Wednesday, 5 February 2014

“There are three things I’d like you all to remember . . .”

After spending the day observing at Delhi Public School Bangalore North, we began preparing for the evening festivities: 12th standard graduation. We expected the usual procession of students robed in polyester gowns, caps with duck-tapped messages penned across the mortarboard, and inspirational speeches instructing fellow peers to “wear sunscreen.” However, we soon realized we were in for a very different experience when Manju arrived at our door, armed with a bundle of red and orange cloth to be wrapped, tied, and slung around Tiffany. Once the sari was assembled and pinned, Manju completed her work of fashion art with gold jewelry and a red bindi. And, thus, the precedent for the evening was set.

We felt like Bollywood stars as we walked the red carpet (literally) - lined with coconut trees dressed in white lights - from the campus guesthouse to the outdoor auditorium. As we entered the ceremonial space, we became engulfed by a sea of purple saris (can we say, “Classy graduation attire!?”), who adorned us with bindis, before ushering us to the VIP section of the auditorium. We hesitantly took our seats on the wicker couches next to the administrative staff, convinced our escorts had led us astray.

But, alas, the interior lights dimmed and Manju, taking us by the hand, led us to the center of the amphitheater, where we – along with the school management – lit the ceremonial Hindu candles, as two 11th standard MCs announced our presence as “the honorary guests.” Surrrrrprise!

When the last candle was lit, we breathed a sigh of relief; we had not, to our knowledge, dishonored or disgraced the tradition. Just as we were about to take our seats, our attendance was requested on stage for the distribution of diplomas. Oh!

As the new grads marched across the stage, we shook their hands and offered them a congratulatory word; they, in turn, accepted obligingly (most likely thinking, “Who the hell are these people?”).

Once again, a sigh of relief, and, once again, another surprise, as the MCs announced, “And now Mr. Taylor will deliver a message of inspiration and motivation.” With a nudge from Tiffany, Taylor – trying to quickly process the request, while simultaneously composing something thoughtful and worthwhile to say – took out the green (and empty) notebook from his shirt pocket and approached the podium. A quick glance back at Tiffany, a clearing of the throat, and he launched full force: “There are three things I’d like you all to remember . . .” Despite Tiffany’s initial thought (“Seriously? Three things? Why not one?”), Taylor managed to string together a message about embracing learning – the process, the struggle, and the joy. Not bad, t. The crowd applauded, we took our seats, and our work as honorary guests was complete . . . or at least until the next morning.

Just as we were packing up our stuff, in preparation for our early morning departure back to Mysore, two DPS staff members, Deepak and Mayank, requested us to stop by the school flag pole on our way out for an “informal gathering” in honor of Republic Day. When we arrived, an aisle of uniformed men received us; a folded Tiranga was placed in Taylor’s hands, as we were led to the base of the pole, where we, the Americans, were instructed to raise the Tiranga. As the flag opened, flowers tumbled from its fold, and the men broke their positions of salute to embrace each other and sing along to the national anthem.

And, of course, there were sweets to punctuate the celebration.

(one more tea stop before the train!)

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