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Walking to school provides important life lessons.

Walking to school provides important life lessons. | Photo Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

How walking to school helped us learn important life lessons those days?

Watching children commuting in jam-packed school vans, along with a rebuking ayah trying to calm them and a senseless driver trying to flout safety rules, takes me down memory lane to my school days more than four decades ago.

School vans were not popular those days, and most children walked to schools, chatting with friends and having lots of fun all the way. Children of the current era, who live in a fast world, will never understand the real fun of school-going, as commuting on vehicles deprives them of opportunities to see the world, watch people and learn essential life lessons schools may not teach them.

The first enemy to enjoying the morning walk to school was footwear. We mostly walked barefoot, and the scalding hot asphalt pavements strengthened our feet to walk fast. Sometimes we would dangle our way to school holding on to bullock carts laden with paddy stalks or other agricultural commodities. Watching the betel-nut-chewing cart rider gently whipping the bullocks, harvesting cow dung without letting it fall on the road and soil our feet and apprising the animals of the day’s work, as though the pair were his collaborators, taught us valuable lessons about farming. At times, he would surprise us with a piece of sugar cane or a bunch of bananas for keeping him company. Unlike the modern generation that believes rice granules and sugar crystals are manufactured in factories, we learned about their origin by watching the world.

Occasionally, a mango prominently dangling above our head from a roadside tree would make us restive. If not acted upon immediately, a stone thrown from a distance would pick it off the branch. We would act swiftly. A few stone throws later, the bruised mango would change hands until no more flesh remained and our mouths went tingly. On such occasions, we would run the remaining distance to compensate for the hold-up, lest the physical education teachers waiting to catch latecomers would welcome us with their canes at the gate.

On reaching the campus, we would run to the large water tank fitted with taps around the bottom and sip water from our cupped palms before heading to our classrooms. In the afternoons, when the water tank was crowded, a mischievous one would splash water at the crowd by pressing an unclosed tap with a finger. Someone taken by surprise the previous day would initiate the splash the following day, thereby perpetuating the sport. By and large, everyone enjoyed it, as it helped us beat the heat in the sultry afternoons, and the wet clothes swiftly dried in the hot sun.

Backpacks were not popular in those days, even as rectangular aluminium boxes, carried by a very few, were considered more prestigious. As we moved to higher classes, we let go of bags. Girls would carry their books in the hips, and boys would carry them, fastened with elastic bands, on their shoulders. The elastic band had an advantage: in the evenings, one could use it as a catapult to shoot a mango or scare birds leisurely.

The journey back home from school had never been tedious, as we were not in a hurry to board vehicles waiting on busy street corners, and there was no tension about tuition classes. A variety of refreshments would await us at the school gate. The old woman selling reddish-brown dates, peppered with unripe green ones, and unhusked groundnut in broad bamboo trays would have a tough time serving hungry customers thronging her like houseflies. A couple of ice vendors with their cubical boxes fastened to their cycles, would vigorously rattle their tin discs to steal the old woman of her customers. The petty shopkeeper across the road, who taught us our basic financial lessons, gave weekly credit to choose from a variety of snacks and tempting colourful candies displayed in glass jars. Munching a kamarkattu or blowing a bubble gum, we would walk home, reviewing the day’s experience.

jclementselvaraj@gmail.com


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Printable version | Jun 17, 2022 12:49:26 pm | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/open-page/school-trips/article65424342.ece