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The little zero bulb above the wash-basin came on with an audible click casting ghostly yellow beams on my portion on the bed and my face. It was still dark outside but mom was already up to keep up with ours, the kids' schedule for the day. For a change, I did not mumble or grumble but sat straight up. It was the one school day of the year when waking up early was not a pain. Brushing my teeth, I could hear the pre-dawn trains blow their whistles many kilometres away from the Narmada bridge, a sound which would not make it to our housing society when the traffic grew heavy on the road in front later in the day. Though train travel was rarely a requirement on most of our school trips, the shrill calls of the incoming trains were symbolic of the restlessness and anticipation of the trip to come.
Done with her duty of packing the snack-boxes for my sister and me, it was time for dad to step up for his role in the early morning ordeal. He was in charge of taking us to the forever fixed starting point for all school trips, the patch of land in front of Maharaja Hotel where the buses were waiting to take in the troops of school children and so were our other excited classmates/schoolmates with their equally tired looking parent escorts through the yet darkened roads of our small town. A quick visual scan done to check for the arrival of any members of our respective buddy groups and then the accompanying parent was suddenly as good as non-existent. As the official time to leave approached, the role calls began and though order was restored as far as the standing in neat rows was concerned, the noise levels were consistently on the rise. The teachers accompanying us on the trip would get an early taste of the headaches in store for them as kids who just about barely heeded them inside the classrooms were now expected to obey in this great long trip outside of school. The teacher shouted for silence, the children chattered on regardless, the teacher shouted again for silence, the children chattered on again regardless, the teacher gave up and sighed - was the usual pattern on display.
All loaded into the bus, the buses would roll out onto the highway and the usual antics of unreasonably happy schoolkids would begin, spurred on by the mild chill that still hung in the air. Civilized debates transforming into bitter slanging-matches over which audio cassette to play, for example, a choice between "Taal" or "Pyaar Mein Kabhi Kabhi" were a common feature. So was woefully out-of-tune and fearfully enthusiastic Antakshari singing with winks and nudges being passed around of the "He is actually singing for her"/"She is really singing for him" type. Then there were the paper ball throwing face-offs, plastic bottle duels and some random quote from a poor soul which tickled the humour of the entire bus (or at least the entire bus pretended so) which served as the basis for mindless maniacal laughter for the next few minutes. All of this cacophony would last till the sun went up full and strong. Afterwards there would be something of a lull till the destination for the picnic was reached.
School day trips were mostly to nearby forest areas. The Sagai [wink wink :)] forest and Jambughoda forest trips are names I can recall but there was one every school year and I think I did them all. The destination was not of too much consequence as the behaviour of the trippers was always similarly bizarre. The students would pour out of the buses like busy insects and proceed to do exactly the opposite of everything that the teachers would tell them, behaving much like an ant hill on drugs. "Everyone will stay in a single group" they were instructed and within the first 15 minutes there were as almost as many groups as there were children. Some raced ahead to keep up with the guide, some trailed off into checking some alternate routes confident that the noise of the other hundred stampeding children would prevent them from getting lost and some just hung back to make the most of this golden chance to irritate and worry the teachers at the same time. "Remember... we will stay here only for 15 minutes" said the supervisor at the most wonderful spot of our day long walk with a wild, magnificent jungle waterfall to play around in and so immediately the students decided that 15 minutes meant 2 hours. Only when the PT teacher came down chasing everyone with a cane did the pool at the base of the waterfall rid itself of the splashing, thrashing school children. The impromptu cricket and football sessions were also a constant presence given the availability of any minimum amount of space and time.
With the arrival of evening, the slow trooping back to the buses would be complete and the final role call before the return journey was the closing of the loop. It's a wonder given the consciously created disorderliness amongst the students that thankfully no one ever got left behind. Someone up above must be keeping an eye out for indisciplined school kids, I guess! The trip back home was a rather morose affair in the yellow lighted interior of the bus with even the most vocally capable of our troops being reduced to a mild murmur given the exertions of the day. Some gloomy soul (Me thinks it was the driver who was fed up with the constant wall of human noise behind him while he was driving around) would put on "So gayaa yeh jahaan, so gayaa aasmaan... [The world has fallen asleep, so has the sky]" in the music system, finally his choice of song, and if you were to raise your head to take a peek around inside the bus in that final leg of the return journey, you would find it tough to disagree. The immediate world around me was indeed asleep but only after revelling in an amount of happiness and fulfillment that'd be increasingly difficult to attain as time carried them forward into the complexities of their futures.