In January 2017 , 360Plus hosted 35 students and teachers from APV school in Anjanisain , Uttarakhand , on their first trip to Mumbai. None in the group had ever taken a flight :only a few had ever seen the sea: none had been to a large manufacturing plant: none had ever had a personal interaction with a film celebrity . Over 4 days the group did all that and more .
There were many firsts for the students and teachers throughout the four-day trip including the first flight on an airplane. It is no exaggeration to say that for everyone in the community this was a dream coming true. We entered the airport on a bright clear day perfect for flying and as the engine roared and we picked up speed down the runway students were looking at each other nervously with smiles on their faces. When the wheels lifted a whoop went up in our section of the plane. The children’s faces were plastered to the windows watching Dehradun become smaller and smaller below.
When we landed and started driving through the crowded streets past many skyscrapers, stands with street foods, beach boardwalks, and temples students mouths were hanging open in amazement. Mind you many had never been to a city let alone one of the biggest cities in India. The next day we did a tour of the city of which a highlight was definitely the famous sea link which is a bridge suspended over the sea with a full view of the Mumbai skyline. From the sealink we could see boats floating off the shore, and in the background were buildings soaring into the hazy air. The children had their faces pressed to the windows for most of the drive. During the rest of the morning we enjoyed many tourist sites including a museum of contemporary art, as well as the famous Mumbai India Gate. After that we went to Taraporewala Aquarium and looked at fish from all over the world. The students were particularly interested in an old sea turtle.
That night under the setting sun we went to Juhu beach for a really unforgettable night. Upon seeing the ocean, many for the first time, the children ran and immediately started a water fight. Golden light spread out across the water and there was nothing but happiness for those hours. We enjoyed coconut water, roasted corn, and other delicious food. As it became dark we sat in a circle under a street light and began to sing some of our songs written by Dwivedi Sir. At first there was a small group of people passing by that stopped to watch, and then eventually over one-hundred people were watching as we sang on the beach. The children were beaming with pride at so many people taking interest and hearing the messages of peace in the songs. The night only got better because the infinitely generous Sridar Iyengar had pulled some strings and organized one last surprise for the students. Out of a gate near the beach came none other than Varun Dhawan an up and coming Bollywood star and someone the kids all recognized instantly. The kids circled around him and asked him questions which he answered in an incredibly kind and gracious way. The children were particularly excited to hear about his upcoming film which is set in Uttarakhand. Needless to say he put a huge smile on everyone’s face, and we are incredibly grateful that he took to the time to say hello.
The next day we woke up early and drove through the city to the Mahindra and Mahindra factory to see how their automobiles are manufactured. We received such amazing hospitality at this factory. We were first given some background on the company and then they gave us a tour of the assembly line. The heavy machinery was enthralling to many of the students, and afterwards there was a question and answer where some asked why there weren’t any women working in the plant what the company was doing to reduce its environmental impact. After this adventure we were able to go to the Nehru science center where we watched a 3D movie and explored the wide range of exhibits.
The last day we began in the morning by visiting the Jehangir Nicholson Art Foundation to see a special exhibit on Ghandi with intimate photos taken by his nephew. After learning more specifically about Ghandiji’s life we were asked to reflect by writing poetry and drawing a portraits. The children were very creative and willing to share. That night we ended the trip at the famous Prithvi Theatre where we saw a play composed of six scenes with some of the best singing any of us had ever heard. The children were enthralled, laughing hard at all the jokes and totally engaged during the more serious moments. Afterwards many said they would like to become actresses or actors themselves. We were lucky enough to talk to the actors and director of the play, and even got to sing one of our songs with the perfect acoustics of the theatre.
Its been about a month since we got back from this trip and everyone is still wearing the hat they got from the Mahindra tour, and the students constantly reference their experience talking about Varun Dhawan, the delecious food, the skyscrapers, or the play. But above all, I think the most lasting result of that week was the resounding feeling that everyone apart of the trip was cared for, that in this new and amazing, and sometimes scary and mindboggling environment, that they were special, talented, mattered, and deserved to have this experience regardless of socioeconomic status, gender, or caste. To Gorung, Mohit, Khushi, and of course the ever generous Sridar Iyengar who was so crucial in making this miracle come true for all of us we have no words other than a thank you from the very bottom of our hearts.