My first picnic – I became a Leader

Author: 
Jitendra Sanghvi

Jitendra Sanghvi joined the Customs Department in the year 1972 and took voluntary retirement in 2003 as Deputy Commissioner. He served as a faculty member at the National Academy of Customs and Central Excise Mumbai for 8 years. Upon voluntary retirement he started Sanjosh Consultants with two former colleagues. He was also a special counsel to Central Board of Excise and Customs. A keen sportsperson since childhood, he played cricket for his college, the Customs Cricket team and several clubs. He practises Vipassana and is a keen environmentalist.

Author's Note: The story that follows is set in 1960s. All characters in the story are real from middle class background. In those times Indians lived largely in joint families. Incomes were limited. Expenses were tightly controlled. For almost two years in the mid 1960s only American red and white wheat was available in the markets. School fee was graded as per class. Uniforms were usually hand-me-downs. Books and notebooks were available from charitable trusts on concession. Children usually walked 4 to 5 km to school in Mumbai also. We as children used to play games on vacant plots or roads. Community watching of 16 mm movies beamed via projectors was the basic form of entertainment. Citizens took to frugality and hardship in stride for as part of nation building. Life was simple, wonderful and enjoyable.

My first picnic at Matheran

There was excitement among a group of teenagers sitting on a pipeline adjacent to their colony. The full moon was bright enough to reveal the elation on their faces of. One of them proposed they should to go on a picnic to Matheran, a nearby hill station.

Jiten promptly took charge and became the leader of the group. He informed the group that younger ones will not be able to join as it would be an overnight two days picnic. The younger ones mildly protested but hid their disappointment but stayed on in the meeting. A group of 8 was formed but ultimately, six would go. The group dispersed as it was 9 pm and time to go home.

But Jiten was worried and had disturbed sleep. He did not want not go to picnic without his younger brother and allowing two children on a picnic would be a severe burden on father’s wallet.

He spent night worrying about securing permission from his parents. Next morning both brothers got ready and went to school as usual. Jiten told his brother that he would talk to father and seek permission without making fuss Younger brother remained quiet, fearing the worst. Spending for two is not going to be easy.

In the morning, breakfast in the form of bajra rotla and tea was served. Jiten’s younger sister cribbed, daily same ‘nasta’, but no one took note of it. Father took his seat in the porch and looked for his cigarette. There was none. He directed Jiten to fetch a packet of cigarette. Jiten ran to get the packet of cigarette. The vendor gave him the packet of cigarette meant for Indian Navy, Jiten returned the packet and advised him not to market this cigarette for it was loss of revenue to the nation and giving encouragement to some greedy Navy men. Jiten hardly understood what it meant but it was his father’s dictate.

Vendor promptly changed the packet but ignored his comment.

Father listened to Jiten’s proposal and took a deep inhalation of smoke. He was thinking. On one hand, it was he who had encouraged the children to take initiative in life and on the other hand, spending money for two would make a mess of his budget. The wife had already asked for more money for some unavoidable expense. Jiten was nervous and younger brother afraid of worst.

Father did not respond and kept taking a deep inhalation and followed it up with exhalation with smoke clouding the area. Jiten wondered whether it meant his request was disposed off like that song … (Har fikra ko dhuen main udata chala gaya!)

In the meanwhile, two of the lads came rushing asking Jiten to meet their fathers. Both were excited and informed, that they would get permission if he took the responsibility. Jiten looked at his father who gave a nod.

Jiten and his brother rushed out. Both the lads were a little younger but had been part of the group for city sightseeing tour by bus and also watching wrestling match at Worli.
One of the father informed Jiten that he would have to take the responsibility of kid and his money. Jiten gave a nod. First success came easy without any effort.

The second father grumbled about expenses and boys thoughtless adventure. He told Jiten, that he liked his initiative but he was as inexperienced as any one of his group. Jiten could convince the hesitant father with his unique confidence. Two successes made him very happy. Both brothers did a high five and left for home.

At home, father had finished his cigarette and the cloud of smoke had vanished. Father took a deep breath and informed that he would allow only one of them, so both decide.

Jiten politely informed his father that he would not go without his younger brother as it would be great injustice to him. Father laughed in return and hugged Jiten.

Of course, both of them would go. Father further added his words of wisdom. A trip of this nature would make you to face the world on your own terms and that would be a great lesson for all of you. None of you should miss such an opportunity.

Permissions secured the group sat down together and finalized the date and time of leaving. They would take early morning Karjat local from Vidyavihar station and reach Neral at around 0700 hours. A cashier was nominated and kitty was taken out. The bully wanted all to travel without ticket but only one supported the idea.

The group left the colony with breakfast boxes. The ticket window was open but the person in charge was sleeping. It was really difficult to wake him up to get the tickets. The fellow cursed and our bully said, people sleep on holidays and there would be no danger. The local was on time and the group settled down as there were plenty of seats vacant. Journey to Neral was uneventful.

Neral station was buzzing with activities as the tourist to Matheran were running to catch the toy train to Matheran. The toy train was the biggest attraction of Matheran. It was a narrow gauge train with 6 compartments. It would take around 3 hours to reach top.

 
Matheran train station

Matheran train station

 
 
Toy train

Toy train

 

But we had decided to go trekking. The group sat down and ate their packed breakfast. Sharing was the motto so breakfast was very tasty and satisfying.

We had no idea about the track and the hardship it would cause. Enquiries revealed that it was easier to track from the other route that would have taken us to “one tree hill”.

No use of wisdom when opportunity was already missed. We began our walk briskly, singing songs and chatting. The mountain began to look ominous and climb difficult. We had no idea about the time it would take.

Within an hour, all of us were perspiring and feeling thirsty. In our enthusiasm we had not taken water with us. Pertinent to mention, there were no water bottles in those days. Now the group was spreading into twos and threes and egging the laggards to speed up.

Out of the blue an incident happened as we were climbing uphill.

Suddenly, the bully pushed and Bandu fell heavily on his side and slide down awkwardly. He was screaming in pain. The skin was broken at many places and blood was oozing out.

Bully was expressing sorry and that he meant no harm. Jiten’s brother had learned some first aid during his SCOUT days. He took the charge and others waited for him to act. He flashed a wicked smile and said who wants to piss on Bandu?

Everyone was very eager to help Bandu. In turn Bandu, screamed, do you all want to give me a bath? He requested my brother to control all. One fellow was selected for the drenching. After couple of minute, Bandu began to call him names as a poodle of urine was around his leg. Bandu was disgusted. Anyway, bleeding stopped not because of urine but because of blood’s quality of clotting. Urine was merely a mild antiseptic.

Further trouble was waiting. Bandu could not put weight on his leg as he experienced severe pain. Somebody said, “Fracture” which was matched by Bandu abusing the bully.

Our Doctor touched and felt the area and opined may be sprain and not fracture. Bandu abused the bully again. Doctor observed, had we brought “Dukh Dabav Lap” it would have helped him the most. Jiten suggested, let us bind a bandage. Everyone announced, they had not carried any bandage and Bandu gave another abuse. Jiten had a great solution, let us bind a “langot” around his sprained part. The Doctor approved happily.

Bandu was asked if he was wearing a langot or came just like that. Bandu instead of replying began to curse and everyone laughed. Jiten checked his bag and gave a langot to doctor. Jiten found a blade neatly wrapped up the in Bandu’s bag. The langot helped the doctor to slice the langot and convert it into a neat bandage. Doctor was an expert, when it came to tying the bandage. He had added couple of light twigs around the sore area to give it nice binding. Bandu’s mood changed almost immediately.

Jiten had found another item in Bandu’s bag, it was a cycle chain. The group had heard about the violent capability of Bandu. He took it out and showed it to the bully and told him to be bewares. Bandu sheepishly said, he would never use it against a friend. It is a self defense.

Bully merely said sorry.

It was not easy for Bandu to walk and friends tried various ways to help him but the best thing happened was carving out a branch from a tree. It provided him to the support to shift the weight from the injured leg and walk freely.

The group climbed steadily and took short breaks to conserve the energy. The weather was warm and sun blazing. Everyone was thirsty but did not crib. Most of the boys had canvas shoes but the rubber sole did not help the situation. It took almost 5 hours to reach near the Matheran market area.

The group went to railway station and found a waiting room in terrible state but everyone washed up to get relief from the heat and the dust. Just opposite was a restaurant named after one Mr. Shirodkar. It was established more than 100 years ago. The group went in and opted for thali. Mr. Miser, suggested since it was limited thali, they may share the thali, it would save money. Jiten opined saving money meant cut unnecessary expense and not depriving the self.

Everyone had full thali.

Jiten went out and got the address of a dormitory. A large room was offered with 6 charpoy. The group negotiated well and owner was also happy to charge less as the members were all school going students. He warned that damaging things would invite penalty.

The common washrooms needed cleaning and he promised to keep them in good condition. Everyone chose to take a bath and then sat down for relaxation. The dorm was very hot for it was made up of tin shade. Outside, the group shuttled down in shaded area. Light breeze and tree shade was most welcome.

Jiten had collected a pamphlet and map of sightseeing points. The group was now ready to explore the place. The group was divided into sub group of twos and they were not to part at any cost. Each one was given a map to ensure the next point just in case lost. The dormitory was mentioned prominently so no one gets lost. We never got parted so precautions were just for the sake of safety.

Interesting places to see were the sunrise and sunset points wherever you go. At most places, most tourists miss both happening for various reasons. We moved quickly from one point to another. The mountain ranges had become barren and dry and waterfalls had gone dry long back. There was haze in the air and thus visibility was poor.

 
Alexander PointAlexander Point
 
 
Panorama PointPanorama Point
 

But group had lot of fun. They chased a group of girls and that would remain as highlight of the entire tour. “E meri topi palat ke aa, nahak na fantoosh humko sata” got a great response and a Romeo amongst the group went crazy at the response.

They had a photo session with couple of them who were bold and beautiful too. But the craziest part of drama was they had click 3 camera and roll was over. So photos were clicked but with no rolls inside. The Romeo wanted to kill Jiten for letting him miss a chance.

The darkness spread all over and it was difficult to reach back from sunset point but for the help of a horse fellow. No torch was unpardonable mistake.

They had followed the girls to a Gujarati Hotel where food was unlimited. Once inside, the girls vanished but they found a great dinner. Jiten had learned a trick to bargain and the hotelier readily gave them a good discount as school going students.

The owner was amazed to learn that teenagers had come on their own for overnight picnic. He offered them breakfast for free if they buy the coupon for lunch that too at a concessional rate. Jiten discussed with the group and the owner was amused to hear the discussion. He praised the group for discussion and told the miser to learn the difference between being thrifty and miserly. As a grown up, Jiten realized that owner may not be management guru but he certainly knew the concept of win-win and consumer is the king.

The group began the day early by rushing to sunrise point and found haze ruining their excitement. The group walked back disappointed to Gujarati hotel for a sumptuous breakfast. It was decided to reach our dorm and freshen up and be ready within an hour to see other places.

The team was eager and thus there was no waste of time. They systematically went sightseeing to different places and enjoyed the mountain beauty. Jiten learnt a few lesson in appreciating the beauty of nature.

The group returned to hotel for unlimited lunch. Everyone overate and some literally hogged. The miser had the most and so did the bully. Both remained most uncomfortable even after reaching home. Slowly, they walked back to Matheran Railway station to take the ride in toy train.

Students discount was given to the group after argument with Station Master. Negative attitude of railway staff had irritated Jiten to no end. It remained as a lesson for him even when he joined government service. He made sure that what was felt by young Jiten as student would never be felt by anyone with Jiten, the government servant.

The other lesson learnt by Jiten early in his life was –“fight for your right “

Toy train journey was amazing. Going through the forest and mountainous terrain gave the group lots of insight into the beauty of the country. Jiten thanked his father, silently for encouraging him to take initiative.

The group reached Neral station and entered into a huge debate. Three of the group members wanted to travel ticketless and Jiten was representing other 3. Jiten was adamant and argued he would not allow anyone to do this illegal work.

Timidly though but firmly, the youngster told him that he would like to exercise his right to go ticketless too and that Jiten should not impose his will. Jiten was stunned. So he asked his younger brother too. Younger brother was also keen to go ticketless.

He said it would be absolutely safe and money must be saved if it can be saved. Jiten realized that he could not impose his will and thus he agreed to travel ticketless. It was a great lesson for him in handling a group, the leader must never insist on his or her like. Encouraging the value or adhering to it is not simple when it comes to greed.

At Vidyavihar, there was no ticket checker so they had easy walkout from station.

Suddenly, Bandu cursed, his father would thrash him for he had lost one langot. Everyone laughed out loudly.

Comments

What a story! I would like to post it on www.indiaofthepast.org also, which features personal memories that are at least 50 years old

I will be happy to share the story on the website you want to post

Such a breathtakingly beautiful portrayal of the golden days! Got entirely immersed in the soul of the story.

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