When I was at school in Kalpakkam, only a few things found acceptance in the community of scientists and engineers. Topping the list was of course academics. Only centums and IIT ranks passed muster. In a distant second place was expertise in Carnatic music (even Bharatnatyam had some purists thumbing their nose). Just crossing over to the list of 'acceptables' was a foray into Guiding (the female version of Scouting). Those in sports did not do well in acads was a popular theory, and therefore sports was not a favored hobby at all. In this township lived a NCC cadet, who's regret in life to date is to not have pursued her career choice of entering the army (my mom). She made sure that I joined Baden Powell's movement as early as in class 4 as a 'Bulbul'. I then progressed to being a 'Girl Guide' from class VI onwards.
Being a Girl Guide meant staying back after school once a week. It involved classes on knots & lashes, on camping, first aid, spotting wildlife, cooking without utensils, learning special songs and dances, chants and rituals as well as doing community service (extra man/woman/child power during events like thee midhi, carnivals, political visits, inter-school events etc.). Belonging to the movement meant 'March Past' practice as a troop and having a chance to participate in the locally prestigious R Day parade. We had annual camps at school every year and I have a strong memory of waking up with a toothpaste moustache for being far too rigid and demanding! Brings you down to earth a notch or two, eh?
|R Day parade '97|
A matter of pride was to be made 'Patrol Leader' and 'command' 6 or 7 others. Needless to say, Class VIII has memories of working hard to be made a patrol leader. The school level (Pratham, Dwitiya and Tritiya Sopan) exams were always a given and not difficult at all, but Kalpakkam is an acads driven environment. So even these exams led to a flurry of 'studying' and mugging up random facts like Baden Powell's b'day (22nd Feb, 1857) or the the year scouting movement started in India (1909) or the 3 tenets of the Scouting Motto (Be Prepared - Morally Straight, Physically Strong, Mentally Awake). The final two levels were/are a different game altogether. 'Rajya Sarkar' is a state level certification where your skills are tested by external Guide and Scout Captains. My RS camp was held at Avadi, Chennai. I wasn't part of the same patrol as my fellow competitors from Kalpakkam and was a bit worried (my constant battle with performance pressure!) I did well enough to be placed a joint first with my closest competitor and best 'guide' friend (Vaiju).
|Jabalpur All India Rally|
The last level (Rastrapathi) President's badge is the pinnacle of Guiding. In my class XII, a month before the dreaded Boards was announced the camp for Rashtrapathi. The Rashtrapathi camp is a randomly occurring event, sometimes twice in the same year, sometimes once in 2 years. I promised my dad that I would feature in the top 5 if he let me go (he barely heard me), I promised that I'd do well in my Boards (he refused to believe me) and finally, my mom and dad had a royal humdinger of an argument and my dad reluctantly agreed to let me go. The camp was a tough one. Many tricky questions, mostly Hindi conversations (while I studied at a KV and was super-proficient in Hindi, spoken Hindi remained a difficult deal until much later) and cold Delhi weather (at Nizamuddin) and North-Indian boys (a species from another planet wearing cool sweaters, singing DDLJ songs and effortlessly walking up to us to converse, unlike any of the boys back home!). Many nights of studying, project work and practising knots till my fingers bled led to being placed first again in the camp (another joint first with a girl from a KV in Chandigarh). Thanks to my first, I was invited to receive the award from the President (Shankar Dayal Sharma) the next year (again, my dad declined to send me) and was selected for the R-Day parade (I couldn't participate thanks to being in college by then).
|Best Outgoing Guide '97|
What did the Guiding movement give me? Several memories for starters. Many good friends. An extra-curricular activity that involved some physical effort. Dedication (waking up for ‘March Past practice’ or Gandhi Jayanti all-faith prayer etc.). Independence (staying overnight at my own school for camps at first, and then the out-of-school camps). Some skills (rusty they may be, but I can still tie some basic knots well enough, and spout random facts to impress my son!) Most of all, a belief that ‘being prepared’ isn’t prepared enough (how much I practise it is another matter altogether!)