“The dreams that the young weave. They were not particularly well-off, had to give up studies and yet they had dreams of a better life for themselves as well as their yet unborn children. Those were the talks of young people very much in love with each other.” – Excerpt from The Gymnast, Book 1 of Street Performers Series.
This Sunday the young child whose studies I am financing came to see us with his father. The child is now in class 9. We sat talking for some time wanting to understand the areas that the child needed assistance in. I also told the father that I would be able to spare my earlier laptop in case the child would need it after a couple of years. It transpired that the parents had already enrolled the child in a local computer academy, and they had wanted a computer at home for the young boy to practice what he learnt in the academy.
The child’s father has studied till class 10, while the mother has gone to school till class 12. The parents are working hard for a dream that they want realised through their child. They are willing to toil hard for the dream. Much like the dreams that we saw for our children, or the dreams that everyone sees. Or the dreams that Chhaya and Budh saw for their yet unborn children in The Gymnast.
It is in our collective power to help the Chhayas, the Budhs, the Roshnis, the Deepas, the Pradeeps, in our society.
“It was sometime in early 1955 and Lallan had been recently married to Imarti. Their parents and even their grandparents had always worked on the fields of their respective zamindars. It seemed that all the families and their ancestors had been working on the fields of others for eternity.” – Excerpt from The Gymnast, Book 1 of Street Performers Series.
1955 – only a few years after independence. People were excited about the newfound freedom, but probably a little uncertain about what the future held for them and for their future generations. That led to the parents, particularly from the middle-classes, to be cautious about the career choices for their children. The only safe options were to study either engineering or medicine. Not wanting their children to go through the uncertain times that they had faced, they were happy with a government job.
But what about people like Lallan and Imarti! What kind of dreams would they have woven on the threshold of a marital life together? Would they even have dreams for the future? Would independence from a colonial power have meant anything to them? What about the countless millions from other countries who found themselves in similar situations in the years to come.
Every generation has dreams for a better life for the next generation. It strives and faces untold hardships to ensure that their children do not suffer the same fate. Roshni’s story in The Gymnast is not the story of the little girl born in 2011. It is also the story of her fore-parents. It is a tribute to the elders.
“Once Roshni started feeling more comfortable in her new environment, she started insisting on her siblings to visit the neighbourhood. Deepa and Pradeep hesitated. They did not want to take undue risks. But on her persistence, they agreed to explore the immediate neighbourhood, provided Roshni held to their hands and did not run on the road.
The first thing that they noticed was an unusual school opposite the ground where they lived. The school was run on the pavement in the open under a tree. Roshni giggled when she saw children sitting on the ground facing their teacher who was writing something on the blackboard. They sat on the pavement and stared at the teacher and the other children.”
My Roshni at this time was 7 years old. She lived in a jhuggi with her family opposite the unique school.
It was time that I asked myself a few searching questions, before I proceeded any further.
Would Roshni too have dreams like other children her age from a relatively better background? What would motivate her to work for those dreams? Would she feel burdened by her environment and at some stage buckle under the weight feeling the futility of even dreaming? Is it not our responsibility to provide a supportive ecosystem to all the children around us?
A friend once said that humiliation itself is a motivator. That may be true in many situations. But would it also hold true in poverty?
I was not certain.
The only thing that I was certain about was that everyone would have dreams. The dreams would start from childhood. These dreams of a better life would get passed down from generation to generation till it was almost built into the DNA.
Having resolved my dilemma, I started writing my story about this rustic family from east India. Roshni was fulfilling the dreams of all the earlier generations.
I saw that family on a road divider close to where I live. The children wore tattered clothes and looked hungry. There was a makeshift tent erected on the road divider itself and that apparently was their home. But the children, like all other children, were oblivious to their surroundings and were innocently playing on the road.
Their games, of course, were nothing like the games that children from relatively well-off families played. One child was doing cartwheels across the road during stoppages in traffic at a red signal. One child was playing a homemade musical instrument. Yet another child was singing and dancing. They were doing that to earn little money, which some good Samaritan might throw their way.
It was a scene that I was used to on roads across all cities not only in our country but also in developed countries of Europe and England as well as many other nations. I realised that I had become immune to their presence around me. Earlier, I saw them but did not notice them.
This started me on a long journey – a journey of almost 75 years starting from sometime in 1955, and ending in 2029. The beginning of the journey was modest… No, modest is an overstatement. The beginning was even less than humble. But there was a burning desire to be better than what they had been. This passionate fire continued, till Roshni, a girl born in this family started her journey in 2011.
The Gymnast is the journey of Roshni, foundations of which were laid 75 years back. I count my blessings that this family chose to include me in their travels across decades and across two centuries.