You never know how a small thing or a simple act can transport you to some far off corner of your mind or memory. After a long gap, yesterday I was peeling an orange – as the strong citrus smell wafted around, it suddenly took me several decades back to our school picnic…..
The season is right, too – generally the school picnics were scheduled between mid-December to mid-January. But why an orange would be associated with a picnic?
Unlike present day, no ready picnic destinations like water parks or amusement parks, with readymade food, were available at that time (Yes, this happened during the dinosaurs age). So each student was obliged to carry his/her own lunch box. The staple picnic lunch would be Puri n Aloo Sabzi . I still haven’t understood the reason behind this menu. However, all the mothers, without fail, would dutifully fry puris in the wee hours of winter mornings and pack the special picnic lunch. A sweet dish of ‘Shrikhand’ would be provided by the school. So that took care of the lunch.
Carrying the food, scarves and sweaters, everyone would reach the school just by the sunrise time. The line-up of the ‘fresh-out-of-the-junkyard’ hired buses (Yes, hired buses, as there were no school buses then. We walked to the school. Sounds prehistoric?) standing outside the huge school ground would be a thrilling sight.
Usually the chosen picnic spots were nearly at a distance of two hours’ drive from Mumbai – like, the Alibaug beach, the Buddhist caves at Karle (on the Mumbai-Pune road) or a temple at Chaul etc. This travel time was spent singing loudly or yelling school slogans – in short, shouting ourselves hoarse. In such conditions, how long would a school water-bottle last? (Sorry, no bottled mineral water available, either). So the thoughtful mothers would add thirst quenching seasonal fruits like oranges and grapes – to be eaten on the way.
As soon as one student peeled an orange, the entire bus would get to know. Then either that orange would be shared or others would reach into their bags to retrieve their own stock. Thus the travel to and from the picnic point was always quite ‘orangy’ …..
As if saying ‘open sesame’, in a fraction of second, the fruit had taken me on a rather longish tour down the memory lane. I smiled at the half peeled orange in my hand …………