves were mostly Indian, with a few each from Nepal, Sikkim, Tibet, Thailand, Australia, England, and the United States (three American exchange students from Chicago who initially shocked us with their cigarette-smoking but became good friends). I still remember our lively discussions about Christianity with our missionary teachers, coming as so many of us did from Hindu, Muslim, or Buddhist families. Isolated on the school grounds (except when we “bunked” to Hafiz’ shop at North Point for momos, steamed meat dumplings, or to Black Rock*, the spot among the tea bushes where as teenagers we once arranged a secret—and completely innocent—meeting with our boy- and girl-friends), we were far removed from the turmoil of the outside world, from the Marxist-Leninist Naxalite movement exploding nearby in our own Marxist state of West Bengal, from the Nepali separatist movement that would erupt into violence in Darjeeling just a few years later, and from the civil rights, anti-Vietnam War, and Flower-Power movements flourishing in the United States.

photo by Karl Hagen

Surrounded by swirling mists and tea estates terraced on the steeply sloping hillsides, our one immovable frame of reference was the mountain range. On days when the mists cleared, we looked out of our dormitory windows upon the snows of Kanchenjunga, the third-highest peak in the world. We were told that it was fully fifty miles away, but it appeared to be just across the valley. Since our headmaster’s wife was a passionate music-lover, Mount Hermon was known as the singing boarding school. We sang our hearts out morning, noon and night: in morning chapel, in daytime music classes and choir practice, in evening rehearsals for the annual—and legendary—school musicals. When the choir sang the anthem, “Lift thine eyes, Oh lift thine eyes, to the mountains, whence co-meth, whence co-o-meth, whence co-o-meth help,” we lifted our eyes and souls to the Himalayas alone. The song must have been written with other, faraway mountains in mind, but for us there were no others. When we were taken into Darjeeling town to see The Sound of Music, Maria’s echoing hills were, naturally, the Himalayas only. And when we learned a song called, “Oh India, Mother India,” our hearts swelled with pride at the natural beauty of our country, a beauty that we could not fail to see around us wherever we turned our heads. The words are engraved in my mind:

O beautiful for azure skies, for amber waves of grain/For snow-capped mountain majesties, above the fruited plain.

O India, Mother India, God shed his grace on thee/And crown thy good with brotherhood from sea to shining sea.

Later, when my family emigrated to the United States, I encountered another version of this song, which the Americans had had the cheek to rename “America the Beautiful.” The mountains in their version were not snow-capped, but bare and purple with cold.

Today I have little use for nationalist sentiment, but the thought and even the sound of the word Himalaya remains powerfully evocative for me. Himal Southasian is an e-magazine that, like the mountains themselves, spans and defines all of the subcontinent across national boundaries. Himalayan—as in the often-used Indian English phrase, Himalayan blunder—has passed into the English language as an adjective of extremes. Abode of the snows and the Everest-climbing Sherpas, the Himalayas are the source of the River Ganges, place of myth and legend, danger, awesome beauty and unimaginably lofty heights. For me they are still the only real mountains.

photo by Karl Hagen

I took my husband to Darjeeling with me after our marriage in 1983, my first time back since I had left India fifteen years before. We had to get a special permit to travel to Darjeeling, because of the Gorkha separatist unrest. Our pilgrimage took us along my annual route up to the town, down the Lebong cart road from North Point into the cold stone building which housed the dormitory I had shared for three years with 24 other schoolgirls. We toured a tea factory together as I had in social studies class so many years before, and re-visited Black Rock. We even woke up before four on our last morning to take the trip up the 10,000-foot-high Tiger Hill, from where on rare sunrises one could catch a glimpse of Everest. Although I had not succeeded in catching it in all my years at Mount Hermon, as a newlywed I hoped that my husband and I might be blessed with the sight. It was a fairly clear morning, and I thought I saw a tiny white speck just a bit more substantial than a cloud—or so I told myself.

Back at Bagdogra airport at the base of the mountains, we boarded a return plane for Calcutta. As the plane circled west to turn south, I happened to take a backward glance out of one of the windows. Framed there as if by magic shone—Everest? Unmistakably the highest peak in the range, the Everest I had never once managed to see in all the years I was living in Darjeeling. I stared until it was out of sight. Whether or not what I saw was actually Everest, Himalaya, abode of the snows, still stands supreme, there and in my mind’s eye, the fixed point to which all else refers.

As a child I had met the mountaineer Sir John Hunt, who delighted us schoolchildren by giving the famously enigmatic answer to the question of why his team had attempted that treacherous peak: “because it’s there.” But the mountain itself makes no demands, throws out no challenges. It is simply and majestically there.

* While preparing to write this piece, I looked up Black Rock on the Internet, and learned, to my sorrow, that in November 2009 Mount Hermon student Romel Ropuia fell to his death from the rock as he and two schoolmates, bunking from the school grounds, were returning for dinner. My deepest sympathies go out to his family. According to the current Principal, plans are now underway to fence the entire 74-acre school campus.

Other Tell Me Another stories set (either wholly or in part) at Mount Hermon School in Darjeeling:
24. Hidden Places
38. Study Halls and Cinchona
109. Hindi Lessons
125. My Autograph Book
129. Good Morning, Rainy Day
179. And he laughing said to me

Tell Me Another (Contents to Date)

Chronological Table of Contents

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  1. Josna,
    You painted such a vivid picture of your school in the Himalayas. I more fully understand your love for singing the hymns on certain significant days. It must bring you back to the magical setting in the foothills.

  2. YOU MAKE TEARS OF JOY ROLL DOWN MY CHEEKS WHEN I READ ABOUT OUR SCHOOL. MEMORIES OF SCHOOL LIFE BEGAN FLOATING IN FRONT OF MY EYES …WHAT LOVELY DAYS THEY WERE AT MOUNT HERMON.

    • Dear Raaj, Thanks a lot for responding. I’m glad it brought back memories for you. All three of my entries on MH have been such fun to write, and it makes my day to hear back from classmates who shared that time with me, yet each of us experiencing it differently. So many stories…! Warmest of wishes to you and your family.

  3. Josna, this is just wonderful. And as so often with your writing, it brings back memories for me — in my case, the Alps during high school. I don’t feel quite the nostalgia for my school that this piece arouses, although I do feel some, but your evocation of the mountains touches a chord. It’s so interesting to read all these pieces, as they begin to add up and seem to explain something about you, and why there is a part of you that seems to come from another era — you do! Anyway, more later. (By the way, I’ve been thinking of getting in touch with a few old school friends, and now maybe I will.)

    • Sarah, as always, you turn the story into a conversation with your responses and reflections and your own memories. I hope you do get in touch with some of your classmates from your old school in the Alps. About nostalgia (which Doris Lessing calls “that poisoned itch”), I was a bit worried that this piece was too sentimental. If I were to be entirely honest about my boarding-school experience, I would include many other memories, such as the intense homesickness that overcame me at first. But in this piece I really wanted to try to evoke a sense of the sublime through the lofty peaks we were privileged to glimpse (when the mists cleared).
      So, I come from another era, do I?! i.e., I’m old, as old as the hills! No, but you’re right, I was trying to conjure up another time and— perhaps more important—another place. x J

  4. Hi,
    this blog of yours is really a great work…reading this particular articles made tears roll down my eyes…its written beautifully ….i want to thank you for writing such good articles about Mount Hermon…please do keep on writing it fees good to read n remember those beautiful lovely day…!!! Hail MH.!!

    • Dear Anonymous Friend,

      Thank you for your kind words. I’m glad you enjoyed reading these memories of MH. The people, the friendships, and the beauty and power of the place itself have a tender place in my heart. All the best to you.

  5. I was just browsing down memory lane at the Hemonites website,and came across your posting of the links to
    your blog which I then visited. I was delighted to read about your nostalgic emotions for not only the school but the magnificence of the mountains and the experience of the boarding school.

    It is a virus with which I have been infected all my life.

    I was at Mount Hermon for just a year and a half in 1955-56 when I was 8 years old.after which my family migrated to East Pakistan. Before MH I had spent three years at St Joseph’s Convent in Kampong.

    I remember the views of Kanchenjunga, sports day in 1955 when Tenzing Norgay was the Guest of Honour. I remember trips to Darjeeling especially the museum with a huge crocodile. I remember playing in the tea estates. The Naga’s dominating the football games. Your article reminded me of the Black Rock, Tiger Hill and the Views of Everest. I also remember the Dakota flights from Calcutta and the Toy Train ride. I must confess that sometimes my memories MH and Kalimpong tend to mesh and overlap.

    From East Pakistan I also went to boarding school in West Pakistan in Murree not far from Kashmir. The school (http://www.lawrence.edu.pk/) was also at an altitude of more than 6000 ft., built in the same classic grey stone style of MH and St Joseph’s College at North Point, with vast grounds.

    Your feelings about your experience at MH really resonated with me since I have always felt extremely fortunate to have had, not only the benefit of an ”elite” education, but the amazing experience of the environment of Real mountain country. The air, the grandeur that touched us every day. The school grounds that we could enjoy relatively freely (often in contravention of “the rules”) the camaraderie and friction of living so closely with other students and staff, all gave me the feeling of being especially privileged. I often feel sorry that it’s an experience my children could never approximate even though they did go to good International city schools in Indonesia and Singapore.

    All my life I have been grateful to Mount Hermon and St Josephs. for the strong foundation given to me in the English language, which has carried my through my later education in Pakistan and subsequently in Canada where i now live.

    I wish well to all at Mount Hermon who have nourished the young of India.

    Thank you very much for your posting and Best Regards

    AM
    Montreal ,Canada

    • Dear AM,
      I am very glad that my posts rang true for you and touched that you have taken the trouble to post such a heartfelt comment. What an honor, to have Tenzing Norgay himself preside over your Sports Day! More than a decade later, we loved our trips to his Himalayan Mountaineering Institute, where we stared in awe and fascination at the artifacts from various expeditions (such as shoes for someone who had lost all his toes to frostbite). You are quite right that the grandeur of those mountains is something that stays with one forever: you put it very well. And I am not surprised that Kalimpong and Darjeeling sometimes blend into one in your memories. I had heard of Lawrence and have now followed your link to its site. It does look a lot like the Darjeeling schools–similar setting, height above sea level, same three-month holidays during the cold months. Best wishes to you and your family, and thanks again for writing. Letters such as yours make one realize that there is no such thing as a stranger. JR

      • Dear Josna,

        Thank you for your kind response and good wishes which I heartily reciprocate for you and your family

        I like your comment about no strangers.I have been fortunate to have lived and worked in a number of countries and and found good friends in each place.I have grown to feel that truly we are one under God with different beliefs and practices.
        I would like to be able to communicate through email.Do you have a public address that can be used.?

        Should you or your family visit Montreal we would be delighted if we could be a part of your visit

        All the best

        AM
        .

        • Thank you for your good wishes. I will send you my email address. (Still, I hope that you will continue to post most of your comments on the blog itself, so that all readers will be able to enjoy them.) Best, J

  6. How did I miss this one? I thought I had commented about it but it is wonderful to read again and enjoy all the comments about it.
    MH is so much a part of who I am and the memories and songs and lovely experiences will always be with me.
    It is truly amazing to think that I was there only four years back in ’65 to ’69 and yet those friends and all that MH stood for and means to all of us seems to somehow be some of the most important experiences of my life, and obviously of many others who were privileged to attend school there. You have described it beautifully and Karl’s pictures add wonderfully to it so we can all somehow be there still!
    I agree that it has been a sad thing for me to realize that Jennie could not have that same experience in this country or maybe in any other country, but she grew up wanting me to tell her stories over and over of what it was like to get on an Indian train and ride up into the mountains in March,live at MH all year and then come back down in November or December to go home. She knows almost as much about midnight feasts, and bunking and “Oliver” and passing notes in study, and GHD songs as I do, and may someday tell my grandkids those stories as well! Thank you for helping us all keep those memories alive!

    • I know that our children have been influenced by our stories, whether or not they have shared the same experiences, and some of our love of music, mountains, and mists has surely rubbed off on them.At least Jennie got to go to Shillong with you, and experience the feel of some of your stories directly. I was there for an even shorter time than you were, especially considering that one or another of your siblings were there over much longer stretch of time. Still the memory and feel of the place continues to weave its magic. But best of all, the friendships persist and deepen in the present!

  7. This is indeed a beautiful read. As a past MH student you certainly pinpointed the most wonderful memories of MH, there are very few of the worlds population who have experienced the geographical setting of MH and I feel priviledged to belong to the group, you have made me feel very proud. Interesting info regarding America the beautiful – I love the anthem and now love it even more with mother India in there. Just a note, my love for India led me to name my daughter India….. couldnt really call her Kanchenjunga! many thanks again

    • Hello! Thank you for your lovely response. It feels good to have the kinship of that shared experience; whether or not we overlapped in time, we shared the place in all its sublime beauty. Warm wishes to you, Mother of India!

  8. hello ma’am , it was really wonderful reading your memos that you have shared here . i am an Old Paulite . passed out from St Paul’s School (SPS) . the best part about this blog was that while reading it i could actually imagine my self back in those greeny mountains , surrounded by the minty cold fog , rubbing our palm b4 enjoying the steamed momos , puffing all the way up to ghoom during the marathon in the rainy season . sitting behind the chapple and looking up to the majestic peak of kunchenjunga without a blink , the supper , the tuck shop , the daily routined life , the discipline , the GHD … and a lot more about those unforgetful and the most wonderful days of my early 6 yrs of life as a boarder at SPS …
    i suppose the students of all the schools of Darjeeling would feel the same as i have felt after reading your page … specially the students of Mt Hermon , St Paul’s , Loreto Convent and St Joseph would actually enjoy reading your memories of the past days at Darjeeling . ” a great work ”
    Dr. Rana Uday Singh

    • Dear Dr. Singh,
      Thank you so much for your eloquent and moving comment on my story. It is good to know that students from the same era at St. Paul’s and the other two Darjeeling schools can also related to my memories of life at Mount Hermon. I remember going to Saint Paul’s for one or two events back then and finding it very grand! My cousin recently visited there and took some lovely photos. I don’t know whether or not you read the other two stories on my blog that are also about Mt. Hermon. In case you haven’t and would like to read them, I will put links to them here:
      Hidden Places
      Study Halls and Cinchona
      Thanks again. Reading your words made my day! “Rubbing our palms before eating the steamed momos”! You can really paint a picture in words yourself–I can just imagine the scenes you describe.
      Best wishes,
      Josna

  9. you are welcome ma’am . and i was delighted 2 know that my mere words made your day … it was fun reading the other two stories aswell … hahahaha … i liked your hiding place of jam sandwiches though . under the arms is comparatively better . we guys were even worse . either hiding our food stuffs under our dirty jersey sleaves or tucked tightly below garters of our socks and later enjoying the same like as if we had earned a royal supper … but telling you truelly they tasted sweeter after the dormetry light outs … (in 6th std)
    the other fun times were the evening prep (study hour betwix 6 to 7) where the prep hall was on the ground floor . after the prefects had their strict petrolling we (3 of us) little werewolves had to hunt down grubbs from the Moktaan Stores for hot aaloo parathaas , titoraas , chips , and chocholates . and for this we had to jump out of the only unbarred window of the hall , then run along its narrow racks and jump again to reach the khud side { a dark muddy slope crowded with the tall pine trees which ran down slightly to the fenced area } . oh yeah the fence was already cut in our early missions . such that later it was made even easier to reach our destination which was placed just across the narrow road below the streached fence … hehehe i can still recall the munching sound under the lid of my desk ……..
    Dear Josna , after having read your stories and those small sweet experiences it seems we have actually lived every precious moment of our early life … as human nature speaks ” we human are never satisfied with what we have , had , and will receive … so being a human again i whish we enjoyed a bit more when we had that time .. ” THE TIME WHICH RULES THE WORLD ” …… sob sob .

  10. Dear Josna,
    Thank you for this brief trek down memory lane. It flooded me with all the sweet memories of my 11yrs at MH. Growing up in the hills and the unique experience at MH are among my favourite memories. My kids thoroughly enjoy all my boarding school stories and I feel sad that I cannot provide them that unique experience. That fresh mountain air mixed with songs, sports, Girls, food, bunking and hundreds of us growing up without parental supervision makes for good stories and memories.

    You just made my Sunday tea taste better….it’s not Darjeeling tea, but all I have to do is close my eyes and enjoy those memories.

    Tien Hsi Chiang.

  11. Dear Hsi Chiang (is that the right way to address you?),
    Thank you for your kind and evocative comment. I can smell that fresh mountain air in my lungs as I read this, and raise my cup of tea to yours! Yes, I think we have passed on the MH lore to our children as we sing those songs and re-tell the stories of our exploits. When my son was about 14, three of us Batch of ’69 classmates who now live in the U.S. met for a mini-reunion at the same time as a large group of our classmates was meeting in Kathmandu for our 30th reunion along with our teacher, Mr. Mellor. We all sent messages and sang Going-Home Day and other MH songs and my son, who is now a filmmaker, made a videotape of the whole thing which we sent to Kathmandu. Did you overlap with me or are you much younger? Still you may have overlapped with brothers or sisters of my contemporaries. No matter what our age is or where we live now, we are part of a worldwide community of people who share a rich experience very dear to our hearts.
    Warm regards,
    Josna

  12. It was great reading this piece…it took me back to the time I spent in my favourite place in the world…Mount Hermon School. I was in school when you visited in the 80s. I have the luxury of having friends around from the time i was in school …thanks to technology…one of whom was kind enough to tag me to your blog…and all we do is relive the time we spent in school. Thank you so much for reviving the memories 🙂

  13. Thanks very much for your comment, Choten. How amazing it is the way Hermonites all over the world manage to stay in touch; and how amazing it is, too, that even though we were at MH decades apart, there is something about the place that unites us all. I think Mr. Johnston was Headmaster when we returned in early ’84. He had been the Assistant Headmaster when I had left back in the late ’60s, 16 years earlier. Thanks to email and Facebook, after years of being completely out of touch with my classmates, I’m now back in contact with many of them, including my old and dear best friend. Thanks again and best wishes. J

  14. Dear Prof. Josna, (Jo-Jo)

    I came across your blog by accident today. Was tired of working and just typed up some words relating to Darjeeling and “poof” the magic happened! What a great read. Years gone by came flooding back. Fantastic captures of memories and so, so beautifully written. I had to send the link to our MH gang of the ’70’s era. I don’t think I’ve seen you in school, my being way too Junior by the time you almost got out. But I do remember the name “Jo-Jo” and the song that goes with it “Get Back, Jo Jo” by the Beatles. I’ll try and send the link on to one of the Murray’s children so he can make sure Mrs. Murray gets to read about her teaching us to sing in harmony. Yes, we had a special bond amongst the Hermonites, probably due to the singing. We are still crooning hyms of half a century ago.

    Thank you so much for the beautiful memories.

    Tip

    • Dear Tip,
      I’m so glad that “Himalaya” magically materialized on your screen, and grateful that you have taken the trouble to post a comment. It’s always magical to me, too, to receive a lovely message such as yours out of the blue. Although I didn’t know you personally (if you were “way Junior” I have to acknowledge that I am way senior!) I have heard your name mentioned since. Could you have been closer in age to Barbie or David Nichols-Roy, sister and brother of my classmate and best friend Marianne? Maybe even younger.
      You’re right about that special bond between us, which reaches across age difference and across time. Music was definitely part of it, thanks to Mrs. Murray, and beloved MH culture and traditions, but also I think that the place itself was exceptionally beautiful and unspoiled. Waking up every morning to that sight of the snows (well, not every morning–but even the mists were beautiful) imbues the magic of the place in you forever.
      My friends and family used to tease me about the hymns, which I would sing to myself all the time. Years and years later and I would even remember them by their number in the MH hymn book!
      Thank you so much for writing, and best wishes for the new year.
      Josna

  15. Dear Ma’am
    It would be remiss of me not to thank Tip for nudging us towards this captivating blog. Just skim reading all those wonderful posts of yours brought back a swirl of fond memories of the mountains, the delicate misty environs, the steaming momos, the stone school building, the dorms, the music lessons by Mrs Murray, the town outings, our perpetual craving for food and most of all, the camaraderie of good friends. Friends made at a time when we did not really care about who came from a moneyed background and who did not. The bonds that we formed back in those halcyon days are still strong and even today, there are a group of us who regularly correspond over mail, and more recently, over bbm and whatsapp (Tip being one of them). It has been over 35 years since we left our school going days at MH but the memories are still sharp and deeply etched in our inner beings. MH has had a profound impact on us during our formative years and I thank and salute you for the wonderful canvas that you have painted in your blogs – your evocative description of life during those times brought on a flood of sweet memories.
    Warm Regards
    Arnob (aka Mars)

    • Dear Arnob (how did you get the nickname Mars?),
      Thanks so much for reading this story and others and for your terrific comment. It was a total delight to receive and I’m so glad that they sparked good memories for you. You’re 100% right about the impact of MH and that it is the friendships, in the end, that mean the most. Since we all lived together so closely, we became our own family, and you’re right, we didn’t care about each other’s religious or class backgrounds (in the way that, I’m afraid, many people care too much about nowadays). A few years back I met up with two of my classmates in Delhi, and the closeness was still there after fully forty years. Fifteen years ago I was up working late one night and typed “Mount Hermon” into a search, which led me to a Hermonite website, which led me to reconnect with my best friend after having fallen out of touch for too many years. Now we write back and forth over email almost daily and visit each other as often as we can. Warm regards and Happy New Year to you and your family, and to your MH friends. Josna

  16. Dear Jo-Jo,

    I was in MH 1969-1976. I was in the same class as David Nichols-Roy and know Barbara very well (her voice was so beautiful that when MH went to Calcutta to do a special performance at a cathedral in 1975, I think, the papers wrote an article about it and mentioned “the silver quality of Barbara’s voice” – the very words). We know Cynthia too, and Marianne was way up in the senior years when I was there. They were the famous “singing family”, and to us, very much like the Von Trap Family in the Sound of Music. They also had very interesting gadgets that came from America that gawked us to no end such as the combination lock, patch-work quilt and other knick-knacks I don’t remember if they were the ones that introduced us to “Marmite”. Horrible stuff, but we would eat anything. There was another girl whose father was Rector of St. Paul’s. She was from the UK and came with Barbie Dolls and Trolls. I found the Trolls so dear, with a monkeyish face and flared-out colorful hair/bush. She was the height of fashion, having a pair of high-heeled leather boots that came up almost to the knees. Then there was Heather of the Ronggong Family that came from Australia, so Heather had many interesting ‘gadgets’ herself which she generously shared out. She had a lovely, warm red sleeping bag that I asked to try in when we went camping on a very cold day, and she ended up allowing me to sleep in it the whole night while she slept on a piece of thin sheeting under a tent. Christian charity – others first and yourself last. Bless her. In those days one really needs to ‘hang on’ to friends with foreign connections so as to get special tuck sent from abroad – very much like the politics of today’s world. But in those days, there was sincerity, gratitude and true friendship (the tuck was an added bonus).

    When we see old Hermonites (even some 30-40 years later) we still harp about the good old days. Food was one of the topics on the agenda. One such was about how we would stuff a half-eaten piece of bread into our blazer pocket to be eaten later and forget about it till many days gone by when it became hard, but we would nibble on it anyway. Or, when we had “hot grams” (the spicy peanuts) and kept these in our (again) blazer pockets and eat them up, but on very hard days we scraped out the pocket linings, and ate these too!

    Because of these and many other things, Hermonites are united across the globe. We share heart-warming stories, memories, pranks (bunking, harassing the teachers and bearers to fool them into giving us extra eggs) and fears (house mark exhibits on Friday morning chapels). And the ever search for food…. Many of us will remember how we used to eat toothpaste to get our selves a fever to land us at the infirmary so that we could have a day off and “boiled food” with pork and potatoes. Or how we enlisted ourselves into some sports so that we were entitled to glucose packets which we quickly ate (poured into hands and licked up). Or, announcing that we had some ailments to the nurse so that we could ask for that sticky, syrupy medicine called “Feradol”, I think. Yummy. In our years, that was how desperate we were for food.

    You wrote about the secret passages in one of your stories. Yes, we crawled into these too. Not out of curiosity or intrigue but simply to get to the matron’s cupboard where she stored our food parcels from home. We hacked a little hole large enough to stick our arm in to drag the parcel closer and rummage into the box and dragged out some grub. To cover our tracks, we would tell other girls that it was very eerie in the passage and the Blue Lady could be looking in on you. The Blue Lady was the imaginative apparition that was supposed to haunt the corridors and very much feared. Although Miss Hawke was more fearsome. Apparitions fade but material bodies could expend house marks.

    I could go on and on… Oh, those were the days.

    Regards
    Tip

    • Thanks so much for your last response, Tip. You are one of those rare people who know how to include great details when writing and I loved every word. Not only that, every word rang true in my own MH experience, even though I just missed overlapping with you (1966-68, Class of 69). The people like Marianne who were in their ISC class in your first year were my classmates. And we are still the best of friends. So you were in David’s class! Every time I visit Mariane I also visit him and his family, since they live in the same town. And yes, it was quite something to hear the Nichols-Roys singing together as a family, with their fathers deep bass. When Marianne and I are together we sing all the time, and at least once in a visit we have to go through the MH hymn book and sing our favorites! I too was introduced to certain aspects of the U.S. through her—mostly pronunciation and songs. Though it was the Thai contingent who were the most up-to-the-minute in our day, since they got all the fashions and the pop music long before they made their way to India. I remember some of the boys having their trouser-legs measured when they came to school with bell-bottoms, and being made to have them altered!

      I doubt that it was the Nichols-Roys who introduced you to Marmite (one of my favorites, but definitely something you either love or hate–my husband calls it “axle grease”!); I think the Australians and New Zealanders had a similar preparation called Vegemite or Vitamite, and Marmite was the name in the U.K.

      Love your description of our perpetual hunger, down to scraping the crumbs of hot gram out of your blazer pockets, and befriending classmates with especially tasty tuck! One of my dorm-mates used to get the most delicious pickled ginger, which I still remember with longing.

      Was Sister Digby still the nurse in your time? I was sad to hear that she passed away recently. Although it was no fun being sick, I still remember her fondly as a very caring person, without being sentimental. And I remember those glucose packets, too. I wasn’t much of an athlete, but I do remember when training for some sports event getting up early in the morning to run laps around the sports field and being issued with them—delicious! (I was also the reserve played for the girls netball team at one time. I never got to play a game with another school team, but I remember accompanying the team to Loreto for a game and having a delicious tea afterwards.)

      Your story about hacking a hole into the matron’s supply cupboard is hilarious. Those ghost stories terrified us, and forty years later I still remembered one hair-raising night when the girls’ dorm was visited by a ghost. There had been a rumor that it was actually some of the boys who had sneaked in, but when I told my classmate about it at our mini-reunion in Delhi, she confessed that it had been her trick all along!

      You are also right that Miss Hawke haunted more than any ghost! She used to inspect our dorm every Sunday and nothing would escape her eagle eye. One Sunday, desperate to clean up in a hurry, we had the bright idea of sweeping all the mess under the couch cushions. That day we got 10 points out of 10. But the following week when we tried it again, she was on to us, made a bee-line for the couch, and turned the cushions over, exposing our subterfuge; we got a big fat zero that day!

      So many memories sparked by your stories! The last I’ll mention is the announcement of the house marks at morning chapel on Fridays. I went through a period of rebelliousness and seemed to be getting marks for one reason or another all the time. To my shame now, I remember once standing up defiantly when my name was called and beaming at the whole assembly as if I was proud of myself! One month I had to forego my pocket money, another month, sit in study hall writing an essay while everyone was upstairs watching the Saturday evening movie, and yet another time—the worst—having to miss one of the much-anticipated Saturday trips into town.

      Thanks again for having shared these terrific memories. Warm regards, J

  17. Hallo Prof. Josna,
    My brother directed me to this site some time ago. Today, 16.02.14 I looked it up as well as some of the comments. I was in MH from 1968 to 1979. I will have to come back to your posts again, but I was literally transported back in time. Thanks. You know MH redefines alumni, I have known persons who spent only a year ( some times even less ) or only a few years and they consider them selves Hermonites. I think it is a sense of belonging that so roots us there.
    thanks again,
    Ratnaker

    • Thank you for your kind comments, Ratnaker. You arrived at MH the year I left, so we must have overlapped by just a few months. You are right that MH does inspire that lifelong sense of belonging in people, even if they may have attended for a short time. I wonder what (or whom) you remember most from your schooldays there, and what you think are the key ingredients that make up that sense of belonging and that are specific to MH? Or would any boarding school experience leave the same impression? In “Himalaya” I suggest that the location itself was critical. In other stories, though, like “Study Halls and Cinchona,” I mention other ingredients. Thanks again, and do come back and visit again. J

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