14 July 2015.
Today, Facebook is flooded with pictures from yesteryears. Every second update is a flowing tribute. I smile as today, I don’t just scroll through the endless updates but actually stop and read each one. I am amused at how many of my friends come from the same source.
Today, as Foliage Outdoors turns 15, every person associated with it till date relives their memories. You can see it in their updates. You can see it through their photos. And as you read, you realise how a single organization has changed the lives of so many different individuals in so many different ways…
If I were asked what Foliage Outdoors actually means to me, I think my immediate response would be a moment of complete silence. Of speechlessness. And in that very silence, my love and gratitude will find voice. I doubt if I could ever find a single all-encompassing word or even a sentence to define my relationship with Foliage.
Family? Friends? Entire families who have become friends? So many friends who became one huge family?
Foliage Outdoors turns 15 today, my age when I first walked in to this office. A smaller office than today’s, slightly cramped and yet always welcoming. Till date, the memories of that cozy office with orange hues warms up my heart. It was where I cycled to, at any and every leisurely hour. It was where I experienced the pampering of older siblings that I had not. It was where I learnt to explore new potentials within me and it was also where my career interests were nurtured.
My first camp as a camper. My one and only. Ranthambhore, the forest that introduced me to wildlife. It taught me how to love it and respect it, to care for it and help conserve it. The rage of eco – tourism caught up with me and I stepped over to join the Eco-centrics. I wasn’t actually born to be wild, and yet these people taught me to live life just so.
To rappel down 20-feet mountain faces or rather just plunge into the chilled waters of the Ganges from a 40-feet tall cliff. I shivered from within and learnt to put on a brave face nevertheless.
To visit the many beautiful and pristine forests of India and see the animals in their natural habitats. The skipped heartbeat while hearing the echoing alarm call just inches away from you or the racing pulse upon seeing the Royal Bengal Tiger walk straight toward you. The joy of seeing a leopard cross your path and knowing that this cat can never bring you bad luck. The realisation that you are falling in love with this life. Hard and fast.
To pack 40 hyper kids in a single bus and take them away from the comfort of their homes. To share this love and addiction of camping. To teach these young souls to become independent little beings. In return, you get treated to slobbery kisses, heartfelt hugs, midnight cuddles and teary goodbyes. You wipe off their vomits, you teach them toilet manners, you reprimand them on their eating etiquettes and you heal each physical and emotional wound there is and can be imagined. For those few hours and days, the families are forgotten and you become their everything. A mother, a father, an elder sister, a best friend. You know in 3 days, you are going to go through this process again. With a new set of hyper kids. And yet, just for that moment, you want to get caught up in that magic. Of trying to cheer up 35 homesick children. Of trying to convey the impossibility of squeezing in 20 people on to a single bed, to 7-year olds. Of loving these darlings truly and having them love you back. An innocent love, so rare.
Today, the memories flood in by the plenty and I end up staring at the screen with mixed feelings. I am happy, sad, nostalgic, proud and so much more. Foliage Outdoors gave me more than I could have ever asked for. A huge family, an endless stream of friends and new experiences around each bend. They took a shy girl in and believed in her. While once upon a time, I didn’t have anything worthwhile to talk about, today I never run out of topics. I learnt how to recognize birds, plants, butterflies. I learnt how to handle snakes. I learnt how to distinguish between the different calls of animals. I also learnt how to tie different types of knots and how to conduct adventure activities. I learnt to handle a rifle and the intricacies of archery. I learnt how to handle children and how to read the language of their eyes. I learnt how to deal with all sorts of people and even fall in love with one. I learnt how to think of others before self and how to take care of yourself.
In the 8 years that I have been associated with Foliage, I’ve shamelessly grabbed on to each opportunity that came my way. I can only hope that I manage to give something back as well.
Foliage is my kinda F word. Children should learn this one instead 😉