Kalsubai is the second-highest peak in Maharashtra, and also the spot where I realised I have no gift for rappelling. I was hanging off the edge of a cliff, with instructors shouting orders at me while I blinked back tears. If I had my way, I would have had them pull me back up, but the decision wasn’t mine. I was on a school trip, one of those experiences that everyone has been through but no one seems to genuinely enjoy. I was having enough difficulty with trigonometry without adding rappelling into the mix.
While mandatory adventure sports and sharing a room with 15 people wasn’t ever my idea of a good time, hindsight has transformed school camps into a bittersweet memory, cherished and embarrassing in equal measure. After all, pitting a bunch of seventh graders against Mother Nature can go both ways, but regardless of the outcome, the experiences are always memorable.
Most camp trips began with an ungodly 5 am wake-up call, a bleary-eyed drive to school, and boarding a crowded school bus. The bus ride was usually where you call dibs on the window seat or negotiate a deal with your friend to alternate. And after the roll calls, the bus engine revs and the whole bus cheers in a chorus.
If you’ve been on one of those buses, you’ve been on them all. There were the kids that would sit at the back and play Truth or Dare, oohing and aahing salaciously, the one guy who got his speakers to play annoying EDM music, and the over-enthusiastic group of girls trying to dance in the narrow aisle of the bus. But the most thrilling part had to be racing against the other buses with students from the other section; very few of us have made it through school without claiming credit for the Formula One skills of our bus drivers.
The campsites our schools took us to seemed like they were designed to freak out city kids by virtue of their being placed in the middle of nowhere. By the time the buses rolled in with their excitable cargo, everyone has already selected their bunkmates over the long drive. Choosing your bunkmate is of utmost importance, as I learned when one morning, a friend woke up and found her bed soaked. Both parties were in denial, blaming each other instead, and “the case of the bed-wetter” was never solved, remaining a mystery to this day.
No matter whom you’re bunking with, most of your time on these trips would be spent on “fun” activities, such as climbing rocks and dangling on ropes. On less hectic days, our teachers came up with team-building exercises as fillers. These had a distinctly game show vibe to them, which just added to the Hunger Games scenario these camps often turned into. They included running through an obstacle course while they timed us like we were on Takeshi’s Castle or Wipeout, khichdi-making competitions where one guy assumed he was the leader and started delegating work to everyone.
The campsites our schools took us to seemed like they were designed to freak out city kids by virtue of their being placed in the middle of nowhere.
The itinerary for the night was as exciting as it was for the day. And like Bollywood movies can’t do without songs, Indian camps can’t do without dance parties. A hall would transform into a discotheque, with strobe lights and a DJ, and suddenly all our soreness and tiredness would melt away. Just like adults, even schoolkids can be grouped into four major types of dancers: the cool break-dancers spinning on the floor, the Bollywood buffs who know the exact choreography, the dancers who look like they belong in a visarjan procession, and the people that keep shifting their weight on alternate feet to pretend they’re dancing.
It’s just impossible to get bored at school camps because of all the drama taking place. Be it the group of boys that sneaked in a box of Red Bull in hopes of having a caffeinated party, the rowdies who would draw on someone’s face if they fell asleep before 12, the couple that indulges in enough PDA to make everyone else uncomfortable, the teachers that helped us hide banned snacks in their bag, or prank-calling your crush at 2 am, there’s always something going on.
Despite my conflicted opinion on camps, I can never dislike them, because they gave me moments that I’ll probably never experience again. A campfire with my batchmates, an astonishing feat really, because now I can hardly get four people to decide on a day to meet, let alone go on a camping trip. Stargazing at a sky full of stars without choking on city smog. Love them or hate them, school trips provided us with memories to last a lifetime, even if we weren’t equipped with the awareness to appreciate what they were doing for us. They say youth is wasted on the young; I say school trips are wasted on students.