I have a string of events and thoughts to narrate. It was satisfying, going through the experience of realization and a stroke of wisdom, and I think I am duty-bound to share my conclusion with as many people as I can. I have been privileged to attend quality private schools that arrange for trips for their students to places like Gwalior, Jhansi, Jaipur, Agra, Hyderabad, etc. So far, I have been to all the trips that my school arranged for us (one to Gwalior and another to Jaipur) after being charged around six to seven thousand rupees each time. Fortunately for me, these amounts are not sums my parents cannot cough up, so I went to both places with a light heart and a clear conscience. As of today, I have the opportunity of going on another trip with my batch of 12th graders to Hyderabad in August this year. The forms have been handed out and some have already been returned by students along with cheques of 8500 rupees.
A couple of days ago, I wasn’t sure if I should go, as not many of my friends had confirmed their attendance. Then a lot of them brought the forms with the money and I was in two minds. This is my last year of high school and I may not get to go on such a trip with these friends again. The other side of it was, does this fact make a 3-day trip to Hyderabad (a place I have already visited with family) worth eight and a half thousand rupees? I didn’t really have to worry about the money. Yet there was something else on my mind that had gradually changed my thought process.
I live in Bhandup and after my 10th grade, I joined Singhania School in Thane as it was the closest, good ISC school in the vicinity. I used to go to school by bus earlier, but recently I started traveling every morning by train to Thane station from where I take a rickshaw or a bus. Since my experiment with the suburban railway started, my journey has stunk, quite literally. Lining the train tracks are hundreds of people defecating along the drains between Nahur and Mulund stations. These people used to disgust me, at first. I used to think, “Why do they have to spoil the railway line?” I used to think of them as the worst citizens of this city, with a severe lack of civic sense. After a few days, I had the heart to look into the eyes of these faceless men. I was shocked at what I saw. They reminded me of a lonely, wounded dog who has been disowned by his pack and is limping with his head down in search for shelter. There was shame written all over their faces. Then it struck me! What was I thinking? These men were not here out of choice! They had nowhere else to go. The dignity of using a toilet is just not an option for lakhs of people in Mumbai today.
Last night I had gone to drop my sister off to the Kurla terminus for her school trip. I was thirsty, so I bought a bottle of Aquafina. I drank as much as I wanted and more than half the water was still remaining. I didn’t want to carry the bottle back home so I was planning on drinking up and throwing away the bottle. I looked around to see if there was a bin but what I saw instead was a tiring, old man in very shabby clothes limping aimlessly toward the station, probably to occupy an empty bench on the platform to spend the night. I ran up to him and offered him the water. The dying eyes started shining and he thanked me – it came from the heart. Satisfied with the good use I had made of the water, I returned home.
You would think I have strayed off the topic that I began with. But that would be an incorrect assessment. Today I am sure, that there is no way I will be taking that Duronto train to Hyderabad in August. I came to the conclusion that simply because it is within my means to spend such money on a 3-day trip, I should not do it. I realized the evidence of the existence of two distinct Indias. One is the ‘trip-going’ India and the other one, you already know. Each of these components lives life almost oblivious to each other. Although neither can exist without the other’s patronage, there is a growing sense of disownment of each other. The gap seems like it can never be bridged.
My decision not to take the trip, is based on the judgment that it is my responsibility to at least attempt to bridge the gap. Unless I do that, my conscience will not allow me to visit Hyderabad. I am going to look for ways to make better use of the money. This was just a situation that I am facing in my life today. The essence of this piece is not to comment on the trip or trip-goers or to pronounce them sinners. This is not to advise people against going for trips, because recreation, once in a while, is an important part of life. I must also add that some may not agree with me and they would be well within their rights to do so. Perhaps, I am wrong. I do not know. And I do not care!