Somewhere in the middle of the 30 feet descent, I walked backwards, araam se, like I do every once in a while. Only I was hanging on a rope. My legs stood firm like they had never been – for once they decided to listen to me. But only a few minutes ago, they had been quite an oxymoron – on vibrate mode.
Outbound Training Programme it was called, and true to its name, it was outside bounds. From rock climbing and rappelling, to crawling under rocks, it was as exciting as it was scary – one slip of the foot, and you could end up in an AC room for a decided amount of time – in a hospital.
The climb left me quite breathless – I don’t even bother to climb stairs. Sheeet, how it made me wish I had climbed all those floors in my apartment. The beauty of the place — right in the lap of nature – was that if you stayed still, everything around you came alive. Everything that you had assumed to be still, is not so anymore.
But at the top, everything around me was still, except for my own body, with my heart gasping for breath. So loudly that I could hear it everywhere– including my arms and legs. Here, one of the instructors divided the eight teams into two large ones: Spartans and Warriors. After a few breathing exercises, and a few games out there, we decided to return.
Now if anybody ever thought that climbing down was easier, I urge you to think again. The hill, combined with the Earth’ gravitational force, has only and only one aim in their lives – to pull you down; literally. At one point, we had to slide down a bit. How I wish they had actually made a semi cylindrical depression, with bars to hold on to. But this was more of strategic sliding. You had to slowly almost sit and crawl, sitting in the tiny craters so as to not slip. But unfortunately, my body weight easily pulled me down, and if those two guys had not been standing at the end of it, I am sure I would have effortlessly made it to my destination in lightning speed.
This was followed by walking on a slope — through it. The only thing around were bundles of lemon grass; comfortably rooted, sitting like fountains, laughing at us while we struggled to get a grip. And right after this, was a big rock – and we were to go under it. I began contemplating whether I will fit in there at all. Finally I did manage to fit in — barely. I crawled out of it as fast as I could, during which I wondered if anybody would know if something or somebody had died in there. Once out, one of my teammates apologised for having scrapped my bag a little – the only two girls in our seven member team decided they wanted to carry their bags; and we all took turns carrying them (only two bags were allowed per team). That poor guy did not realise I was too happy that we all had managed to get out of that tiny cave in one piece.
In spite of having such co-operative and supportive classmates, as well instructors, I had been carrying all this while the one most uncooperative thing with me — or rather I should say wearing them: my shoes. The soulless creature’s soles were coming off. Sadly, irrespective of whether the footwear I am wearing belongs to me or not, they are most rebellious – this definitely was not the first time this had happened.
Three years ago, in the last year of schooling, I was on a study tour with my class. A hosteller at that time, for some reason that I don’t remember now, I ended up borrowing somebody’s chappal. We had stopped somewhere near a beach, in the nattucha veil (burning hot afternoon). The chappal decided to die on me; and since the only support in it had fallen apart, I had no option but to walk barefoot. On the sand. Till the bus.
At a point in the descent, he asked us to stand with fellow Spartans and Warriors. He then asked us to find our way back to the kitchen. A beta version of human GPS managed to find another stone underpass. Thankfully, it was more spacious than the previous one. It did not really matter to me, as long as it took me to the kitchen.
After a satisfying meal, we all chatted for a while. None of us really had any idea what they had planned for us. All I wanted was a nice spot under a tree and a good nap. An instrumental version of the All India Radio whistled away, while we relaxed. And then two instructors, went into a room for equipment. Equipment??
I dragged myself, following others to another part of the campus, where military and police recruits trained. While others ran and jumped through the first obstacle, which looked like stepping stones on land, I preferred walking through it. Then there was one where slabs of stone projected off a wall: you had to climb through a side and get down the other. I don’t really recall how, but I managed to climb up, after which I was stuck. The instructor suggested I watch somebody else do it, and I agreed. I called out to a girl and warned her that I was already up there — hence it was not a good idea to climb up. I did manage to turn around and keep my foot on one of the projections, but after that I could not see anything except for the huge slab I was holding on to. I climbed down a little, and then jumped. The instructor said I was lucky to not have been hurt by a pointy slab.
It seemed wiser for me to simply stare at the rest of the obstacle course, while a few others tried some out. From there, we were taken to the cliff, or rather a 30 feet rock, where the Spartans were climbing down, with ropes and harnesses. Warriors had barely begun, when it started raining, and we were asked to return. I walked around in my Sherlock Holmes raincoat, even though the rain stopped the moment I had put it on. I had to consider the effort I had taken to put it on. Five minutes later, we were called back, as the weather seemed to have improved.
I sat down, looking at others climb down, and another who stood at the bottom to help them. Though, I was extremely tempted to try it, I did not trust my shoes at all. My classmates encouraged me to try it out nevertheless, and one of the instructors (who was sitting with us) reassured me the shoes were not a problem. Since the shoe was still in one piece – somewhat, I decided to go ahead anyways. One of my other classmates, also changed her decision: she decided to give it a try.
I knew that walking down backwards was not the challenge, it was to begin smoothly from the edge of the cliff. And that was the only thing that worried me. I collected the harness and gloves, and climbed up. Here, I almost lost my way— which I had suspected I would — but managed to climb up. It was then that I realised that it was less spacious than it seemed from down there. Three of us were waiting for our turn, two instructors were giving a fourth instructions, and there was another who clicked pictures.
I tried to stand still, so I would not tumble down. Looking around, or looking down was not a good idea, because this cliff was on top of a highly elevated landmass. As I waited for my turn, one of my classmates started thinking out loud, “What if I leave this hand?” I begged him to shut up. As he climbed two steps down, he paused to ask, “Are you not clicking pictures?” The other girl decided to go back, but nevertheless she did not move. And then, one of the instructors told her, “There is only one way down from here.”
I was initially standing so still, that I could barely move. I walked towards the edge, and one of the instructors spoke to me in Malayalam, while the other tightened the straps of the harness. For the first time, my knees were dancing — even though I didn’t ask them to. As if to show one last sign of rebellion, my shoelace came apart. I thought it could go die, I was not going to tie it.
I managed to begin smoothly, holding on to the ropes real tight. As I climbed down, I felt as if I were riding my office chair in reverse, back home – which I do when I am too lazy to get up and open my door.
I’m covered with ultimate guilt when I just realised that my classmate has reached 200, and I’m still at my 46th post right now : we’d started at the same time. Now I’m green.
Guilt apart, I’m pretty sure that with every passing year, there are more vehicles on the road. Now more people will drive through the pavement, everybody will reach their destinations later. And I had to shift closer to my college, and share a room with stranger. Weirdly enough, I use all my “extra time” sleeping (the three-four hours per day that I travel).
Add to this, the squishy mud slurry that once was my ground, now an open parking lot. Sigh. And the sick cold winds that slap me on my face. And then comes the staircase – it turned out to be worse than the horror fiction I’d written.One set of staircases for thousand students. And now the PT sir has been promoted to traffic controller. My auditorium premises too have been over packed with vehicles. I miss those days when I could clear my mind, sit in a lonely corner and do my work.
Add to all this, the rain. But ironically, it is forcing us to walk in single file lines. (Like we are supposed to in the staircase.)