‘Our home in the mountains’: Schooling imaginations in Darjeeling, India
Schools are big business in the hills of Darjeeling. Schooling in the hills of North Bengal was initially developed during the colonial era to accommodate the children of the European administrators and officials present in the region. Such schools have accrued a significant reputation over the years and are now popular with the growing elite in Darjeeling and the surrounding areas. This paper explores the connections between a particular private school just outside the town of Darjeeling and the social space that emerged around it, delving into the history of hills, the history of the school and the ways in which these are reflected through the experiences of the present day members of the school community. This is an excerpt from my wider thesis which aims to examine the relationships between schooling and social background, in particular notions of ‘middle class’ in India. The research here follows on from the considerable contributions made to the study of schooling in India in recent years each of which have placed a certain weight on the importance of ‘class’ within Indian society. Such studies have highlighted the particular relationship between the category of middle class and private schooling either as a necessary cornerstone of one’s identity or as a milestone on route to upward social mobility. This research is placed at the heart of these debates, situated within the parameters of the private school itself to pose questions as to what extent schooling determines ones values or ideals with regards to social background.
Drawing from the seminal studies of the likes of Said and Anderson, this paper argues that the particular social space of Darjeeling, carved out by the British colonial rule, served to create a unique social space in which those who lived there adopted the idyllic image propagated by the colonial administrators. This ‘imagined’ view, popularised by recent political movements calling for a new state for Darjeeling, have served to further affirm the relationship between the people and the place of Darjeeling, forming a bond that many consider impossible to break. Such imaginings are spread across all aspects of life in the hills and in particular within the walls of St. Joseph’s, North Point, an all-boys school with an illustrious reputation, managed by the Jesuits for over a century. This paper aims to demonstrate the ways in which the school, known locally as ‘North Point’ offers an idyllic image of a student, the ‘North Pointer’ and explores the ways in which the students interact with and construct their own understandings of self in relation to being or not being ‘North Pointers’. The school was affectionately known as ‘Our Home in the Mountains’ by many of the students, a term which dates back to the origins of the school and invokes a sense of community across time and space between all those who had graced the halls of the school and thus serving as a marker for the North Point students to distinguish themselves from the students of other schools. The students thus create an ‘imagined community’ of North Pointers as part of their individual understanding of identity, simultaneously contemplating their own position at school, and the society, or even the world, beyond.
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