We Homes Chaps: a film by Kesang Tseten 2001
Distributed by Distributed by Filmakers Library, 124 East 40th Street, New York, NY 10016; 202-808-4980
Produced by Produced by Kesang Tseten
Directed by Directed by Kesang Tseten
VHS, color, 88 min.
College - Adult
Japan, Popular Culture, Music Trade, Singers
Date Entered: 02/11/2004
Reviewed by: Reviewed by Carolyn Coates, Eastern Connecticut State University
This film documents a school reunion held at the centenary celebration of the founding of Dr. Graham's Homes, a school in northern Indian town of Kalimpong, near the border with Bhutan and Sikkim. John Anderson Graham, a Scots missionary who traveled to India in 1889, founded his boarding school for "destitute and abandoned Anglo-Indian children" in 1900. Graham was appalled by the condition in which he found children in the tea-growing regions of northern India, in particular the children who were offspring of the women who labored on the tea plantations and (male) British tea-planters who were not allowed to marry until they became managers. Later the school also began to take in disadvantaged children of other backgrounds, among then Lushai, Nepali, Naga, Assamese, and Tibetan children. The film maker and several others interviewed in the film are children of Tibetan refugees.
In 2000, on the one-hundredth anniversary of the school's founding, the film maker, Kesang Tseten, decides to return to Dr. Graham's Homes (or "The Homes") to try to better grasp the impact that this school has had on his life and the lives of his friends. The Homes is a unique place, he says, and one that profoundly affects the children who are schooled there. They hold a great affection for the place, despite the many adversities they remember, especially the strict rules and the duties they had to perform. He compares the experience to a military school, though visiting one of the cottages where the students live he finds that some rules have become more relaxed - allowing for posters on the walls, for example. While Tseten travels to Kalimpong from nearby Kathmandu, other graduates coming for the anniversary celebration travel from Sydney, London, Toronto or New York; a former teacher and the granddaughter of Graham also visit from the U.K.
A more comprehensive approach to the subject would have given more historical context or sociological explanations for the place of the school in the surrounding community, but the heart of this film lies in its reflective tone and the personal stories of the former students. For the most part, these adults, now with children of their own, studied at The Homes in the 1950s, 1960s, or 1970s. They all profess that the school made them who they are today, and most seem grateful for the experience, but their very presence at the school signifies a childhood marked by great losses. While many children were able to visit their families during school holidays, others had no family or had families too poor to bring them home. They might have lived for at The Homes for years without contact with their families, thus losing connections to their own cultures and religious traditions.
The school formed a comprehensive universe for the children, a small outpost of the British Empire into which they were immersed without cultural or linguistic preparation - though even in this sheltered world, the fault lines of the larger world showed through. Several of those interviewed noted, for example, that after several years at school, they lost their command of the Tibetan language and their sense of being Tibetan. The concept of "home" became an abstraction to them. On the other hand, some of the Anglo-Indian children from Calcutta held views of home centered on the idea that they would one day "return" to England. In any case, understanding the impact of the school on their lives means also coming to terms with the social, political, economic, and familial dislocations that brought them to the school in the first place. These people are truly the children of a "globalization" that began several hundred years ago.
With the right contextualization from an instructor, this film, though personal, rather than historical or comprehensive in scope, could be a valuable addition to courses on the history of modern India, or on colonialism, missions, or cross-cultural contact in southern Asia, or to courses taking a sociological approach to these topics. It might also be an excellent resource for courses on the psychology or sociology of education, and of possible interest for courses on autobiography. It is recommended for academic libraries that collect in these areas. The film has a home-made quality which fits the nostalgic tone of the narrative, but the sound quality is uneven, making a few segments difficult to understand. The Himalayan scenery adds to the film's visual appeal.