Exeter in India

During March break, 10 students and two teachers spent 12 unforgettable days in India, exploring history, religions, culture, education and village life.

By
Eimer Page
April 23, 2015
Exeter student with young children in India

 A child reaches out, eager to draw her hand in Zoe’s notebook.

”We weave, sweaty hands in hand, around the cow dung and mangy dogs toward the river, where the only lights come from fire. Bright gold and red fire controlled by men. The black smoke enters my tear ducts and burns and I assure people that my clear tears are not from sadness, not from real pain. The light is astounding. The orange is astounding. The faith in the Ganges is astounding.

”We come back before dawn the following morning, and instead of the buildings being shades of dark, they are pink or brick. They are blue or stone. The river is smooth silver. When the sun reveals itself on the blank horizon, it is the fire, the blood orange sphere. Its entrance bleeds across the sky, the warm shades seeping into the blues and grays. The color changes everything for me.”
– Olivia ’16

During March break, 10 students and two teachers spent 12 unforgettable days in India, exploring history, religions, culture, education and village life. Many of the students had taken courses focusing on India in the History and Religion departments, and it was remarkable for all of us to experience the places and people we had discussed around the Harkness table.

We were fortunate to meet with Justice Leila Seth, Dr. Karan Singh, poet and novelist Vikram Seth, and others too numerous to mention. We spent time in Delhi, Varanasi and Santiniketan. We explored Jain temples and bird sanctuaries, Sikh free kitchens that feed over 10,000 people every day, Buddhist museums and shrines, Muslim forts and mosques, and Hindu and tribal villages.

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On the trip, the distinction between student and teacher disappeared. First names were used all round, and the bonds of friendship formed on the water of the Ganges will last a lifetime.

Picture this: Two keen crew students, Ethan and Nick, jump at the chance to take over the oars from the boatmen on the Ganges, and they pull us in a more or less straight line through the waters of this most sacred river, with floating candles and marigolds bobbing in our dark wake. Never to be forgotten.

In the Muslim village, Thomas shows the schoolteacher how to make an origami crane, with dozens of eager bobbing heads and chattering voices urging him on.

In the Hindu village, Zoe sits on the ground, surrounded by a ring of little ones who want her to draw their hands in her notebook. The first brave child has stretched out her hand, and suddenly three, four, 10 of them are clamoring to make their mark in her book.

Hannah volunteers to form cow dung into neat pats of cooking fuel, and shows us her soiled hands with a mischievous grin.

Sanjana reveals on the final day that her grasp of Hindi had been good enough all along to understand most of the private conversations of our tour guides. They are amazed; we are amused. Robyn’s laughter rings out from the pedal rickshaw in front of me, over the cacophony of street vendors, the hiss of frying food, the lowing cows and loudly amplified music. Will asks question after question with the openness of a child, gaining knowledge for all of us with his ceaseless thirst.

”In that holy place of Buddha, we sat on the grass watching the faintly gold structure change in the distance. Around us young Indian couples were putting their arms around each other on benches and monks were meditating on the ground. In that park I felt lucky that I had been able to experience India in this way. Had I gone with my mother, I might have been ungrateful. Alone, I might have been bored. Instead I was with a group and I was able to derive an experience from all sides and facets. Mystics and skeptics, comedians and academics. I feel lucky that I could experience this with such a diverse and rich group, and I look forward to reflecting on my life in India in the many months to come.”
– Amanda ’15