C .H. Eloni was not just a smart girl and the school captain at the Jawahar Navodaya Vidyalaya in Senapati, Manipur; she was among the sweetest, stoutest and most adventurous of students. This JNV, situated amid a serene landscape atop a mountain at Mao Gate was unique in terms of the background of the students: they were from different Naga tribes, Meiteis and Nepalese.

Though the groups were different, they shared a common trait; they were always cheerful. This might sound like a Utopian claim, but I speak from the experience of having been with the people for three years. Songs and laughter often mark their presence and even their very existence.

Illustration by Keshav

They live very simple lives, very close to nature. They are healthy, and devoid of the cares and worries that have become the general hallmarks of modern life.

This residential school, like all JNVs in India, had a common mess hall where students had all their meals together, and the teachers in charge accompanied them. It was tough facing the hostile and unpredictable weather of Mao Gate. But taught by the rough terrain to be brave, they had a way of fighting it out. The biting cold wind that frequently blew over the mountains were beaten back by the melodious singing and hearty laughter of the merry people, who preferred to cling to one another even during their walks.

“Ma’am, the paper was tough, but we don’t know how to be upset.”

They were good at everything, except at what we officially call academic studies. The science subjects were a real snag; most of them preferred to ignore them. Some tried very hard to master it, with hardly any results.

On the day of the Physics examination, the Physics teacher informed us that the questions were tough. But on my way to the quarters I found Eloni and her friends laughing and talking in front of the school building soon after the examination. Passing by them I made a casual remark: “It seems the paper was quite easy. You are all very happy.” Eloni’s quick reply was something I never expected, and I have never heard anything like it again. She said: “Ma’am, the paper was tough, but we don’t know how to be upset.”

In my 25 years as a teacher I had never ever heard such a beautiful and touching reply. Who else could say such a thing except those blessed, simple, sweet, hardworking mountain folk who have the worst of the troubles the world can offer but also the purest of joy that their divine life offers to the pure at heart!

Like most others, I had lived with the impression that one had no right to be happy if the examination paper was tough. Your very life seemed to depend on that piece of paper. What an eye-opener that simple remark from Eloni was!

Eloni wasn’t a lazy kid. She worked hard, took every possible step to master her subjects. But when that didn’t happen, she was strong enough, like many of her own people, to just let it pass and not to be upset about the outcomes.

Life went on and I was transferred to a school in Kerala, virtually at the other end of India. What a contrast it was! In the most literate State of India, I saw most of my students’ faces clouded, heads weighed down with worries, tears over half a mark lost or an ‘A+’ not achieved. These students had forgotten what laughter was, and knew only to be upset in spite of their achievements and the relative comforts they enjoyed. I just wonder what Eloni would have thought of these friends of her age with better grades but a poorer life experience.

Will we ever succeed in making our children realise that they can do their best and leave the rest, but still need not forgo their laughter. After all, what is this life all about if we cannot have a hearty laugh?

Three cheers to Eloni for teaching me the best lesson of my life. The words go on echoing in my heart even after ten long years, “We don’t know how to be upset ma’am…” And that beaming face lingers in the mind forever. Thank you, Eloni.

Courtesy : The Hindu