Field Trips, the average student’s only escape from the monotone & dreary grind of school. These field trips range from the fantastical to the wondrous, to the ones that are so depressing & drab that you wish that someone would stab you in the heart & put you out of your misery once & for all. With my sort of luck, guess which type I got?
My school, a “bastion” of “holistic learning” ,while a doyen in the realm of academia, possesses a rather strong distaste( and dare I say hatred) for anything outside the realm of examination related experiences & or knowledge. This toxicity applies to the dept. of field trips as well.
For years, my educational institute has lured gullible parents into admitting their children into its Gulag-like schools by making quite a few extravagant promises, one of them to take their little ones to exotic & soul enriching locations like a chocolate factory or a hill station. I call these parents gullible, not out of disrespect but because they still seem to have not caught on that my school is writing cheques that it cannot possibly cash.
Here’s a list of the field trips that I’ve gone on in the 12 years that I’ve been in this school.
- Countless trips to Children’s Park in Guindy (Primary)
- Occasional visits to Anna Zoological Park (Primary & Middle School)
- A trip to Egmore Museum (Middle School)
- A trip to Chennai Railway Museum (Middle School)
- A few years with NO field trips
- A forgettable trip to Birla Planetarium
- And the latest addition to this sorry list, a trip to the 10th Hindu Spiritual & Service Fair( It was far worse than anything you can imagine)
- The situation gets worse for 11thers & 12thers, who get to go on ZERO field trips.
Despite the horrible & meaningless destinations forced upon them by my school, my classmates remained hopeful. They followed Le Guin’s adage of ” It is good to have an end to journey towards; but it is the journey that matters in the end. “ While this quote would have no doubt reduced some of you to joyful tears, it sort of loses some of its value in this case, where the journey itself is not particularly comfortable.
For an institution with the kind of reputation, size & resources that my school has, its infrastructure is woefully inadequate at worst & laughable at best. Things are as grim, if not grimmer when it comes to transportation. My school possesses two blindingly yellow hued clumps of scarp metal ( to call them buses would be to insult all the hardworking buses of the world). These were objects salvaged from the wrecker’s yard, their headlights giving out less luminescence than a bunch of fireflies & with seats whose cushioning was directly proportional to the prosperity of your backside.
These were vehicles that could fit perhaps one class, comprising of 35 odd students, they would certainly not be enough to fit all 10 classes. To overcome this alarming deficit, my school would draw upon the reserves of the only transportation service that had even worse moving pieces of junk metal, the MTC.
This year, when you thought that it was not possible for things to get any worse, they did. Initially, it was all sunshine & rainbows, for my school had decided to sever (Or maybe it was the other way around?) its decades-old alliance with the MTC & had instead opted for the more expensive alternative of leasing Private buses. These were like mobile palaces compared to the MTC buses(not to mention our classrooms) that we had grown accustomed to. Optimism now surged though the veins of my comrades, for these buses promised sweet,sweet relief to our long suffering hindquarters, space to stove our bags & even the remote ( & tantalizing) prospect of actually being able to open a window!! Some even began to speculate that this was a good omen & that perhaps this field trip would be different to the ones of yester years.
While I did remain skeptical about the prospect of a good field trip, I did let my guard down a bit (a mistake that I regret greatly). Meanwhile, worried whispers now broke out among my classmates as to whether we might get separated into different buses!! Thankfully, this did not occur & we were all frogmarched into a bus whose upper windscreen was emblazoned with a reassuring message from the messiah of Bethlehem.
We settled down (a.k.a pushed, shoved, kicked, shouted & ran to secure our ideal seats) & soon were busy singing certain verses of random songs at the top of our voices as the bus lumbered its way through Chennai’s infamous traffic. Many of my classmates, who had spent months cramming into their brains the contents of various guide books issued by the plethora of useless tuition centers that dot the country were finally starting to unwind. Our merriment however, was inviting us several dirty glares from the various motorists that clog the roads & one particularly colorful fellow was even attempting to out-shout us!! However, we stuck firm to the unofficial law of the Indian roads i.e “The bigger your vehicle, The less of a s**t you give” & continued on your journey.
The destination soon loomed into view & before you could say “For The Throne“, we were dragged out of our comfy seats, organized into lines & marched into Guru Nanak College to visit & “learn” via exploring the 10th Hindu Spiritual & Service Fair (Secularism is dead!).
It was a sight that no rational being should ever see! Various tempo vans converted to look like temples punctuated the landscape & we were continuously harassed by roving “devotees” to seek the “blessings” of the several pseudo-priests who sat atop these papier-mâché monstrosities like a gang of monkeys( One of these so-called priests ,when questioned,could not even name the god whose idol he was sitting next to). By this time, most of my schoolmates had sorted themselves into 3 distinct groups based on their outlook on life, the eternal optimists( the minority) had decided ” How bad could it be?” & had marched off into the tented heart of the fair while the foodies( the overwhelming majority) had set up camp around the cluster of food stalls that were located opposite to the entrance to the Tent. And finally the rebels( a minority that was so small, no one even bothered to check if it existed) which was mainly composed of me, myself & I.
Having beholden this abomination of a field trip, I decided to strike out on my own because a) I was not going to be a party to my school’s rejection of secularism & b) I had better things to do. And so I set of to look for a spot to plop down & read a book.I found that spot underneath the comforting shade of a magnificent banyan tree that happened to be growing nearby. Dropping my heavy backpack onto the ground, I found a comfortable root to sit upon & proceeded to pull out Orhan Pamuk’s novel, My Name Is Red. Other than having to deal with a couple of inquisitive dogs, I was more or less undisturbed. It was then that I had an epiphany( Granted, it was not as profound as the one experienced by Shakyamuni all those centuries ago, but I’ll take it) here I was, on the grounds of a college named after the founder of the Sikhism, supposedly attending an event based on the world’s 4th largest religion, while reading a book about a 15th century Persian ruler & to top it all of, the bus that I had arrived in bore the protective words of the Holy Son! Only in Tamil Nadu could this happen!!
After this realization, I once more immersed myself into my book. Hours later, I looked up to notice that the once teeming food stalls were now closed & that a silence now hung over the entire place. Terrified that my classmates had forgotten about me & had left, I hurriedly gathered up my things & ran into the Tent. Zooming past the Round Table Conference of the Priests, I ducked & weaved between the various “stalls” & managed to catch a glimpse of one of my classmates. As I ran into the next corridor, I was startled to find my entire class hunkered down on a platform. They were busy opening & distributing the various snacks that we had brought to eat on this trip( Ah snacks, one of the few upsides of a field trip!). Not to be left out, I too joined in & soon we were all having a jolly bash. But soon, it was time to leave & we all gathered up the empty packets & wrappers ( A friend & I even gathered up the trash left by other visitors) & we left.
The return journey was actually the most exciting & the most fun part about the entire trip. Our class teacher had managed to persuade the driver to turn on the radio ( The only decision of hers ,by the way, that I have ever supported) & soon we were all swinging to the beat of various Kollywood songs. The dance maestros of our class even had dance-offs!!! The partying level from there went up so high,that the rest of the day is a complete blur!!
(*Now down below are a few comments from some of my schoolmates regarding the field trip. Their names have been changed to preserve their anonymity & to prevent persecution by education authorities)
“Well it lacked anything interesting, not much travel time, highly shows the Hindutva nature of our school ,not much fun, nothing intriguing, otherwise was perfect”-George Best*
“I’m just trying to say taking teenagers to a religious place for a field trip is not acceptable”-Real Madrid fan *
“Why do these people litter everywhere? Don’t they know how to keep a place clean?”-The Next Stephen Hawking*
“Would have been way better if it was a book fair”- CR7 fan*
“The journey was the joy rather than the destination”-Dog Owner*
“Our trip was filled with good vibrations and we all danced in the bus to some sick tunes !”-Thalapathy fan*
“The Field Trip wasn’t even a field trip. End of Story” – Apple fan*
Now, after reading the numerous critiques about my school’s field trips, some of you will no doubt be a bit miffed, thinking to yourself, ” This is outrageous, who does this kid think he is?What, does he want all the children to go on an all-expense paid trip to Mars alongside Elon Musk while quaffing down meals prepared by 3 Michelin starred chefs??”.
To those people, I say, while my demands are not as exorbitant as the hypothetical mentioned above, but do we not, as the torch bearers of the human race, as the people who will define this millennium, do we not deserve the right to quality education and by extension, a quality field trip? Do we not deserve to explore our Great nation & have fun while doing it? Do we not deserve to go to places that actually excite & inspire us? And do we not deserve to travel to these places safely & comfortably? And finally, do we not deserve the fundamental right of freedom? Because at the heart of the colossal problem facing education & ultimately humanity, is the lack of freedom given to its youth.
Swami Chinmayananda once said” The youth are not useless, they are used less!” Why is this so? Because of the paranoia that seems to have gripped parents & the fundamentally flawed ideology that marks are the gateway to a child’s success. But don’t take my word for it, take the word of one of the world’s most powerful tech giants, Google who said & I quote ” GPA’s are a worthless criteria for hiring”. Yet despite the mountain of data & research against the current way of education & parenting, the paranoia among parents has not waned.
Frequently, students are hit with allegations of being cooped up at home or being addicted to technology & that the only way to remedy this is to be stern & unwavering with them like in the good old days. Well if you demolish our parks, pollute our rivers & lakes, prevent us from playing on the road, have billions of rules & regulations in every apartment complex making it virtually impossible to move about & force us to study day in & day out & bar us from going outside on the pretext that the world is big, bad place , then what else do you expect children to do?
Until & unless a country gives its youth freedom, it will never survive , let alone thrive.