by Muhammad Awan
As schools reopen after months of lockdown since 2019, a seventh standard student recounts why it was so disappointing to stay away from school for so long
For the past 31 months, I and hundreds of thousands of children across Kashmir have been sitting at home without the most important thing in our life – schools. In 2019 the lockdowns started after the abrogation of articles 370 and 35A. For a period of about a year children were at home with nothing to do. Some children used this time to continue studying independently at home, but most children were not able to do anything due to the lockdown and lack of resources due to the internet ban.
In the first month of 2020, 2G network services were restored, but Covid19 had spread around the world and schools in Kashmir continued to remain closed. What’s even sadder is that when my admission in the Kashmir Valley School (KVS) had just happened (I was previously studying in another school) and schools were expected to reopen, the Covid lockdown was announced.
With the lockdown began the process of taking the classes online, which in my opinion was not a smart move – children used to get distracted because of the devices they attended the classes with as they would show more interest in fiddling with the devices rather than focusing on studies.
There were many other aspects that caused the boredom children experienced during the lockdown. For example, we could not play with our neighbours and rarely ventured outside our homes due to the restrictions and there were no activities to do at home. We could just read the same books over and over again or watch repeat telecast shows on the television all day.
Such was the life of children from early 2020 to mid-2021. It was only around July that for some time there was some cheerfulness in our lives again as restrictions were slowly being removed and for some time we could finally get to live the life we lived before the lockdowns.
However, this also turned out to be temporary because a few months later the omicron Coronavirus variant appeared and lockdowns intensified again. But still, our lives went on and we had to find ways to engage ourselves. Luckily, this year schools are reopening and I am more than happy!
Joyful 11 days!
So, how did I get an opportunity to enjoy for 11 days? Ever since my first days at the Kashmir Valley School (KVS), I was excited about going camping with my school as our school is a pioneer of adventure sports in Kashmir and has a tradition of taking the students for outdoor activities.
When I was in my sixth standard, my parents were apprehensive about my taking the skiing course because of the Covid pandemic. But, this year, I decided to go! My additional motivation came from a friend of mine and his brother who had both gone skiing over the past few years. They told me about their beautiful experiences from their skiing days at Gulmarg.
Finding all the equipment for skiing was quite an endeavour as the list was very long. Most of the equipment was from brands which my friend recommended. The 15-day long stay meant that I had to be prepared in all respects, which my parents made sure enough. For snacks, my mother mostly kept dry fruits and some chocolates and packed them in 15 packets so that I could eat one per day during the 15-day skiing course. It is also worth mentioning that we were supposed to go on January 4, but our trip was preponed to December 27.
Finally, I was all set! On December 27, I packed my suitcase and went to the Tyndale Biscoe School and left from there in a bus arranged by the school administration. On our bus, there were only four boys of whom I was the youngest while the rest of the aspiring skiers were girls. I had already struck a chord with one of the four boys while we were waiting to board the bus. So, I found it somewhat easy to engage myself with him. Soon, there was a lot of noise in the bus as most of the students were talking in twos and threes.
At Tangmarg we stopped and boarded other vehicles as per the plan charted out by the school staff, which was in charge of the skiing course. As we started moving up the road from Tangmarg, we started enjoying the journey even more so because of the snow-covered landscape. The height of the road leading to Gulmarg gave us a great view of the gorgeous Harmukh Mountain! Overall, the journey to Gulmarg was a great experience as we had a clear view of the parts of the Pir Panjal mountain range.
Once we reached our camp, the rules to be followed on site were explained to us. The children were questioned about possessing any electronic gadgets such as mobile phones (including basic phones that can only be used to make calls which in my opinion were useless because if someone made a call using them, they would easily get caught anyway; and also there were no charging outlets so that phones could be recharged). Energy drinks and potato chips were also confiscated as they could have potentially been harmful for us.
On the first day, we didn’t go skiing and were only made familiar with the ground rules. Our instructors told us what skis were, what ski poles were and what ski boots were and explained about each part of them. I also used this time to familiarize myself with my fellow skiers.
The next day, we put on our skiing gear and we were assigned our skiing boots and skis with numbers on them. My boots and skis had the number 188 — we all had to remember our numbers as we all had our boots and skis specifically adjusted for us. Our boots, as told to us by our instructors, weighed 5kg. A joke went around that “it is like dragging an entire house with your feet.” But, for me, these shoes were somewhat light which had a lot to do with my routine of hours of daily cycling. On our first day we did not go on slopes, but put our skis on instead and learned how to walk with the skis on, in the garden outside our camp.
Meanwhile, in the camp, we were having the time of our lives! We used to have chatting sessions amongst ourselves. There were many other ways the children used to engage themselves. For example, some children had brought books with them to read and some had brought board games. I myself had got both the books and games and I used to spend my evenings reading or playing board games with other children. On some occasions, I would not mind bragging a bit! I would show off how I was able to pronounce and spell long words such as pneumonoultramicroscopicsilicovolcanosis and hippopotomonstrosesquippedaliophobia. I still remember the look on people’s faces when they heard me say these words. On certain occasions I used to sit and observe my surroundings, thinking about my stay and experiences. It was during such occasions that I figured out the three types of children that were there:
- Naughty children who were sent there to learn how to behave.
- Lazy children who were sent there for exercise.
- Shy and introverted children who were sent to have fun and to learn to socialize.
There were two slopes we went to throughout our course: the Biscoe slope and the church slope, the latter was taller than the other slope. I and my comrades would feel immense pain when it came to ascending the church slope. I still feel amused when I recall how on one occasion I tried to control my skis but failed and went the entire length of the slope trying to stop using the snowplough technique and had to climb the slope all over again.
On one of those 11 days, we were told that we could order any three dishes from a local restaurant and have a feast in the mess hall. I bought myself one chicken roll and enjoyed it along with my comrades!
After some days we had an exam and we had to demonstrate techniques we learnt which was a little hard as sometimes our skis sank into the fresh powdery snow. The next day we had an oral exam on skiing techniques and skiing terminology. We were assigned chest numbers and had to go to the examination room on a number basis. I was given the chest number 32. By the time the eleventh child had gone to the examination room one of our instructors came in and told us all to pack our bags and put on masks because we were leaving the camp four days early!
There were two theories regarding what happened due to which we were leaving early. According to the first theory, it was due to the snowfall forecast and the second was that the examiner who had come to evaluate our skiing had got Covid infection. We packed all our things, but sadly I had forgotten one very important thing –my jacket.
I forgot I even had that jacket because of how distracted I was with all the other things going on at the camp. So, once we got on our bus and were headed back home our bus was stuck in the snow! We had to wait in the snow until they pulled our bus out of the snow. Afterwards, we were all excited to go back home and we kept chatting in the bus.
Our parents were informed by the skiing management that they would have to pick up their children from school. While we were going there, I felt very sad because I suddenly remembered how we were singing songs in unison on the last day before our early departure and how the children were preparing the skit on the last day not knowing that they would not be able to perform it at the camp. The little quarrels that happened between the children! The chess matches, which would get very sensational. The stories we used to tell each other in our sleeping bags! Without a doubt, those days were the best days of these past 31months.
(Author is a seventh class student of Kashmir Valley School)