Friday, 4 June 2010

Sacred Hearts and Jam-making

My friend David who I met at the Chamba wedding, teaches music at Sacred Heart school in Dalhousie. The school was started in the early 1900s by Belgian nuns, no doubt in an attempt to convert the heathen Hindu. That attempt seems to have met with singular failure because now the school has a few boys and 600 girls from eight to eighteen and only a handful are Christian, It's a boarding school, and a calm discipline hangs in the air.

David showed me around. He's only been there a month but his passion for music has obviously been picked up by staff and pupils alike and he's fondly greeted. We go into some of the classes. They're all quite big with 50 or so pupils. They stand up immediately and chant 'Good Morning Sir'. I'm sure that's aimed at David but I'll take it too. In one class the teacher asks me to say a few words. What to say? I ask them if they have any questions about England. 'Is Queen Elizabeth still alive Sir?' Very much so I say. Old but hanging on. 'Have you ever met Queen Elizabeth Sir?' As it happens I have and I say yes. It doesn't seem to impress much. 'Sir, do all people who speak English look like you?' What a thought. An English speaking world of cloned Simons. 'Absolutely not.' The teacher thankfully brings the interrogation to a halt and we move to another class where Macbeth is being studied. I tell them I've been to Dunsinane but they're not impressed. The teacher asks them to recite some of the play and witches stir their pots. I reply with 'Out, out damn spot' but the teacher says they haven't got that far.

The older girls sleep in a dormitory with their own curtained-off three-sided rooms facing on to a central corridor. The young ones sleep in two huge rooms with cots head to toe in rows, each with an enormous teddy bear on the pillow. It feels a comforting place.

I've been told about a couple called Alok and Isabelle who set up the Himalayan Village Education Trust. He's Indian, she's French and they have set up two small projects providing training in dress

and jam-making for girls and women in a village 5 kilometres outside Dalhousie. Alok picks me up with his young son and the three of us perch on his scooter and scoot off to the project. The fruits used for jam are picked in the wild by village women, rhododendrons, sedar, raspberry and orange. Apricots and plums are bought at wholesale rates from local farmers.

It's now financially self-sufficient and the women are running most of the micro jamming. They sell this niche product to a few shops in Dalhousie and Daramsala and it has provided a good income and some independence for the women.

Alok tells me that there is a continual run of trucks from Dalhousie coming into the hills to collect water from the local streams for the hotels. Each truck holds 5000 litres and he's calculated that getting on for 1,000,000 litres a day are taken to the town to meet the tourist demand for water. This results in the local villages having their supply reduced or stopped. He's a passionate ecologist and environmentalist and a thorn in the side of the Dalhousie power-brokers. But money talks strongly here and the whiff of corruption is never far away. His protests lead to threats of being closed down but he has strong local village support and the more he and Isabelle empower the local women, the stronger the village communities become.

I admire people like Isabelle and Alok. They put their passions into practice and live them. I wish I too could have that strength and ability to focus small and tight on an issue and empower others too. But my leanings are to the bigger picture, being able to bring people like Alok and Isabelle together with others who are fighting similar causes, to share successes and failures, to learn and inspire each other. They have the knowledge and skills, not me. Maybe I can find a way to enable that sharing.

I walked back to Dalhousie. A beautiful stroll along the side of the mountain with views down into the valley and across to mountain ranges miles away.

For those of you who thought I might bury myself way in a Buddhist monastery deep in the Himalayas, dwelling on the impermanence of life, fear not. I love this world with all its joy and love and pain and suffering and feel very much part of it. But I will never stop learning and exploring the many ways to be in this world.


  1. Simon, When asked what is the best way to meditate he answered it was to inquire deeply into things and then decide how to take action and do so. I havent quoted his exact words but that was the gist of his answer.

    On Radio 4 Andrew Mitchell, the international development secretary said that aid to educate girls and to decrease maternal mortality was very high priority. I wonder if he could be persuaded to set up a peace room, gathering what works and turning that into news, like the one that Barbara Marx Hubbard has set up?

  2. What a WONDERFUL post, Simonico! So resonant, evocative ('a calm discipline hangs in the air' - beautiful) and funny I laughed out loud, esp at the thought of all Englishmen being the same. You should have said, 'are all men here the same? So why should they be the same in UK?', and challenge their prejudices about difference... anyway, brilliant blog, as they all are. You've really brought things alive. Hope the other followers will have seen it too. Keep exploring, for yourself and all of us! xxx

  3. I somehow didnt say who the quoteon the best way to meditate was from. It was the Dalai Lama who answered it was to inquire deeply into things and then decide how to take action and do so.