Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Indore and the Outdore Kids

It all started off with an innocuous suggestion from me to the Bhanpura kids and their mothers on my last trip there – “Bachchon ko baahar ghumane le jaaoon?”

‘Haan haan,” they said, with apparent enthusiasm, “le jao le jao”. Still, I didn’t quite believe them. After all, this was a remote MP village, with a highly orthodox community where there is still no girl who has passed grade 10, and children are betrothed at the ripe age of 10 or 11.

So the disbelief continued, as 2 months later, I asked for the actual list of kids who were willing to come for an overnight trip to Indore – with a verbal consent from their parents. In a couple of hours I had 22 names - boys and girls ranging from 8 to 18, and the list was growing. I was forced to turn bureaucratic and put in age limits and other constraints to truncate the fast-growing list.

List in hand, it finally hit me - this trip was actually happening! I was going to have to take 20 kids from Bhanpura (a small 70-family village), most of whom had never ever stepped outside their village, to Indore for a 2-day picnic.

I did a casual stock-taking of things that could go wrong – suppose some kid gets lost?

Suppose a kid gets diarrhoea? Or sunstroke?

Suppose at night they all panic and want to go back home?


Several extra-large shudders ran down my spine. ‘Stop!”. I thought. “Focus on the planning, baaki dekh lenge...”

Bhanpura Invades...

16th April. D-day. Nothing much went wrong in our journey from Bhanpura to Indore– if you discount a 2.5 hour delay in starting, 3 new kids joining the group at the last minute without any prior notice, and 15 out of the 19 kids feeling queasy in the vehicles (most had never been inside a vehicle for so long before).

But then, there was a bright side too... not ONE of the 15 queasy kids actually threw up. I almost started believing that god actually exists...

We reached Indore around noon, and after a quick lunch and a wash, asked the kids whether they wanted to rest or go out. Go out, was the unanimous choice. My comrades in arms consisted of Toofan, the 20-year old Bhanpura boy who shoulders a large part of the responsibility of educating Bhanpura’s young ones, and Shashanka, my crazy and quirky friend from Ahmedabad who (probably in the bravest decision of his life) had offered to join us in Indore and chaperone the kids.

So we set out – for the zoo, at 2 o’clock on a hot April afternoon! I was petrified that on a hot afternoon like this the animals would have retreated inside and the kids would be left disappointed. But clearly, God was working overtime. We were regaled with sightings of Bengal tigers, Himalayan bears, White tigers, elephants, crocodiles and numerous exotic birds. We even caught a glimpse of a couple of hippos – though they just stood still inside their dingy quarters with their behinds squarely facing us. The children could not see anything beyond their enormous behinds – and if in future they are asked to describe a hippo, I am afraid, the description might be rather biased. ;-)

The next 24 hours was a pot-pourri of experiences. We went to the airport, a mall, a movie, a park and temples of various shapes, architectural styles, and faiths. We manoeuvred 20 kids for a distance of what seemed like 10 km through a thick Kumbh-Mela-ish crowd in the old city area. We ran out of food at the mess at 10 in the night (obviously, city people underestimate rustic appetites!) and had to go out to buy extra food.

And I ran into a major, major challenge, which somehow I had not foreseen at all.

The MOST wanted destination in Indore :-/

‘Didi, mujhe zor se lagi!”

When we started off, I had no idea how many times I was going to hear this in the next 2 days!

Yes, the biggest challenge during the trip seemed to be not food, or water, or safety – but how to find a public toilet every 30 minutes or so - when one kid or the other would want to go to the loo. And these being truly unfettered ‘outdoor’ kids, it was tough to make them withhold themselves even for a few minutes. Even as I frantically looked around for a toilet, they would just happily get about the business of peeing, right where they were. 
Including in the middle of a busy road...

After throwing several blue fits in the beginning of the trip when this happened, I came to terms with it. I started planning the rest of the tour around public toilets...

Just as first timers planning a visit to a tourist destination ask locals about the nearest bus stand or hotel, I would punctuate my queries about every destination in Indore with “Achcha, wahan nearest toilet kahan milega?”

Sheela ki jawani – the Bhanpura remix

Back at the hostel at night, the kids told me they were going to put up a dance show. I was expecting some traditional fare. I was in for a surprise.

The first group started off - singing and dancing to ‘Sheela ki jawani’ – and I braced myself. Somehow, watching a bunch of ten-year-olds singing and dancing suggestively to ‘I’m too sexy for you’ was simply unpalatable to me. But it was their own remixed version, with all the offensive lines having undergone a mutation:

“My name is Sheela...
Sheela ki jawani...
ankhen dekhe for you
 main tere haath na aani...”

went their version... and I sighed with puritanical relief!

The Outdore kids

One of the best liked attractions for the kids was the Treasure Island Mall. The kids gaped unabashedly at the shops, relished Mcdonald’s ice cream cones, and screamed excitedly inside the elevators. But the biggest hit were the free rides... on the escalators in the mall! After an initial apprehension, they went up and down the escalators repeatedly, screaming ‘Didi, phir chalenge jhoole mein... phir se.. phir se!!’

How simple and easy it is, to make these kids happy! And what a welcome change from the ennui of city kids.

Whatever, in those two days I spent with the Bhanpura kids, for the first time I started understanding a bit about them and their perspective.

The first day, I behaved like a typical urban mom, trying to get the kids to drink ‘safe’ water – from mineral water bottles or pouches. I learnt my lesson rather quickly, though. They took big gulps of water, swished it about inside their mouths, gargled with it – and then squirted it out. They just would NOT drink it. ‘Yeh paani toh kadhwa hai’, they said. So we had no go but to allow them to drink regular water from filters and coolers at public places.

How polarised our perspectives were! While we swear by mineral water bottles and have actually come to like the sanitised taste, they could not stand it, and rejected it outright! And, no one was worse for the wear - not ONE upset tummy.

Then there was the issue of privacy. Or rather, their preference for the lack of it.

We had booked 8 rooms for the 16 girls and myself. We finally crowded into 4 – while 4 rooms lay completely vacant! The kids preferred crowding 4 in a room – they were just not used to sleeping in a non-crowded space.

To my consternation, even bathing and going to the loo were community activities for them... and every time I went into the bathroom, alone, I wondered if they would find it a terribly impolite action on my part... :-/

And I mused. Over how urban kids learn to guard their privacy so quickly, demanding their own room, exclusive wall space to put up pictures of stars and so on – and how the Bhanpura brigade absolutely revelled in the lack of it. Understandably so, of course.

Urban lives revolve around the self. Rural lives, around family and the community.

“Hope you survived!”

Thus spake Uma, my friend from Indore (who, incidentally, had disappeared mysteriously when she heard I was descending on Indore with 20 kids...) when it was all over. “Barely”, said I. Adding that I still had occasional nightmares about manouevering 20 kids through the Kanch (Jain) temple area on Mahavir Jayanti... and I still hear voices in my head saying "Didi, mujhe zor se lagi..."

But overall, when I think of the experience, I can only think of the joy and the excitement on the faces of the kids. I smile thinking of the time when they gasped, "Waaaaah! Itna bada TV!", when we took them to a theatre for a movie. And I smile a little more, when I think of some of the girls quietly slipping their small, sweaty hands into mine while walking on crowded streets.

Some people told me, “Arre, it is a once-in-a-lifetime experience for these kids.”

I honestly hope it isn’t. Not for them. And not for me, either.

PS: Thanks Uma, for coining that lovely term, OUTDORE ;-) (And hope you don't mind my stealing it - it just fitted the context so much, I just could not resist...)


  1. Absolutely amazing! I loved reading it.. totally missed all the research trips from EI. I wish there is a day when I have enough money that I can take some time off and go visit these villages.

    Am so proud of you to have taken this initiative, I hope you get to this more often and sometime we can do it together...

  2. Would love to travel together... (just like old times - except we just have to stay off too much booze and adam-teasing ;-))

    Planning to put together some savings just to be able to continue doing this in future too...

  3. Am glad to see you back in this space. Think it brings out the original in you - keep it flowing.
    I hope you too take time to read it sometime independentaly - all your posts - will reveal a very unseen dimension of yours.
    What I liked most was more about your churnings - about kids, about drinking water, about self doubts etc.
    AS this and each earlier experience shows, it comes naturally to you - (of course only I know how exasperating you can be prior to taking the plunge into any thing hitherto unprecedented! :).
    Thouigh you mention about the different perspectives about urban and rural kids, when I look back - this seems to happen to adults too all the time. If Only! - and starting with me.
    Love the way you have with words - and the best is perhaps you don't even realise this. Keep this space as original as it is presently. ithink the secret is the fact that here you write for yourself primarily.
    Can yo do some thing for the Bhanpura kids too? I mean some writing in Hindi - simple, direct, frmo the heart, sharing with them the learning, experience and happyness you got - will be a great tribute and pleasure for them too.
    And yes, let me say this - it will be "a once in life time experience" because there never will be a second time like this, there will be many more visits and fun times, but the first time will not come back, it can be built on, but not repeated - and so hold it tight and hard
    Three cheers for you

  4. :)

    a great idea, to write something up for the kids... though it will be quite a challenge to write in hindi (haven't done that since i was in class 8)

    talking about churning, there was something else during the trip which caused quite a bit of churning... will write about it later, since it is a long and difficult discussion in itself.

  5. The 'Zor se lagi hai' is a bumper hit... Indeed brave of you to do this... (I mean take the kids out). The comparison between urban and rural- from a child's perspective is indeed interesting!
    Brought back nostalgic memories of my experience with street kids in Kolkata's sealdah station. All the best for future bravery.... :-)

  6. Hi Suchi,

    indeed a brave effort!!! Besides the article capuring the experience in all its rawness and excitement, what it has also done is to give these bunch of kids a beautiful memory for life....ofcourse one hopes that they will have many more...but as Sudarshan puts it the "first one always stays"....Kudos to you.

  7. Very nicely written Suchi! Admire your courage in making this trip happen. Interesting insights about lives revolving around family and community for rural children as opposed to the individualization of urban kids. Yes- really hope this is not a once in a lifetime experience for these kids...

  8. Thats y I call you paagal stupid mom :D Sukhi mamma! :) :)

    This write gives me peace!

  9. @Kailash - Would love to hear about your experiences with the Sealdah kids - why don't you share here itself?

    @Sreeja and VT - thanks for the encouraging words! You know, thinking back, it did go pretty smoothly for a 'first time'... and I do have Sudarshan to thank for that... a LOT!

    I am getting some really nice and interesting ideas too - like Rik, our Dutch friend suggesting that now I try some reverse osmosis too - by taking 20 'bored city kids' for a trip to a village...

    @Carrie - hey Carrie, your words really made me happy..honestly. (though i had to try hard to ignore the 'paagal stupid..' part x-()

  10. Suchi,

    What a great story! It's interesting how the urban/rural cultural differences are apparently greater than the western/eastern one. What a fun time! I hope you had, and I like Rik's idea but what would they do without the internet!? Congratulations on making this happen!

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  12. Suchi,Sudarshan mailed the link for your white elephant post and after going through it at 8.50 am I have discovered your various other posts!!!!! Loved all of them...


    1. Oh, hey Padma, thanks! Please keep visiting and commenting!

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