My Days at Central School for Tibetans, Darjeeling

In October 2011, my alma mater, Central School for Tibetans in Darjeeling celebrated its 50th year of existence. It was organized by the school’s alumni association. I sent the following impression that was published in the souvenir magazine on the occasion. If you have been to Darjeeling you will recognize some of the locales or the individuals that I have mentioned here. Enjoy!!

My Days at Central School for Tibetans, Darjeeling
Bhuchung K. Tsering

How could one talk about a school where one had merely been for less than two calendar years, but which had much impact on the development of one’s personality? This is the issue that confronted me when I got the pleasant communication from Tsetan Phuntsok la, my former classmate at the Central School for Tibetans in Darjeeling and the General Secretary of its Alumni Association, inviting me to share my thoughts as the school celebrates its Golden Jubilee Anniversary.

The other day my son took down the “best boy” medal that lie hanging on the wall inquiring about the name “Darjeeling” on it. I had to explain that it meant a place in India where I had gone to school in the late 1970s during which I had been honored with the medal. This incident also reminded me of my days in the school.

It is more than 30 years since I had graduated from CST Darjeeling and if I were to visit the school once again, on account of the generation shift, only a building and a few friends who are now teaching there would be my connection to my days as a student there. But there are some memories that will continue to remain and impact my life.

Having to leave my hometown of Bylakuppe in South India to travel all the way to Darjeeling in East India was a rite of passage of sort. Traveling alone, when barely 17 years old, changing trains (without any reserved seating at anytime) from Bangalore to Madras to Calcutta to New Jalpaiguri, taking the “toy train” from there to Darjeeling before taking that hike across Chowrasta on the Mall to the school on the other side of the Gangchen Hill was certainly training enough to me as I began my schooling there.

The academic education itself was nothing to write home (or to post it on Twitter or Facebook, which are more likely in today’s world) about. But a school, and in particular a boarding school like CST Darjeeling, provides equally more meaningful education outside of the classroom. My batch was the first in the new 10+2 system of education that was introduced and so our class consisted of students from different Tibetan schools in India who brought their respective experiences along. My interaction with my classmates, our interaction with our teachers and school management (particularly when the students took up certain causes against some teachers and management at one time) all taught me important lessons of growing up and facing the real world. The personal dedication of Jamchen Rinpoche, our School Rector, was something that left a mark in me even though people said he was a better teacher than a Rector.

Along the way, we had fun in school. I felt proud to have been able to represent my school at an Elocution Contest held one year in the GDNS Hall in town and winning the first place. (I think I spoke on the topic, “If I were a writer.”)

I also learnt to get used to the hard deep fried bread for breakfast every day. Supplementing our regular school meals with Maila Daju’s Alu Bujia that we would go to buy from his residence in the school compound in the evening was something that I still recall. I think Maila Daju was an all purpose staff of the school and selling the snacks was the side business of his wife. Similarly, I also remember occasionally being able to get “special diet” slips from “Amchi la,” our nurse in the school clinic, which enabled me to get eggs with my food.

I remember the time we had when we could go to town occasionally, including eating at the ABC restaurant or seeing a movie either at the Capitol or the Rink theatre (Actually, I can only remember the effort we had to make to get a ticket at the counter than any movies that I saw there).

I also had the exhilarating experience of seeing my name in print for the first time when a letter to the editor that I sent appeared in the now defunct “Youth Times” magazine.

We did have our challenges but somehow found ways to tackle them in our own ways.

Today’s generation of students have a totally different set of challenges. The physical facilities have greatly improved, as I can see from the information on the Alumni Association website. Whether it is new buildings, computers, clothes or what have you, today’s students in Darjeeling would be enjoying much better facilities than what we had during our days.

To the students who have the privilege of being part of CST Darjeeling today, I would like to say the following. Enjoy your time. Study you must, but do not look at it as a chore or interpret it only to mean learning the textbooks. Be adventurous so that you will be able to have a wider perspective. Do not be satisfied with mere bookish knowledge but go beyond. During our days there was no proper library in the school itself and I would take the time and the opportunity to visit the Deshbandhu District Library on the Mall or the Hayden Hall in town. Take the time to read magazines, novels, fiction or non-fiction, in addition to your text books (one of my favourite pastime was rummaging through the books at a used books stall in the Chowk Bazaar area). Learn to indulge in critical analysis, more so if you are interested in English literature so that a story is not just a story but also consist of plots, characters and themes.

Above all, spend a minute to ask yourself this question, “Where will I be 10 years from now?” This process will help you plan ahead. During our days we did not have the luxury of planning our career. Today’s students can do that and should do so.

Play pranks if that will help you expand your horizon, but follow school discipline. I have had my share of this. In fact I still recall a time during a parent-teacher interaction at my other school, CST Bylakuppe, when the Principal mentioned to the whole school that while I was good in studies I was also good in being naughty. That made my father offer the suggestion (unthinkable in present situation but familiar then) to the teacher to ‘kindly beat him if he does not listen…”

Above all, count your blessings. Do not take the school, its infrastructure, etc. for granted but know that they have all come about because of a combination of factors. Be ever grateful to those who have made this possible.

On its golden jubilee anniversary, I offer my humble gratitude and greetings to all those teachers and staff of the CST Darjeeling who contributed in making people like me what we are today, and to those who continue to mould the present generation of students.


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