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For a picnicking people

Illustration: J.A. Premkumar

Illustration: J.A. Premkumar  

It’s time we got started on a culture of enjoyable outings

My earliest memory of a picnic is a school picnic when we were in Class 3. We were taken to Cubbon Park. I remember sharing my snack with Masood who shared his bread toast with me. The next memory of a picnic is again a school picnic some four years later to the scenic Devarayanadurga. Memories of our climb up the rock still remind me of the movie Picnic on Hanging Rock (1975). And can one forget how the ‘teacher’s favourite and golden boy’ had his minute of fame when his trousers ripped at the crotch? But our teachers quarrelled and the students were split, and sent back by different routes, giving some parents some anxious moments. Ah! What’s anything without some anxiety?

Optimal conditions

Picnics, I believe, are fundamentally no-fuss, morning-to-evening outings limited to small groups such as family members and/or friends. Also, picnic activity should involve something other than, or more than, what is usual at home. Otherwise, will not a picnic become just another ‘family-minus-house’ occasion, a nominal picnic? Sponsored adult outings should not be picnics.

How common was picnicking among past generations? Some 40 years back, for families like ours going on a picnic wasn’t easy; the unreliable public transport was a put-off. But a family picnic became no less than an ambition for people like me during childhood because they appeared in the books we read, such as Enid Blyton and children’s detective stories such as Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys.

Typical optics

Some of the picnic images we were exposed to were those of happy Caucasian families going on picnics in a car such as a Morris with happy children and happy parents and a very happy pet. The images illustrated the different stages of the picnic from departure to return, how they happily left, how they happily enjoyed the journey, how their pet remained happy and clean, how their children happily caught butterflies or picked flowers on the way.

Then it’s about how they happily disembarked from the car, happy pet first, how they happily sat in an idyllic location carpeted by lush green grass with a pleasant mountain/hill range in the background, how they happily set the tablecloth on the grass, how they happily ate sandwiches, and then, after a mildly scary misadventure (for the sake of a little anxiety) they return home happily tired.

As an adult I sometimes wonder if such stories served to advertise or propagandise the happiness of marriage and benefits of having a family, traditional stages in a person’s life that were gradually being threatened due to rapid industrialisation, urbanisation, and so on. Or was picnicking advertised to trap people into consumerism?

In contrast, how often does one find picnics mentioned in our popular culture, in movies, stories and comics? Amar Chitra Katha and Indrajal were popular comics. The former was generally based on religion, mythology and folk tales and the latter focused on Phantom, Mandrake and Bahadur, a Chambal valley Robin Hood.

Attention needed

Themes around picnicking were quite common in western books for children. How many Indian writers wove a tale around picnicking? Few Indian movies were based on family picnics but college picnic movie scenes were common. Correct me if I’m wrong: picnics, a truly simple way to de-stress our lives and enjoy the simplicity of living, seem to have attracted little attention in our culture. One therefore wonders: was picnicking ever part of our popular culture, our living? If not, perhaps it’s time we began it.

For some years now youngsters are getting increasingly fond of treks, expeditions, hikes, mountaineering and what not, what former generations could only imagine. Have they forgotten the humble, ‘fishbowl’ picnics? And will you contest the possibility that one indicator of a progressive society is when picnicking is seen to be as beneficial as pilgrimages?

mjx143@gmail.com

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Printable version | Feb 26, 2020 1:15:54 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/open-page/for-a-picnicking-people/article26225297.ece

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