The Maharashtra State Geography textbook used to be this huge blue thing full of maps, figures and diagrams of the land. The things it said about basalt, and the Deccan plateau and igneous rocks were learnt by rote by those scholars who wanted to get any marks. The rest of us put the textbook to good use in other ways.
There was this guy who discovered his puberty in the middle of the seventh standard. There was some belief amongst us that you only hit puberty when you started to masturbate. People who discovered this pastime could not stop – a certain teacher was scandalized, and did not know how to react, when she discovered the geography textbook spread out over a student’s lap with his hand underneath it. We troubled her in so many ways that she left the school and started teaching nursery kids – a step down from secondary.
Geography used to be my favorite subject. I always studied geography, and little else. It was so easy to prop it up on your lap, and hide a smaller book inside, I remember hours spent between the pages of Five children and It by Nesbit, and Bellair’s The trolley to yesterday – while the books themselves were between the pages of the geography textbook.
There was a bunch of interesting games we used to play with the textbook spread out between us during recess. With a map of some obscure country or continent, we would spot an interesting location and see who else could find the same place. The only thing we knew from the textbook properly were the countries and their capitals, which was necessary in our friend circle – hell we knew the capitals of Burkina Faso and Iceland.
The geography subject gave us a lot of grief – that was the only subject apart from the drawing exams, where we had to take a stencil of India, sketch pens or color pencils, a scale, and one of those stencils with loads of holes in them of different sizes. All this was so that we could map out the course of rivers and coastlines and shit like that. I remember getting two marks or something like that in one such exam – and am definitely proud of it.
Somehow, despite the largeness of the textbook, and all the knowledge that it contained – it told nothing really of the actually geography of the country. Maybe it was just the education system, or maybe it was that we were forced to learn it – whatever be the case, the actual geography out there, in the mountain ranges, and the rivers that flow through them have much more to them than we were learnt. You have to see the ranges, and the layer upon layer of basalt, before you can appreciate the formations of the world’s oldest mountain ranges – right at Mumbai’s backyard. So many aeons ago, active volcanoes poured out the rocks that settled in deposits, and then were eroded away to give us the local ranges. When you see lines on a map look down on you, or wind through the countryside far below you, that is when you understand how large and complex the world is, and how small the textbooks make them out to be. It’s as if we can understand, and learn about the nature of the Earth from a few scientific lines of text – when science is just one way of observing it. This can deteriorate into another geography lesson – there is a simple point to be made – the whole thing is much more interesting than they have us believe, and there should have been practicals.