The Season of Picnics


With the descent of winter it is picnic time. There was a time when I had waited expectantly for this season of the year. We would then go to some place away from the crowd, from the hustle and bustle of the day to day life to some quiet spot where the chirping of the birds and the call of the insects would make up the music of the air, where one could hear the gurgling sound of a stream or the rush of waters over rocks or where there would be a stretch of sand and pebbles by the riverside, where we would make our sitting and cooking arrangements and then take long walks through nature's scarcely trodden paths. Then after a long walk and perhaps some singing sessions, we would sit on the bed-sheets spread out on the sand or over some grassy patch and have our food. The greatest attraction was the chance to walk into the waters and splash around for some time.

Years back, I had gone on a picnic with my colleagues to Umtru. I was sitting on a big rock with some of my friends, listening to a melodious song. I was about to get up and climb down from the rock when my hands lost the grip on the rock and I found myself plunging down into the swift waters of the dangerous river. The currents swept me away; for some moments that felt like long hours, I struggled to keep myself afloat, but I did not know to swim. I was certain I would have a watery grave. I wondered if they would find my body. Perhaps these conscious thoughts kept me going and I found someone pulling me to the banks. I was in a semi-conscious state. When I think about the picnickers that had drowned over the years I feel I am quite lucky to have come back alive from the waters of that dreaded river. But I guess, Fate writes out our death dates and my date with Death was not on that day. Every time I went on a picnic I remembered this accident, but that did not stop me from getting into the waters! 

As a child I used to go with my mother along with her college staff to far-off places. I could never forget the stretch of white pebbles by the side of the river in Manas nor the greenery in Bhairabkunda. They would sing and the songs seemed to be part of the surrounding, perhaps because they were melodious and the lyrics were meaningful and soothing. We had to get up very early in the morning to start for these places. There was no tension, no fear that the places were so far off or that it was quite dark when we had started for the picnic. I still remember the group of boys that were in Manas the day I too had gone with my mother, who as a teacher of Handique Girls' College, had taken the students for a picnic along with her colleagues. They too sang and danced and while they rowed a boat they would steal glances at the girls and sing songs for them. The attraction was natural, but they had the decency to maintain their distance and also behave in a way as to respect the dignity of the girls and the teachers. There was nothing to fear from them. In fact, their presence made the place livelier. 

But can we say the same today? The simple pleasures and innocent merry-making is lost. No one is to be trusted. The people today, including the youth, think that one can never enjoy without taking the bottles of liquor. They get themselves drunk and in their drunken state they are hardly aware that they are humans, supposed to be superior to other animals. People choose the nearest spot, eat something and try to come back as soon as possible. As if you go for picnic just for the sake of going. Today, when I, as a teacher, had to take the students of Handique Girls' College for a picnic, I would feel the sooner we could come back the better. 

Where has the peace and tranquility of mind and surrounding disappeared? Today, we no longer have that serene and safe environment. In the same spot you find about two dozen picnicker groups; perhaps it is because every group wants a spot that isn't very far. You feel that it is not a picnic spot, but a mela. You get to hear dozens of different songs blaring out from the tape recorders. And each group would dance (it's more like jumping) to the tune of western music. I don't understand why people take their music systems to the picnic spots. I feel that it clashes with the quietude of the green hills, serenity of the blue expanse of the sky, the murmuring sound of the rivulets and streams. This jing-jang music goes well in parties, but not in such natural settings. Of course, this depends on the taste of the people; one can never force one's preference on another. The taste of people today too has undergone a drastic change. There was a time when people loved to sit and sing in such a beautiful setting; one needn't be a trained singer or a radio artist to sing on such occasions. Nature would lure one to sing melodious songs. But today, what is picnic without music on a tape, and as if that is not enough, one even takes a microphone to drive away Pastoral from nature and usher in Metropolitan with earsplitting music.

Since my childhood days till say about the late 1980s I had seen picnickers taking plates made of banana leaves or sal leaves that could be thrown away after use and these plates made out of eco-friendly materials merged with nature. But nowadays people take plastic plates and glasses with them. After use they leave these behind. I had seen the green fields looking like dumping grounds of plastics after the groups had had their lunch. These plastic things do not fuse with nature and they remain there spoiling the greenery of the place. How could one destroy the beauty of a beautiful place where the river or a stream flows past? The river must be silently cursing these so-called civilized people, and perhaps longing for those uncivilized pagans of ancient times. We wait eagerly for the winter to go on picnics, but nature must be waiting eagerly for the winter to pass so that people cannot taint her beauty and innocence for a longer period.