Summer of 1992

1992 was a very important year for me. A turning point, you could say. A coming of age even. I can’t pinpoint to a particular moment or event for there were many that made the year so memorable. But two of them were really special and, interestingly (or maybe not !) both involved travel. It was not the kind of travel I do today; rather, it was travel for the purpose of study as part requirement of the Master’s programme in Geology I was pursuing at that time.

In May 1992, I arrived in Bhuj (in Kachchh district of Gujarat) with AK, a classmate, to undertake a 15-day field trip for our Master’s dissertation in Geology. Though both of us were based in Bhuj and had a common faculty guide, we had separate field work sites (about 15 km away) and our field work was individual. Our faculty guide was scheduled to join us in Bhuj after about 10 days when we would have finished the bulk of our field work and be able to present our preliminary findings to him.

I was very excited about this field trip to Bhuj for this was to be my first solo field trip. Previously, I had always been part of a larger group of classmates. Having a geological hammer, compass, and topographical map all to myself and not share it with anyone made me feel quite grown-up, important and empowered ! 😛

Bhuj, Smainarayan Talav, Mandvi Road, Geology field work, Summer of 1992, Sudha Ganapathi
First day of field work in May 1992. Just look how delighted I am !

The first day of field work was exhilarating and as perfect as a young geologist like me could hope for — excellent rock exposures, variety in rock structures and textures, fossils, some intriguing geological puzzles… It was also very distracting, but I soon settled down and within the next day or two established a field work routine.

Due to the intense summer heat, it was impossible to work through the day. Thankfully, since the days were long — sunrise was around 6 am and sunset around 8 pm — AK and I found a way to make best use of the daylight hours. We did field work in two shifts: the first was from 7-11 am and the second from 4-7 pm. In between the two shifts, we would return to Bhuj, have lunch and spend the afternoon discussing our field work, or nap or read a book.

Except for a family of stone-cutters and a couple of men from the armed forces, I never encountered another human being during field work. The former offered me tea and the latter subjected me to a lot of questions. They were especially suspicious of the map I had, but I had all the permission letters and proof of identity with me. After a general caution to not venture beyond a point (which they marked on the map), I was let off. In spite of practically no human contact in the field, I never really felt alone as there were always other living creatures around — birds, lizards, geckos, etc.

Initially, field work was fun and I looked forward to the surprises I uncovered every day. The only exception was the snake I uncovered, while shifting a large stone slab. I think the snake was more scared than me for it slithered off as fast as it could in the opposite direction. That was the last time I shifted anything during my field work !

But as the days went by, I felt a growing sense of dissatisfaction with my field work, or rather its outcome. While all my observations, sketches and mapping seemed to be in place, I was frustrated at being unable to join the ‘dots’ to get a complete picture of what I was doing. The dissatisfaction soon gave in to dread and on the eve of my faculty guide’s arrival, I was in a pretty bad shape. I had worked myself up into such a state that I was unable to do anything in the field that day, except for climbing to the top of the highest dungar (hill) to cry my eyes and heart out and end up with a headache !

It was not only field work that I was disturbed about; it was also the place that I was staying in, or rather the questions and comments that AK and I got from the people there. We were put up at a local NGO, which functioned as an office during the day and a space for students like us to base themselves and sleep there at night. In addition to AK and I, there were 5 other students from a design school in Ahmedabad for their internships/research projects.

The NGO was used to students from the design school staying with them and working with people on various projects. They didn’t know what to make of AK and me, who worked with rocks and stones. Some of their questions and comments on science in general, and Geology in particular were genuine (like “What is geology?) that we were able to answer. But there were many more that we just didn’t know how to respond. For example, “What is the social relevance of what you study?” or “Science is a waste and the government shouldn’t be spending on students like you” or “Look at the design school students. Their projects are all about making people’s lives better. Who’s going to be interested in yours?”.

I was used to being asked as to what Geology was all about, but had never come across anyone who questioned the relevance of a particular field or discipline of study till then. Dismissal of Geology as a useless subject shook me up very badly.

By the time my faculty guide arrived in Bhuj, I had calmed down sufficiently enough to present my field work findings to him and also blurt out that I knew my work was incomplete and not up to the mark. He didn’t say anything then, but later on in the field he said that he would have been surprised and even upset, if I had attempted to connect the dots based on only the field data. I needed to get back to the University to do additional reading and conduct lab tests on the rock samples I had collected. Only when I correlated the field data with reading and lab tests, would I be able understand the relevance of my study and join the dots convincingly. I was suitably chastened and relieved at the same time, if you know what I mean.

My faculty guide left the next day saying that he was satisfied with our work and Ak and I could return to Pune. We spent the next couple of days finishing field work, taking photographs, and packing our samples for transport back to our University in Pune. We also did some sight-seeing, including tagging along with one of the design school students, RM, who was rather keen on showing us what ‘real’ field work was all about.

RM took us to Dhamadka, a village known for some extraordinarily beautiful block printed cloth it produced. The “field work” had to be seen to be believed — she marched up to the village cooperative store and proceeded to try to bargain for block printted material that she wanted to buy. The manager of the store was polite and firm in his refusal to bargain, which resulted in RM stomping off from the store cursing and swearing at him. AK and I couldn’t stop exchanging sly looks at each other or passing comments in Marathi all through the return journey to Bhuj. 😉

Back at our University in Pune, I successfully completed my dissertation and defended it in a tough oral examination, got a distinction, graduated, got a job, moved on… It has been 23 years since that summer of 1992 and the experiences gained and the lessons learnt are helpful even today.

I owe a huge debt of gratitude to the people I met at the NGO I stayed in. Their comments and questions helped me look at Geology from an outsider’s perspective and understand where their ignorance was coming from. That interaction also spurred me to not only read up and research the NGO sector, but also develop an interest in social sciences.

That field work in the summer of 1992 was not just about Geology, you know. It was one of life’s little lessons. Each time I find myself rushing towards making a snap decision, I recall my dissertation and the different parts that went into making it as a whole. That is enough for me to curb the impulse and think out my response or decision. The summer of 1992 also helped me consciously learn to be patient, which has been one of the most difficult things for me to develop. Can’t say I have succeeded, but I’m getting there. I think.

Perspective and wisdom are always gained in hindsight. Better late than never, I say. 🙂


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12 thoughts on “Summer of 1992

  1. I love your posts, Sudhagee 🙂 Your writing pretty much transported me back in time, and I could feel you as you sat there with pride on your first solo field work, spent hours engrossed in work with nothing but geckos or lizards (or snakes!) for company, or were upset (then) at your field of work/interest being challenged so blatantly at such fundamental levels. It all adds up later, of course. If you can gain anything at all – experience, perspective, a lesson – from any episode of your life, it was well worth it. Thanks for sharing this. 🙂

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    1. Thank you, Ami. The idea for a post like this came out of a random conversation with a friend on writing travel posts without photographs. Somehow, I could only think of this trip and the next one, later that year in the Winter of 1992. When I started writing this post, I had something else in mind, and when I finsihed writing it was something else. But I didn’t change it as I felt this is what I wanted to write subconsciously.

      It was a magical time and when I look back I wonder if I can can do it the same way today. And then realise that its not possible as times have changed and we are really connected all the time with cell phones and tablets all the time. On an aside, my mother hardly used to bother when i was travelling 20 years back; today, she gets worried if I don’t check in twice a day when I’m travelling.

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  2. Thanks for sharing your experience. In India, we are cocooned so much and if you are a female, even more. But it does take the first independent experience which is a path of self-discovery. Its a moment when we understand our strengths, our weaknesses and also understanding our own principles.

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    1. I’m very happy that this deeply personal post resonated with you. Many a times we seek inspiration and the will to persevere from external sources, little realising that both lie within us. This post was as much about sharing it with my readers as it was a reminder for myself.

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      1. My moment of truth was when I went onsite and I realised that never in my life I had slept alone in a room. I grew up a lot in the two months I stayed alone.

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    1. Thank you very much. School and later college trips were fun then mixed with some tears as well. The real understanding came much later. As for my travels now, I still continue to learn in so many different ways without fail.

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  3. One of your best posts, Sudha. I was there with you, first being proud, then working (and startling a poor snake out of its shelter) and then learning the little life lessons. Thanks for sharing them with us! And oh, you look so beautiful with that lovely smile on your face!

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    1. So good to see you here after such a long time, Alarmelvalli, and even better to read that first sentence of your comment. I have been grinning from ear to ear since I read it. Thank you so much. 😀

      You might me surprised to know that this is not what I had in mind when I started writing this post. Bit looking back, I think that this is what my subconscious was telling me to write all along. I have written one more on Life’s little lessons since then and will be writing a third soon.

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  4. I love this picture of yours Sudha. It reflects excitement, and enthusiasm and freedom and confidence and what not. It’s exactly the same spirit you still carry though you might not be always posing with that ‘beginner’s sparkly eyes’ that’s there in this one. 🙂 The lessons your learned are something we did too, through the post. Patience, self belief and a way to remember the positive from the mixed bag experiences of life. Excellent post. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you, Atula. We often forget our early years very easily in this race called life, don’t we? I think when I wrote this, it was in part to not just reminisce, but also to remind myself that its all there buried under all the cynicism, wariness and negativity that have accumulated over the years. Time for all that to be reclaimed. 🙂

      Missed seeing you around here, Atula. You comment really made my day.

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