The Boy Who Refused to Go to School
By Yoginder Sikand
Tashi lived in a little village in Ladakh, high up in the Himalayas, near Tibet. He was the most adventurous boy you ever saw. While most of the other village children would be at school, you could be sure that Tashi was climbing the mountains that surrounded his village, scouting out for packs of wild yaks, grazing his family's pack of sheep or lazing in a hay stack under the apricot trees, watching the clouds float past.
Tashi's parents were anxious for his future. 'If you don't go to school, how will you get a good job when you become big?' they would say. 'You'll remain just a farmer.'
'But what's wrong in being a farmer? Tashi would reply. 'You are farmers, after all, and I think all our ancestors, from the very beginning, were farmers, too.'
Tashi's parents had no reply to this, for what Tashi said was true.
'Since I'm going to be a farmer, I don't see why I should be forced to spend years at school learning things that won't help me,' Tashi would go on. What was the use of studying European history, year after year? He would certainly not step out of Ladakh, he said, let alone venture to far-off Europe! Did he really need to know what the capital of some remote South American country was? Did it make a difference to him if it was called 'Lima' or 'Pima'? How would learning calculus and complicated laws of physics be of any help to him as a farmer? Didn't his ancestors manage to till their farm well enough without knowing all that? And did it make any sense for him to study the geography of North America while at school children learned nothing about the geography of Ladakh? No, Tashi insisted, school was simply not for him! It was a terrible waste of time.
The other village children found Tashi odd. 'Tashi's going to become a mule-driver!' they would joke. 'That's all he will be fit for if he doesn't go to school!'
Unlike Tashi, none of the other children wanted to become farmers. How they wished they could live in big cities and in huge houses, like they saw on television! But for that, they were told, they had to spend over a dozen years at school, and, after that, a dozen more at college and university!
One day, the village children decided to go for a picnic high into the mountains beyond their village. As they set out they saw Tashi, who was sitting on a boulder in the middle of a stream enjoying the late summer sun. Tashi had a nose for adventure and when he heard where the children were headed he asked them if he could join them. The children readily agreed.
An hour later, the children began ascending a steep mountain pass. Barring Tashi, none of them had ever travelled that far from their village. It was hardly noon but soon thick clouds began to gather—sure signs of an impending storm. And, in a short while, the winds began to howl and giant balls of ice began to rain down from the sky.
You can't imagine how terrified the children were. They had heard how dangerous it was to get stuck so high up in the mountains, where no one lived, in a storm like that. It was then almost impossible to find shelter and food or protection from wild animals, such as snow leopards and wolves, which lived in these remote parts. The children had not the faintest clue at all as to what they should do. After all, surviving a snow storm was not something that they had learned at school!
'There's cave in a mountain just beyond the pass!' cried Tashi. 'Let's rush there and wait till the storm abates.' And so the children raced up the pass, with Tashi leading them, and scrambled up into the warm safety of the cave.
The storm showed no sign of abating. Rain and hail gave way to snow, which soon turned into a terrible snow-storm. For three days the children remained trapped in the cave. But they were able to survive—and fairly comfortably at that—all because of Tashi!
The cave was one of Tashi's favourite haunts. When the other children were at school, Tashi would often be in the cave, which he used as a base to wander about in the mountains around. He kept a large stock of logs for fuel in the cave, and enough food—dried yak cheese and tsampa, Tibetan-style barely flour—to last for several days. That is how the children were able to remain safe, warm and snug in the cave till the storm finally lifted.
You can imagine how grateful the children were to Tashi for having saved them! How they rued mocking him for not going to school! How they admired him for having learnt how to survive a snow-storm, something that years spent at school had left them totally ignorant of. And so it was hardly surprising that once they got back to their village many of the children decided that they had had simply enough of school. Their anxious parents tried to cajole them to go back to school but they simply refused to budge! They wanted nothing more than to be with Tashi and accompany him on his adventures. They no longer dreamt of becoming rich officers and living in big houses in the city—for which they would have to spend years in prison-like rooms at school and then college. How much they'd rather spend their time with Tashi, up in the mountains, learning things—such as surviving snow-storms—and simply enjoying Nature, which no school could ever teach them! And when they became older, they would be happy to farm their little plots of land, as their forefathers had done for as long as they could remember, for which they really didn't need to spend all of their childhood at school.
And so, if you visit Tashi's village today, you'll find the school building almost deserted. Most of the village children are—and you guessed right!—up in the mountains on an adventure trip with Tashi or else tending to their fields and little flocks of sheep and goats and generally having fun.