While sitting on the steps outside of a free Wi-Fi Hotspot in Gangtok,
(again, in the middle of the mountains, who would've thunk it!) I began
to draw attention with the miniature sized laptop. People came and went,
wondering how much space was on the laptop, how much it cost, where I
got it, and the like. I was pleased to receive more interested glances
than stand-offish 'what-is-he-doing-here' looks. Eventually, three
grammar school girls came to be my companions as I wrote e-mails, posted
on the blog and took care of internet stuff before the trek. Two of the
girls were named Rita, one in class 4, the other class 5, and their
friend Donshing (nickname: Pamela), class 6. As a quick reference point,
class 4 is about 10 years old, class 5, 11 and so on. Give or take a
year of course.
They had giggled and laughed at my computer, at what I was doing, and
most likely how out of place I looked. They spoke amongst them selves in
Hindi with some English mixed in - an 'oh my god' here or there or a
'shut up' at times. After some question asking, some explaining, they
said they had to go to temple, and off they went. Some time later they
came running back, panting out of breath - I guess temple must have been
a lot of fun. They leaned in close to me, and thinking they were curious
about the computer, continued to type. I then look up to them looking at
me, smiling and they said (at which point I noticed they were hiding
something) "We brought you something."
In the older Rita's hand, was a treat. She uncurled her fingers to
reveal a small yellowish ball, with some red spots mixed somewhat
uniformly in this dough. A sweet I had seen before, but had never tried,
I inquired as to it's name. "Ladu." Rita said, "Please have it, it is
our treat." I asked, "Did you guys get some yourselves? I don't want to
eat alone, would you like a piece?" They all said - somewhat excitedly
- "No, no! We had ours, this is for you!"
Obliged, I took a nice bite of it and experienced a wonderful
combination of a sugar coating, a sweet flour and sweet spices. I
couldn't get enough. And I thought I loved Gulab Jamun (a much wetter,
sweeter, pancake type of dough ball dipped in syrup), this was a
fantastic dry alternative. After some praising of the food and thanking
the girls immensely for the thoughtfulness of the treat, their
expressions changed. They began to talk amongst themselves in Hindi,
with obvious bothered tones. Then I asked what was wrong.
They began to tell me a story about what had happened at school the
other day. A young Tibetan boy in class 5 had hit and beat up a girl in
class 2 for no apparent reason. Figure an 11 or 12 year old hitting a 6
or 7 year old. Or thereabouts. Even more appalling was the fact that a
boy had hit a girl. The girls were seriously appalled as well. So we
talked some more and they told us the consequences behind the
punishment. Even for Pamela the event rippled into her class. In class
6, they had school, but were not required to come in. If they did, the
lessons were to be minimal at best. Besides judicial punishment for the
boy, the principal had also announced that if anyone sees that boy lay a
hand on another person, girl or boy, anyone has the right to slap him.
Well, the girls used the word slap, but I believe the principals
announcement was intended to be a bit more symbolic, no matter how
literally the children take it.
I told the girls (through jokes and antics) how to fight back against a
boy, and that they have every right to hit him if he tries to touch them
or their friends. The older Rita, the most animated and talkative,
surprised me when she began to say rather angrily, "If he has the right
to hit a girl, why can't I hit him? I have every right to hit him or any
boy when I please!" Encouraging remarks from all followed.
Interesting turn of events - I particularly like the encouragement from
the principal in helping teach the boy a lesson. Social humility and
angst is way more powerful than anything any authority figure can put on
us. Also, that Rita felt empowered to hit him back. Nice.