Of Colleges and Cohorts (Part 3)

All quotations are taken from the ‘Whole Movement of Life is Learning’ by Krishnamurti.

9th March

“So I am beginning to perceive that intelligence is totally different from the activity of thought.”

Breakfast at the Ojai Coffee Roasting Co. before starting the drive to LAX. It is still very early with the sky completely clear and the mountain tops touched with pale orange light. I put the raga sonatas for piano of Michael R. on the CD player and they start off quietly, like the early morning commuter traffic, and then both change.

The flight to New York City reminds me that this is a massive country with a lot of very empty space between a number of smaller crowded spaces.  You have a couple of hours on the ground at Kansas City in a new airport that is entirely constructed out of stone, steel and ceramics in the colours of the winter landscape surrounding it: shades of brown and grey predominate. It is remarkably effective in communicating that this is the heartland and they are more connected to the earth here than they are in the place you have just left, or the one to which you are headed.

It is already dark as the plane approaches NYC and the piano raga of the morning is repeated in light. From the stygian night a few solitary lights appear lonely but encouraging, then pockets of light begin to flow into corridors of light, these in turn spill into shimmering carpets then rising into towers of light, reaching a crescendo as the plane circles Manhattan and drops towards La Guardia.

From behind his reinforced partition the driver of the yellow cab tells me he is Armenian and came to NYC twenty years ago where he now has a wife and children. He goes home each year, but doesn’t feel like he belongs there anymore, while also not feeling himself to be truly American. He is in limbo and thinks of getting out of the city and moving to a town where houses are a fraction of the price they are in NYC and the pace of life is quieter, but his children don’t want to move, so he is stuck.

We are in Washington Heights within half and hour – a much improved neighbourhood, according to the taxi driver – and I arrive at the apartment of friend and former student Vinay Swamy.

10th March

“Thought has no relation to it. It cannot be born out of thought for thought is always limited.”

There is a hint of spring in NYC, so after breakfast Vinay and I take a walk in the Fort Tryon Park on the banks of the Hudson. It has views of the river and the remarkable George Washington Bridge.

In the afternoon we get into Vinay’s battered Datsun with the strange electric seatbelts that first bar your entrance to the car and then slide in a sinister manner to pin you in once the key is turned. We head north towards Bronxville and Sarah Lawrence College. I learnt about Sarah Lawrence from a former Brockwood staff member who has a son attending it; he had chosen it from a long list of other prestigious colleges in the US and was delighted with how things were going.

I get the express tour, given by a sophomore who walks beside me, and not backwards, all the way – perhaps because there is just the two of us; it would be very weird if she chose to do the backward thing – and then meet with the woman responsible for International Student Admissions. I have only said a few words about Brockwood when she reaches for a photo of a young Indian man pinned to her notice-board. He was apparently something of a star student and came to Sarah Lawrence from the The Valley School in India, so she is immediately curious about the connection. Though I too have a list of questions to get through, the difference that is strikingly obvious between this meeting and the one I had at USC is that this woman has as many questions for me as I do for her. She is genuinely curious about Brockwood and Krishnamurti’s approach to education. Her more personal approach is in keeping with the ethos and smaller size of this interesting college.

Vinay suggests we go downtown for supper so we ride the subway to 9th Avenue and get a table at the Blossom Vegan Restaurant and Café. It is a long and leisurely meal with a lot of catching up to do. He came to college in the US from Brockwood almost 20 years ago and apart from a few years back in India he has been here the whole time. He spoke of how difficult it was making the initial transition from Brockwood to a small college town in the Midwest and then adapting to city life. It had also been tough getting to his current position as an assistant professor at Vassar College, but he was glad of the freedoms it afforded him and the choices he had made along the way. We talked about Brockwood at length and what had happened to various people who had been around during the five years he had spent there. He raised concerns about some of the things that had occurred while he was in the school and different aspects of the culture of the time. He was direct, honest and thoughtful in his assessment of his own life, empathetic and understanding in that of others.

It was late when we rode the subway home but the carriage was still crowded with a marvelous mix of races and nationalities.

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