Mukta started pre-school in Delhi in the late 70s, and her school was within walking distance of where she was then staying, with my parents. Someone walked her back and forth from school. Later, in Chandigarh, the distances being small, the riksha was the usual transport and a cheerful young man would collect her and a few others for the short ride from Sector 24 to the pre-school of Punjab University. She started class 1 in Mumbai, and did the 3-4Km from our Worli flat to the school next to Jaslok Hospital by the school bus. While we put her on the bus in the morning, her Ajee would collect her at the gate of our colony in the afternoon. For that whole year we had no phone at home – and in February 0f 1983, there were the ‘police riots’ in the police lines close to where we stayed. (Something I should write about!) The area was cordoned off, curfew imposed and the school buses did not ply – at that time there no instant news broadcast, and we were at work.
My mother-in-law waited and waited for the bus and learnt from others probably of the curfew imposed in the area. She had no way of contacting us and she, who seldom stepped out of the house and may not have done so for many decades prior to this, took a taxi and went to the school. Fortunately, Bombay was familiar to her and she was Marathi speaking. She reached the school, to find no one there and the chowkidar to say that all the children had left. By this time she was frantic and on getting back to the colony, found Mukta sitting patiently on the steps of our apartment building. This 6+ year old first class child had walked the distance of 3-4 Km from her school, as thoughnthere was nothing to it. It was a straight road and and you had to cross it only a couple of times – and she had remembered the route!! Only when Subhash and I reached the bus stop to take the bus home, we learnt that there was a problem in the area and that the buses would not ply up to the Worli sea face. Only at that point the panic started, we dashed home to find an agitated Ajee and a cool Mukta – she was quite clear that it had been no big deal! We did go to the school and try to talk to them, but they claimed helplessness – and we accepted that! At that time there was no concept of the school’s responsibility.
When we moved to Parel, we also had to change schools as the local Government had strict control over the route of school buses – am not sure how it is now! They were only allowed to ply within a restricted area around the school. So, for the next 4 years Mukta took the bus to her school in Wadala, just 3-4 Km away. In the later years, class 4 and 5, if she missed the bus or had to stay back in school she took the public transport – the BEST bus! BEST has provided subsidized transport for all school children traveling in school uniform, for many decades now. It all happened smoothly, without us getting too involved.
Of course, the move to Lucknow and the decision not to put her into the Kendriya Vidyalaya on campus, meant a daily 15 Km ride to and fro from school. The Institution provided the transport, and the few times the bus failed to pick her up, she made it to a friend’s house and we picked her up later. Fortunately, this was not a common event and I don’t remember a of tension regarding safety of the child per se……
And now that Mukta’s kids both go to school, I do get involved in some of the drop and pick-up routines. Since a school bus ran off Yamuna bridge killing many students a few years ago, there have been efforts to regulate the whole activity in the NCR region (Am not sure of other cities!) Initially it was about the yellow color to identify these buses, speed limits, staff etc. But increasingly with the change in the nature of urban crime, other things have been put in place as well to protect the safety of the child. It has become mandatory that the person who does the pick up at the school or bus stop, has to carry the child’s ID. Even in case of any emergency, no one else can pick them up. So, all arrangements have to be made in advance – I cannot even try to imagine the kind of tensions that parents who do not have a lot of support around, go through on a day to day basis!! And post-Peshawar, there is the order to “raise heights of school walls’ and lock gates!
My own school days were in the distant past, when getting to school and back had to be organized, but did not involve security issues of any sort. It was the gentle, slow days of the 50s and 60s … and I waited to pick up Udai after his post-school football coaching, (with his photo-card in hand) I got to wondering how much things have changed. Of course, children themselves, know of no other way and accept it as part of their routine! But, definitely the ‘innocence of childhood’ is a diminishing commodity!