Let’s go for a picnic

The tradition of going for  picnics in winter with family and friends has remained  popular even though in            different formats, finds    Pramita Bose

Where have the family picnics gone, wonder many old-timers. Naturally, because with winter setting in, alongwith woollens and quilts  out of the mothballs, steaming hot coffee, juicy oranges, cakes, and the Yuletide spirit in the  air,  going for a picnic into a nearby destination  with family and friends always featured in the holiday calendar.
With the rise of nuclear families and a busy lifestyle to cope with, people today find it hard to spend enough quality time with their children or friends. But the concept of picnics as an outing is very much there, even if in a different format, assure the young.
In educational institutions, as well as in many offices, an outing to nearby places is a common event in winter. “A daylong outing releases stress and is a part of company’s policy to grant occasional sops to its employees. This way, both work-life balance of the staff and corporate firm’s turnover is well taken care of,” says software techie Pritam Ghosh, 39, from Bengaluru.  Recently his weekend excursions with a group of his colleagues to provincial Chikmagalur, nestled in the lap of forests and a lofty mountain-range besides the historical site of Hampi, are well-etched in his memory.
What do other city-bred yuppies have to say about this age-old practice? Tackling a hectic schedule of exacting deadlines, graveyard shifts, social networking, familial duties, party-hopping, gym-hitting and what not – the upwardly-mobile youngsters today  hardly get free time to unwind and relax. Often the pubs and nightclubs compensate for breaking the monotony wherein they no longer feel the urge to board a bus or drive a jeep to cover long stretches in distant places. Chetan Jadhav, a PR professional from Mumbai, sometimes joins his boy-brigade in a bachelor pad and chills out over drinks, flavoured hookahs, and midnight refreshments ordered from outdoor catering services. “This alternative arrangement comes handy when you can’t go on a casual leave,” he shares.   But at times they do escape from the noisy city life. “The weekdays are breathlessly huddled up with workload, so a respite is a necessity. My friends and I take trips outside Mumbai in search of a la la land, literally! We went to locales like Lonavala, Matheran hill-station, Goa, Daman only to activate our endorphins. We would take turns to go behind the  wheel driving for over 500 kms and even organize campfires and  tents for a night-stay in the open-air,”
For some, a picnic means an album of happiness to cherish for others, it defines pure nostalgia. Mass Communications undergraduate student Debolina Guha fondly remembers her picnic outing with her batch-mates to Gandhighat along the Ganga in Barrackpore, off Kolkata. “The area is quite famous as a picnic spot and can accommodate hundreds of people. Although two thakurs (hired cooks) accompanied us on the trip, we girls had loads of fun cutting and chopping the vegetables to help them rustle up a delicious meal. The boys were no less enthusiastic. They too chipped in. Rice, roti, potato curry, chicken with gravy, and rasagullas rounded off our sumptuous menu. We sat on the grass devouring the food under a  sunny sky and it was glorious.”
Pushpita Mitra, 35, a homemaker, goes back to the 80s to narrate her introduction to picnics as a child. “We went all together from our para (neighbourhood) club and it was thrilling to visit a suburban North 24 Parganas district for the first time. The location was Banabithi Picnic Garden, a serene area near Duttapukur. Readymade earthen-ovens and a cool shade of trees all around had created a comfortable ambience to make merry,” she recalls. “While music, cooking, adda-sessions kept the seniors busy, we kids had a lovely time exploring the greenery all around the spot.  I still can’t forget riding on the van rickshaws, a regular mode of local transport, alongside paddy fields and sugarcane plantations in those idyllic rural areas,” she elaborates.
For senior citizens, reliving the erstwhile picnic expeditions is like walking down the memory lane. Namita Sen, 65, returns to her teenage days when she would travel from her tea-estate in the Dooars area of North Bengal. “Going for a picnic with a group of factory babus (clerics and officers),  tea garden  labourers and their families was quite an adventure in wintry days.  How I miss that call of the wild ! The smart  resorts, tourist lodges and hotels were yet to come up then. For us, logs of firewood, vehicle-borne grocery and raw items, the large ladles and enormous utensils ensured we would enjoy a good meal in the open.” From Santalabari to the sleepy Raidak forest where they had spotted tiger pugmarks along the river- bank to Gorumara’s wilderness at the foothills of Terai and the gurgling Diana river,  the memories of picnics in the wild have stayed with her as if in a picture postcard travelogue. “Post marriage, I had to settle down in Kolkata and could instantly feel the difference after being stuck in a match-box existence in concrete cubicles,” she rues.
A social angle can also be espied in this traditional habit of community engagement. “An annual picnic by the year-end for local clubs and communities offers a wonderful opportunity to indulge in social bonding and interaction. It also encourages a healthy exchange about cultural customs  and exchanging pleasantries with your neighbors, which is otherwise not possible on a day-to-day basis, thanks to our fast-paced mechanical existence,” comments Gurgaon-based retired air-force officer Sudhir Basu. “We still try and follow this convention and get set for a whistle-stop junket in order to recharge our exhausted batteries,” he shares.  (TWF)