“Why are there so many kids in here this week?"
Add a few more kids to an already crammed, noisy space and you notice. Barely looking up from her work correcting the crude formation of a cursive letter, Indu grinned and said, “They know about the picnic.”
For every kid who loves coming to Indu’s Excellent Tuition centre to learn, there’s one who’s heard through the kid-to-kid rumour mill that Indu and DWP were planning a few outings for the tuition class in the next few weeks. There was a sudden push to get their names on “the list” which meant attending tuition class regularly or risk being overlooked.
Suraj, who is not one to attend tuition more than once a week, leaned in close to me, poked me with his dull pencil, and whispered, “Cindy Mom, picnic?” I nodded in his direction while handing Tannu a piece of chalk and wiping the dirt off four-year-old Rehan’s mouth, and reminded Suraj he needed to show up every day and do his homework. He sharpened his pencil and stared into the abyss wondering how he was going to manage the repetition of ABC’s for at least another week in order to get a coveted seat on the bus to Juhu Beach.
Two picnics were planned - one for the girls and one for the boys. That decision was less about segregation of the sexes and more about the task of handling more than twenty kids at a time in the large world outside the slum community.
The girls wanted to go to Aarey Milk Colony - a green space where dairy cows lounge on dirty knolls and produce milk for the city. A series of play parks interrupt the grazing cows and tattered, leaky pedal boats bob on Chota Kashmir; a large, still pond where turtles, fish and a few snakes float in the murky, green water.
Juhu Beach, where the boys decided to go, is a long wide swath of grey sand melting into the slate coloured water of the Arabian Sea on Mumbai’s coastline. On Sundays, Juhu is a strolling, meeting, photo-op place for hundreds of Mumbaikars. Hawkers trudge back and forth with large bobbing balloons, giant bags of snack treats, mehendi stamps, and performing monkeys dressed in costume on the end of a tight leash attached to their owner.
Dressed in their frilly, polyester best, their hair pinned back with blingy barrettes, the girls hopped in the rented bus for a day of play in four different areas of Aarey Colony ending with an hour in a beautiful green park where they ran barefoot on soft green grass instead of broken cement and spit-stained lane ways. The large, dusty park with swings, slides and a climbing gym held their attention for at least two hours. The frilly hems of their dresses swished through the dirt with each push of the swing. Skipping ropes and badminton rackets were fished out of the big blue bag we brought them in and were shared without incident. We rented two boats for a twenty minute paddle boat ride on Chota Kashmir, racing each other around the small pond, girls hanging out of the boats searching for fish in the murky water. After a few hours of excitable play the girls plopped themselves in a heap on the concrete benches and slurped juice flavoured popsicles that dripped fluorescent juice down their chins. A long walk through a manicured park had them gazing and gasping at the flowers and ended with a lazy lounge on the well-tended grass. They giggled while slowly going up and down on aging metal cartoon animals and asked for more. After a full day of play in the hot sun, their dresses soiled with the dust of the playground and exhaustion finally setting in, they were eager to climb back into the bus for the bumpy ride home along the rutted roads of the colony.
Despite heading for a day at the beach, the boys dressed in their best shirts and pants and combed their hair into sleek, oil-drenched hairstyles befitting a photo-session. Some of the boys had never been to the sea until that day and what lay before them was a whole day of sun, sand, games, treasure hunting and immersing themselves (fully clothed) like Ganesh into the shallow waves of the shoreline at Juhu. A long walk up the beach became a game of find the Ganpati. Juhu Beach is one of the places where thousands of statues of Ganesh (the Elephant God) are immersed in the sea during the Ganpati Festival in September. We found broken and intact statues of every size and the boys dutifully immersed the large pieces back in to the water, stuffing the smaller idols into their pockets as a gift for Indu who was waiting for us down the beach.
After hours of high-energy fun the boys were bedraggled, tired, happy and had a load of sand in their pants from digging in the sand and swimming in the sea. A few of them held tight to the small Ganpati idols they found on the beach. Ganpati (Ganesh) is the Remover of Obstacles.
Cost of two picnics for 40 kids:
Rented bus x 2: (2500 x 2) 5000 Rupees (CAD $102)
Food for 40: 3450 Rupees (CAD $70)
(fruit, hard-boiled eggs, bottled water, snacks, meal)
Admission/ride tickets for 20 kids (Aarey Colony): 1750 Rupees (CAD $35)
Bus parking for 6 hours - Juhu Beach: 500 Rupees ($10)
Total cost: 10,700 Rupees (CAD $219)