From picnic to excursion

Malini Siruguri

If asked to describe the most memorable things about life at Vidyaranya (other than classes), my answer would invariably be meals at the lunch-scheme, music with Sonja teacher during assembly, rehearsing for annual days, and of course, going on fieldtrips. Fieldtrips from school punctuated each academic year. We were taken to places that corresponded with our respective ages; younger classes were taken on day-long trips to places like a local car museum (Sudha Cars Museum), or places of cultural heritage on the outskirts of Hyderabad, while senior classes travelled out of the city to camps and NGOs for anywhere between five and seven days. When you were a junior, you called them picnics. When you were a senior, you maturely called them excursions!

Among the list of places we visited over my 10 years at Vidyaranya, there was one that stood out noticeably. This particular trip marked the transition from picnic to excursion – it became a Vidyaranyan rite of passage of sorts.The children of class seven waited for it expectantly, having heard stories about it from their immediate seniors. It was common knowledge among them that, on this trip, you would have to stay away from home for seven days, and not bathe for the entirety of that period, gasp! There were also tales of ghosts, of train rides, and of eating without wasting, which excited some and unsettled others. Having an older sister who had been on this daunting trip four years prior, I was nervous to eat the sabudana khichdi I would supposedly be given for breakfast, and even trained for it out of fright! This scary-but-exciting excursion, known by all of us in middle and high school at Vidyaranya, was to a camp named Hooppya.

Every batch of Vidyaranya was taken to Hooppya – located on the outskirts of Pune in Maharashtra – when they reached class seven. The excursion exposed us to the experience of pitching and sleeping in tents, surviving outdoors, cooking for ourselves, and living with as little means as possible. The train ride to Pune was in a non air-conditioned compartment, which was followed by a bus ride to the camp base, and then a slippery, winding climb up to the campsite. The latter was an open field of dried grass, on two sides of which sat two colourful rows of four-person tents. A large mud hut with a thatched roof was situated on the far end of the field, where we would gather to eat. Behind this hut were two large tents for us to change in, with basic toilets constructed beyond them. Rumours went around that wisps of white mist came out from the water taps after dark. That was why we were instructed to always travel to the toilet in threes if there was need to go at night.

The days at camp that followed were filled with team activities, which were aimed at helping us develop our survival skills, and to work well in teams and place our trust in one another. A skilled team of instructors from Outdoor Mantras, a group that organizes survival activities outdoors, planned and supervised all of the activity at and outside camp. On our last day at Hooppya, we were to pitch large tents in the middle of the wilderness, cook our dinner (Maggi and chai!) with the vessels we had brought from the campsite, and take turns keeping watch while others slept, all by ourselves.
By the time we returned to Hyderabad, all of us were donned in white Outdoor Mantras t-shirts that had been signed by our instructors and friends in different colours of sketch pen, with small blurbs of nice things about us scribbled on it. The t-shirt was a fond souvenir of our experiences, and would never be washed from that point on (for fear of the ink running and ruining it)!
The immediate after-effect of Hooppya was an exaggerated longing to be woken up for chai before brushing our teeth, or dramatic confusion when we woke up in bed, in a bedroom, and not in a tent. A while after returning, I could swear that I had started to feel emotions with lesser intensity. I thought of this over and over, but could not find any feasible explanation for it. It may just have been the beginnings of the departure from naivety.
I did, however, feel transitioned – like I had acquired a new sense of seniority, of experience that now qualified me as an older student. I had added all of my instructors on Facebook– we were now equals!

The excursions we went on after Hooppya did not have as much of an influence on us as Hooppya did. It was only years later that I began to understand Vidyaranya’s larger intent behind sending us there: In a competitive world that is quickly spoiling from the need for exaggerated comfort, living minimally, peacefully, and being close to nature becomes a rare and romanticized lifestyle – the kind that you go on a holiday to experience, especially when your busy life gets a little too much to handle. Moreover, Hooppya encouraged us to work as a team, interacting with one another and engaging in activities as a community, which is yet another way of life that is declining rapidly in the world. It was these fundamentals that Vidyaranya, along with Hooppya, helped us to understand and integrate into our individual beliefs and identities as they began to take form.
Even now, nine years later, I often think of the campsite, and, having moved to Pune for my BA, wish to reconnect with my instructors and find out Hooppya’s exact location (such information was useless to me when I was in class seven) so I could visit once again – I remember being told by one of the instructors that the field was a riot of colour in the right season. Incidentally, I happened to see one of my instructors in a popular mall in my neighbourhood as she stepped onto an escalator. I had been too stunned to call out, but subsequently mused about the camp and of the people I had met almost a decade ago. In another miraculous turn of events, I was offered a chance to write an article about it – this one!

The author is from Vidyaranya’s batch of 2013. She is currently in her final year at Symbiosis School for Liberal Arts (UG), with an English major and a Psychology minor. Apart from writing, she is interested in psychosociallinguistics, doodling, and music. She can be reached at malini.bluepencil@gmail.com.