Thursday, March 12, 2009


Sometimes a time and place in life is so unique that one is loathe to lose it. Life moves on...and should. Happily for some there are memory tools now available to retrace at least a portion. That I spent twelve years in India changed my outlook profoundly. A significant part of that outlook has to be attributed to the three plus years at Woodstock. Bits and pieces of this are strewn through past postings...this apologia puts it all in one recent place.

Imagine that in your most impressionable teen years you suddenly found yourself half way round the globe at a spot in the foothills of the great Himalayas. It was a place you had visited just slightly as a young child several times, enough that certain pleasurable impressions had imprinted themselves in the mind. Now you were going to school there. You went for three years and then just as suddenly were uprooted from this Shangri-la like spot and all its associations back to your
“real” world. Suppose a class mate from that time and place tracked you down and invited you to join others who had this experience in a round-robin letter. Later you would attend annual meetings of alumni, sing the school songs, see familiar faces now older, participate in the hearing/retelling the lore of this special institution. All this would tend to expand the importance of this place in the mind, would it not? And because you were retired and used computers it became possible to vicariously revisit this wondrous place. If there were people blogging about their experiences there, it might be tempting to make contact. And I did.

Woodstockers tend to experience some things in common. First and foremost are the mountains. One exists among mountains in Mussoorie. The Woodstock campus is spread along the flanks of a ridge and the dorms, especially Midlands rests on a diminutive hill. The cottages where parents stayed during their vacation times dotted the mountainside. Ours ( Prospect Point) had one of the finest views from the front and side yards. From the side yard we could often see the great ice covered peaks of the greater Himalayas. The front yard presented a great vista of the Dune valley in the distance and the roofs of Ridgewood and Midlands in the foreground valley below.

Seasons were more pronounced or so it seemed. When I first arrived at Prospect Point in early March it was possible to see a snow fall. Mornings were definitely chilly and the smell of oak wood burning in the fireplace was an every day and ordinary sensory experience. Spring followed shortly with the fragrance of Mock Orange and other flowers coupled with the pungent aroma of deodar when the wind blew through their boughs. These were the days when the air was crystal clean and filled with a mysterious expectancy.

Next would come the monsoons. This meant spectacular thunderstorms, the proliferation of insects and ferns, and a pervasive “stickiness” from the high humidity. It was a season of some danger. There were landslides when too much rain separated the layers of soil from their anchors in the rocks. Small earthquakes in an earthquake prone zone also caused landslides. I was there when Parker Hall had a big one right across from the front porch. One of my school mates lost part of his family when part of the mountain slid into their cottage a few years previous. Though never stung by one,I found a small scorpion one morning clinging to a sock
I was about to pull over my foot.

Finally the monsoons drifted away and fall crept slowly down the great crags. This was a season of great beauty. It was a time to hike and to enjoy outdoor sports. All the while, Woodstock was working its magic into the core of one's being.It was a also a time of deepening melancholy as the days shortened. We would soon be separating from our pals and girl friends over the winter break.

We were there from all over the world. We heard English with numerous accents. Some of us even affected “Babu” English that was spoken by our Indian friends. If we had strong religious convictions, we at least encountered others of different ersuasions and so learned to entertain other possibilities. American culture prevailed at that time, but British and Indian were surely next in line. Woodstock saw itself as a “world” institution where people came together to learn of each other and develop a great respect for the environment. We were all students, whether we occupied the role of administrator, mentor, auxiliary, or pupil. Among the students were often outstanding musicians, potential scientists, or world rulers in the making. Personalities were encouraged to think freely yet learned not to be totally abrasive. Young males were given an astonishing amount of freedom to explore the environs.

Meals, worship experiences, sports events, walks to the bazaars, dorm life, special days and celebrations, the shared music both performed and heard, all served to intensify this unique time in one’s existence. Because it was a boarding school and there was no family to return to each day, faculty became almost surrogate parents. Dorm room mates became strong friends or sometimes not. There was often intense competition, especially in the sports venues. Friends tended to remain friends for a lifetime.

Woodstock capitalized on this experience. It opened itself to the world by making good use of the Net. It has encouraged the community to blog. Jeanne, Jennie, James and Nate are teachers and blog regularly. Through them I’m able to reconstruct for myself a Woodstock and Mussoorie in real time. Though it is not possible for me to hop on a plane and be there, I can participate in imagination by reading their posted activitiies and impressions. Now when I see their names associated with campus activities and community projects in the school paper, The Quadrangle, I feel as if I know them. When they first arrived it took a season to become accustomed to India, Woodstock, and Mussoorie. Each is at a predictable stage and is being shaped by the “Woodstock” experience. It is so unique that it would take a very hard heart not to be seduced by it. My grateful thanks to them for sharing their lives so eloquently with those who have already been or may be induced to go there.

Others arrive in Mussorie as tourists or NGO’s, or come to learn Hindi at the Landour Language School. The NGO’s often do both, learn Hindi and then assist with community projects in the mountain villages that abound in the valleys. That's how I found Jill and David, two who were working in education and architecture. Though both are now in the US, their blogs still speak to me. Google also has amazing maps of the Mussoorie area and it is possible to see most of the Woodstock buildings and many of the hillside cottages, even Prospect Point, if one knows where to look.

My love of mountains, interest in things Indian and international, joy in music making, tendency to look deeper and be more than casually reflective must certainly derive from those unique years.

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