Jaws dropped and eyebrows shot up when I told my friends in Bengaluru that my new school did not allow us to keep electronic devices or eat junk food.
While some wondered how a monthly telephone call and a weekly emailing slot would be enough to communicate with my parents and friends, others could not understand how I could complete my homework and assignments without Google. It was as hard to explain to my friends the pleasures of a simple, close-knit life, as it had been for me to understand it, before I experienced it myself.
Time works differently in the valley. The sun seems to move faster and seems brighter. Our day starts with a long run, trek, or games, and speeds up as the sun rises. The morning assembly is my favourite part of the day, when we all sit in concentric circles on the ground, singing traditional Indian hymns and chants. Even classes are fun—at least one class a day is held outside the classroom, perhaps under the banyan tree, or we watch a documentary. As the sun silhouettes Cave Rock Hill above the games field, we head to our houses.
It may not sound like a special timetable, but it is. Not having to compete in class or on court makes a lot of difference. It opens up your world. After living in Agumbe’s rainforests for a week or following a river to its mouth on a trek, you feel at peace. Like a piece of a puzzle that fits neatly into its slot.
Having said that, I do miss the everyday miracles of television and pizza, and a mattress without lumps. But there is no way I would give up the stars above my head, or the rocks and hills beneath my feet, for them.
Ria Sojan is a class 10 student at Rishi Valley School, Andhra Pradesh