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Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Kids at a loose end

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 Durgapur, to get thoroughly bored as that girl is being bored now for two whole 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 break 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 Calcutta. 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.

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 galleries, 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 breathe a little and chatter a little and while away the time…

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?

7 comments:

ginger candy said...

Dear Sir,

Having lived in Durgapur for a considerably long period of time, I can vouch for the fact that it is indeed a very boring town. As you have said, there are no museums, libraries, parks or nearby weekend getaways, and shopping malls and multiplexes hardly make up for that. The absence of book fairs or any other engaging cultural events makes the town even more unbearable, especially if you have some time on your hands. I remember that I used to visit College Street in the beginning of my vacation, returning back with enough books to last me the entire period.I wasn't much of a movie buff back then, so I hardly watched any. Plus, the Internet was still not a huge thing as it is now, which in hindsight, might have been a boon. I took guitar lessons and learned how to drive in my vacation. I am not sure whether I am helping your student with these flashbacks, but my advice to her would be to do something along these lines, rather than expecting something from the boring town of Durgapur.

Also, I think there are only a few big cities in the world (apart from New York, Paris, Rome and such, may be) which can keep you interested for years on end without annoying the hell out of you (this comes from personal experience).

Thanks,
Joydeep

Anand Tiwari said...

Dear Suvro da,

This post brought back so many memories. 24 years ago, our batch finished their ICSE exams. We promptly planned for everybody in our group to meet at Durgapur Cinema (then just over 4 and a half years ago. It opened on September 18, 1982). We watched a bad multistarrer Hindi movie,ate some unhealthy snacks, screamed & shouted to proclaim our freedom (albeit very shortlived) much to the disgust of other people. That was perhaps the last time everybody in our group was together. Then people went their separate ways. Some like you left for Kolkaata, others went to Narendrapur and the majority elected to stay back and navigate higher secondary at Bidhan.

I remember spending a few days after the exam reading novels (which i almost always had to borrow), playing cricket in our 'paara' and wasting time at the 'adda'. In essence, i did nothing significant and soon enough their was peer pressure to start studying for competitive exams that were 2 years away!

Durgapur is a strange town. Although, i have not visited it in over a decade, its character has not changed. People seem to be hung up over the same beaten goals. Journalists talk about the 'rat race' in the movie industry. They should take a look at student life in Durgapur to get a new perspective.

My suggestion to the bored student would be to take a notebook and write down everything they want to achieve in life as of today, do some self exploration and keep the notebook in a safe place to be revisited after a decade to see how one's outlook and priorities have changed. The other thing one could do is to log on to Wikipedia and look up articles of interest. There are so many India centric articles on Wikipedia that are stubs. Maybe, the bored student can make some meaningful contribution to them. This activity just requires an internet connection and a little commitment. A visit to Santiniketan or even to a village in a nearby district would provide some much needed perspective on life outside the well of Durgapur.

Maybe the bored student can volunteer at an NGO or take care of some stray animals or even tend to a garden.

In any case, this precious time should not be wasted on passive activities (like i did). Budget travel, volunteer work, attention to nature and other creatures, contribution to knowledge repositories are all worthwile causes that need our attention.

The worst one could do would be to follow my example and waste time in adda, cricket and novels. I am sure other readers will have much better suggestions than what i have provided but i think boredom simply indicates a lack of commitment on our part to get out of our comfort zone and open ourselves to new experiences.

Shubhranka Mondal said...

A few random observations

1.First,it is good to know that the girl actually wants to utilize those idle months and not keep up with the Joneses by joining any of those doctor and engineer producing tutor’s classes immediately after the boards.I tried being a part of such branded circuses once but hated it so much that I shifted my stream from science to humanities.

2. It is not(or should i say never?) easy to find a group of friends with similar interests who would like to travel on their own.Nor can one travel alone at that age.So probably convice your parents to take you on a trip.

3. If one is seriously interested in reading and can’t find a good public library one can always take a bus from City Centre to Dharmatala(buses were not such an easy access a few years ago) or take a train and get some second hand books from college street .
None of my relatives stay in Kolkata,but I did visit college street all alone to get some books after my boards . Let me confess one thing here- there are certain classics I picked up that day which only gather dust in my bookshelf. But the whole journey to Kolkata in a local train all alone turned out to be an adventure and the whole experience was published as an article in the cover page of Voices one fine Thrusday.

4. One can always learn to play a musical instrument well.I tried learning Rabindrasangeet .Again learnt very little ,but my teacher turned out to be a person with a heart of gold.She treated me almost like her daughter. And for someone who has been forced to learn Rabindrasangeet throughout one’s childhood by one's parents…it is high time that one pursues one’s passion.

5. NGO(s)- I fear how many good ngo(s) are there in Durgapur where school students can volunteer or work as an intern.

6. Gardening and trying various kind of sports are the other options…but how much time can one spend on it when one is idle for the whole day for a few months?

7. One can always learn to cook.No,not just to become a housewife one day; but just that I believe cooking too is an art. Photography can be another option.

Options are rather less .But as someone rightly pointed out other cities are not always better equipped to keep you hooked for a longer while.Finally if you are planning to learn to play a musical instrument and you have someone to assist,please do that in no time.Once you leave West Bengal ,you will realize that it is both hard and mostly very expensive to find such a guide.And there are few other book bazaars( other than college street) in India where you just have to stand in a corner for a very brief while till the shopkeeper arranges all that you want at almost through away price.

Sunup said...

Sir,
This post took me back to those good old days just after my ICSE Board exams. Though my parents, as most parents in Durgapur did and still do, enrolled me in some boring JEE prep tuition classes, I was determined not to waste away my hols just studying. I am sort of a loner, so my favorite pastime was cycling, that too all alone. I still remember those roads and the places I visited. One frequent route was the parallel GT Road, starting from near Phillips Carbon Black Ltd.'s township and ending near City Center. I was fascinated by Bhabani Pathak’s Tilla and the stories built around it, but unfortunately no one could provide me anything concrete on it. I would really love to hear from someone who has/had actually seen the tunnels or at least a map of it. Even today, I haven't found anything on it. ASI's website does not even mention it. That's one thing about Durgapur. Almost everyone is a migrant, and the typical old-timer is missing. Maybe they are around in some remote hamlet, but then who knows. Then there were the trips to Barrage, Benachitty, and once even a daring trip to Panagarh. Those days GT Road was a single lane highway and it was really dangerous for a teenager on a bicycle. Of course, my parents didn't have a clue on these trips. I would just name some friends and say I am going to their place. Luckily there were very few private phones and certainly no mobile phones in the mid 90's, so they couldn't check on me. Looking back, it really amazes me on the energy level of a teenager. I wouldn't tire at all even if I cycled more than 20 kilometers. Now my back pains even if I travel for more than 5 kms on a motor bike. Those were the days indeed!
As for our lively teenager friend, it's better if she follows her heart for these matters. Anything that isn't overtly risky, but that she would cherish all throughout.

Regards

Anand Tiwari said...

Sunup,

I can certainly identify with your comments. Although, i never went as far as Panagarh, I used to cycle a lot (since it was the only non public mode of transportation available to me). Growing up as the only kid in the household, i learnt to keep myself engaged on my own at a very young age. Hitting tennis balls at concrete walls was another time killing activity of mine. Cycling in Durgapur was such a pleasure. In the '80s there was hardly any traffic, the roads were well maintained (in the township) and the sense of freedom on a bicycle was unparalleled. I think the farthest i went was to the Railway Station and back from B-Zone but never had the guts to tackle GT Road on a bike.

I would like to make a very general point unrelated to Sunup's post. I feel that even in a 'kupamandup' like Durgapur, there is a lot to do especially if one adopts a selfless attitude. If we look for things that have a positive effect on the lives of people unrelated to us, we can find a lot to do. It is only when we look for things that have a direct benefit to our life do we seriously constrain ourselves. NGO's maybe hard to find in Durapur but nobody is stopping an individual to plant a tree and experience the joy of watching it grow. While the entire country is obsessed with obliterating the last available patch of greenery it can lay its hands on, planting a tree is certainly an activity that is fulfilling. This is just one example of how a small deed can make a little bit of difference to everybody's lives.

Young kids should realize that we cannot have concrete for dinner/lunch or any other meal. Just try and look outside your window and i bet you will find the inspiration to do something worthwile. You only need a little introspection to zero in on how you can make a difference.

I typed up these comments rather hastily. My apologies if they contain typos or disjointed thoughts.

Keep the comments coming.

Suvro Chatterjee said...

Thanks for the helpful comments, all. I hope the girl I mentioned reads them.

Funny that only four readers had anything at all to say.

One reason nothing good ever happens in this town is that children grow up and go away (except for the dregs, of course). The few that stay get used to the adult routine of work/shopping/clubbing/partying... and they never look back upon their own childhoods, nor really care any more than their parents did about whether their own children are getting a good childhood or not.

Shilpi said...

I can’t remember anything from the post I.C.S.E’s period. I must have done the usual - swum, cycled and maybe read at least two books but I can’t remember a doggone thing. I just remember the day the results were declared and being exceptionally annoyed because it was a close friend’s birthday. I hadn’t wanted the results being declared on that one day because I’d wanted to go to her birthday instead of running over and getting that ghastly, nightmarish mark-sheet with one saving grace.

Maybe the young kid too will forget later. Just gobble up the boredom for now and later remember that one remembers nothing. Else if she’s somewhat like I am but not half as bad, maybe she could find a romantic interest here and there or find what we called infatuations back in the day (if she is unable to find someone and fall in love). Doesn’t matter if she doesn’t get around to talking with any of them and sometimes it’s better that way. Too many infatuations come to a too quick end with the one or the other party’s first words and she’s got to keep herself engaged for four months or so, and with no words exchanged it keeps one occupied for longer sometimes, provides some excitement and heart-a-flutterings and even bouts of dreaming and some strands for writing imaginary stories or dialogue bits, and it beats being bored.

She could religiously record daily stuff and incidents and her thoughts and her thoughts about her thoughts and about other things and other people and situations that she encounters, in her diary if she keeps one. If she doesn’t – she might want to start. It gets to be a daily habit and even an addiction if not an obsession of sorts and a companion through life and loneliness and love and all. And one improves in one’s powers of observation, reflection and expression. Might even provide for moments of amusement in later years. For the lively self – joining a karate class might not be a bad way to channel oneself but she’ll have to find a decent enough teacher even if she can’t find a decent enough centre. Nothing more annoying than finding the wrong sort of teacher.

The post provides one with some fleeting and startlingly clear images and terribly blurry ones too, and it was amusing in a couple of parts (in a way), absorbing and much-too-short, and I contemplated and wondered upon some parts of the essay without getting anywhere. Different memories did come knocking – not particularly relevant – upon reading this one. Going to Shantiniketan on a first-year college trip and becoming an inveterate smoker upon one divine smoke under the star freckled skies while sitting on top of a water tank and after imbibing a decent quantity of vodka (of all things), was one. Periods of grey boredom during college sometime and later, was two. Writing in my diary and arguing with myself is what got me through one patch, and that’s three. I have to agree with Pupu regarding the TV, and from personal experience. If one wants to replace one’s slow-ish brain for a vegetable brain all one needs to do is to sit in front of it for evenings together and fall asleep in front of it too. Very soon one has nothing interesting to say to even oneself until one’s dumpy vegetable brain dies.

Maybe dregs and the oddity stay back in Durgapur but the sad part is that it seemed back then that the town could have been better. One odd memory that re-surfaced: at least one neighbourhood friend if not a couple and I kept saying back then that we would finish whatever we did – education-wise – and then teach in Carmel. Very odd. Don’t know what I’d been thinking of back then.

I’ve lived in three towns in different places and one city and visited cities, and unless one skims life entirely on the surface I can say that neither boredom nor loneliness can be eliminated just by living in a great big city although interesting cities and nature, in different respects, do provide one with some much needed time off and away, and to get out of one’s own skin even.