Of ancient civilisations, train rides and new perspectives

Our B.D. Somani Social Studies curriculum in Grade 5 is the study of the Indus Valley civilisation and a comparsion to other ancient civilisations. The study includes our field trip to Dholavira in Kutch – an active archaeological site of the ancient Indus Valley civilisation. This is an experience our students eagerly look forward to all year long.

This year, we thought we’d share the Kutch story from our students’ perspective so all of you can live the trip through their experiences. Students from all three classes shared their most memorable experiences all through the trip and the lessons and skills they came away with.

For many of us, the overnight trip to Kutch was an exhilarating adventure. Most of us had never travelled long distance by train in India. Some of us had not even stayed away from home and family for more than a day or two. The train ride was a fun experience for most of us. Everything we needed was available on the train. We visited our friends, played games, interacted with other passengers some of whom even shared their food with us. As we passed by each station, we realised the diversity even in this small stretch of India. Some of us were homesick for a bit, but being with our friends and teachers made us feel a lot better.

In Grade 5 we learn about archaeology and ancient civilisations. Dholavira is the only Indus Valley site that people are allowed to visit. We spent two days of our trip at Dholavira. We were a little surprised because we expected tumbledown walls and ruins, but the site was very well preserved. We also felt a bit sad that the government isn’t taking better care of it. There were ancient pottery shards just lying on the ground for anyone to pick up. Of course, we put everything we touched back where we found it.

We had been learning about the Indus Valley for three months so experiencing it first hand was a fantastic experience. We could touch the walls and walk the paths where children our age once walked 7000 years ago. For an ancient civilisation, they had a very modern water and sewage system, with reservoirs and indoor plumbing and even showers. We thought that what we saw was all of Indus Valley until we realised that only 5% has actually been excavated. Another thing we learned at Dholavira was how to take quick notes because of how fast the guide was speaking.

We also went to the Rann of Kutch that evening and flew kites.

Kutch is a very traditional place with a very rich heritage and culture which we learnt about when we went to KHAMIR for three nights. Set up after the devastating earthquake in 2001, KHAMIR works on fostering and promoting Kutch’s rich, traditional arts and handicrafts. Just about everything here is handmade.

We participated in a plastic upcycling workshop and saw the many ways in which plastic can be reused. We were very inspired by it, and now in school, we’re making our own weaving board out of cardboard and thread and are also planning plastic upcycling in our class. The school has also provided us with a real loom to use.

Apart from plastic upcycling, we also learned three art forms new to us – embroidery, tie and dye, and block printing. During these workshops, we were briefed about the history of KHAMIR which was set up to keep traditional Kutch art forms alive and offer support to its practitioners. For block printing and tie and dye, the artisans we met were the ones living in the near by artisans’ village of Ajrakhpur. There was another art form that we didn’t get to work on but learnt about, called Rogan art. In the whole world, the only artisans who continue to practice this art form are this one family in Kutch. Rogan art involves making a paste with wax and colours mixed with castor oil. The artists use an iron rod to create designs on fabric, without the rod ever touching the fabric. This art form is so specific and so precise that, if they make a mistake, they have to start the whole thing again from scratch.

While we all liked the embroidery workshop, it was hard for those of us who don’t know how to stitch. A few of us even sewed our fabric to our own clothes by mistake. The ladies who taught the workshop were fast and so neat. Some of us who know a bit of embroidery were quite happy to learn new stitches that we plan to use at home too.

We also had a tie and dye workshop where we experimented with a lot of styles that turned out to be really pretty at the end. We also saw artisans spinning cotton into thread which was fun to watch.

Everybody’s favourite workshop was block printing. It takes time to prepare the colours for block printing. For example, to make red dye, you mix iron in water with jaggery. You have to wait for a long time for the colour to develop though.

The artisans have long days of back-breaking labour. They do not earn a lot of money. An artisan, who we met at Dholavira and makes leather slippers, earns approximately Rs. 60 a day. Watching these artisans made us realise the importance of keeping their art forms alive for future generations and the need to create opportunities for these artisans.

On the fourth day, we went to Hunnarshala. Hunnarshala, or ‘talent school’ was established after the 2001 earthquake to help people who had lost their homes rebuild using sustainable local materials. The school teaches people to use local resources like silt, sand and clay to make bricks. Even debris from the earthquake was used in the rebuilding process.

We learnt about the different types of soil and their textures and about the right composition of these elements to make bricks. They showed us an eco-friendly way of baking bricks in the sun rather than the modern method of heating them at high temperatures which causes a lot of pollution. We mixed the mud, made bricks and also saw different types of walls and roofs made out of thatch. Most of us kneaded the mud with our feet and we all tried making a clay daub wall.

On our last day, we visited the salt pans at Jogninar near Bhadreshwar to learn how salt is harvested. We interacted with the children of the salt pan workers and local fishermen studying at the Sagar Shala schools run by Yusuf Meherally Centre and the students of Vallabh Vidyalaya, a Hindi medium school for children of migrant labourers working in Kutch.

We learnt how the workers at the salt pans work for eight months and go back home during the monsoons. The children also help their parents in the salt farms after school, and most of them start working full-time in the pans after Grade 7.

The size of their entire school was about the size of two of our classrooms. One of the boys we met there wanted to be a doctor. It was sad to know he had already given up on his dream because studying beyond grade 7 wasn’t an option because his mum and dad were always unwell and he had to start earning a living.

We were struck by the differences between our lifestyles and theirs. Some of these children were our age or even younger and had to support their parents to earn money. We have to do chores at home sometimes but not like these children.

All of them made a huge impression on us. Some of them were quite shy, and we had to encourage them to interact with us. They performed songs and dances for us, and we too performed for them.

The lessons we learnt from our Kutch trip are many. But these are the ones that stand out;

  • Local artisans must be supported, or their art will be gone forever.
  • Patience of the artisans and how it helps create a great product.
  • When something looks easy, it isn’t necessarily so. It takes years of practice to achieve perfection, and the road isn’t easy.
  • None of these artisans had choices – this was their life, whether they liked it or not.
  • Our earth is important, we have only one, and we should protect it. Use what is available and don’t waste. Recycle.
  • Even waste and debris can be used to build a home.
  • Water is an essential resource. It just does not pour out of a tap 24/7 in most parts of this country.

Our teachers put a lot a lot of effort to make our experience a brilliant one, and we enjoyed every minute of this trip.

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