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The Flying School


April 2023

I glared angrily at the expensively dressed man as he strode up to me. Yes, I was bawling in
the middle of the park and was reconciled to the glances of shock and pity that came my way.
But to be intruded upon with well-intentioned, but misguided platitudes, was not something I
could muster up tolerance for. I needn’t have worried. The man didn’t have a single, ‘Don’t
you worry, it’s all going to be okay,’ for me. Instead, he brusquely handed me a black and
gold business card and said, ‘You look like someone who has need of this,’ and walked off.

Back home, I studied the card curiously. Embossed gold letters shone dully against the
velvety black background. The Stercus Accidit Flying School, it proclaimed. And below it, in
smaller letters, For When Your Spirit Refuses To Fly. The twinge of interest I felt upon
studying the card was wholly unfamiliar to me because I hadn’t felt anything except apathy
for the past two years. It was sufficient incentive to throw caution to the wind and call the
number on the card. When the voice on the other end refused to divulge any details other than
whatever was already mentioned on the card, but said they had a place for me if I was willing
to be there within the next two days, I packed my large gunmetal American Tourister suitcase
and booked my tickets.

I woke up to the jarring morning alarm that reverberated throughout the school every
morning. Bleary eyed, I looked at my watch though I needn’t have. We all knew it was 6 am
because the alarm wouldn’t let us remain in bed a minute past it. Of course, the alarm had
help from the loathsome Durjan Chaturvedi, our very own Argus Filch, who was limping his
way to us this very minute lest I try to disobey the alarm’s diktat.

It had been one month at the Stercus Accidit Flying School and so far, my spirit had done no
flying. Neither had my body. For a flying school they had no flying lessons or infrastructure
whatsoever. When I first landed in Bir a month ago, I was stupefied to see the sky filled with
flying humans. I’d heard that this rural Himachali village was a world-famous paragliding
destination but nothing had prepared me for the sight of delight-filled shrieking humans
hopping across the sky. As I gaped at them, some long dormant chord in my heart struck a
faint tune. But it was gone before I could register it.

Instead of a flying school, Stercus Accidit was more like Shawshank Redemption meets
Private Benjamin. Out of bed at 6 am. Lights out at 10 pm. Being a minute late to the mess
hall meant foregoing your meal. Each day meant a different itinerary. Some days Durjan
marched us through miles of mountain trails barking instructions to collect a certain variety
of mushrooms or mounds of fiddlehead ferns. Other days meant gardening, cooking and

laundry. I was constantly cold, miserable, hungry and exhausted. But, for the first time in
years, I felt alive.

There was no TV or internet allowed. Still evenings were a respite because the activity room
held art supplies, vinyl records, board games and puzzles. One day, bored out of my mind, I
picked up the brushes and paints – my first time doing so since kindergarten – and doodled
something that wouldn’t have met the standards of even an eight year old. But that faint
melody stirred in my heart again. So, I kept returning to it.

The first two weeks at the school I steadfastly held onto my core life belief that humans are a
blight and ignored everyone else. Until Kuhu. We didn’t exchange life stories. But her weak,
pale frame and oversized, melancholic eyes spoke the same tale that I was trying to hide
about myself. That was perhaps true of everyone else here. We were here because we had
nowhere else to be, no else to turn to and nothing to hope for.

Out on one of our mountain foraging sessions one day, I bitterly cursed Durjan when he was
safely out of earshot. We were gathering wild calendulas which would be used to make
tisanes as well as balms and salves for cuts, scratches and light burns. I threw down the
blooms I’d collected so far and splayed down on the grass with my eyes closed. "Look,"
crooned Kuku. I fluttered open my eyes to see a common jezebel butterfly fluttering on my
stomach. Kuhu laid down beside me just as the jezebel took flight, interlacing her fingers
through mine.

This time the tune wasn’t so faint anymore. I lay there on the soft grassy carpet and felt the
golden rays wash over me. The tangy sweet scents of the calendula wafted across. As I held
onto Kuhu’s hand, the melody reached a crescendo.

Graduation Day was three weeks away. "But when will we start learning to fly," I wailed
plaintively to Durjan. He didn’t scare me so much anymore. The more I was losing my fear
of the tasks he set for me, the less afraid of him I became. "You’ll be ready to fly by
Graduation Day." "Hmph, we’ll see," I narrowed my eyes. That afternoon Kuhu and I trudged
up a clifftop and watched the paragliders do summersaults in the air, giggled like hyenas and
munching on roasted chana.

Graduation Day brought Devendra Dosanjh and his wife Nayantara to the school. We were
familiar with the founders’ names but there was not a single picture of them anywhere. There
were just 20 of us graduating today, 30 pupils having dropped out in the first week of the
program. We were seated on rented plastic chairs set in a half-moon formation facing the
podium. The flying lessons had never come, but that didn’t disappoint me anymore.

Devendra marched up the podium and adjusted the mic. "Go forth in the world graduates," he
boomed. "For today you’re ready to fly."

After the festivities were over and we were about to leave for good, Nayantara handed us our
parting gift. A small carved wooden box containing 100 black and gold business cards.




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