It was dark when we reached school. A quarter to six in the morning. One by one, cars turned into the lane and drowsy teenagers got out, half asleep and half smiling.
We filtered into the bus and as the bus began to rattle and move, our moods began to brighten. We sang and laughed our way to Karjat.
We were an enthusiastic bunch. We marvelled at the grass cut so precisely to spell out the words MAGIC BUS. We appreciated the greenery as we walked to our dorms, and we listened vaguely to clarity of birdsong. We were more than satisfied with our dorms, the two rows of bunk beds, the big windows overlooking a huge field, that, we would later learn, filled up with white birds in the morning.
We moved on to the dining area, where we were briefed on what the next three days were going to be like. Another thin layer of excitement was added to our cake of expectations when we were warned to check our shoes and dust our bedsheets, to make sure there weren’t any scorpions lurking around. Funnily enough, this seemed to scare more boys than girls. The same boys who act so rough and tough when they’re in the classroom.
We didn’t waste any time. We went to the village in rickshaws that can seat six people in the back and three in the front, including the driver. We didn’t pay much attention to our surroundings. What was there to look at? Grass and fields and muddy rivers. We’d seen all of that already. We were jaded already. Instead we played games and sang songs out of tune until the rickshaws stopped in front of a worn out hut; colourless and lifeless. We walked through the village to the teacher’s house: Mr Bhaskar, we had been told, was the man who had spent some of his savings to make a library for the village children, to encourage them to read and to inspire a hunger for knowledge. The little roads had chickens scurrying across and there were quiet cats observing us from behind shadows of trees and houses. Mr Bhaskar had a little house with a little veranda where we spent our days organising and planning. He was the sweetest man, with a smile that never faltered and seemed to be a family trait.
We discussed what we were to do, split into two groups and began working. One group stayed in the veranda and started working on charts and posters to attract the children and explain to them the importance of education. The rest of us put on our caps, refilled our rapidly emptying water bottles and grabbed paint brushes. We spent the entire afternoon painting the walls of the house, and after lunch at Mr Bhaskar’s house, went back to continue painting.
For kids who barely step out of the air conditioning, the steady heat beating down on us and the still air was almost too much to handle. We were red in the face, our clothes were soaked through in sweat and our limbs were tired and close to numb. Not that this affected the constant chatter and loud laughter that was our constant companion for all three days.
When we got back and ate a little and freshened up a little and played a little and talked a lot, we ate dinner in the dining hall, after which we were told to assemble in the boys dorm, where we were told that we surpassed their expectations and finished a lot more than we were supposed to on the first day. That had us beaming. Well, at least for a moment, until we got distracted by each other and began talking again.
The second day was hopeful. We were rested, fed and ready to go, kind of prepared to face the day. When we reached the village we were told that the village children were coming today and they weren’t just twenty like they had thought, it was forty children. We were a little anxious, expecting a rowdy bunch of seven and eight years old and we mentally prepared ourselves for a long, tiring, exhausting day. We were to engage them in games that were subtly educational.
The children approached us cautiously. If they hadn’t been so curious, they probably would have kept their distance from us. But the people from Magic Bus were so warm and friendly that they faintly all gathered around. We introduced ourselves, we made them introduce themselves, over and over until they finally spoke above a coy whisper. They all had these big smiles that never left their faces. And they were infectious, because we never stopped smiling either. Never in my life have I had as much energy as I had that day, completely fuelled by the children’s enthusiasm. We played for hours, I think, I’m not sure. I’d lost track of time by then.
Then all the children ran to Mr Bhaskar’s house and there were over fifty of us sitting in his little veranda, talking about the importance of books and making the children promise us that they’d use the library. We asked them what they wanted to be when they grew up and were greatly encouraged by their responses: teachers, engineers, all sitting amongst us in the guise of flushed, beaming children.
When we went back to the campus that afternoon, after lunch we were told to split into two groups and partake in adventure sports. There was rappelling and rock climbing and some team activities that had us all pumped and confused at the same time. We knew that we wouldn’t get anything at the end of it, that the time limits didn’t matter, but we still had expressions of complete concentration and we shouting encouragements to each other, telling each other it was going to be okay, we were going to get through this as a team. I don’t think half of us get that much exercise in a year, but that day, after running around with the kids for hours, then running around with ropes and walls, we still had the energy to run onto the field after eating something and playing for another hour or so.
But that night, I think we all slept like babies and woke up unable to move half our limbs.
It was our last day and although we were having more fun than I can describe in a petty essay, we’d pretty much worn ourselves out. No one was looking forward to the harsh sun and the relentless heat, back in the village, where we had to add the finishing touches to the library.
But we managed, in good time. Everyone worked with dedication, including the teachers, who just couldn’t resist the paint that the students managed to make look so tempting with the splatters of yellow and pink across their clothes and faces.
We ate lunch at Mr Bhaskar’s house again and thanked his family for tolerating us. They were nothing less than adorable and actually apologised for any inconveniences that we might have had to bear. It was very humbling.
The children whom we had played with the previous day smiled and waved to us as we were leaving. I think it’s safe to say that all our hearts were one hundred percent warmed, and it wasn’t because of the sweltering heat.
But in spite of all the good vibes from the village, the bonding between the students, the things we learnt on so many different levels, and the strange interaction that we had with nature, we were happy to be going home at the end of the day. A lot of us fell asleep on the bus out of sheer exhaustion, but a lot of managed to sustain their energy for the entirety of the bus ride home.
It still amazes me that out of all the things that could have stayed with me from the trip, it was the laughter that never ceased during those three days that finally did. It was our first trip as the eleventh grade, IBDP first years. The trip was -and I’m sure the entire class agrees with me when I say- a pretty memorable one.