Sikkim and Odysseus
I went to Sikkim to visit The Taktse School where an old student of mine, Pintso Denjongpa, is the headmaster. When I arrived at the school on the first day there was a cow in the courtyard. The school is on a farm and there were new born puppies in the barn.
The school itself is newly built. It’s tall, white and beautiful, with a rounded bank of windows in the second floor library. There’s windows everywhere and a magnificent flight of stairs up to the front courtyard where everyone sits for morning meetings. There are around 200 students, from kindergarten to grade twelve.
It’s a curious thing to have a student old enough to be a headmaster. I watched Pintso discuss school issues with the teachers, run meetings, and discipline students. At dinner, he and I talked about religion — Buddhism, Christianity and Judaism. He talked about what it feels like to be from two worlds, two cultures, to be half Sikkimese and half American.
When I first met Pintso, he was fourteen years old and in my Humanities class at the Waring School. He went by the name Peter back then and never mentioned Sikkim. We were reading The Odyssey and some of the students (not Pintso) told me they thought Homer was boring. I was horrified and decided we had to put on a full scale play, telling the story so everyone could understand it. But we needed an Odysseus. An ordinary audition did not seem right, and so we came up with a three pronged test: you had to solve a riddle, win a race and jump the highest. There was a three-way tie: Pintso and two others. What should we do? We decided to have three Odysseuses. Each student would would play a different stage of Odysseus’ life. We came up with an elaborate ceremony that featured a red handkerchief to show the audience that a new Odysseus was taking over.