There’s a girl I met on the street yesterday, a 16-year old who’s recently become an ex-pupil. She finished writing her secondary board examinations three weeks ago, and she was complaining that she was bored, having just about nothing to do at home. It threw my mind back to more than three decades ago, when I was exactly in her position.
I was luckier than most in a way. Exams ended in end-February: I went off gallivanting with some friends on that very day to nearby Shantiniketan (travelling without adult escort was still a great thrill in those days) to enjoy Holi as only footloose and fancy-free boys can do. Then back to
, to get thoroughly bored as that girl is being bored now for two whole Durgapur months – though I read enormously, and often went to the movies, and cycled all around town alone and with friends, had sleepovers with one or two them, went swimming, and mooned over a budding romance. In May I had a lucky k again, and went holidaying with a friend’s extended family all around Himachal Pradesh for close to three weeks. We travelled on a shoestring budget, yet the memories still glow in my mind: it was one of the best holiday trips I have ever made. I came back to collect the examination results, and then it was permanently off to brea . There I promptly got involved in a lot of things, from typewriting class to French lessons to giving tuition and writing for magazines and helping with my dad’s little business, and then I gradually began to study for the higher secondary course and prepare for admission. By mid-August I was well into a new and very hectic academic schedule once more, with hardly time to breathe, leave alone feel bored. Calcutta
The girl’s complaint brought home to me the fact that very little has changed for the better in this one-horse town in thirty-odd years. Oh, there’s a multiplex cinema now (while most of the old cinemas have shut down or gone to seed), and you can easily watch movies at home, but on the flip side, there are no libraries any more. Nor museums, art
ries, zoos or parks worth the name. Shopping malls are becoming common, but no thinking person who is not a rich shopaholic can go to malls every day. As my daughter avers, it’s hard to keep watching TV all day for weeks and months on end, unless you are born with a vegetable brain, which doesn’t need much stimulation anyway. There are few clubs where parents can send their young to enjoy themselves in safe and healthy ways, such as by learning to dance, paint, sing, act, tell stories, cook or pick up some martial art: those that there are have been too strongly affected by a rather sick competitive spirit. One of the few bodily pleasures that I still enjoy is swimming, and I have to drive halfway across the town to do it: besides, it’s rather too expensive for most people. There are few interesting places nearby that you can drive to for a day’s outing. No wonder that most kids strain at the leash to start attending tuitions once again: that’s the only thing that is available aplenty, and the only place most parents are glad to send them, and where they can galle the a little and chatter a little and while away the time… brea
So why did I myself come back after eight very busy years in a metro? Well, partly it was because I was fed to the gills with the noise, crush, squalor and the peculiarly poignant kind of loneliness that grips a certain kind of person in a great city (see Albert Camus, The Outsider); partly it happened by accident (too long and convoluted to interest my readers, I’m sure). But it is true that it offered a more relaxed, less expensive, clean and quiet lifestyle, and I quickly got addicted to it. It gave me a decent living, and it helped that I became heavily enough engaged not to have time for boredom and loneliness. And now I am so used to it, 24 years later, that I can hardly imagine moving to someplace else, unless it were to some cleaner, quieter, nicer place still.
But the girl’s problem remains unsolved. What does a lively teenager do in this town when she has time on her hands?