The Marshmallow experiment

Devika Nadig

The journey of a thousand miles began with the launch of Shikshangan in 2008 and continued much beyond this distance by covering the length, breadth and depth of our country. In the course of these journeys and the many interactions they brought, Vijay and I learned from individuals, communities and multiple stakeholders in the education landscape. I reckoned it would make sense to share these experiences with a wider audience, with the aim of documentation and a hope that these will both entertain and educate. Each tour was unique and I hope my storytelling skills will amuse and not lose – readers.

Some of our travels took us to ancient temple towns, creating the opportunity for encounters that made me confront my own ambiguous relationship with religion, but in the process, led me to interesting discoveries – about myself and my teaching practice.

Fifth Stop: Trimbakeshwar – Sula Vineyards – Wisdom High International School – 2014
A cocktail of the divine and wine, could anything be more stimulating? Everything significant in and around the city of Nashik is off the arterial Gangapur road. So was Wisdom High International school and a quick 28kms away from there, the Jyotirling of Trimbakeshwar. Unique because it does not house just Shiva but the Trinity. Trimbak,as it is popularly called, is a town that lies in the shadow of the Brahmagiri Hill, the source of the holy Godavari River…and a dip in her crystal clear waters clears all confused paradigms of ‘shall I or shall I not?’ So many constricting mental models created by education, and a false sense of intellectualism. Do you need the intellect to experience the divine?

The youth of our times was peppered with ‘Nirjala–fasting’ for the devastatingly attractive, and ideal Shiva; longing for a partner like him, blissfully oblivious then of fads like intermittent fasting, but acutely aware of his elixir, the somras, whetted now by tales of Meluha and the divine drink of immortality. A sojourn to Sula Vineyards post the Trimbak trip was therefore a heady mix, with long stretches of the 21km drive flanked by grape vines with vibrant geraniums at their feet to keep pests at bay, as also the four-leafed clover for good luck! We return to this tempt after a day at work.

Illustrations: DIN TOON

The session at Wisdom High dwelt on ‘Managing Impulsivity’ to stay focused on goals …research showing that developing this habit of the mind leads to a high degree of motivation; which is seen as a predictor of success. In retrospect, it seems like the perfect module to have done with the progressive set of teachers there, situated as the school is in proximity to a lot that can distract you from your focus …though perhaps not for the locals. Stories of the Marshmallow Experiment that led to showing the succinct relationship between delaying desires and a successful life, does not fail to pique the interest of teachers and leaves them on a motivational high, thinking they have just muscled themselves an elbow room for changing student behaviour in their classrooms. Strong session takeaways are what make Shikshangan’s work enduring, as was ratified by the principal, Shalini Kadwe, who ever so gently holds a candle to her name!

Work over, the Godavari beckoned first and it was tranquil as I lowered myself into the flowing water, with none of the rapid tempo of the fast flowing Ganga if you have been up in Uttarkashi. Our late winter trip found us in Trimbak a few weeks ahead of Shivratri and the preparation for the festival was in full rhythm, inclusive of musical practice. The mridang played incessantly, reinforcing the assertion that music brings you closest to the divine, and perhaps to the fundamentals of human existence. Taal and naad; sounds of various drums werereverbe rating through the temple, denying me the solemn peace needed in a place of worship, yet was quickening for the pulse and stimulating for the soul. The question why music moves us so remains unanswered, and perhaps unanswerable.

Vijay being steadfast in his atheism has been an outstanding partner by declining to enter any temple, and was eager to get going to the next destination. With stories of the mystical elixir somras shared between us on the drive, we reached the intoxicating Sula Vineyards as the distant stars beckoned and a pale moon rose in the skies.

Our agenda had a taste of the SulaFest on the plate on day 2, and we checked into the spangling ‘Source at Sula’ on the vineyard property grounds. Music seemed to have followed us here and the artists for the upcoming fest were a distant string and drum away at the Sula Amphitheatre. Famished by now, we glided into the restaurant – Cobble Street was it? It had the best cheeses and Mediterranean fare, in the middle of nowhere.

The morning of day 2 took us on a spirituous vineyard tour which Sula offers, including winery visits where you learn about the production methods if you fancy that, with the thirst quenching-wine-tasting ritual at the end of the tour. A wine expert refines your understanding of which grapes make the best somras and shows the subtle gradation that goes into producing the best. Napa Valley would be put to shame at the impressive finesse displayed here! The one place where age is an adornment, and comes at a high price, is the Oak Casks room in any wine cellar. The older, the better. Wearing the wrinkles on the face with grace, creased because you wore life more……

The wine tasting ritual was piquant and pleasantly stimulating. Surprise came in the form of a young wine expert asking you to enjoy a particular flavour by twirling it around in your mouth, and discard it before trying the next, to savour each distinction! I stole a glance at Vijay doing this dutifully, with constant confusion writ large on his countenance-and I leave it to your imagination to dwell on what I might have done on my turn… discard such a fine elixir?

India’s biggest vineyard music festival, SulaFest takes place at the vineyards every year with performances by global artists, gourmet food, and a variety of wine-centric activities. But what stole the cake for those who engaged in it, was the grape-stomping as a part of the method of maceration used in traditional wine-making ,wherein grapes are repeatedly trampled in vats by barefoot and ecstatic participants, to release their juices and begin fermentation…. If ever there was a spectacle of destruction for creation, this was one.

Dozens of people jumped into the large vats, and we, in startled alarm -stepped many feet back! Our guide enthusiastically got me a ticket to jump in, but I was left gut wrenched at the thought of bathing in grapes after Godavari!

Hopefully this is not a regular part of the authentic processes expounded so carefully during the earlier tour. The music at this crazy fervor jarred. It smacked of easy pleasure offered in superficial harmonies, much like the re-mixes today, aimed at mindless body movement, a massacre of original melodies that has become a pervasive and common phenomenon. Oh, I am sounding like an aunt in agony.

As the winter light faded, the lights in the amphitheatre glowed dimly in the distance and we took quick strides towards the venue to bring in the SulaFest. Up close now with bright lights on the stage sparkling in gay abandon, welcoming artistes from around the world. Our liberal life and ever widening scope of work in education, broke all barriers and man-made boundaries which music does not recognize anyway… and I found myself foot tapping the night away as much to Jamaican Reggae and the Hip Hop as toIndo-Gypsy fusion and Synth Pop.

Our contented car boot was stuffed with loot from the winery as we drove out the next morning with no clouds to clutter the serene sky.

A tip: Grab the Late Harvest Dessert – this sweet nectar of somras is not available anywhere outside the Vineyards!

The author has been engaged in the domain of school education for the past three decades. She is the co-founder of Shikshangan Education Initiatives, Pune, along with Vijay Gupta. The scope of their work includes teacher development by sharpening pedagogical skills and working with school leaders on their instructional and organizational leadership skills. She can be reached at [email protected].

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