Thirty years ago, I never imagined I would go back to Rishi Valley School with my son. I am grateful to have had the opportunity to share the place that influenced my life with my 15 year old this summer.
“Amma, you’re so lucky to have studied here. This is a special place.” This statement by Nakul, my 15 year old, made this endeavor worthwhile. What was this endeavor, you ask? What started as an idea during the Alumni meet in November 2017 became a reality in July 2018. An initiative started by RiVAA (Rishi Valley Alumni Association) to increase engagement with RV alumni and give students an opportunity to do a self- driven internship so they experience the school as well as give back. We set out to create an experience for our children to make memories of their own at Rishi Valley.
After school finished in Saratoga, CA in June 2018, Nakul and I shifted gears - preparing and planning for the RV Internship. We made sure clothes were according to RV dress code (and quantity in case they didn’t return from the RV dhobi), shoes were comfortable and easy slip-on/off (for the numerous times they would be taken off and put on in a day), electric converters and chargers for the technology (that was to be used only in the guest house), books to read and notebooks to jot down those random thoughts.
Arriving in Rishi Valley on June 27th, with butterflies in my stomach, the driver stopped on the way to give us a taste of some local mangoes. The mango eating became a routine during the next few weeks as many of my classmates visited from Madanapalle and brought us local goodies to savor.
As we made the turn at the mouth of the valley, there was a different smell in the air, a vision of green and a feeling of peace and tranquility. This was going to be home for the next 4 weeks. Gopalu greeted us at the Alumni Guest House - “ISC 1988, Arati Mithal?”, he said. Tears came to my eyes and Nakul looked at me in disbelief. Yes, this is home.
Lunch in the DH was familiar - the bell, the line, the buckets of sambaar and buttermilk. Nakul sat with the adults and absorbed it all in. We met up with some of my ISC 1988 classmates’ kids who are now students at Rishi Valley. After that - poof! I barely saw Nakul again. He immersed himself into the routine and life of 10th/11th/12th graders. From meals, to assembly, to arts and crafts, folkie, saturday night movies to evening games, he was part of it all. He even taught the boys how to play American (tag) Football (see photo on left).
The DH bell kept us in a routine. In-between those reminders, I had meetings with teachers to discuss their work and share my thoughts; spoke to students of class 6, 7, 8 and 10 comparing then and now; and explored the campus to see the new buildings, the Rural Health Center and Rural Education Center. I also had time to read, write and reflect during this time. I immersed myself in the book “Krishnamurti on Education” - a compilation of Krishnaji’s talks with students. 30 years ago, all those words would have flown over my head. Today, I was able to make more sense of it all and put it in context of my life and that of the school.
Weekends were as busy as weekdays - we went on the freshers hike to 360 rock with masala dosas packed in banana leaves and newspaper with “chocolate” fudge for dessert. I got to be the person at the back - to ensure we didn’t have any wayward kids. The return journey was interesting. 2 boys decided to go exploring. Instead, they were caught and put at the back of the line with me. Needless to say these chatterboxes kept me entertained the entire walk down - which was via Cave Rock. I wonder how these 2 boys survive in Neem A post curfew! I hope they have a “lenient” house parent!!
Folk dance was truly invigorating. First, to see Nakul jump right in and enjoy it as much as I used to (and still do!). The music is now on a pen drive and there are speakers in the audi. However, the scratchy recording continues, making you feel right at home. It was so heartwarming to see 12th class students in charge of the evening. They taught, encouraged and ensured order during the 1.5 hours of fun. On my last Sunday there, the 12thies came up to me and asked which dances I wanted to relive. That was so touching and thoughtful. Of course I gave my preferences and jumped right in. My old knees couldn’t take some of the movements but I powered through because I could not let go of the moment.
The crowning moment for me was requesting the chanting/music playlist for my last assembly. It was so heartwarming to sing songs with my eyes closed - Maati kahe and Vaishnava janato. All this reminded me how the time at RV is embedded so deeply and surfaces so easily.
Being the parent of the intern was a fine balance. I had to ensure Nakul was independent, yet not disrupting the school routine; guiding him to be on task but not doing the work for him; enabling the necessary meetings and interviews for his video project, but not actually being present for them; and most challenging of all, sharing a room with him at the guest house for the entire month! This internship time gave me the most cherished time with Nakul, a time for self-reflection, and most of all, a time for giving back to Rishi Valley School. I am immensely grateful to each and everyone who made this experience possible. This memory is definitely going to last forever.
To learn more about the Rishi Valley School Summer Internship Program, go to rivaa.org/rvinterns.