The Big Issue : Edition 438
my word Last OctOber marked one year of my stay in australia and, as if to celebrate this, some of our friends invited us for a camping holiday. We were so excited because camping is not something that Indians normally do, but is so much a part of the culture here. I’ve been camping exactly three times in my life. The first was in school in India, as part of the Girl Guides. Well, it wasn’t camping exactly. We stayed in a cabin in the middle of a tea estate belonging to one of my friends, while she and her family stayed in a larger house nearby along with our teachers. We were an excited group of 15 girls staying in ‘the wild’ for the first time. before going to bed, we were warned to lock the door properly and not venture outside at night, because there could be leopards on the prowl. We spent the next hour happily scaring each other with improbable ghost stories, when suddenly there was the sound of something knocking on the roof. absolute silence followed, then the knocking was repeated at our door. With no way of contacting anyone outside, we stayed silent and did the only thing possible in these circumstances. We prayed. more specifically, we fervently chanted “Our Father, Who art in heaven...” being educated in an all-girls school run by christian missionaries probably had something to do with this. suddenly the knocking stopped and the doorknob slowly started to turn. It must have been a very specially equipped leopard to be able to turn a doorknob. Finally one brave soul ventured to open the door while we held our collective breaths, and found two grinning girls outside! my second time was a proper camping experience, in the wilds of North India. this was an organised program, part of a bonding experience during college. For four days we lived in tents on an uninhabited island in the middle of a lake and learned survival skills. the food was simple, the tents basic and the toilets were holes in the ground. We had the time of our lives building rafts, trekking and abseiling, and pushing our bodies to their limits. I loved every minute. so when we were invited to go camping, I was understandably excited. but if I had imagined staying somewhere amid nature, I was mistaken. With this being a first time for most people in the group, we ended up in a caravan park in the Hunter Valley, surrounded by camper vans. We even hired a cabin along with a few campsites “just in case”. the day of the trip dawned bright and sunny, and we set off carrying carloads of supplies. We had enough to last us a month and even set up house if we wished. We carried pots and pans, meat and vegetables and even a special batter to make dosas, a kind of rice pancake. The first problem we had was pitching the tents. between the 14 of us, we realised our collective experience of putting up tents was zero. so with the campsite strewn with boxes and packaging and three brand-new tents, the men in our group stood around reading instructions and puzzling over them. an hour later, they hadn’t got far. We decided to break for lunch and then departed on a quick trip to watch a pelican feeding. by the time we got back, it was growing dark and the tent- pitching activities continued under the glare of headlights. three hours and a lot of failed attempts later, the first one was up. the rest took an hour each. When all our neighbours were sound asleep we were finally close to our dream of sleeping under the stars. In the hours just before dawn, people realised it was freezing outside and started to trickle into the cabin. by morning, there were more people sleeping inside than out. the next day we had a stab at another local tradition that I had been dying to be part of: the barbie. the air was fragrant with the smell of sizzling meat and vegetables, but there was also spicy lamb curry along with rice and chapathis, and a dazzling array of food. this really wasn’t the simple life. this was more like camping Indian style – with lots of good food! that night, very few brave souls attempted to sleep outside; most bedded up in every corner of our tiny cabin. another Indian trait – the ability to squeeze an unbelievable number of people into a tiny space – was on display here. card games continued well into the evening and the sound of laughter and shared happiness drifted into the still night outside. and that, I thought, is what camping is all about. » Priya Chidambaranathan is a book- loving mum who has recently rediscovered the writing bug. She writes about the quirky and funny bits that make life interesting. Happy Campers THeBigissue 2–15Aug2013 11 After A yeAr in AustrAliA, PriyA ChidAmbArAnAthAn deCides to tACkle A fAvourite loCAl PAstime – but with A muCh more indiAn flAvour.