Be ready for an EXCURSION!!”
Surprised by reading these lines , Ashwin pinched the ear. It didn’t pain. He pinched again but felt no pain.
Infuriated Prithvi shouted at Ashwin, “Why are you pinching my ear?”
“Oh, sorry. Was that yours? I thought it was mine and numbed”, naughty Ashwin replied.
“Have you seen this notice board Prithvi? Is it real or a prank by one of our monkey brethren?”
“Excursion? Interesting! How come? Our Baldy must be crazy”, surprised Prithvi started admonishing his bald headed Principal.
“It must be a typo error. Our Baldy might have meant ‘exclusion’ of students from family and friends for the approaching exams”
Both went towards the class room discussing the uncommon idea. Their apprehension was not without reason. The vision of their college is deep rooted in the philosophy of stoic learning. The core of the philosophy says learning in the college is inescapable however painful it is. Higher the pain more the gain. Time spent for studies is measured in seconds. Here clocks are not fixed to the walls but to the minds. Preparation for examination is no less than a horse race with a ticking time bomb attached. One has to be on the finish line before it explodes.
“Prithvi, we have no chance of escape today. See how passionately our Algebra is eating away the brains of our boys? Will he pardon us for coming late?”, Ashwin muttered peeping into the class room window referring to their Maths lecturer.
“Yes, you are right. We have absolutely no choice but to enter the class room and get the earful of Algebra expressions”, Ashwin agreed after seeing the Baldy coming from one end of the veranda.
As they entered, the session turned into verbal abuse by Algebra followed by further assault of Trigonometry. Towards the end of the session, Baldy entered the classroom. It is not unnatural. Students are used to the session-end preaching of Baldy like icing on the cake. Once he comes, they normally not only close the books but also their minds. Silence is the norm and slavery is the rule.
“Dear students, we work hard to achieve our goals. Despite pain and hardship, we put extra effort to reach the last mile before anyone else reaches it. You have a luxury of wonderful faculty and a rich library. You are lucky to have 24 hrs at your disposal for studies....”
“Given the chance, Baldy will stretch it to 36 hrs a day!!”, Ashwin whispered to Prithvi without attracting the attention of Baldy.
“...Your hostels have wonderful study rooms. The dutiful sentinels here make you study through the day, night and beyond. The e-cafe right in the middle of your college is fully loaded with all stuff to make you invincible genius. I know your wall-clocks and biological clocks are set for 24 hour race....”,
“Day, night and beyond? What does he mean? Is he combining the time of other planets also?” Prithvi murmured leaning towards Ashwin.
“......Yet, I felt you needed a break to re-energise and start the race again. We the management have decided to take you all for a one day excursion to Nagarjuna Sagar surrounded by Nallamala Forest. I order you to enjoy it well so that you will excel in your studies”, Baldy announced the luxury of one day excursion though with an unconvincing heart.
Silence was still reigning the hall. Students were watching the animated Baldy routinely sermonising the secrets of success. They hardly realised that an excursion was announced. A few of them, who realised, were in complete disbelief.
“Dear students, what I am saying is you are gifted with a long break of 24 hours for an excursion”, Baldy reiterated expecting a jubilant expression from the students.
Students now came to believe that they got the much deserved parole after a long and arduous sentence. They started celebrating with high fives.
“I can’t still believe that our own Baldy can ditch himself like this? There is something wrong with him”, sceptical Ashwin enquired with Prithvi pulling his bag leaving the classroom.
“There must be some grand study plan behind this idea!!”, Prithvi said adding to Ashwin’s disbelief.
The day has finally come. Buses started pouring into the campus. It is buzzing with students sporting colourful attires. The class rooms looked desolate and deserted. Boys started pairing with their cosy girls. Eatables were stuffed into the bus cabins. Faculty started forming bus teams and taking attendance. Boys and girls started grabbing the seats in each bus while the faculty tried hard to implement a seating plan so meticulously drawn out last night.
Seeing the faculty of Maths, Physics and Chemistry moving hither and thither tirelessly making the arrangements and cramming the students into buses, Ashwin exclaimed, “Why Alzebra, Newton and Rasayana Sastry are making their life hell. This trip should have been given to some event managers!!”
Meanwhile, the half-hearted Baldy asked Alzebra. “Are you ready? Can you start?”
“Yes sir”, Alzebra replied and soon, the first bus set the entire entourage into motion.
Baldy waved his hand till the last bust left the campus gate and retreated to his chamber with a gloomy face as the thoughts of losing one academic day looming large.
“Hey No.1, you are carrying books today also?”, boys started heckling at the bespectacled Aakash, who believes that he is a born 1st ranker.
Boys and girls from the last seats started shouting, “Let's play Antakshari!” Soon the other guys also joined the shouting. Alzebra intervened and calmed down the students agreeing for an antyakshari.
“Let us play it with the popular theorems of Maths. Promise you it will be interesting!”, the genius in Algebra revealed his long suppressed idea.
“No..No..the elements of the Periodic Table are very handy for this. In the process, we may end up finding a new element altogether, who knows?!!”, Rasayana Sastry lost no time to propose his idea with uncontrollable curiosity.
Soon the students became dull and looked like pin pricked balloons. They cursed themselves for wrong company. The guys on the window side were lucky to have some good view of the nature outside. The ones on the aisle were looking at each other’s pale faces.
“Don’t you feel like venturing out alone?”, Ashwin mumbled to Prithvi.
“You are my real friend dear. You always read my mind perfectly. I don’t think it is going to be an excursion. My goodness, even the team members of Mission Chandrayaan, I believe, will have some informal conditions of work”, Prithvi consented to his idea.
“You are absolutely right. If my sixth sense is not wrong, we will be compelled to write an exam towards the end of the excursion on the laws of thermodynamics we observed in the forest while scorching sun was at his best, seismic study of the dam etc.”, witty Ashwin expressed his misgivings of the trip.
“I have no doubt. The college is expecting one of the students to outsmart the genius of Einstein!!”, he quipped with gleaming eyes.
“Ok. Let's go on our own”, both said to each other by nodding the heads quietly.
After a while, the entourage halted for a tea break. Students flocked the road side restaurant. The faculty members immersed into chat around the table sipping hot tea. The timing and situation was so perfect that the duo dropped out of the entourage without anybody noticing. They escaped into the world of freedom.
When we take a new path, we are primarily guided by our instincts, not by our existing knowledge. In such ventures, a strange feeling of potential discovery lures us. And also a mysterious disquietude cautions us. These two boys ventured into such a long walk to freedom. They strayed off the road and took to fields relishing the aroma of nature. They enjoyed walking through the mango groves. They crossed streams and passed through the villages. A large swathe of yellowish mustard fields enticed them. As they were walking through those fields, a few long sheds painted in white caught their attention.
Curious boys landed at the sheds. Their eyes glimmered with what they found at the site. The entire area was buzzing with the cheeping sound of young broiler chickens. Boys couldn’t blink their eyes for a while. They had never seen such a big flock of chickens under one roof. Indeed, it was their first visit to such a poultry farm. The peculiar peeping sound was music to their ears. They went close to the wired mesh. The way the chicks were pecking at the water nipples hanging from the roof was very interesting. The awestruck boys came to senses when the foul smell of chicken poop started touching their nostrils. All the while, Mallesh, the caretaker of the farm was observing the curious kids.
“Hello boys. How are you here”, Mallesh asked.
“Hello uncle, we are on a science tour. Your farm amidst yellow mustard fields interested us”, Ashwin replied shrewdly.
“Do you keep a count of these chicks uncle?”, Prithvi enquired naively.
“Of course, we do. These are fifty thousand in all”, Mallesh replied clearing his doubt.
“What is the extent of the entire farm uncle?”, Ashwin started quizzing.
“It is an area of 30 cents. We have laid five sheds each with a holding capacity of ten thousand chicks”, Mallesh started showing interest to explain.
“I think our entire college is slightly smaller than this farm!!”, Ashwin sighed looking at Prithvi.
“How do you rear these birds uncle?”, Ashwin continued.
“We follow a system of ‘Precision Livestock Farming’. It involves several techniques”, Mallesh said.
“Interesting! What are those techniques?”, Prithvi enquired.
“Quality-based Selection of Chicks is the first and foremost technique. We visit the Hatcheries for a survey of quality chicks and procure them accordingly. Higher the quality better the results!”, Mallesh started demystifying the farming practices.
Unable to control his thoughts, Ashish poured out inquisitively, “OMG! This is what our Baldy does in the name of the admission process during summer. Every prospective ranker is chased and his parents are tortured. It means we also came from the same kind of hatcheries!!”
“Perfect Feeding is another technique. Different nutrition-based ingredients are mixed to make feed. Such feed is served at different intervals. You can see here those feeder men on the job. Each one of them is adept at one type of feed. But not all chicks take it equally”, Mallesh explained.
“Oh, my goodness! We are no different here as well. Prithvi, have you ever seen our syllabus? It is a mixture of CBSE, ICSE, State Boards, and what not? Our Algebra, Newton, and Rasayana Sastry are no less expert feeders”, Ashwin amazed at the similarities.
Meanwhile, there appeared an assistant of Mallesh with a bunch of coconuts. He cut them and offered coconut water to all. Tender coconuts have good white meat as well.
Enjoying the tender coconut meat, Mallesh continued, “Grading the chickens is another technique. Initially, all chicks are alike. As they grow up, some gain weight and while others don’t. We follow two types of grading techniques. Physical grading based on visual observation and weight assessment. Second is Grading by Vocalisation Pattern based on the frequency and sound spectrum analysis. For this, we monitor the peeping sound pattern of the birds at different stages of growth. Grading helps in segregating the birds based on growth. Laggards are given better feed and vaccination.”
“Prithvi, with all, said, and done to escape the entourage, I am still feeling my college here. Ours is no different from this farm in any respect. Our Baldy screws up the faculty every now and then to carry out a Performance Scaling Plan to identify the laggards. Bright ones are clubbed to form a separate section and better inputs are given. Few more from the bright ones are further formed as Rankers’ Unit. They get the best of feed and attention”, Ashish was further enthused to learn the techniques.
“I have one doubt uncle. Do you take these chicks out for any sort of recreation or change of air etc. like what we do for domestic fowl in the villages?”, Prithvi asked curiously.
“Taking them out?? No way. They are reared completely under controlled conditions. Air, water, temperature, feed, and health are monitored closely and regulated according to the requirement”, Mallesh cleared his doubt.
Taking a lovely chicken into a hand with affection, Prithvi said, “I am fully convinced. I strongly feel that we are the closest cousins of these chickens. Our luck is also not so damn good. Our entire college is crammed in half the size of a small playground. Our passions, aspirations, dreams, and interests are shackled to the books. The bondage is so strong that we never felt like going out for sports or movies. The large-hearted Baldy grants permission to see our own parents just before they fade from our memory. And....”
Before emotional Prithvi stopped, Ashwin joined saying, “And we hardly see the world outside. Social sciences are hardly taught. Value-based education has lost its value. Social and relationship skills are orphaned. What sort of citizens are we gonna be? Does this education really matter? I now understand why the likes of Bill Gates, Zukerberg, Steve Jobs, and many more preferred to drop out of college. ”
“I think the entire area will be very dark in the night. Does that not frighten these chickens? Don’t the predators have their chance in the night?”, Prithvi sympathized with them caressing the chicken standing on his arm.
“We have created an excellent lighting and security system. There is hardly any scope for any predator attacks”, Mallesh explained.
With his reply, Ashwin giggled and said, “Yes, I could recollect it now. Prithvi, do you remember? One day, we went for an outing and returned very late to the campus. While jumping the wall, we have seen our hostels brightly lit even at midnight, our boys busily studying and our sentinels loitering the corridors. I think this Poultry Farm looks exactly like that in the night if my vision is correct.”
“Uncle, you are creating the best of the conditions for these chickens. But whether all these survive till they are sold out?”, Ashwin again enquired.
“I have experience of more than 10 years in running these farms. I always thought I knew what the chickens wanted. But I was proven wrong every time. We have an average mortality rate of 10% here.”, Mallesh revealed his observations.
“These chicks cannot tell even if they don’t like the food. But we live the dreams of our principal, faculty, and parents. Though we can talk, we have to suffer in silence. Dreams are important. The race to realize them is non-negotiable. Our Baldy passionately calls it stoic learning. But all the boys are not alike. Some who cannot live an alien dream venture to drop out. But some neither can own the dreams nor can dare the owners of the dream. They eventually remain sore memories of their near and dear. Brilliant people are nipped in the bud”, Prithvi lamented.
“What will you do once these chickens are grown up?”, Ashwin further quizzed the caretaker.
“Some are sold in the market either in retail or through a contract farming company. Heaviest birds get the highest rate in retail and the wholesaler gives a uniform rate”, Mallesh replied.
“It is no wonder that these chickens also meet the same fate as we do. An open auction system called as “Campus Interview” is devised for our term-end disposal from the college. Baldy’s best are sold to the highest bidder. They will become the super mercenaries to conquer the corporate world under the leadership of a Baldy Pro. All others end up learning or sharpening their skills of software irrespective of what they have learned in college”, Ashwin concluded.
Mallesh has been observing and overhearing the comments of these two boys all along. He understood that their college was also being run like his farm. He has been elated at the possibility of realizing the dream of his college days.
Struggling to suppress his joy, Mallesh asked the boys, “Well, it seems that the process of managing the college is a complex task for the people like me. I managed this poultry business well all the while with excellent returns. I think I can be a college principal. What do you say?”
“No wonder. You can be a better fit than our baldy”, both the boys confirmed in one voice bursting in laughter.
A cool breeze was gently sweeping the fields while a flight of cranes made waves in the sky. Sun was drowning below the horizon painting the clouds orange and red.
While the boys were enjoying the scenic beauty of nature’s twilight, Mallesh asked, “Boys, can we call it a day? I have to leave for home. If you want to stay back here tonight, I will send dinner.”
“We want to stay back uncle. We will treasure the moments of full moon night among these mustard fields”, Boys confirmed.
Mallesh left for home.
Boys savored the freedom of that long night.