Thursday, May 15, 2014

Let the young fly KC Pradhan

On my regular visits to the Raj Saloon at Deorali for a haircut, I usually park my car along the Deorali School road and take the few steps up and wait to cross the highway. Of late, I have taken to walking on the Butterfly Flyover and going up the sleek steps, halting for a while at the top to look around and climb down straight to the Saloon. All was well in the beginning, but now I see a steady deterioration both in the cleanliness and the type of people that take the fly-over. My last visit was a week back and as I reached the top late in the evening I saw some smoke coming out from one of the cubicles and on closer look saw a bunch of teenaged boys smoking merrily huddled on the floor. “Was it marijuana?” I wondered, and worried for such young boys and their future. I thought it would be the right place for some right thinking person to join them and get to know their feelings. Perhaps a reformed addict would be the answer. As we all know, a poacher like Jim Corbett turned out to be the best conservationist. This is exactly what district police chief Handa used to do [in Darjeeling]. He would join the people playing cards on the streets during the Gorkhaland agitation in the 1980’s, becoming part of them, gossiping and getting enlightened before launching any police action. People loved his way of handling such situations - he was both loved and feared. He made himself a part of Darjeeling.
The thought haunted me throughout my haircut. I had reached half an hour before the appointed time and a teenager was having his hair cut. Raj whispered something and the boy instantly agreed to wait till I got my hair cut first. I said that I could also wait since I had reached before the appointed time, but Raj told me that the boy was having an intricate style haircut and that it might take a while. The gesture touched me and I thanked the boy still sitting on another chair with his hair half done as I finished and left. I did not take the fly-over while returning as I found the street rather empty and easy to cross.
Getting a haircut is one occasion where we come across a cross section of people and chit-chat with Raj adding bits to the gossip. This reminds me of our elderly barber – Chaju - at the Indian Forest College in Dehradun who had gone through a dozen batches of forest officers by the time we came under his scissors. He used to give some useful tips to young probationers about the do’s and don’ts and they worked!
Anyways, for my last haircut, in a short span of just an hour I had come across two sections of teenagers - one obviously going astray and the other remarkably well behaved. I mulled over this. I realized that Gangtok lacks places and spaces for such young people to meet, interact and showcase their talents. This reminded me of the Pioneer Clubs I had the experience of seeing in Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan of the then Soviet Union. We visited one which was full of young people from 7 to 18 years of age. After their school hours [from 8 am-2pm], they would meet here in their own groups and engage in various activities with some resource persons to guide whenever required in fields like chess, music, oration, dramatics, swimming etc. Some little kids wearing neat aprons served us some cookies made by them and the Indies (Indian) class entertained us with Bharat Natyam. It was thrilling.
I feel very strongly that instead of grandiose structures of very little relevance in Sikkim as our natural beauty is paramount, we desperately require facilities for the younger generation to hone their latent talents and receive the grooming to become better citizens. There are resources and programmes already but what is required is some imagination to do it right. Unless we think and plan for a solid foundation for our children, rest of the ventures in the name of so called ‘development’ will be pointless. They are full of energy and if entrusted with a job they like, they will come up with so many innovations which our straitjacketed education denies them. We must set a new path for our youngsters. The next Government should give a thought to such a venture with strong local public participation under the departments of Youth Affairs and Human Resource Development. The many Panchayat Bhawans and other monumental structures could well be used for such purposes.

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