Contributor : Chinmaya Vempati, 16. Volunteer. Bangalore Resident.
Over my two week stay in these mountains I have come to truly understand this blog’s title: Uncity. Ergo, a kind of detox from the city life. I’ve lived in a few places in my 16 years: Bombay, London, Qatar, New Delhi and now Bangalore. All of them are cities – meaning they all have an artificial nighttime glow of the metropolis in its office buildings and traffic lights, with the air tinged with exhaust and tarmac.
Satkhol, a village in Uttarakhand, is something else entirely. I’ve been staying with Chetan, Vandita and their family while working in a school managed by an NGO called Chirag. I’m sat here on my couch in Bangalore, and I’m still missing the leafy scent of the
morning. I miss the view of hills on hills, layered on top of one another, with snow-capped peaks in the distance, even belonging to another country depending on the direction you look.
But the life inside the house stood out to me. Was it a normal life? Yes and no, depending on how you define “normal”. The family was one you’d see anywhere, with habits, inside jokes, and the occasional argument. As an only child, I discovered in a small dose how it would be to have younger siblings. There were neighbours and a convenience store nearby. Except, the convenience store was an uphill walk on a driveway cutting through farmland.The neighbours, instead of being adjacent, were a 10 minute walk . From the city mindset of everything you need being at your doorstep, a thought stuck around. ‘Doesn’t this need effort?’ As it turns out, it’s quite easy when you’re not distracted by the city pace and glamour. You have more time to be useful and self-sustain. The pull of technology and easy, instant gratification is less powerful. I found myself more than satisfied by simply
plucking fruits, taking them back to the house hanging from a stick. For once, I felt truly useful.
That desire of usefulness is what brought me to the Chirag School. The people called me “iPad man” – my job there was to set up their recently donated iPads with learning resources for teachers and kids to use. I ended up working on the computers as well, so the nickname limits me, but oh well. I came into the school nervous, because this seemed like a JOB job, with deadlines and other terrifying official things. But I had no reason to be – the entire atmosphere was relaxed. The principal and other volunteers were cool, and the school community were so polite and kind. I was talking to people from the NGO Ekstep, and before I left they told me that NGO work is characteristically slow. And oh, they were right. It seemed like the electricity or internet were barely ever working. That’s a bit frustrating for someone working with Wi-Fi enabled electrical devices. However, that slow pace was a blessing. It allowed me to appreciate where I was and just relax, no pressure involved – and that’s how I work best. After trial and error, I managed to deploy an offline version of Khan Academy, KA Lite, in the school which could be accessed with any device. I also found iPad apps to be used as learning aids. It was an uncomplicated job, but even in the simplicity there was value that I helped create for the school. At the root of it, casting aside the obvious college-application-benefits etc. etc., I took so much pride in providing Chirag access to these amazing resources. .
I suppose I always have liked the hills. The brisk air. Moist earth and hillside rocks. The burn in your thighs after hiking up a hill, and the amazement when you look down. The cliché most people come to know in their teens especially is that each experience contains a lesson. It was more of a learning than a lesson for me. I had evolved. Nothing really specific, but just a feeling of change, a trend I noticed in myself and my life. Everything seemed simpler up there. It was easier to notice the fine points of where I was. I found myself taking things as they come, not worrying too much about commotion. It wasn’t a complex life. I’m just hoping to keep some of that sensation safe here in the city.
I’m going into 11th grade of high school. I’m a music, parkour and urban dance enthusiast, and I’ve just spent 2 weeks in Kumaon recently interning at Chirag. I don’t know what I want in my future, but nowadays I like volunteering with NGOs like Chirag and Ekstep, an organisation that has created a learning platform app called Genie, available for Android. (Sorry for the product placement, but seriously, try it out, it’s great.)