In life, we learn to appreciate some things only late in life. One of them, in my case, is: experience of a camp.

Which camp am I talking about?

Well, my earliest memories of going for a camp come from the NCC camps I used to attend. I had joined Air-wing of the NCC when I was in High School (ninth and tenth standard). I was also in NCC when I was in Junior college and first-year degree college. We used to go for week-long camps, both inside our state (Karnataka) as well as outside. But, as my self-confidence level was extremely low during those days, I did not comprehend the true objective of such camps… Imagine, scores of teenage boys, from different states, assembling at some remote place… where they were taught to be self-reliant and learn some survival skills, such as erecting tents and digging open ditches for toilets… learning to rise much before the sun rose… running for miles… learning to be disciplined, humble… learning to respect authorities, swallow your ego… apart from learning shooting and gliding skills… The mode of transport, always, used to be those sturdy NCC trucks… The shoes and belts had to be shining… Uniform crisp… Cap worn right…

But, honestly, when I look back, I feel really bad, that I did not realize this true essence and purpose of our camps. The reason, as I already told you, was my low self-esteem… I just went and came like a herd. Probably, the camp-fire nights appealed to me as they were filled with fun… But, even those camp-fires had a meaning and purpose. I missed out, that, too!

I have just returned after attending our two-day Tai Chi camp at Lonavala. Mr. Rakesh Menon, our Tai Chi teacher, has been conducting these camps for years. This was my fourth camp in a row, at the same camp-site. But, unlike my experience at the NCC-camps, about forty-five years ago, my experience at the Tai Chi camps, here, has been completely different: I have worked on my self-esteem… I am aware of what is happening in my life… I am aware of why a camp is held - its essence and purpose. Well, here, we did not raise tents and dig ditches for our toilets… we did not run for miles before sunrise, or learn shooting and gliding… We did not go there and come back by sturdy Shaktiman trucks… We pooled our air-conditioned cars!

But, none of these things really matter till we are ‘awake’ and ‘alive’! So many ‘little’ things happen around us, as we are busy doing our ‘camp things’… To me, those things make our camp experience complete. For example…

Early, when we assembled, around 6.30, to leave for Lonavala, I saw what Nabeela, one of my fellow-participants, had carried in her car-dickey: a couple of brand-new cricket bats and balls, a couple of footballs and many boxes of varieties of chocolates and cakes. It did not take me too long to understand why Nabeela was carrying them along…

Some twenty-minute distance from our camp-site, there is an orphanage for small boys. These boys curiously watch us doing our Tai Chi exercises as we watch them play, bare-foot, football, and, sometimes, cricket in the orphanage ground. After we check into our rooms and finish our breakfast, Rakesh Sir, always, makes us walk to this orphanage compound to do our very first set of Tai Chi activities… We spend the first half of day-1, always, at the orphanage compound… It has been a tradition…

So, Nabeela had seen these little boys like the rest of us had. But, just as a quiet commitment Rakesh Sir had made, years ago, to this less-privileged lot, Nabeela, too, had quietly made her own, last morning!

Most of us were happy to meet a new participant, who was very inspiring and enthusiastic. His name was Yezdi, a Parsi. He surprisingly looked fit, agile and vibrant… with his lean frame, weighing around 43 kilos, for his age 55… His ballet-like movements baffled us. He had been learning Tai Chi from Rakesh Sir for years at another centre. Yezdi, we learnt, was deeply into Karate, with three black-belts already tucked around him. We were inspired not because of his three black-belts. But, because of his never-say-die spirit. We learnt, that, some ten years ago, he was diagnoses with a life-threatening disease… which made him spend six months in hospital of which three months in ICU. He was almost declared dead, twice. But, this champ was not going to give up… His food-pipe has been removed, which means he has to be extremely careful about his intake. But, for two days, he did Tai Chi like a ballet dancer… leaving us baffled and amazed!

Post dinner, late last night, Rakesh Sir made us sit in a circle… like we did in a camp-fire. We all spoke about our camp experiences. I spoke about a casual comment I had made before Sir, just an hour earlier… A few of us were the first ones to reach the dinner area, last night. Rakesh Sir was already there. While we all took our plates and served ourselves at the buffet counter, Rakesh Sir waited for all others to come. When all completed, Rakesh Sir took his plate and helped himself. After the dinner, I whispered into his ears, “Sir, you remind me of my mom… and Simon Sinek’s book – ‘Why Leaders Eat Last’. Yes, I spoke about this at our post-dinner session, late last night.

The key to our self-development – be it physical, mental or spiritual – always lies in our wakefulness and watchfulness. That’s why they say, ‘When the student is ready, the teacher appears’…

True. In life, our learning is, always, about our readiness… All kinds of leaning camps, included!


Pic.: Amit/Chetna Shetty


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