Writer of the Year portfolio

Statement

Dhrubhagat Singh

The Woodstocker

At the beginning of the school year, I learned that one of the employees on campus had passed away. Deepa-ji, a long-term dorm employee, had taken care of me when I first entered boarding school at age 9. The fact that her death was not announced to the entire community gave me an epiphany: nobody was going to write about her impact on the school. That she would be forgotten, very quickly, in the community. Thus, before she was completely forgotten, I took up my pen and visited her widower — a man in their tiny house on the hill above campus, weeping at the loss of his precious wife.

Interviewing the late Deepa-ji’s husband made me realize the harshness of poverty. I attend Woodstock School in the foothills of the Himalayas, one of the oldest international residential school in India. Many of my fellow students and I come from privileged backgrounds, and we rarely take the time to acknowledge those living in poverty. I would soon learn that Deepa-ji was the breadwinner of the family, and her loss came with the great financial struggle of the family. Moreover, I saw in the widower’s eyes a sense of absolute loneliness and frustration. It is important for journalists to document these tough times of life, as it breeds empathy within the wider, more privileged community. By documenting the life and departure of Deepa-ji, I was able to bring awareness to the community of the service a devout employee had devoted and the bleakness of the life of her family afterward. Perhaps this is the single most important skill I have learned in my time as managing editor this year: to detail the stories of those who would otherwise be overlooked.

Thus, the themes of my articles followed a similar pattern: I wrote about Mr. Dana Crider, a retired member of Woodstock School and Mussoorie whose massive contributions to the environment are unheard of in the campus. Whose wisdom of the mountains and life at the school never reach most studentsl. Whose essence and contribution to the community was being overlooked every passing year.

Additionally, I wrote about the girls basketball team, immersing myself in their largest annual tournament. Female sports are already undervalued in our community and virtually unacknowledged in the rest of India. People have this stereotypical notion that female sports are boring. By spending every minute of their tournament with the girls team, including pre and post-game meetings, I was able to craft a piece that documented every struggle and intense moment on and off the basketball court, giving nuance to the intensity of the team. Through my reporting, I was able to highlight and glorify the multi-faceted experience of female sports. I was able to shed light on the hard efforts and dedication, put by the girls, that would have been overlooked by the entire school and country.

Ultimately, by writing these stories, I was reminded of the need for more writing of this nature. For if we do not honor and recognize those who put so much work in their craft or are helping the world, we only continue to breed a culture of ignorance and soul-depletion.

Finally, in addition to writing of this nature, I have tried to expand the diversity of my writing by highlighting different aspects of life: the natural environment, sports, and the residential life. I wrote a news article about leopard sightings on campus and an opinion piece about a common marriage tradition in the country.  By writing diverse articles, I feel that I have learned many different writing styles. More importantly, by immersing myself in others’ lives and expanding my writing skills, I have been able to make readers aware of the diversity that surrounds them


1

Remembering Woodstock’s beloved Deepa-ji

(Originally published on Oct. 29, 2018)

When I first arrived at Woodstock in 2011 for the start of fourth grade, I moved to Edgehill, the elementary dorm at the time, where I was surrounded by weeping classmates, attentive dorm parents, and an especially caring staff member, who everyone called Deepa-ji.

Whenever I saw Deepa-ji sweep the hallways of our dorm, she was always happy, smiling to me every time she looked up. After I left that dorm and moved down to Ridgewood and then to Hostel, Deepa-ji, too moved to Alteridge, and I continued to see her making everyone around her happy.

Nothing changed between us.

Every day as I walked up to school with my two friends, she would look at me gleefully and say, “Namaste, Dhrub bhaiya!”

Nowadays, whenever I walk up the mountain to school and see a middle-aged woman approach in a pink jacket, I become happy, awaiting the loud “Namaste!” The woman passes. It’s not Deepa-ji. She keeps her head down. I keep my head down. Nothing happens.

Only the wind blows.

Deepa Godial, age 48, long-time dorm employee, passed away a week before the start of this school year.

Many students remember her fondly.

“She was our second mother,” Joanna Victor, Class of 2020, said, remembering how Deepa-ji used to care for her when she first joined the school in fifth grade.

Deepa-ji would braid students’ hair, bathe them, help them make their beds, and help tidy up their rooms. “For me she was way better than a dorm parent, ” Victor said.

In the lives of 9 year olds who have just left the comfort of their families and homes, Deepa-jiwith her strong sense of morality, kindness, and compassionplayed an instrumental role in their development.

“I wouldn’t have been independent without her. When she did stuff for us, I learned how to do it in her way,” Saira Mehra, Class of 2020, said.  

Additionally, the homesickness that a young child experiences in boarding school was alleviated by her character.

“She was very energetic. Every day, she would be full of life. She had so much energy that it would fill us up,” Jigmet Angmo, Class of 2021, said. “When you were really down or anything, she would talk to us and just her attitude was really happy that people around her felt really happy.”

Angmo recounted that when they would get ready to go to school, she would shout gleefully, “Get up bachho! Chalo baccho!”

Even after the youngsters moved to other dorms, Deepa-ji greeted them on her way to work.

“She was the person with the pink jacket who said ‘Hello!’ to everyone,” Mehra said.

Angmo, who knew Deepa-ji since third grade, even bought back a present for her before returning to school this year, but it was too late.

“Last time I’d seen her, I promised her that I’d get her this scarf she really wanted. I came back to give it to her, and I heard from Mr. John that she passed away,” she said.

Processed with VSCO with fp4 preset

Her family and colleagues remember

In the middle of the night, Rajkumar Taak, an employee at Alteridge dorm, received a grim phone call regarding his fellow colleague and mentor, Deepa-ji.

“At 11:45 [her family told me], she started shouting, ‘Save me! Save me!’ to her husband and then to her neighbors,” Mr. Taak said. “Her family had a car, and so they took her as she was screaming. As soon as they reach the hospital, she had a heart attack and died.”

Her death was preceded by her gradual build-up of blood pressure, resulting in swelling around her body. According to Suresh Kumar, her husband, Deepa-ji walked from the top of the hill near St. Paul’s Church to dorms four times a day.

“She would go to work first, then return for lunch, then go back at 5 p.m., and then come back at night,” Mr. Kumar said. Additionally, she worked six days a week.

“She always used to say that whenever it was time for duty, my kids [at dorms] are waiting. My kids will be troubled,” Mr. Kumar said, reflecting on Deepa-ji’s work ethic.

Before she joined Woodstock in 2006, she used to work in Mussoorie’s government office, the Nagarpalika, as an employee. In her time there, she received an award for her commitment and attitude towards her job.

Similarly, after she joined the school, she received an award for her contributions to a healthy environment between employees and residents of the school and her dedication to the girls she took care of.

“She never took a holiday, even if it rained or snowedno matter what happened,” Mr. Kumar said. “She would say that Woodstock feeds us and gives us our living and that’s why our children are alive.”

During her life, Deepa-ji abided by strict morals.

Mr. Taak said that she would say that “if there was any foreign person, do good to them.” Furthermore, she was also notorious for kicking out boys who tried to go into the girls dorm outside of the approved timings.

This sentiment echoed in her own life: “Whenever someone did wrong, she would tell him what he did wrong and tell him how to do right,” Mr. Kumar said about her sense of justice. “She was never a bystander.”

When it came to money, although she came from a poor background and status, she held up with her sense of fairness.

“If she borrowed money, she would return it the next day, even if it was 10 rupees,” Mr. Kumar said.

A sparkling, empty house

Deepa-ji’s departure has had a massive impact on her home and family, which is situated near Char Dukan.

Inside their small home of two rooms, one can see that everything is sparkling clean: the bed sheets are straightened, the floor is dustless, and the pictures and clothes are kept in order.

“Look at this room,” Mr. Kumar said, pointing out the structure of the room with the beds and pictures. “It’s so clean. This whole house is made by her.”

During her day off, Deepa-ji would clean their house, with Mr. Kumar assisting.

“She would wash the clothes, and I would dry them on the roof so that she wouldn’t get sunburned,” he said.

Mr. Kumar also made her black tea in the morning, before she went to work.

With teary eyes and a broken voice, he said, “She would wake up earlier than me and say, ‘Oi Lambu! Wake up and make me some tea right now.’”

Asked about how they met, Mr. Kumar talked about how they had an arranged marriage, and how she took him to Mussoorie to settle, which was particularly hard as he had lived in a village all his life.

“I was a village man. She taught me how to live in a city, how to talk to other people,” he said.

Furthermore, their first few months in Mussoorie were difficult. Mr. Kumar recounted how they had to “sleep on cardboard on the floor” when they worked for other people as servants.

Through their struggles, the young couple worked together to build a life for themselves and their children in the hills of Mussoorie.

Mr. Kumar fractured his right arm, rendering it useless for a period of time. During this time, he sobbed, Deepa-ji would feed him food in bed, help him get up, clothe him, and bathe him. She would even cook him eggs and make him drink milk so that his bones could grow stronger.

Now, Mr. Kumar is alone, crying with only his son at night: “Sometimes I lay down over here, sometimes I lay down over there,” he said, pointing to opposite ends of his bed.

Asked about his favorite memory of her, Mr. Kumar said, “She gave me two kids, a son and daughter. They’re the most fragile things in the world for me and my legacy will continue because of them.”

Currently, Mr. Kumar’s son, Sunil Kumar, is unemployed.

This has caused much financial difficulty for the family, as his daughter has moved away to Haridwar, where she currently lives with her husband, and the passing of Deepa-ji, who supported them with her Woodstock salary.

“My daughter has left me. I have no money. I have no one,” he reflected.

“We are very troubled, sahib,” he said to me. “My son is unemployed. We find it hard to get even two rotis a day. The whole world eats roti: some roti I will eat and we’ll get a little stabilized, be back on our feet. Please help us,” he said.

“Woodstock is our God.”

Mr. Kumar finds it difficult to be alone: “When you take a fish out of its pond, it starts flailing and gasping for water. I am that fish,” he said.

As Deepa-ji’s ashes merge with the holy Ganges, her house stands still, alone, with a sparkling floor turning dustier every day.

“What should we do?” Mr. Kumar said. “Time has played its game. In front of time, no one can win. Time is God. Whatever it does, it does with its own will.

“It doesn’t listen to anybody.”

Anirudh Aggarwal contributed reporting.

Photos courtesy of the Kumar family

Edited by Aarti Malhotra


2

Welcome to the jungle: Leopard sighting a reminder of school setting

(Originally published on Sept. 12, 2019)

During the quiet morning of Sept. 2, at 2:24 a.m., a leopard was sighted coming down the ramp from the Centre for Imagination to the Main Gate.

“We heard a noise,” Mr. Purshotam Kharola, a security officer who was on duty during that time, said. “It came to the gate. Two of us guards were in the station. After it saw us, it ran back to the jungle area.”

Mr. Kharola, a school employee for the past 16 years, talked about how there was a “blind spot between the two lights” at the top of the ramp where the leopard came from. Hence, they could not anticipate the animal approaching the gate.

This is not the first time that a leopard has been spotted on campus or Mussoorie.

Mr. Dev Chand Singh, another security officer who has been working at Woodstock for 22 years, said that he saw a leopard when he was patrolling along the steps of Community Center sometime around 2001-2002.

“If it comes out at night, its eyes are very vivid and bright,” he said.

Asked about how guards are receptive to such events, he said, “Guards are always alert.”

Additionally, Mr. Dinesh Gupta, the school’s chief of security, talked about the implications of the leopard sighting. He drafted a letter to the forest department and related government institutions, like the Nagarpalika, detailing and accounting the event.

He, too, talked about how there have been around three leopard sightings through his five years at the school.

“It is the jungle. It is common sense. We are living in their area,” he said.

There was even one case last year when a “34-year-old man was attacked by a leopard on the busy Gandhi Chowk” in Library Bazaar, which is on the other side of town. The man fended off the leopard with his bare hands and managed to escape.

Later in the day of the most recent sighting, Dr. Jonathan Long, school principal, wrote an email to the staff about the incident.

These are very shy creatures and most unlikely to appear when people are around. In fact, leopards can stay in close proximity to human beings without getting noticed for a long time,” he wrote.

After Dr. Long sent this email, Mr. Jeffery Doerfler, Dean of Student Life, forwarded the message to the rest of the school. He also added a link to  CCTV footage of the leopard, complete with melodramatic music.

“Students need to know these things,” Mr. Doerfler said. He explained that sharing the video and Dr. Long’s email was an initiative to facilitate more transparency between the school’s authorities and students.

He also added that he was more worried about the day scholar students, who need to walk the same path that the leopard came from to get to their homes. Hence, he advised them to “walk in groups at night” to scare away any leopards, in the unlikely event that they appear.

Dr. Long echoed these thoughts in his email. He said, “If you have to move around isolated or very overgrown parts of the campus in the dark, ensure that you have a companion with you and carry a torch so that you will not be mistaken for another animal!”

Dr. Long also assured students and staff that leopards are not a significant safety threat.

He said, “Leopards are cautious and will avoid a confrontation with human beings. In any event, merely seeing a leopard is not dangerous.”

However, routine activities that occur outdoors in mornings, especially cross-country, may be in potential danger.

When asked about the news of the leopard, Hakyung Yi, Class of 2020 and cross-country runner, said, “My parents were extremely worried and recommended me not to run at least for a week. They were also worried about local people in Mussoorie as they don’t have as much protection as we do.”

On the other hand, some students felt that the event was sad.

Shyla Robinson, Class of 2020, said, “I found the video quite disheartening as leopards are known to be one of the most elusive cats, and yet, here we have one running around in the heart of a human settlement, most probably in a desperate search for food.”

Yi said that her mother said that this event revealed the true nature of the school’s setting: “She [said] that I am living in the ‘true’ wild.”

Photo is a screenshot of CCTV footage. 

Abiral Lamasal and Chittish Pasbola contributed reporting.

Edited by Aarti Malhotra.


3

‘Making life real’ with Mr. Crider

(Originally published on Apr. 4, 2019)

Long-term resident reflects on life in the hills

Mr. Dana Crider, to this day, remembered the story of a brother and sister, both of Indian descent, sent from Southern California to study at the school “to experience India.”

“I was walking around the dorm one night and I could hear somebody crying in the dorm,” he said. He quickly found the boy from Southern California alone in his room.

“When I walked in, he was on his bunk with his face on the mattress and his pillow pulled out on top of his head. He was just crying and sobbing into his bed. I put my hand on him, asked him,

‘What’s wrong?’

“He said, ‘Mr. Crider! I just want a hamburger!’

“So, of course, the next night, he and his sister were both at our house for hamburgers,” Mr. Crider smiled.

“It’s how you make life real.”

Life’s calling

From the 2008 Whispering Pine

Mr. Crider is a former mathematics teacher, dorm staff, long-term Mussoorie resident, and environmental activist. Walking to his house, I passed by his single-seat electric car and garbage truck, which was used for his organization’s plastic trash cleanups. As I entered his house, I was greeted by piles of books, papers, and writings that swamped all the tables.

With his laptop screen open and phone positioned on his ear, Mr. Crider was talking to a local student about mathematics. Although he no longer formally taught, he was tutoring other kids from the hillside at his own home.

Mr. Crider has had a gigantic impact on the school and the wider Mussoorie community — literally and figuratively. Just by entering his room, one feels encapsulated by his booming, reverberating voice and large frame. Moreover, Mr. Crider has lived on the hillside longer than most residents in Mussoorie.

Mr. Crider first heard about the school from the friends of his wife, Judy Crider, a Woodstock alumna. What they told him made him feel the need to take action, but he never knew that he would end up staying in Mussoorie for 40 years.

“They had these not always so happy stories of being boarders at Woodstock: they remembered bullying, some drugs, and some unfair disciplines,” Mr. Crider said. “One of my desires was that, if we could get a chance to work at Woodstock, I would make it a better time than some of them remembered.”

Shortly after taking a trip there at the end of Sept. 1979, both Mr. and Mrs. Crider applied for jobs in residential work at the school. They were given the jobs and soon after they arrived, their daughter was born in Mussoorie.

A connection with the hills

Forty years later, Mr. Crider remains on the hillside, actively managing and participating in plastic cleanups throughout the city. Asked about what made him stay so long, he replied, “I was convinced that it would have to be a long enough time to make a difference.”

To give perspective on how connected the Criders are to Woodstock and Mussoorie, Mr. Crider talked about Mrs. Crider’s parents and his daughter: “Judy’s parents, who we took care of their last years here, are both buried at the cemetery at the top of the hill.”

Furthermore, their daughter, who was born and raised in Mussoorie, “died early, at 26” and was also “buried at the top of the hill.”

“In a lot of ways, we say that this is where life has happened,” he said, reminiscing.

“I miss my daughter. I’d loved to take her to lunch at Greens again. The other side of that is that you don’t regret any of those things you’ve gone through,” he reflected. “You find ways to grow through them. You find ways to help other people grow through similar situations.”

This aspect of perseverance, however, was ingrained long before, back when Mr. Crider was still a young boy in America. From the beginning, Mr. Crider embarked on the journey of “making life real.”

Growing up on the sod

Mr. Crider grew up on a dairy farm in South-Central Pennsylvania. He said that his father decided, when he was in the fourth grade, that he was old enough “to help with the chores of the farm.”

Back then, life for Mr. Crider consisted of the following routine: he would get up at 4:30 am every morning to help carry the cows, get the milk, and feed them. Then, he would take a quick bath and, if he “got on time,” get breakfast. He would then go to school, come back home, and repeat the farm chores. All in all, his work hours lasted from 4:30 am to 7 pm.

“That’s what I remember,” Mr. Crider reflected. “Lot’s of hard work.”

This rigorous lifestyle, according to Mr. Crider, made him “uniquely creative and gave [him] a unique love for animals.”

Furthermore, it also helped him build endurance for accounts of physical adversity he faced later on life: when he was a junior in high school, he was “run over by a six-and-a-half tonne tractor in the field.” In his senior year of high school, he had a “car accident.”

Additionally, the countryside life had prepared him for India. When he was in high school, he had friends that were “business people, army personnel, preachers, and other farmers.”

“Having a mixed variety of students to work with was good for me,” he said, highlighting the diverse, cross-cultural experience one experiences at Woodstock.

Hence, it comes as no surprise, that when he came to Woodstock, Mr. Crider dived into dorm work for the next nine years, submerging himself in the “privilege of building relationships with teenagers.” More importantly, to “model parenting” for children whose parents are far away.

Catching boys sneaking to Flag Hill

One night, Mr. Crider recounted, there was a disturbance going on in the dorm. This was with the Class of 2000, one of whom was Mr. Jonny Seefeldt, who would eventually become a head of upper years.

“It turned out that a bunch of boys was sneaking out the dorm on a full moon night and they had a movie camera or two. They all dressed up for a wedding party and one of them was in a white gown to be the bride. They were gonna sneak out to Flaghill to have a wedding,” he said.

“They didn’t know it, but I heard the disturbance and walked behind them quietly.”

As Mr. Crider crept softly behind the boys. Even with his “big size,” they “never recognized that [he] was even there.” Hence, the boys went out and around the back of the Hostel up to the place where there is currently a locked gate.

“They thought, ‘Ahh … We’re high enough. Crider won’t hear us now!’ That’s when I mentioned right behind them:

“Crider knows where you are!”

“They just about died.”

‘Modelling parenting’

From the 1997 Whispering Pine

A special tradition that the Criders maintained was that, every time they celebrated their wedding anniversary, they would “get a cake from the school and share it with the boys in the dorm.”

Back in those days, according to Mr. Crider, “Ninety-nine guys were with us and everybody got a piece of cake and some ice cream as well.”

He recounted a night when they noticed a boy standing still alone in the Hostel dining room. “He simply just stood there and stared at my face,” he said.

“I said, ‘What’s wrong? Something must be on your mind.’”

“He said, ‘Yeah, I was wondering what it would be like to live in a family where my parents were so committed that they would still be together after 30 years.’”

The boy’s parents remained together only “three years after his birth.” Hence, Mr. Crider stresses how “modeling parenting becomes a big thing.”

“You shouldn’t think less of yourself if your parents didn’t get to that point. However, life has to be real,” he said. “If life isn’t real, it’s superficial. I don’t think that a superficial life is what you live at Woodstock at all.”

One of the main ways that Mr. Crider feels that life can be made “real” is through an increasing connection with the outdoors.

Protecting the outdoors

In 1978, Mr. Crider had a major injury, messing “up the muscles and tendons on [his] right leg.”

However, this did not stop him from venturing into the wild. After the injury, he took a group of middle school children and walked back the school gate to Thatyur, Suvakholi, Nag Tibba, Lurnzhu, the Aglar Source, and finally back, making a huge circle of 90 kilometers, all on foot.

“I don’t think any middle school group has done that since. Not many before either,” Mr. Crider said.

In addition to this feat, he has been to Nag Tibba six times, hiked up Hanuman Chatti, a path that went up 12,000 feet. Reflecting on his outdoor feats, he said, “Out of all the people you know as dorm parents, I’ve trekked all over the mountain, all over North India, where many of them have not been.”

Perhaps it is because of this deeply-rooted connection with nature that led Mr. Crider to become a foundational force in the plastic cleanup organization, KEEN (Keeping the Environment Ecologically Neutral).

KEEN, or KLEEN in its early stages, was started by Richard Wechter, a former earth science teacher, in 1995. According to Mr. Crider, Mr. Wechter would always “carry a bag as he went to and from school, pick up plastic along the road and take care of it.”

Furthermore, he would routinely visit khuds bombarded with trash. “The way trash is treated so often in India is, if you throw it down the gully and walk on, it’s not yours anymore,” Mr. Crider added. Hence, as an initiative to clean up Mussoorie, Mr. Wechter hired three young men (one of which was the current operations manager, Ashok Kumar) to visit these gullies and collect trash.

When Mr. Wechter left Woodstock, he asked Mr. Crider to take up the organization. “Now, we’re at 2019 and Ashok Kumar is still working with me on this recycling program,” Mr. Crider said.

“What started out as just one man’s passion … [has gotten] big enough that I get to report to you that this is the first month in Mussoorie that we are picking up trash from 9 out of the 13 wards in the city.”

“I have 83 men working under me to do it. Ashok Kumar is my operations manager to this day.”

A KEEN trash collection truck was parked right outside Mr. Crider’s residence

One of the biggest accomplishments of KEEN would be its efficient segregation system when it partnered with Woodstock and the hillside homes. During that time, according to Mr. Crider, they managed to separate the waste so distinctively that they could take the dry waste and recycle 90 percent of what they had picked up.

In the recycling process, Mr. Crider stressed the segregation of waste. If wet and dry waste are mixed together, only 10 percent is recyclable: “If you have noodles with magazines, nothing’s recyclable.”

This, according to Mr. Crider, is the biggest environmental problem that Mussoorie faces today: “Many, many people do not see the value of segregating waste. Many do not want to pay to solve the problem of environmental concerns.

“People often [wrongly] believe that nature can take care of itself.”

He cited a recent example of this apathy when he went to the hospital: “While I was there, I saw someone throwing trash away. I said, ‘Woah! Can we look through there, is it segregated?’

“He said, ‘No.’

“I said, ‘Why don’t you segregate it?’

“‘No one does,’ he replies.

“‘Then you start, you do it. You set the standard.’ The big thing is you don’t give up. You keep pressing on.”

It is through fighting this dogma that Mr. Crider has learned a valuable trait: perseverance. When he had started working for the Nagarpalika, the Mussoorie government, KEEN worked “without a contract for a whole year” and thus, Mr. Crider had to put a lot of his own funds into the initiative.

“Now that we kept at it, Nagar Palika has agreed that it’s worthwhile, we’re able to get some of my money back. The new officers of Mussoorie, like Anuj Gupta, are supportive of us: right now, we’re doing wards 1-9. He would like us to be doing wards 1-13,” he said.

“In other words, all the wards by mid or late April.”

The workers will hopefully be earning a combined 640,000 rupees a month, commissioned by the Nagarpalika, for doing this work.

Slowly, his hard work is bearing fruition. The government is recognizing the importance of cleaning the streets and khuds. If Mr. Crider had given up, it would be very likely that Mussoorie would be filled with trash. Filled with monkeys scavenging empty Coke bottles. Filled with paths of empty tobacco packets.

In other words, without Mr. Crider, Mussoorie would have literally become a mountain of trash, especially with the massive tourist population.

In addition to supporting KEEN, Mr. Crider is also known all over Mussoorie as one of the first citizens with an electric car. According to him, one needs to clearly state the key values that he or she lives by:

Mr. Crider’s electric car (Photo by Knema Gardner)

“Life is real. The better we can model that reality in life, the better we can influence people around us.”

‘Making life real’

From the 1992 Whispering Pine

Ultimately, Mr. Crider has three main pieces of advice for students to “make life real.”

Firstly, you must become environmentally educated and connected: “Learn now the good guidelines of care of the world. Don’t give up on that. If we set patterns now, we will follow those patterns the whole way through our lives.”

Secondly, you must “value your relationships with each other and with adults around you.” “Woodstock itself builds relationships. You’re gonna remember some of your teachers and dorm parents uniquely because of Woodstock.

“Not everyone is likable, but everyone has value,” Mr. Crider said. “Not every old man of 65 years can talk about friends he’s had from Woodstock over the last 40 years.”

Finally, Mr. Crider stresses students to “dream big.” According to him, students “in many, many ways can be whatever they want to be.” Mr. Crider mentions the “crazy school song we sing,” Shadows, in this reflection: “Aim at the higher goals!

“Find what the future holds!”

Currently, Mr. Crider lives with his wife, Mrs. Crider, at their house atop Pennington. He tutors students in mathematics. He is the chairman of KEEN and is also greatly involved at Union Church. “I don’t usually get bored. I can keep busy enough,” he said.

However, what may be the biggest accomplishment of all is his connection with the rest of Mussoorie. “Whether it’s because of my size or because of the length of my living in Mussoorie or whatever, everyone in Mussoorie knows Dana Crider,” he said.

“I count that a privilege.”


Dhrubhagat Singh is the managing editor of The Woodstocker

Edited by Rohan Menezes

Featured image by Knema Gardner


4

A Supportive Team

(Originally published on Nov. 17, 2019)

Four intense days with the Tigers at Win Mumby

The final practice

Nineteen girls huddled around the tiger logo in the center of the gym, all anxious. It was a ritual: to become a Tiger, one must devote herself to the eye of the logo, the eye of the tiger.

As Mr. Steve Luukkonen, physical education teacher and basketball coach, rounded his Tigers, he redirected the girls’ attention to the issue at hand — Woodstock’s Win Mumby tournament.

The girls went along and did layup drills, practicing their entrance for all the games. Even for the final practice, all the players, including those who did not make the Win Mumby team, were there helping and preparing each other for battle.

The Win Mumby group consisted of the following:

  • Rachel Solomon, Class of 2019 (co-captain)
  • Malsawmsangi “Sangi” Ralte, Class of 2019 (co-captain)
  • Siri Norbu, Class of 2019
  • Saira Mehra, Class of 2020
  • Pooja Shankar, Class of 2020
  • Radha Laplamool, Class of 2020
  • Muzhgan Noori, Class of 2020
  • Delilah Meyer, Class of 2020
  • Gauri Pasbola, Class of 2021
  • Jinju Park, Class of 2021
  • Aadya Aryal, Class of 2021
  • Singye Norbu, Class of 2021

The girls started scrimmaging with each other: the non-Win Mumby players versus those on the roster for the tournament.

Mr. Luukkonen shouted different plays; the Tigers precisely executed them, knowing each one of the plays from memory.

“Cover that rim, always,” Rachel told Delilah.

After several intense scrimmages, the girls toned down a bit.

“We’re going to try a tall line up: Sangi!” Mr. Luukkonen called out.

They laughed.

On that note, Mr. Luukkonen called the Tigers back to the same spot: on the eye of the tiger.

“Hate to put you on spot,” he said, “but next time we do this is Win Mumby.”

He concluded the practice.

Game 1: Woodstock versus Shiv Nadar School

A tense lobby room contained the beating hearts of the girls, who all waited for the moment: the moment that they had been constantly working hard to dominate throughout their season —  Woodstock’s Win Mumby Basketball Tournament.

As the girls lined up before the entrance to the main court, swarms of students ran onto the sidelines, holding their hands out patiently to the stationary players.

The sound of a large drum being beaten in increasing pace reverberated across the gym.

The crowd cried in progressive unison: “Wood!” “Stock!” “Wood!” “Stock!” “Woodstock!” Bass guitar kicked in, “Eye of the Tiger” suddenly filled the entire gym.

The girls entered the floor aggressively, high-fiving the hundreds of fans who stood outside the court waiting for them; they ran and dribbled, until only the rim was left for them to conquer.

As the pre-game time dwindled, the girls huddled together. All bowed their heads down. Sangi led a prayer.

It was battle time.

“We fight together!” Mr. Luukkonen shouted as he released them onto the court.

The ball was suspended in the air, two hands ready to tip it to their teammates.Woodstock lost the opening tip, but Sangi got the rebound and swiftly made the first basket

The crowd erupted.

Shiv Nadar played a tight defense, but the girls managed to push through, scoring another bucket. Fouls bounced back and forth between the two teams, culminating in Woodstock’s bonus possession.

“Take that ball away, now take that ball away!” the crowd roared as the Tigers were back on defense.

One particular bench, filled with 11th and 12th grade boys, erupted in cheers on every possession, to the point where they were manipulating the referee’s calls on fouls that did not favor the Tigers.

“Keep playing tight-D, you’re doing great,” Mr. Luukkonen said as they huddled after the end of the first quarter. They were up 9-6.

“Good start, ladies!”

Before the Tigers realized, however, number 6 from Shiv Nadar shot a three-pointer.

She drained it.

The Tigers, unfazed, pulled out their own blow. Pooja grabbed an offensive board and was fouled. She proceeded to the free throw line.

The crowd shushed each other. All was quiet but Pooja’s breathing.

She shot, making both attempts.

The hyper section screamed once again. This time, Mr. Mark slowly walked over to them. He threatened that if they were going to continue displaying “unsportsmanlike” behavior, he would kick all of them out of the gym.

A part of the crowd died with Mr. Mark’s silencing.

Pressure started to kick in. Jinju went in for a steal. The ref called a reach.

“I didn’t even touch her!” she exclaimed.

Number 9 pulled up a shot, behind the perimeter, and drained it. The crowd hushed.

“Get back on the safety. In the second half, we’ll switch to zone,” Mr. Luukkonen said to the girls in a quick time out.

The Tigers continued to struggle, giving up three rebounds. Number 10 got the stylish reverse hook off on Rachel. Holes in the defense were becoming more prominent.

“Why are there open guys?” Gauri screamed from the bench.

The Tigers were feeling even more pressured: they started slipping the ball, giving free fast breaks to the other team.

“Dribble with a purpose,” Rachel said to the team as the first half ended. They were down, 11-17.

Radha drained a shot off the board. The crowd was up again. The girls were rekindled with energy.

Not for long, however. Number 10 pulled up a long two in front of two Tigers.

Nothing but net.

The Tigers took shot after shot. Nothing went in. Shiv Nadar increased the score differential. Rachel grabbed the boards and put shots back in. It wasn’t enough: the Tigers, especially the younger ones, were being crowded by the crowd.

“Switch the high and the low. Rebounders, get in there, get aggressive,” Mr. Luukkonen said to the girls. He looked at every one of them. Then looked at the fully packed gym.

“This is freakin’ Win Mumby!” he exclaimed to the girls.

Saira whizzed past the defense, scoring a bucket.

Woodstock was down by 12.

“Game’s not over, why are you crying?” Rachel said to Gauri, who was putting her head down on the bench.

Shiv Nadar, knowing the lead they established, held the ball out for as long as possible. The Tigers scored, but the lead grew longer and longer as the game went on.

Mr. Luukkonen called a timeout in the last minutes of the game. He pointed at the scoreboard: “How much time is left on the clock?”

The girls followed his fingers.

“It’s not zero yet.”

The Tigers pushed till the last second. Fate seemed to shine poorly. Woodstock lost their first game, 34-25.

“I missed so many shots,” Sangi said as she was reflecting on the game. “Second quarter: We started panicking when they started having a lead.”

“Stupid loss. Coulda’ easily won. Can’t chalk it up to nerves ‘cuz we were out of nerves after the first five minutes,” Rachel added.

Mr. Luukkonen, letting the girls have enough time to reflect, picked up a marker and wrote on the whiteboard, Positives!!

“What were the positives?” he asked the team.

“We played to the last second,” Gauri replied.

“I saw a bunch of girls that at no point started fighting with each other … No falling apart as a family. The team was unknown, they had good shooters: they shot outside and made it,” Mr. Luukkonen said. “In our minds, entering the tournament, while being undefeated [in previous tournaments], we had this fairy tale that we would easily win. There’s always a game like this, pushing us. I’m glad it came.”

He then stepped closer to the team, with a sterner face.

“I want you to look around the room, make eye contact with everyone,” he said.

The girls jerked their heads in every direction. They giggled because of the awkwardness.

“This is weird,” one of them said.

“You have fought battles with these people. We keep pushing it and we keep playing hard,” Mr. Luukkonen concluded.

With that, the girls were on livestream, with many other former players supporting them via the comments section. Players who were sick because of the flu going around campus were also sending text messages to the players, congratulating them for their efforts.

“Doesn’t matter who we play. Play like how you would. How you know how,” Rachel said resolutely.

The girls huddled together, stacking all of their hands in the center of the circle.

“Tomorrow. Brand new day,” Mr. Luukkonen shouted.

“3 … 2 … 1… Tigers!” they all exclaimed in unison.

Game 2: Woodstock versus Strawberry Fields High School: The Clash of Centers

“It’s nerve-wracking. Playing against your ex-teammates is not easy. We’re gonna give a tough fight,” Tarini Boparai, a former Class of 2019, said when asked about her upcoming game against the Tigers.

Tarini used to be a key player on the Tigers roster two years ago, until she left the school to move to Strawberry Fields High School, where she also played a key role as a center.

During Tarini’s absence the following year, Woodstock acquired Rachel Solomon, who has served as starting center ever since she joined.

A rivalry was born — one that all of the girls, especially those who had also been Tarini’s teammates, wanted to see.

“May the best team win,” Tarini concluded.

The Tigers lined up, the entrance ceremony began. Nerves began wracking up. It was redemption time.

“Enjoy the game, no pressure,” Ms. Venna, dance teacher and active supporter, cheered.

Rachel and Tarini walked up to the center of the court, eyeing each other. Then they squatted, waiting to explode into the air.

The ref tossed the ball.

Rachel won the tip, but Strawberry Fields got the first possession.

Immediately, Tarini ran into the center of the paint, hoping for a quick, easy bucket.

Rachel ran in front of her. Tarini got the ball and tried to dribble past Rachel. It was body against body, strength against strength, hustle against hustle.

Tarini jumped to put in a lay-up, Rachel jumped higher.

She blocked the shot.

The crowd roared.

Tarini was zoned by Rachel. The Tigers were taking care of the paint, but the perimeter was open.

Seeing these holes, Strawberry Fields shot and made their buckets.

They ran past the defense and attempted distant layups, but were fouled by the Tigers.

Woodstock was down by seven points, scoring none.

“They’re getting their shots from the free throws,” Sangi said in a needed timeout.

“Change it up to spread. Pick up the cuts. If that doesn’t work, get the post game. Get it down low,” Mr. Luukkonen rapidly fired.

Strawberry Fields was in the bonus with 3:05 left on the clock.

Rachel and Tarini proceeded to go for the same rebound. Both their hands were on the ball. Grip against grip. Muscle against muscle. Determination against determination.

Woodstock got the possession. Mr. Luukkonen shouted in joy. Radha drained a 2-point shot.

Woodstock was now only down by one.

“They’re gonna be tired, push that defense,” Mr. Lukkonen said as the quarter drew to a close.

The Tigers ran the full court press. Number 11 from Strawberry Fields shot behind the perimeter.

She nailed the three.

“Defense is always on Rachel, find the open short post,” Mr. Luukkonen said to the panting Tigers.

The Tigers, however, became even more aggressive — fouling when the other team was simply bringing the ball up.

“The only way their team works is by free-throws. Stop fouling,” Rachel said.

The crowd rekindled in energy, crying, “Let’s go Woodstock, let’s go!”

Each step became heavier. Every breath deeper. In frustration and fatigue, the Tigers continued fouling. The full court press was draining them.

“New plan: We’re gonna cut up everyone from the full-court press except Tarini. No more fouls!” Mr. Luukkonen exclaimed.

Jinju drove through the defense and made an aggressive lay up. The Tigers were regaining their strength.

The Tigers lashed their claws and fought; however, the stalemate wore out both teams equally. Time was crunching down. Every moment mattered now.

“Contain every single person next to you,” Sangi said in the final time-out.

Number 10 was fouled; she made one shot. It was a tie game, with less than a minute remaining on the clock.

Fouls started bouncing back and forth on both teams, all in an effort at slowing time. Time that would determine everything.

Saira attempted a shot in the high post, got fouled. She lined up on the free throw line. The crowd was silent. Only the bouncing of the ball was heard.

It all came down to these two shots … an entire season of effort and determination would be defined in two moments. Saira took a shot, missing the first. A pang of uncertainty entered the hearts of the crowd.

She looked into the ring. Sweat drizzled down her head. Light shone on the ball and her. She released the ball into the air.

Milliseconds passed with all eyes on the rising basketball.

It went in. The entire gym erupted in cheers.

The Tigers regained their lead.  Number 4 was fouled, making only one shot. Gauri pulled up a three, draining it to beat the buzzer.

Swarms of students ran onto the court, high-fiving and hugging the tired Tigers.

Woodstock won, 37-33.

“We didn’t give up till the last second,” Pooja said as she was reflecting on the game.

“Adaptability is a big thing: we filled the holes and drilled the shots,” added Mr. Luukkonen.

Mr. Luukkonen then talked to the younger players who didn’t get a chance to play that night, reminding them that they were still crucial to the team. They were crucial to the family.

“Teamwork makes the dream work. That’s exactly what we did tonight,” he concluded.

Game 3: Woodstock versus Motilal Nehru School of Sports

I walked into the Tigers’ meeting room ten minutes before their call time. Surprised, I found the entire team sitting there, unchanged — discussing issues, plans, and strategies before the coach even came.

“A lotta people who play now had a lot of time on the bench in the past,” Rachel said as they were discussing playing time.

“We don’t want you to feel bad for subbing you in,” Sangi added.

“It’s not like we’re really happy playing the fourth quarter,” Radha slowly added, telling the team that it was incredibly exhausting.

“You guys are playing, us playing. It’s like one thing. We’re all one team,” Aadya, who was one of the substitutes in the game, replied.

“Support on the bench is as important as on the court,” Delilah added.

Today’s game was against Motilal Nehru, a school solely dedicated to their sports program. The Tigers were going up against players who did nothing but practice basketball all day. Motilal obliterated the other teams in the pool: they won 47-8 against Strawberry Fields and 66-20 against Shiv Nadar.

“Regardless of how we play today, no matter what the score, just play to be happy,” Rachel said to ease the anxiety.

“Don’t go there unconfident. Expect the unexpected,” Sangi said.

On that note, Rachel started discussing their game plan. She took a whiteboard marker and attempted to draw a court but failed. Sangi swept in for the rescue.

After a couple of minutes of effort, they decided to give up and leave the coaching to the coach.

The girls then proceeded to get changed and came back, munching on some quick snacks before the game.

“Write that we always eat chocolate,” Gauri said as she was staring at my notebook.

“Have you guys tried chocolate and popcorn?” Sangi asked after grabbing Parle-G biscuits.

While they were eating, the girls started teasing one player. It was teenage girls being teenage girls, talking about the romantic life of one of the players.

“It’s fine, we’re a team. We tell each other everything,” Radha said to me.

Mr. Luukkonen entered the room and started playing footage of how the other team played, exposing gaps in their 2-2-1 defensive strategy. The Tigers were going to manipulate their defense, forcing their two perimeter defenders to follow the guard, Sangi or Saira, and therefore leaving a huge gap in the middle of the paint for Rachel to score.

“Can I go down the middle?” Sangi asked Mr. Luukkonen.

“No, that’s a death trap. You’ll get murdered,” he replied.

Mr. Luukkonen assigned the numbers that each Tiger had to guard. It was pre-battle preparation. The room intensified.

“Tonight, we finish proving that we belong with any team that comes to Win Mumby,” Mr. Luukkonen said.

“If we wanna win like a team, we gotta play like a team,” Sangi added.

“Guys, remember that feeling yesterday when we won?” Saira asked everyone.

“Play with that energy!”

It was back to the same lobby, now — this time, it was possible that some players, the seniors, were going to be here for the very last time. It was the final fight — the fight for qualification.

The Tigers lined up. Their eyes fixated only on what was before them, a basketball hoop. The crowd chanted the pep roar. “Eye of the Tiger” started playing.

“Let’s go! Our game! Our game! Our game!” Aryan Balani, Class of 2019, screamed, high-fiving the hungry Tigers as they ran onto the court.

Woodstock won the tip-off. Immediately, the game became fast-paced. Both teams were attacking the basket, occasionally fouling one another. Motilal had fast shooters, drilling past the Tiger defense.

Woodstock was down by 6 at 5:50.

The opposing team’s crowd was becoming rowdy, shrill bird-like shrieks  irritated the ears of many Woodstockers.

“We have to cover the high and low for defense,” Rachel said.

The Tigers were beginning to attract fouls, stacking them up against Motilal. They were learning from the previous game.

Sangi stole the ball and lobbed it in front for Saira to grab and score a quick layup. Except Saira didn’t look quickly enough and the ball went out-of-bounds.

“Saira! Eyes on the ball!” Rachel screamed.

Rachel pushed herself deep into the heart of the paint, surrounded by three other players whose sole purpose was to stop her from getting to the rim.

The ref called a foul. Rachel was on the line. Mr. Luukkonen, however, eyed the ref. He put up nine and then seven fingers. The ref did the same.

The ref blowed the whistle. Number 97 had fouled out.

“Yes! Yes! Yes!” Mr. Luukkonen said, jumping up and down in front of the bench.

The Tigers, energized again, pushed through the last remaining minutes of the quarter.

“99 — four fouls. 8 — four fouls. Let’s get them out of the game! 70 is dead tired. Let’s make them all dead tired,” Mr. Luukkonen said.

Rachel dashed through three defenders, making eye contact with the biggest one in the paint. Surrounded by almost the entire team, Rachel didn’t falter. She pushed with her body and got the hook shot off the defenders.

“[Expletive] beast man,” Pooja said.

Number 70 pulled up at the top of the key, draining the long two-point shot.

Saira got smashed in the nose. The ref did not see. She shook it off. There was no time for rest in an all-out war.

The Tigers kept pushing, but Motilal simply had too many cuts and drives, too much energy.

Radha attempted a drive, but Motilal’s center jumped into the air. Shot blocked. Another pang of despair filled the crowd.

Two minutes were left on the clock. Woodstock was down by 10. All the shots were ringing everywhere but the basket.

“Push! Push!” Mr. Luukkonen shouted from the bench.

The crowd, regardless of the score, cheered on: “Let’s go Woodstock, let’s go!”

As the clock dwindled down, emotions filled the gym. Woodstock lost, 47-35. And with that, they were knocked out of the 19th All-India Win Mumby Tournament. Their opponent would go on to win the championship the next day.

Some Tigers cried as they exited the court, receiving hugs from friends.

“They put their hearts out,” Mr. Jeff said to Mr. Luukkonen.

Family

The gym classroom was filled with teary-eyed girls. Some were putting their heads down. Most were sobbing.

“You guys put up a good fight,” Mrs. Nagarwalla said as she was comforting the girls.

“I know it’s really sad we lost, but we played to the last second, okay?” Saira said.

“We got our game back tonight, maybe it was a little too late,” Rachel added.

Mr. Luukkonen proceeded to take a marker from the desk. On the whiteboard, he wrote: “Love / Determination / Family!!!”

The girls started crying again.

“You just gave a fight to a school that gives nothing but sports every day. We gave them the toughest fight in this tournament. That was worth more than any trophy.

“Ladies, what you did, your dedication this fall, your love for each other. You never gave up to the very last second.

“These are all life-skills that will get you very far. I could not be any prouder of you. You fought together as a family. On a paper, it might say a loss, but in your hearts it’s a win.

“Whenever you decide to leave this room, leave it with your head up, with pride,” Mr. Luukkonen said. He then walked out of the classroom, telling the girls to call him back once they were ready.

“I just wanna say thanks guys … because I felt …. the basketball team … because of this basketball team, I felt really accepted at Woodstock. Thank you for the two years you have given me. I know the season hasn’t ended, but I love you guys,” Rachel said, choking back tears.

“Guys, I just want to say that throughout my time at Woodstock, I’ve never been so happy playing basketball. I’m sad about the seniors leaving as well,” Radha added, in tears.

“I wanna say thank you so much guys. You supported us outside of school, the game as well. This means a lot to me,” Gauri added.

“Thank you for welcoming me to the team … I never had more support in my life,” Delilah, who was a new student at the school this year, said.

“You guys are the best teammates I can ask for. Some I’ve known since I came, some recently. We’re like sisters. You’re family. I will never forget this team,” Sangi added.

The girls called back their coach. As he entered, he said, “I don’t care what anyone says out there. You know and I know we did our best. That’s all that matters.”

The Tigers huddled for the last time, in a circle. This time, they weren’t playing basketball. They were praying, for each other.

“Thank you for giving me the best team for my last season of basketball,” Rachel said.

One of the younger girls, Meto Seldon, Class of 2022, who did not play any game but was there supporting the older girls on and off the court during games, said, “So many young girls look up to you guys as our role models.”

“Thank you for being so strong. Next year, I hope you guys go strong,” Siri, a senior, added.

“Thank you God for giving me sisters. Thank you for giving me a coach like Mr. L, who has been through so many ups and downs,” Sangi said.

“You guys are one of the most loving and supporting people in my entire life. Thank you Mr. L for your support, you are like our father,” Radha added in tears.

“Thanks for enduring the longest prayer in the history of prayers,” Mr. Luukkonen said to God. “Thank you for giving me the most amazing group of daughters I could ask for. I ask forgiveness for not putting Siri on the court in the last seconds. This has been the closest we have ever been to a championship.

“Thank you for these girls supporting me through my dark times last year. Without them, I wouldn’t be here today. Give these 15 girls the most happiness in life.”

“If they aren’t running after you, they’re running after the refs,” he concluded.

Everyone collapsed in hugs.

“You’re a leader on this team,” Rachel said to Gauri, a tenth grader. “No matter what the end of the game is, you’d always push.

“Don’t be sad, we’re still gonna cook for you.”

The girls, one-by-one, hugged Mr. Lukkonen and walked out the door. They embraced each other. For some, it would be the last time.

They started this tournament tensed about Win Mumby. Walking out, every Tiger knew that it was so much more than just a game.

It was family.


With apologies to Ben Joravsky’s “A Simple Game.”

Rohan Mathias contributed reporting.

Edited by Hyenjin Cho

Photo by Joanna Victor


5

Saying ‘I do’ to arranged marriage

(Originally published on Feb. 20, 2019)

For half of my life, I have studied at Woodstock, an international boarding school. When I first arrived, I was completely shocked: students could speak against those older than them, they could stay up late talking to each other, and most importantly, they could date each other. In other words, everything that my parents disagreed with was allowed at this school.

Countless nights passed when, as a 10-year-old, I saw couples “coupling” in dark corners. When they would roam around the school holding hands and acting playfully. When guys would try to “hit on” girls or vice-versa. Romance. More importantly, teenage romance. A world that was so different from the one I was molded by.

I grew upset. The biased West, beginning at an early age, began to infiltrate my thoughts. This theme of jealousy was not present only in me, but with my sisters as well, who, similarly, went to international boarding schools. We all began to envy what we could not have: romantic love. A love in which we could choose. A love that was ours.

As time passed, our parents started talking about marriage: we were to accept what they decided for us. We had no choice but to obey. We must not break thousands of years of tradition. We must not disgrace the family. We must think about the survival of our lineage.

Furious, we talked back softly to our parents, who were the backbones of our lives. In whispers, we expressed our disgust. And, in whispers, our parents refuted. It was and continues to be an ongoing indirect war.

The West was brimming within us. It fueled our innermost truths. The West taught us the world, as we were so far from the East in our schools. How to love. How to live. We were frightened by the East. The East sought to dominate us. It sought to incarcerate our lives. The East chained us to our culture.

And for a very long time, I alongside my sisters held on to our imaginary romantic world: its fast-paced relationships; its focus on the individual; its unlimited sense of freedom; its sense of excitement.

But even perfection came to an end through time. I opened my maturing eyes to see the exaggerated fantasy of the West. Its lies of love. Its lies of perfection. Its futility. The countless breakups that happened at the teenage level. The divorces back home, especially those of a loving marriage involving a Pinay and Indian became more imminent. Cases of people divorcing for money, leaving children, both born and unborn, behind.

A perversion of love seeped into my eyes. “Till death do us part” began to renegotiate its terms. The horrific East became clearer now, moreover through my own parents.

My mother and father only got to know each other 15 minutes before their marriage. It was awkward, they admitted: their first few days together as newlyweds were filled with friction. After all, two complete strangers were now living together in one of the most sacred of unions.

However, my father clearly remembers a day he came back from work one day, sick; my mother then proceeded to make soup, one of the first dishes that she ever made for him. Instantly, my father’s heart melted and he truly fell for my mother.

Slowly, my parents dived into this realm of slow, accumulated love. With every passing day, they grew closer to each other. Love did not come before. It came after. Now, my parents have lived together for 25 years, having four children.

Yes, they do not have a perfect marriage. But the difference between the East and the West is that the East likes to take things slow within. It likes to expend time to polish something that will remain durable for the rest of its life. That was my parents’ marriage: they fought with each other. But with every passing fight, they strengthened the slow bond that connected both of them.

With age, they fell deeper in love. Strangers can fall in love with each other.

This was what I was too foolish to understand when I was younger. I thought of love as some gift and fun that was immediately eternal. I was blinded into thinking that arranged marriage was backward and began to agonize over the burden of having my parents choose my partner for me. When, in reality, the tradition has continued for thousands of years. An ancient tradition that has unified families.

In fact, modern statistics also point towards the success of arranged marriage; where divorce rates for those that “fall in love” soar up to 50 percent in the United States. On the contrary, in India, the divorce rate plummets down to one percent.

Furthermore, according to Andrew Trees, author of Decoding Love, most romantic relationships today are based off “style and short on substance.” Thus, these romantic relationships, even after reaching the marital stage, often fade away. On the other hand, in arranged marriages, people have to learn to live with each other and begin to accept the other in every aspect, making it much more durable and successful.

It seems to me that, in such a fast-paced world, we ignore the most basic of unions. We put ourselves in front of others. We value our own lust and happiness rather than the good of our wider community or even our own spouses.

It is because of this trend that people like me, Indian youth in traditional families, have grown so disillusioned with our culture. To this date, my family remains divided on the issue. My sisters, in fact, face altogether a different type of problem. It is significantly harder for them to speak out against parents and their potential spouses.

In other words, males have it much easier most of the time. And being a guy, I do not fully understand the anxiety and pressure my sisters face regarding this issue.

But those of us facing traditional expectations should not give up hope. When division arises, we all have to collectively try to learn from one another to improve the situation.

Parents should strive to understand the “modern” world their children were brought up in. Similarly, children should try their hardest to understand the “traditional” world their parents were brought in. Perhaps, once there is more empathy and understanding on both sides, things will start to become clearer. Like it has, gradually, for me.

Perhaps communities, ancient traditions, and virtues can be restored and debated to suit both generations. Perhaps new responsibilities will emerge.

Perhaps bondage may not seem like bondage at all.