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Driving Home for Christmas

By BCS Director Simon Weale

The Bishop Cotton School, Shimla year has come to an end and as per tradition each boy took part in a Christmas carol service in the school’s magnificent Holy Trinity chapel. At first glance these seem to be very traditional services – the deep rich colours and stained glass of the chapel brought to life by candle light and with a congregation brimming full of seasonal goodwill and hearty singing. And yet, a closer understanding of this phenomenon reveals another aspect of Indian life to those fortunate enough to be working here.

BCS is a Christian foundation that was opened through the energy and vision of Bishop Cotton.  He came to India with a remit from Queen Victoria to bring education in the clean fresh air of the Himalayas to children of European and mixed-race origin who were struggling to cope with life in the ‘plains’ in Colonial India. By the 20th century, the school was one of the first schools of its type to admit Indians which meant that when the calamitous events of partition came in 1947, the school already had a diverse population.  This allowed it to survive intact when most of the British went home and the Muslim boys were forced to travel to Lahore.  The sense of diversity in the school community at that moment is captured beautifully by BCS’s master story-teller Ruskin Bond in ‘Coming round the mountain’.

BCS retains its Christian identity to this day and all of the boys and staff willingly attend Chapel regularly.  However, the majority of the school population are now Hindus and therein lies the point. At BCS there is a profound respect for all other faiths and religion, and the boys clearly feel at peace in the Holy Trinity Chapel.  I recently visited the amazing Golden Temple in Amritsar which is another spiritual place which exudes this sense of belonging to all.

Of course, another aspect of the school carol concert in England is to mark the end of the calendar year and act as a sign that families will come together for the festive season, and with a combination of planes, trains, and automobiles most of us will soon be back with our loved ones.  For most Cottonians, however, the Holy Trinity Chapel is one of their homes – for generations it has provided a sense of order and routine, of togetherness and community, and of still spiritual reflection which has helped young people to make sense of their lives.  It is the first place that most visiting alumni head for when they come back to their alma mater.  A perfect place to start the holidays and a perfect place to return to in February.

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