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picnics and all that .....

May 27, 2010 | Cicero

I got talking with LEB the other day about picnics. He had just been to one with his family and described the bedlam Onga created in the Park. This got me thinking of the simple pleasures of eating out in the open with family and friends. I could not recall the last time I had been on a picnic and hence this post tries to capture the memories of picnics past. Over the last couple of years, I have been on quite a few treks and weekend getaways but not one of them can be strictly classified as a picnic.

I still vaguely remember my first picnic. I was around three (3) years old, and Dad and Mom took me to a resort in the middle of the forest for a picnic with his college friends. My lasting memory of this trip is getting bitten by an insect in my left eye and moving around with the swollen eye and getting pampered by everyone. Mom still keeps a picture of me tucked away in one of her many albums. In the picture I have some kick-ass hair and one mother of a swollen eye.

My picnics during my early years could be broken into the following – picnics with Dad’s friends, school picnics, picnics with my art school and picnics with family and childhood buddies. There were in fact so many ‘picnics’ every year that there were quite a few times when I ended up visiting the same place.

I haven’t mentioned in any post before, but I grew up in a small industrial town surrounded by forests, streams and hills. It did not take too much of an effort to leave our urban life behind and spend some time with Mother Nature.

School Picnics.........

My first yearly school picnic (“educational outbound”) was to a forest cabin located near a small dam. My lasting memory of this trip will be the fear I hid, all through that trip. We had some tests in class a week back and the graded papers were expected the next day. I was sure that I would flunk in mathematics. After all these years, I have forgotten the grades but still remember that fear.

Mom had baked some cake for me to carry to this picnic. It was a sort of picnic where everyone got one variety of cooked food from home and then shared it with everyone. Mom had carefully packed the cake in a hot case, but when the time came to open it, none of the teachers could get past the lid. It was my physics teacher who finally managed to get it open all the while elaborating on Newton’s Third Law. The best part of the picnic (apart from the streams, bingo and the Superman comics) was the movie, we watched on the way back in the school bus.

In the years ahead, we would go to streams, parks, farms, nurseries, waterfalls and finally ending with a week long road trip during the final year of school. But there is only space in this post for a few words on one more school picnic, which incidentally was my last picnic at school.

We went to this large stream outside the city, whose waters went round in a loop before going its way. We set up massive speakers in the centre of the looped stream and belted out the hit singles of the 80s and 90s. As the dusk settled and we got ready to go, I discovered that one of my records had been buried in the sand and was ruined. That record was ‘Dangerous’ (MJ may you R.I.P.)

Picnics with Dad’s friends.......

I have already mentioned about my first picnic. It was also my first picnic with Dad’s friends. During my childhood quite a few of my Dad’s friends from college and grad school worked and lived in our small town. Every year they would have these reunion picnics (parties) for the College and Grad School alumni. After Dad passed away, his college friends would still come home and invite my mother to join these Alumni picnics. If she refused or dithered, there would always be someone at hand on the relevant day to ensure that she turned up. Additionally, we went to quite a few picnics with Dad’s colleagues and their families.

I will never forget the picnic where I caught a fish at a place called “the five streams” and then transferred it to a pond near my home. I will also never forget the time when I almost drowned, but that’s a story which deserves its own paragraph.

So there was this one time when we went to this picnic with my Dad’s colleagues and their families. It was on the banks of a large artificial lake which had been created when the local river was dammed. My mother had warned me several times to stay away from water but I had rudely replied that I was old enough to be left on my own. It so happened that some time later I proved my statement wrong because as Dad and I went for a walk by the banks of the lake, we came across one of his colleagues sitting with his legs in the lake’s water. Unsurprisingly, I wanted to wash my feet and walked over to his (the colleague’s) side to take my turn.

I still remember my horror, which came as I keeled over, from the discovery that there was no gradient and banks sloped vertically. I did not know how to swim and started drowning. The image which is still imprinted in my memory after all these years is the face of my Dad, as I went under. I saw him instantly jump into the water but also realized that he was still some distance away. As my head went underwater, there were only four (4) thoughts in my mind - Dad does not know how to swim, I must not swallow water, I keep my arms straight above my head and DAD DOES NOT KNOW HOW TO SWIM.

In any case he saved me and I lived to tell the tale. My ordeal became a part of the family lore, especially the message which I had confidentially whispered into my Dad’s ears as we walked back, “Dad, will you tell mom that I got wet trying to save you from drowning?”

Picnic with Art School......

My handwriting as a kid was very messy. (t still is if you are wondering and I have always felt that I suffered from some form of undiagnosed dyslexia!) and my form teacher convinced my parents to enroll me for art school.

The classes were held every Sunday and I hated waking up early in the morning and heading to, what was clearly a waste of time (after all I was missing my favorite shows on T.V.).

But coming back to the topic for this post, every few months the Art School would take all its students out of the classroom into the open for a ‘working’ picnic. The places we were taken to could be a stream, a lake (including the one where I almost drowned), a market place or an ancient ruin (I remember it rained all through that trip). They were places, which under normal circumstances I would have liked to spend some time in except for the fact that that we were required to be ‘inspired’ and begin painting like Van Gogh.

Since, I was not too interested in these endeavors, I intensely disliked these picnics. Invariably instead of playing, the other kids would be glued to their boards scratching away intensely – trying hard to justify the trip.

The only interesting thing that ever happened at any of these picnics was the one time when all of us went picnicking on this cliff but were shooed away by a guy in hard hat. As we moved to a different place, which was some distance away, we heard a loud boom coming from the direction of the cliff. On the way back we realized that a part of the cliff, which we had initially commandeered, had been dynamited.

Picnic with family........

In my family we had this tradition of going for a picnic every Christmas Day. Mom would spend hours in the kitchen the previous day in order to get our picnic basket ready.

Sometimes, the place where we would go had been decided days in advance while sometimes the place would only be finalised only on Christmas eve. Occasionally some other family would tag along with us but in general it would largely be the four of us.

I cannot say that the places we went to were always scenic or special. What mattered was that we were going out as a family unit and enjoying the holiday together. Some of my fondest childhood memories are from these picnics. It used to be so much fun, whether it was feeding deer with my hands and teaching the sibling to do it too or just gorging on Mom’s food. I have always felt that it is important for families to have traditions. They go a long way in creating some common cherished memories.

Anyway coming back to the story, there was this one time when we picnicked at the local Airport. Dad had taken the permission of the airport officials some days back (they were so sporty about these things in those days) and on the appointed day we walked to the Airport and spread our sheets on a huge grass patch beside the tarmac. In those days the air traffic was limited to perhaps two flights per day and we had this large open space all to ourselves. The airport guys dropped in from time to time to eat some of the food Mom had cooked and in all we had a jolly great day. The highlight of the picnic was when a B737 landed on the runway and our sheets and the paper plates got blown away.

Then there was this another time, when my Uncle and Aunt surprised us by suddenly arriving unannounced from the metropolis along with my newborn female cousin, just as we were stepping out of our home for a picnic. We went to a lakeside and I will never forget that picnic spent with my little sister sleeping peacefully in my arms.

And then there is this one picnic, I would be happy to forget. We had chosen a waterfall in the middle of the forest. It was and remains a very popular picnic spot but due to its relative inaccessibility and lack of a full time life guard, it remains a very dangerous place. The thing that struck me when I went there for the first time with my parents was that all the warning signs had been disfigured (I was soon to find out why). As we (the sibling and I) splashed water at each other in the shallows, there was a huge commotion downstream and we discovered that a young guy had slipped into the frothing water and been carried away. The river bend where he appeared to have drowned was too dangerous to enter without any proper equipment. As everyone tried to find some way of saving that fellow, a group of woodsmen who live around the waterfalls offered to help on the payment of around USD 5,000 in cash. Cash was difficult to come by and they refused to accept a cheque, valuables, watches in lieu of the cash. A lot of time was wasted in collecting the money and finally when the poor guy was pulled out, he had been dead for an hour.


I cannot end this post without talking about the picnics with my childhood friends. During the long school holidays, we would take every opportunity to go out for a picnic. It could be anywhere – our gardens, parks, at the ruin near the railway tracks, the woods near our house, the ponds, etc.

Initially we would only get sandwiches from home and share them over comics, soda and games. As we grew older, we would filch utensils from home and cycle over to our favorite places and cook food over a small wood fire. The girls would try to take over the cooking claiming inalienable human rights (in the coming years they would turn staunch feminists and treat cooking as a form of bondage) while the pyromaniacs like me would hate to have them mess with our fire. Mothers were generally not happy when their utensils got home.

Phew!! quite a long post baby...!!

image credits : Google images

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