A Blog by International Students at Leiden University
I couldn’t believe my eyes. Looking down the evergreen slopes of the mountains, the enraged monsoon clouds from earlier that day had changed temperament. They had started drifting downward from the Landour Cantonment onto the lower plains of Dehradun, in a slow, rolling motion. White like sea foam, the clouds had taken a likeness in form to that of a gentle, but rapidly, withdrawing tide. The town it had previously engulfed and saturated, with seemingly never ending rain for weeks upon weeks, could now be seen clearly. The evening sun highlighted the clusters of buildings that fill the curves and slants of the surrounding landscape.
Having just trekked up the slopes from the Mall Road in Mussoorie back to the Cantonment with a friend from the Landour Language School, I was reminded of seeing some of the monkeys (bandar) rummaging through a garbage collection point, just past the school itself. While I initially wanted to retell the story of how the monkeys that morning managed to get through the metal bars of this rather makeshift enclosure, in what was presumably a frenzied search for snacks, the mundane story quickly lost its appeal. Looking straight ahead from where the monkeys had been throwing around plastic wrappers, in the distance, highlighted in a vividly purple and orange late afternoon sky, the white snow peaks of the Himalayas had at long last revealed themselves.
Baffled for a couple of seconds, I then turned to my friend, as I gaspingly exclaimed “look!” whilst pointing at the range. We quickly moved to the edge of the road to get a better view and appreciate what was in front of us. As my friend pulled out her phone to take photos, I realised that for the first time throughout my four week stay in Landour, I had left both my camera and my phone at home for charging purposes. How utterly typical.
I had been hoping for this sighting to take place, throughout the entirety of my summer Hindi studies at the Landour Language School, and finally that moment had come. Humbled by the sight of the Himalayas amidst an already enchanting sunset, and standing on a road with a newly made friend, surrounded by evergreen forest, I found myself questioning how I got to witness this majestic sight in the first place. “Nature makes me emotional,” my Jordanian friend had uttered four weeks prior, whilst walking through the dense wall of fog that had shrouded that same view. Well, interestingly enough, it just so turns out that this particular sighting made me emotional—not so much in a weeping manner but in a reflective manner—too, especially as that evening felt like a dream, like a once in a lifetime event, and my experience of learning Hindi the preceding semester had felt like nothing short of a nightmare. I didn’t feel worthy of what was in front of me.
These summer holidays, I attended Hindi classes in Landour, Uttarakhand, not because I went on some grand exchange programme or won a scholarship, based on academic excellence. The reality is quite the opposite to this idealised success story — a story with which we’re almost bombarded these days and (almost) lured into accepting as effortlessly normal. I attended additional Hindi classes for revision purposes because I felt defeated and wanted to better myself, especially after really struggling with intermediate Hindi, and failing it—yes, really, that happened—as a direct consequence of studying with chronic illness.
The semester in question went so badly that I actually experienced going to class as embarrassing (which is really not a helpful attitude). The awful thing about chronic illness is that it is out of your control yet completely your problem, making it tempting to blame yourself, for example, for not working hard enough (which also not helpful). And, हे भगवान (he bhagvaan/ my God), did I work hard! My worst fear was met during the final oral exam for Hindi 3, when I blanked out and couldn’t answer the question: “how is the room?” “Hellish!!!” I recall thinking, as I just wanted to sprint out of there. Whilst part of me is still bitter about not passing the course, especially as I failed by 0.2 of a grade—yes, really, that happened too—, I’m very thankful that my lecturer remained supportive and recommended the Landour Language School to me.
Terrified but committed to attending classes in Landour, it was therefore my determination to excel, and not my excellent grades, in combination with support from those around me, that had pulled me out from my own clouded mindset and brought me face-to-face with a strength that I had buried inside of me all along. Amidst the dense mind fog that steered my crippling self-doubt was a mountain, strong and unbending. And, guiding me on this journey were my Hindi teachers, both in Leiden and Landour, as they taught me to cherish and apply that determination with patience, not immediate perfection. Hopefully one semester soon, with this lesson in mind, I’ll be able to look at what I’ve accomplished, and tell myself ” शाबाश (shaabaash/ bravo), you deserved this amazing experience, now forget about the stupid grade”.