Perspectives from the Himalaya

Self-directed: A Typical Day in the Village

There is the intention of letting the boys be self-directed most of the time in terms of their learning experience. From being immersed in the process of building our home, being with nature and feeling comfortable with the insects, worms, birds and animals, being a part of a new culture and language and making it their own, being with all types of people where age and language matter not and just being curiously themselves. Not surprisingly, they are naturally inclined to all this without direction.

A typical day could look like this.

Little A has an affinity for catching flies with his thumb and index finger and stripping their wings off before squishing them into grossness. If his gaze is on the ground, he would likely be trapping big black ants in his palms, then holding them from their abdomens and watching their antennae and mandible struggling frantically before releasing them in a puddle to see if they could swim. He could be immersed in this with Big A for hours. When feeling the nibbles, he forages for wild aiselu, stuffing mouthfuls of sweet fatty berries till he gets distracted by a hungry leech perched on his ankles. He puts a halt to the sucking, rolls it into a sticky ball, and places it on a stone before stomping on it. In this way, he gets a thrill watching how much blood gets splattered. For most, it sounds gory and merciless but for a little one, it’s a curious world out there.

On his way home, he picks wildflowers to add to the flower bowl in the kitchen, a daily ritual he adheres to. He picks them with care and ensures that the little beauties are not carelessly squashed in my palms. We search the hills and discover little blue gentians, indigo irises, primulas, yellow buttercups and poppies. They grow in all unexpected places and dot the terraces filled with mustard seeds, wheat, millet, paddy and corn.

If Anil or Arjun are out harvesting and tending to the vegetables, Little A wouldn’t miss a chance of joining them. He would come back excitedly to the kitchen with a cauliflower, a cabbage or some green leafy for the day’s meals. He has a dedicated knife for his little hands which he is very proud of and gives a helping hand with the prep.

On other days, it may take a very different tangent. There are weeks when he may choose to hibernate for consecutive days in his pyjamas playing Beyblades and Monopoly. On luckier days with limited power disruptions, he would be watching Tom & Jerry and Grizzy & the Lemmings over and over again.

Little A, Anil and Arjun.

Big A spends most mornings with the football. He talks incessantly about Messi, Neymar’s dribbling, Reus’ flying back kicks and Ronaldo’s high kicks and explains in detail how he thinks it’s done. His diligence on this front is commendable as Big A has a tendency to take shortcuts on achieving most things.

Other times, he enjoys helping out with the works on site – filling up the buckets with earth and water to mix the soil, sieving and filtering the clay, being a part of the work chain and running errands between places. Contented just hanging out with the workers, he is intrigued by their prowess and playfulness in sliding down the bamboo scaffolding. Back in the city, I remembered the challenges of motivating Big A to spend more time outdoors. He was into reading comics, competitive beyblading and trading football cards. Anything else beyond that came with groans and moans. Here in the village, I am thrilled to see him coming home sweaty, dirty and pink.

Whilst the entire village is busy in the rice fields transferring the saplings from the nursery to the lower wet terraces, Big A has developed a recent fascination with space travel and black leather jackets. The launch of Dragon Crew from SpaceX on 31st May was an exciting time for the boys. They had a late night watching it live online here, glued to the screen like a hawk preying on its victim. This has prompted a piece of writing from Big A. Infused with humour, it is accompanied by drawings of a brood of domestic birds on a space journey to Proxima Centauri, the closest star to Earth. It’s an interesting concoction when a kid is placed in a remote village whilst watching the most advanced technological feat of humankind.

Elon Musk has no doubt become a household name here. He seems to be one of a kind in his monumental scale of making things happen. I cannot help but watch and read in awe about the failures and successes of Tesla, SpaceX and Solar City. His drive to make humans a multi-planetary species may seem a little mad to me. We are exploiting Earth unashamedly and aren’t we likely to do the same with Mars looking from a historical perspective? But his commitment to producing mass electric cars, solar energy and storage systems, and addressing sustainable energy solutions globally is one of its kind. He is moving the entire human civilization from the fossil fuel era to a renewable sustainable era. This man does not dwell in dreams and visions. He materialises them.

Whilst the search goes on for energy storage options for our home-to-be, Tesla Powerwall 2 stands out like a rose in a thorny bush. Coupled with their solar roof tiles, the future of sustainable living seems bright. For the moment, the price tag is hefty and supplies are limited. But hopefully, in the foreseeable future, version 3 and mass production would make sense for an average household. When that happens, our reliability on fossil fuels would inevitably dissipate.

The boys do some writing or math or a form of creative work daily. Of late, I have been coming up against a wall of resistance whenever the writing materials appear and when my motivation runs dry. I get into a debate with Big A when he tries to barter ‘writing time’ with ‘helping out in the kitchen’ or ‘spending more time on site with the workers’. Although I embrace spontaneity and self-direction, experience tells that productivity occurs when there is consistency and rhythm in place. Instinctively, I feel and trust that the children can thrive in an environment that allows them space to grow freely but with some boundaries and guidelines in place. The key question, often enough, would be where the boundary lies. It is a grey area and has a relative spectrum hence I don’t think there is a black and white answer. It may be driven by family dynamics, what we wish to achieve together, how much support there is available, and how environments can be created and facilitated for different learning methods.

Admittedly, we are navigating experientially and intuitively through this space in finding our sweet song. It may or may not be in tune but what is certain is the need to understand each other’s inclinations and keenness.

Eventually, Big A settles down to business towards the end of the day with some incentives in place. He completes his writing and drawings and feels mighty proud of himself. He has agreed to rewrite and edit the story in a journal. I am chuffed.

I, on the other hand, have yet to overcome my lack of affection for our crawling friends. I pretend that I don’t mind the parasitic leeches. But I do mind them. I find their cold clingy bodies crawling up my feet to get a snug and a drink squirmish. I would rather they drink up quickly and drop off when they have had their fill. A little giving and taking here. Else, it gets ugly when over attachment and salt come into play. Little A tells me they are sticky and fun. I take it to heart. One day, just maybe, I will see them through his lenses.

Roll ’em up! I dare say.

Fun fact: Leeches have existed aeon before our existence as Homo sapiens. The first leech fossils were discovered around 150 million years ago, snakes have been roaming around for about 90-100 million years, whilst we have only been here for a mere 200 thousand years!