Sunday, June 13, 2010

Oye! Get in line.

The time is 1:50pm. 10 more minutes till school is out. As a school prefect, I have to excuse myself from class for dispersal duty.

Let me explain what dispersal duty is. When the school bell rings at 2, everyone is bound to make a mad rush to exit the school premises. This can be dangerous - so the dispersal must be done in an orderly fashion. Junior classes 6 and 7 leave first, then class 8 and so on. Dispersal duty prefects man important locations along the dispersal path - from corridors to stairways to exit door - and make sure the dispersal is carried out on in a disciplined fashion.

At almost all points, two lines come down the stairs, one from the left wing and one from the right. The prefects are usually at the middle of the two lines. To make sure that the lines remain separate and that there is not a mad scramble down the staircase - is the primary challenges.

I am in Class 8. I invariably am posted at one of the important locations. First the rush of Classes 6 and 7 come in. They come like a wave of foamy bubbles. With my height, I tower over most of them - and I easily pack these kids into proper lines. They try to escape but it is easy to push then back - seniority helps.

Then come my batchmates. They know me and even if I want to act tough - they will not let me. Some of them are pure villain - they want to piss me off intentionally. Some hoist the sentimentality flag - "Kriti, let me go yaar. You know how important it is that I get the first seat in the schoolbus". Some do not care whichever way - 5 minutes here and there do not matter.

By this time, the human wave is swelling. The height and average weight of the 'dispersees' has increased. I am pushed around. But I come back to my position and keep pushing people back into their lines. On my watch, not many people can break rules - it is an unpopular job but someone has got to do it.

And then come the seniors - classes 9 and 10. Some understand the need for maintaining lines (kudos to these compassionate souls). But for most, it is ridiculous that they have to obey orders from a Junior. They wear full trousers and Class 8 students have to wear shorts. The distinction is too much. The human wave knows no barrier now - the prefect is tossed and turned around. Seniors usually warn of extreme retaliation later on if we do not give in to them now. Some of the Class 8 prefects give in and just let the stampede pass. But many like me are stubborn. We resurface to face the challenge. It is a lost cause but nevertheless we do not give up.

After a few minutes of this frenzy, the wave subsides. What remains is just a trickle of lingerers - those who do not care when they get out of school. Then there are some who do not care whether they get out of school at all. We force these people out, and make sure the classrooms are empty.

The whole exercise works up quite an appetite. I wish my fellow prefects goodbye, and head back home for lunch.

----- o -------

A few days back, I suddenly happened to remember this. If I painted the picture right, you will realize that this daily routine was quite an ordeal. But 15 years later, it is now just another wonderful memory from my school-days.

Saturday, June 05, 2010

A Hill Station called Blacksburg

I never thought I would fall in love with the mountains.

When I was a kid, my family would make a trip about once a year. The first such trip was to Digha - a sea-beach. The trip was short - 2 days - but I was enraptured by the sea. There was something about the sea that immediately got me hooked. Moreover I was the only kid in the group - and I could get away from the elders and feel free when I was in the sea.

But we used to go to hills very often. I did not enjoy going to hills. Oh yes - it was beautiful and all that. But we would end up sitting in the car all day traveling - stay at a place with a beautiful view for a night - and then travel again next day to another beautiful sight. There were brief occasions when I could actually wander around in the mountains - never too far from the watchful eyes of accompanying parent or relative - but still I enjoyed those brief moments. The accompanying elder would take the well trodded trail while I would head into little more adventurous terrain. Alas! These moments were too short and far apart - and all in all, I did not enjoy the mountains as much as I enjoyed the sea.

And then three years ago, I came to Virginia. More precisely - Blacksburg, Virginia. Bang in the middle of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Mountains everywhere. East - West - North - South - mountains on all sides. But for most of my first one and a half years here, these mountains remained out of reach - my travels were limited to the campus, grocery store etc. Trips out of Blacksburg were mostly taken by Interstate 81. And when on these Interstates, I never got the true feel of the mountains. These roads do not wind around mountains like true mountain roads do - they just bulldoze through them.

But these mountains kept calling out to me. I remember that while taking breaks from work, I used to enjoy a particularly good view of the mountains from one end of my office building in Torgersen Hall. Over the year, I saw the hills changing color - the Greens of Summer and Spring, to the Reds and Oranges of Autumns, to the Greys of Winter - I kept on staring at the wonderful mountains. Alas - from afar!

And then things started changing. I bought a bike. Started going out into the countryside. I started exploring trails. Soon after, I got a car. Now the world opened up rapidly. Random drives led me to the most wonderful of places. One particularly memorable day was when I spotted a trailhead while driving - and ended up exploring that trail by foot for around two hours.

I realized I was hooked. I now had full access to the mountains. What I had experienced as a child was not the proper way to enjoy the beauty of the mountains. To enjoy mountains one does not (I believe) need to go to a famous point and see a beautiful sight. Rather one should get lost in the vast expanses of the mountains - and then he will begin to truly feel their true beauty.