This is coming close on the heels of writing a 2700-word account of this trip for my own records, so here is hopefully an attempt to summarise the true crux of all those words and all those days into bite-sized nuggets for the internet.
If I had to choose one overarching theme for the eight days we went away, it would be privilege.
On Dec 9th, a group of four teachers, the principal, and twenty-two kids (class 9) set out from the school to make the long, long journey all the way to Madhya Pradesh. We were to get off at Itarsi and spend a couple of days at Hoshangabad before moving to Bhopal and the places around the capital. We got back on the night of the 17th. For all the kids, this was the longest they had ever travelled. For many, this was the first time on a train. And while the next eight days was filled with a lot of excitement and learning for them, it taught me just how deep privilege truly runs.
The way we explore the city – I love travelling, and over the last year, I have made sure I travel a lot. And yet, my preferred mode of travelling is more wandering than travelling. (More on that here). On this trip, we checked off a lot of boxes. When the choice presented itself between skipping something because we were dog tired and pushing ourselves that tad bit more, we pushed like I never would have alone. And then it struck me that my wandering came from the confidence that one day, I could be back here. That reassurance is privilege.
The food we ate – We had warned the kids before we left. There will be a lot of roti and aloo, we said. And we shall have to make do. Once again, I automatically used my own travel as a benchmark. I am far from a fussy eater and usually make do with whatever is at hand. And then there was this trip. Even if they did not complain, they’d rather not eat than to eat theplas and all of them were initially quite baffled by the concept of jeera rice and palak paneer. With that came the second realisation. The tongue is just like any other muscle in the body. It needs exercising to be used to certain flavours and textures. And that exposure is privilege.
The ideas we recognise – During our brief layover in Chennai, we drove past Nehru Stadium and one of the students asked me what that was. I told him the name. He asked me what a stadium was. In the heat of the moment, I gave him a rushed, but-this-is-obvious explanation. No amount of excuses of fatigue and tiredness takes away from how ashamed I am of my arrogance. Many hours later, better rested and calm, I realised he had no way of experiencing a stadium, even second-hand. He asked me what they do there, I told them it is for play. I thought it was obvious. What is obvious though, is the school playground. Nothing more. Access to infrastructure even from a distance (and the vocabulary to describe it) is privilege.
The notions of hygiene and cleanliness – As teachers on an outstation trip, all of us doubled up as parents too. We were constantly behind the kids to wash up, not put their feet up, don’t pick that up, what have you. And sometimes, their behaviour baffled us. How could such seemingly basic habits of cleanliness elude them? Until my principal pointed out something quite straightforward. Where would they have learnt? Having adult role models to emulate is privilege.
On this trip, we visited Hoshangabad, Sangakheda, Adamgarh, Bhimbetka, Bhopal, Sanchi, Udaygiri, and Vidisha. We took a train from Coimbatore to Itarsi and then back from Bhopal to Coimbatore via Chennai. We saw lots and spoke lots. The kids bought souvenirs enough to send my accounts-keeping abilities into a tizzy. Yet my greatest lesson was this. Every instance of our experiences are influenced by privilege. Literally the very least we can do is be cognizant.
PS – Forgive the generic travel pictures. Didn’t take pictures of food and trains!