Using the word “adventure” in the title might be the best way to make the reader run away. Actually, reader, you are probably looking for the pictures, trying to assess quickly if this post is going to be about spiritual experience or some random trip to the bazaar… Well, I have to say that you are in for a disappointment.
What I have in mind is closer to Thelma and Louise than it is to A trip to GT, but I won’t apologize or try to make things up, because this post contains the true feeling of being young and beautiful, not according to Lana Del Rey, but according to yours truly.
Let me explain. Today was an ordinary day at MPA: wake up at 5 A.M., go to PT (physical training, for the uninitiated), go to formation, yell “Yes sir!”, eat breakfast, go to formation again, yell “Yes ma’am!,” go to class, yawn, sneak to the library, tease classmates, pretend your dog ate your student planner (yes, some students still do try this one…) and somehow enjoy it all because there is a sense of comfort even in the most uncomfortable discipline.
But then something happened. Pooja Vohra, our Front Office Manager, announced that we would be going to the FFRO the same afternoon. “What is that?” you might be thinking. Well, that depends on the perspective. For any average adult, it means “hassle”. It is the office where any foreigner staying in India for more that 180 days must go to get registered. You know, the kind of place that you find in any foreign country where you have to go five times because, as you are a foreigner, you always forget something or bring the wrong document. Yes, that is what I am talking about.
For a MPA student, however, it has a totally different meaning. First, you get the chance to leave the school in the middle of the week, which is literally extraordinary. Then, you become one of just a few selected to go on the trip, and when you spend your life living 24 hours a day as part of a large group, being part of a smaller group is rare and precious. Thirdly, you have the entire bus to yourself. Believe me, when it is 35°C outside, it is more than good to be able to spread your arms because you don’t have to share your seat with one or two more. Fourthly, you are going to the FFRO with Pooja, I mean, the nicest person on Earth who will do anything to satisfy the 10 lucky students selected for the trip that day.
This brings us to the next point, which is going to make you forget all of the above. When you go to the FFRO, you get a chance to enjoy, once the visit is over, a special treat. As a matter of fact, you get the opportunity to taste, through ice-cream and junk food, a certain feeling of freedom, a feeling of escape that the kids seem to crave. To be perfectly honest, when I myself felt it, I couldn’t help but think about it, trying to figure why I felt that way.
It is hard to understand, from an external point of view, the constant pressure noticeable at MPA. It does not have a lot to do with getting up at 5 A.M. or doing 15 laps around the soccer field. Those things happen in the rest of the world as well; they don’t make the school special. What makes it special is the tightness of the environment, because there is no way you can escape from it. Day after day, you have to face the same people, the same schedule and the same challenges all day long, all week long, all year long.
And, of course, in response to that, the mind is constantly looking for an escape. Your mind attacks you pitilessly because it wants to get away from the discomfort of the pressure. Looking for escape takes many forms: for some, it is eating, for others, playing video games, and, for some people, it is just the idea of going to the FFRO.
So, our small group got on the bus at 2:45 P.M., giggling like little kids, fooling around on the empty bus, and taking pictures of each other as if we were going on a road trip on Route 66. Once at the office, some of the kids went inside two by two with Pooja, while I supervised the rest. “Supervised”, in this case, meant being able to run fast enough that I wouldn’t get lost on the way to the closest little store where you could find all kinds of goodies not usually available at MPA (e.g. chips, nachos, chocolate bars and all that jazz).
Once everybody registered, the kids begged us to take them to the ice-cream shop, Baskin Robbins, and it seemed like we were in wonderland when we got there, in the middle of this decrepit commercial complex, reading the names of the flavors like it was the memory of a very ancient world, almost forgotten. I’ll leave it to you to imagine the pleasure that the kids had being there, enjoying their treat…
And, believe it or not, even with Oreo cookies in their bags and ice-cream in their stomachs, the students still felt the need to follow me during our last quick stop to the supermarket to grab one last thing before going back to school: juice, sodas, or an ultimate forgotten treat. As we were waiting in line at the cashier, I looked at them, their bright faces, their excitement and I couldn’t help thinking how brave they were to be coming to school at MPA, in India.
Because it is brave to come study at MPA when they could be gorging themselves with all the comforts that the Western world has to offer. I mean, is there any comparison possible between a chocolate bar or two and the 3 ½ daily hours of TV that they could get if they were going to any other school?
At that point, I realized how perfect everything was, even being imperfect most of the time. We always want to be stronger, smarter and nicer. We always want the students to be more reasonable, hard-working, healthier. We wish, in the secret of our consciousness, that they would beg us to take them to the bookstore instead of the ice-cream store, that they would buy a piece of broccoli instead of Cheetos but, at the end of the day, if we keep looking at the big picture, we cannot miss the perfection of it.
There is perfection when things are perfectly imperfect, which means when we go with the flow and we surrender to it. We are perfect when we are able to rise in the ambrosial hours to bow to the infinity of the cosmos and, a couple hours later, to share, no matter who we are, a scoop of double chocolate ice-cream, me, the kids, Pooja and the bus driver.
We are perfect when we work hard in school, try harder, push through. We are perfect when we giggle at nonsense, leave an empty ice-cream cup on the bus, or get sick from too much chocolate. And do you know why? Because of “we”.
MPA gives you a sense of what “we” means: sharing pain, sharing joy, sharing big events, small adventures, long stories, single words. And everything stays together in this incredible state of grace when the space is constantly held, the experience contained.
So maybe that is why it felt like going on an adventure: we went into the outside world, where rules are different, and values as well. We did sacrifice some of ours, consuming forbidden goods but, at the end of the day, I do believe that each and every one of the kids realizes anyway what is good and what is bad for her or him.
And we come back to the school stronger because we are able to experience how it feels to have too much sugar or fat. We are able to experience how proud we are to be part of MPA and embrace its values. And, more important, we are able to be part of this world, with its complexity and its perfect imperfection, without judging it or becoming fanatic.
We are able to be happy, no matter what.