Monthly Archives: June 2017

What happened to parental responsibility in the Delhi hit and run case?

What happened to parental responsibility in the Delhi hit and run case?

Here’s Why Delhi Police Is Equally To Blame For Mercedes Hit-And-Run

My First Roza Was In A Durga Pooja Pandal

I don’t remember when I started praying and keeping my Rozas ( the fast during Ramzan). Every child starts aping their parents and I guess I used to do the same. During Ramzan as kids we had the half ticket concept, either fast for half a day “Aadhe din ka roza” or the more popular was “Aadhe mooh ka roza“: we were allowed to eat using one side of the mouth. The right side of the mouth was the favorite side to chew among us, kids.

We lived in a joint family and there were siblings and cousins of similar ages.

Even our pet parrot Mitthu used to ape the rituals of the home, he was taught to say “Nabiji Rozi bhejo” (Prophet Ji send us bounty). Often, we got confused on whether it was “Dada Abba” (Grandfather) praying or our Mitthu, he used to make gibberish-like sounds which resembled, in sound, the tilawat (Quran recital). Many a time we got up in the night wondering what was wrong with Dada Abba, why is he praying so loud at this hour, and found Mitthu happily busy with his tilawat.

We lived in the Rourkela Steel City. In Odisha, it was very cosmopolitan with neighbours from all over India. Many of my non-Muslim neighbours used to join us during Iftar (breaking the fast during Ramzan) and similarly we used join in the feasts after their Pooja(s) and Havan(s) (Hindu prayers).

I remember my first Roza, a serious Roza of not eating the entire day, it was one of the biggest achievements of my life; I wanted to prove that even I was grown up, I could achieve this; I was about 6 years old.

My mom dissuaded me initially saying it is not a compulsory ritual for children, but I did not think I was a child and insisted on keeping the Roza. Getting up during Sehri was an adventure, the most exciting part of keeping Roza, (Sehri was at about 4am in the morning) and the excitement lay in eating the last meal before fasting.

There was a Durga Pooja Pandal near our house, and those days the artisans used to make large installations of the Durga goddess on the site itself. Their work used to begin 2-3 months in advance. I was completely fascinated by the making of those elaborate Durga Pooja installations. Sometimes I used to spend entire day admiring the process and Amma (Mom) used send someone to call me for lunch.

When I insisted on keeping my first Roza, Amma knew I would not feel hungry if I was at the Pandal; so she asked my elder brother to drop me off at the Pandal in the morning. There I spent the entire day, at the Durga Pooja Pandal, chatting with the artisans, playing with their clay. Amma was right, I did not feel thirsty or hungry, did not even realize it was my first Roza, it was almost evening when my brother came to call me home, for Iftar.

After 40 years of my first Roza, when I look around at our mohallas and cities, society at large, I see a huge difference. Practising the faith was easy and relaxed, there was little conflict, parents had no problem sending Muslim children to play at the Pooja Pandal, non-Muslims never had any issue with Muslim festivals. There was no television and no religious preachers entered our lives. Our faiths and religious sentiments were not so fragile that we needed religious fatwas.

With the increasing influence of Arabian practices on Indian Islam, (an Arabisation, a sort of purification of Islam started taking place) and many Indian practices have started changing. “Khuda Hafiz” has become “Allah Hafiz” because Khuda is a Persian word. Ramzan is becoming Ramadan, because in Arabic it is pronounced with a “d”, not a “z”. And visiting Durga Pooja Pandal has become Shirk (the sin of practicing idolatry or polytheism).

I see similar changes in Hindu society, where people are going back to the so called “Vedic Era” and becoming more intolerant towards each other.

Ramzan Mubarak,
Khuda Hafiz. 

This article was first published by sabrangindia on June 5, 2016.

Hindi Medium

Let me start by saying that the film got me even by the stretch of the writer’s imagination.

The gravity of the plot was well balanced by effortless comical flair delivered by well-polished actors. With its fine main cast and supporting cast, Hindi Medium scored well in the acting department. The film’s relatable and smooth flowing storyline in the first half is what I took to – The characters are well woven into this on screen social and educational satire for which I give credit to the director, Saket Chaudhary.

An aww-inducing backstory provides a window into the current lives of Raj Batra (Irrfan Khan), a Delhi businessman from Chandni Chowk and his wife Mita (Saba Qamar), a homemaker and control freak who dreams of an illustrious life in Delhi’s elite Vasant Vihar neighbourhood. A well-modelled business plan catapults them into richness and Mita starts turning her life long dreams into reality.

A skewed view of self actualisation is what fuels Mita in her drive for acceptance into Delhi’s swish set. Raj, more often than not has to bear the brunt of her whims and fancies; one can’t control sympathising with him through the film. Raj and Mita’s lives have been turned around full circle because of Pia’s impending school admissions and Mita’s over zealous attitude but you can’t stay mad at her for too long. She is highly aspirational and desires the best education in a top rated English Medium school for her daughter Pia and is willing to go to exaggerated lengths to make that happen.

Full marks to the writer and director on their nightmarish take on something parents are well accustomed to.

Shyam’s (Deepak Dobrial) character strikes a chord. Doing great justice to his part, I found myself silently rooting for him, hoping he gets what he so rightly deserves.

Without him, Hindi Medium would not be the sleeper hit that it has turned out to be.

Hindi Medium provided fodder for many laughs and giggles with its stereotypes and archetypes but it also posed some important questions, which I believe, is the hallmark of a good film.

I couldn’t help feeling a little gut wrenched when I left the theatre. Many called the film “preachy in parts” but how else does one highlight the irregularities in our education system which I’ve come to realize is a divisive issue?

I did introspect and put myself in the character’s shoes on many an instance – What would I do as a parent in a similar situation? Would I usurp the seat of a less fortunate child? Would I pay an exorbitant bribe to secure a seat in a prestigious institution? Would I consider enrolling my offspring in a government run school? I went through a sort of catharsis and then realized – Our systems are flawed because we are flawed, our thought processes is flawed.

WE give way too much importance to social hierarchy and the caste divide.

WE would choose a private / international / IB schools hands down over a government or municipality run school.

WE perceive the command over the English language as a dignifiable trait often looking down on our vernacular counterparts.

The film highlights poignantly how if any child is given a chance, he/she will shine. A good and sound education is the right of every child regardless of their social strata or economic background. It is the basis of a bright future and every child deserves it.

Hindi Medium ends on a positive note by its lead characters doing a noble thing. Raj and Mita become positive motivators of change and progress by changing their thought process.

If only it were easy to change mindsets, we would be looking at a very bright lot of children across all institutions soon enough.


Kya Aapke Toothpaste Mein Feminism Hai?

Illustration: Rebecca Hendin via Buzzfeed

“Feminism” What a misunderstood word it is. Over the years, people including women have asked me “You are not one of those feminist-types na?”   I am. I am one of those. I am going to bring my feminist germs into your clean patriarchal thinking where everything has it’s defined place and a woman’s opinions have no place. Nowadays there is an even more abusive name for women like me. We are called “FemiNazis” Yes that’s who we are. We want to exterminate the male gender just like Hitler tried to exterminate the Jews. Imagine what will happen if women like me reproduce? What if I give birth to a brood of independent thinking little brats who dare to have their own opinion? Well I just have one independent thinker and it’s a continuous struggle to raise him as a feminist. Feminism is not exactly a protein powder that I can stir into his daily glass of milk.

I recently read an article on ‘How Feminist mothers can Raise Feminist Sons’. The first suggestion was to start early. We have to inoculate our children at a young age against gender stereotypes This is where it gets tricky. Children look at each other as peers and equals. What girls ought to do and what boys ought to do is something we adults teach them. In our attempt to raise ‘good sons’ we unconsciously reinforce patriarchy by teaching them to “help her, she is a girl”, “don’t fight with her she is a girl”, “be a gentleman” and so on which widens an already existing divide and subtly influences them to think less of women. My son is actually the only boy in his class and when relating an argument, he had with a girl he asked “Will you take her side because she is a girl?”. Good question. Gender bias can work both ways. Which is why if I have to raise my son as a feminist I have to free feminism from the trappings of gender. Feminism is about power balance. “Respect women” and “Don’t hit girls” should be replaced with “Respect people” and “Don’t hit anybody”. For why do behave disrespectfully or hit anyone? Only because we perceive ourselves as more powerful.

Gloria Steinem the famous American activist and feminist said “While we have the courage to raise our daughters like our sons we have rarely had the courage to raise our sons like our daughters.” Maybe we should just raise our children as children. Children who understand that being different is ok but being treated differently is not. Choices of colours, clothes and careers; choices of thoughts, words and deeds should all be set free. Language should be set free. Free…until the words ‘like a boy’ or ‘like a girl’ cannot be interpreted negatively.

The synonym to feminism is equality. Equity is needed for equality. Systemic injustices have been done over the years as one gender has had the advantage and those injustices must be set right by positive action and better opportunities for girls but not because they are girls but because they are our children. Let’s celebrate our differences because different can still be equal.

HT Photojournalist Burhaan Kinu’s Visual Narration On ‘What Children Wear’

Some of my photographic projects have been the documentation of a leprosy camp near Srinagar, a school for special children in Noida and the traditional art of mud-wrestling, to name a few. My work was also chosen as one of the 52 best photographs worldwide by Huffington Post in December 2013. I was interviewed by a researcher at Brown University, USA, for my work on conflict zones and photojournalism in Kashmir, with a special focus on my coverage of the teenager Showkat Ahmad’s death and the ensuing controversy. In October 2014, my work was exhibited and featured in University of Wisconsin’s (Madison), South Asia conference, Kashmir Studies panel, where eminent scholars and writers on Kashmir discussed my representation of Kashmir’s people and politics done through a series of photo essays.

Having grown up in Kashmir, photo-journalist Burhaan Kinu, started his career at the Kashmir Observer, where he documented the state’s conflict. He currently works with Hindustan Times and was recently awarded the Ramnath Goenka Excellence in Journalism Award for 2015 in the Photojournalism category.

Burhaan’s main goal and focus is to effectively represent the world around him, to provide a space to marginalized voices and construct alternative visions. This self-taught photojournalist recently visited the slums of Delhi – In a city bursting with stores that sell clothes and footwear from all kinds of internationally renowned brands, I visited a few slums to see what the children there wear. What Burhaan doesn’t say through words, strikes us in his photos, pushing us to think, re-think and re-visit our cupboards bursting with clothes, while many children make do with stained, worn out and even torn ones on a daily basis.


#LittleHumans Of Janwaar Castle – Suman, A Flower Blooms In Guwahati Rains

Suman, a ten-year-old Adivasi girl, was never seen talking to anyone. Many kids at the skatepark didn’t even know her name. They pointed at her and told me that she had started to skateboard. She looked a bit shabby and almost lost in this new environment, nevertheless I felt challenged and I asked her if she would like to travel with some other Janwaar kids and myself from Janwaar via Varanasi to Guwahati. We’ve had a pretty interesting mix of kids in the group, Adivasi and Yadav, only two girls, some “experienced” travellers and some of the kids who have never been outside Janwaar. 

Of course Suman said no. What did I expect? But a few minutes later she returned and said: “My mother said I should go!” Wow, I was so surprised that I went to the mother to confirm. It turned out that Suman was Ajay’s sister, who was anyhow part of the travel group, so the mother was really comfortable sending her. For whatever reason, I was happy she was coming, but also a bit worried – was she too young to be away from home? We were preparing a two-week journey. With Suman, I was almost sure, that at some point she would feel homesick, start crying and then …? I don’t know … I simply brushed my doubts aside and I was confident I’d figure out a way when needed.

Suman was mostly silent. She never spoke unless she was asked. “No” was her default answer. Even for food she would say no, but when the food was on the table, she ate quietly and quite a lot. Jayanti, the other girl in our group, dominated Suman like a Yadav usually treats an Adivasi, still Suman would follow her, because these two were the only girls. But I could sense Suman was surely having fun. In Varanasi she started to smile and laugh. That was a start. She participated in everything we did – roaming around on the ghats, cruising the Ganga by boat or taking a dip in the holy river. No crying at all!

From Varanasi it’s a day’s journey by train to Guwahati. The further the train went, the more fun everyone had. By the time we reached our final destination Parijat, a school close to Guwahati, I saw a sudden change in Suman – she spoke to me even without being asked. All the kids wanted to watch a movie except her. So – as usual – Jayanti was trying to push her to watch. But Suman came to me and said: “I don’t want to watch the movie, I want to hang out with my new friends in the hostel!” What a bliss! Readily I asked her to do what she likes most. From the next day onwards, Suman engaged with her new friends and did things even if Jayanti was not interested. She helped the Parijat kids carrying bricks to the site where the new girls hostel was being built. She hung out in the hostel or in the kitchen or in the playground. 

A few times Jayanti was left alone, and sometimes Suman simply took the lead and Jayanti followed. They were now becoming more like friends. Jayanti who never touched Suman’s plate, was slowly deliberating herself from the restrictions the society she was born into takes for granted. 

The most beautiful change happened when Suman got a new haircut. Oh, she looked so cute! Many people complimented her. The Janwaar boys – naughty as they are – were teasing Jayanti that Suman was more beautiful than her. Eventually, Suman started taking care of herself. She combed and oiled her hair and she washed her clothes. At school she was learning the alphabet. She showed me what she had learnt and promised to continue her studies back in Janwaar.

In just 15 days of travel, Suman changed from a shabby-looking, shy, silent, lost girl into a happy, aware, and confident girl who took care of herself.

The powers of travel and exploration. 

#LittleHumans Of Janwaar Castle- Sepi, The “Star”

Sepi is a 14 year old Yadav boy who was “flying high” right from the beginning when the skatepark was built. His father, Roshan, was the security guy at the construction site. We’ve had quite some trouble with him because he was taking advantage from his position and quickly advanced to a gatekeeper. This even got worse once the skatepark had opened. As we know today Roshan was pushing his family members, and his family is huge – nine brothers plus their families – to the forefront and neglected everyone else, especially the Adivasi kids and the girls weren’t allowed to skateboard.

Sepi learned skateboarding quickly and he became our best skateboarder in no time. When he heard about our “No School, No Skateboarding” rule I remember him saying: “I will be the topper in school attendance!” And now he is! He goes to school every day. He’s proud of his new uniform. And he hardly remembers the pre-skatepark era when he never ever made an appearance in the classroom. As a result he was the first one to leave the village with me towards Delhi to take skateboarding lessons at the freemotion skatepark in Saket, Delhi. We went for a week and it was fun. He learned a lot and became very self confident.

What I didn’t realize at that point of time – because I simply didn’t know about the dynamics at the skatepark – was that all this would only support the dominance of the “Sepi-family”. And this is exactly what happened when we returned. Roshan was pushing his son even harder meaning all the others had to stand aside. He treated Sepi like a star. He controlled who would get skateboards and who wouldn’t. Truly the last things we needed. Only a few other older Yadav boys were allowed. Everyone else was excluded.

Slowly other kids and villagers started telling me what was going on and I was trying to make Roshan understand that this won’t work. A long and pretty bumpy and tough process started. And it seemed to me that somehow the entire village was involved. It was hard for Roshan to understand why he should give space to the Adivasi and the girls. Roshan even went so far to forbid Sepi to come to the skatepark. He started lying about what other people were doing. It really became very unpleasant. And at the end we had no other choice but to lay him off. Sepi was suffering. He was even crying once in a while. He was torn between the skatepark and home. And every time he got the chance to come to the park it seemed to be very difficult for him to accept that there are many others as well. Over the process of at least six months this must have been an emotional roller coaster for him. And I am sure for his father as well.

Step by step we gave the authority over the skatepark to the kids. They started to handle the skateboards by themselves, they fixed them, they got the keys for all our boxes in the bamboo house with the spare parts and all the other materials (colors, books, games…) and they kept the park clean. And it worked. Slowly but steadily the children became the owners of the skatepark. Today it’s theirs.

For Sepi there was one crucial moment during this entire process. One day I came to the skatepark and he called me to his father’s house. I went and I could feel “trouble ahead”. Roshan was blaming others saying that they cheated him and I simply knew that he was lying. I told him that I don’t want to be involved in these dynamics and I left his house without any further words. Next day Sepi showed up at the skatepark and came over to me and he said: “Sorry, Ulrike!” A tear was running down his cheek. I gave him a big hug.

This boy had made up his mind. Against the will of his father he had decided to stay with the skatepark. From this day onwards Sepi changed.Now he is helping the little ones – no matter if boys or girls, Yadav or Adivasi, he is training them, giving them advise and simply taking a lead when needed. He is learning English well and he continues to go to school. Only once in a while the old patterns seek light – and it’s then when a simply look is enough to remind him how he can contribute better to the community.

Only 14 years old – Sepi and with him an entire community has learned a lesson very well.

Hats off Sepi!


#LittleHumans Of Janwaar Castle- Hi, My Name Is Ramkesh!

Hi, my name is Ramkesh, I am in 4th standard and I am ten years old. I have one younger brother and four elder sisters. I wake up at 5 o’clock in the morning; I freshen up myself, and fill water buckets. I head to Janwaar Castle skatepark carrying my skateboard, notebook and a pen. First, we learn English in the Bamboo house, then we do skateboarding, play with frisbee and later learn to play football. I go home around 10 o’clock to have breakfast. So, I go home to have breakfast and afterwards help my mother with household work. We collect the leaves of a tree called ‘Tendu‘, the leaves of Tendu are used to roll ‘Beedi‘, also it bears a fruit which we all villagers eat. After making bundles of Tendu leaves, there is a house in our village where me and my mother take them, the person there puts it into our account in a notebook through which we get to know how much money we earn per collection. From this house, the leaves are taken to Panna. When it turns into a large sum of money in the notebook; either we buy basic necessities or we waive off our previous debts. Some money is deposited in our bank account as well. 

Housework is done and it is time for me to roam around in the village. There are some mango trees, I use my ‘Gulel‘ to pick them. Then I cherish mangoes. Sometimes, I play ‘Chiranga‘ (Marbles) with other kids. Almost half the day passes by doing all this and it is time to head home to have lunch. I eat lunch at 2 o’clock. Around 4 o’clock, it is time to hit Janwaar Castle again and practice some new tricks. Exhausted and full of sweat, I go back home; make my bed and lie down. 

Meals for breakfast and lunch are mostly the same every day. We eat basic food like lentils, seasonal vegetable curry and rice. Not so fancy food. For dinner, most of the time my grandfather hunts down birds like ‘Titar‘ when he take our goats to the jungle. We eat wild pigs as well. If he is unlucky to get something from the jungle, we eat the same rice, lentils etc. During weekends, we eat chicken sometimes. I used to drink milk when we had cows but now we don’t. Actually, we can’t afford it anymore. My father met with an accident once when he was going to Panna on his tractor and since then, he is on total bedrest. We have consulted many doctors and have tried many expensive medicines but nothing has helped him to get out of the bed. 

I like skateboarding and I want to continue it further. In the beginning, I used to see other kids showing off their new tricks. Everybody was getting the new buzz and was ahead of me. Slowly and steadily, I gained confidence that I can do it! I wore pads and put my foot on the board for the first time. My philosophy is simple ‘Conquer your fear or your fear will conquer you’. I have no fear. I can do a drop in from anywhere. You present me a challenge and I will do it!” 

#LittleHumans Of Janwaar Castle- Jayanti the unexplored explorer

Jayanti came to the skatepark almost from day one. Even before the park was finished she was one of the first kids using the newly emerging ramps as slides. This was fun! She laughed a lot – still there always seemed to be an invisible wall with no doors around her. It was hard for her to interact with other kids and to share.

This became worse when she got bitten by a snake. For almost a year she was struggling with the snake bite. In between we even thought she would lose one leg. The only way to move around for Jayanti was sliding on her tush. Her grandparents neglected our help and somehow she was cut off from the skatepark and separated from the other kids. 

A wonder happened, Jayanti’s leg healed and she returned to the skatepark three or four months ago. “Re-socialisation” so to speak, began. Jayanti never liked to explore, she hasn’t even roamed around much in Janwaar. Not that Janwaar is a huge village to explore but unlike many of the other kids she is hardly seen outside her house. What was interesting is the fact that it was Jayanti telling all this to Mannan on the train from Varanasi to Guwahati! She told him that she usually doesn’t like to explore and that she prefers to stay in the house. And now she was with a group of seven kids on a three weeks holiday almost 1200km away from home.

Jayanti’s family comes from a very conservative Yadav family. They simply do not respect Adivasis. Naturally, she is conditioned the same way. While on the bus leaving from Janwaar, she wouldn’t even sit besides Suman, an Adivasi girl who was also traveling with us. Surprisingly within three to four days things were changing. We can’t say that Jayanti and Suman became close friends, but in Varanasi Jayanti said to Mannan: “I will only go, if Suman goes as well!” Wow – what a change!

For a girl who has never traveled on a train before, who has hardly been outside her village, Jayanti now has spent almost 30 hours on this long trained between Varanasi and Guwahati. She has experienced Varanasi to the fullest, enjoyed teaching skateboarding to other kids there, and is now on her way to explore new territories in Guwahati! Something must have triggered her basic instincts.

Jayanti is bold from the outside, timid from the inside and has a drop of curiosity which is now slowly taking over. 

No School, No Skateboarding- Meet The #LittleHumans Of Janwaar Castle

What distinguishes this tiny village of Janwaar in Madhya Pradesh from other remote villages dotting the country? There are the ever prevalent issues – poverty & scarcity, patriarchy & gender disparity, barren lands & derelict homes, casteism & discrimination; what tells it apart is a SKATEPARK.

Founded by Ulrike Reinhard, an impassioned non-conformist, whose ability to co-create innovative ideas that drive long-term change in faraway lands, brought her to Bundelkhand. Using her innate skill to network, she brought to life, Janwaar Castle, the first skatepark in rural India, with help from 12 skateboarders from 7 nations and local enthusiasts.

Instantly, children drew to the skatepark. It allowed creative expression, play and exploration, exposure and ambition, and most importantly, an identity, unknown to the children of Janwaar. With the ‘No school, no skateboarding!’ rule, it meant that the children needed to attend school more regularly in order to be able to take part in their favourite activity. This resulted in huge increases of attendance percentages within months, crucial in a country where illiteracy and dropouts are a major hindrance to the growth of the society.

Today, Janwaar Castle stands for much more than a skatepark for children. It equals a castle of dreams where there are no untouchables and no hierarchy – the young teach the old; the girls teach the boys; the Adivasis teach the Yadavs.

Many people, find their way to Janwaar Castle, intrigued by its innovativeness and newness, its energetic and passionate children, its earnestness and trueness to uplifting the lives of its villagers …. And we did too, only to get to know the children of Janwaar better!

This week we meet the barefoot skateboarders: Ajay, Dipen, Jayanti, Ramesh, Sepi and Suman… the #littlehumans who are integral to the skatepark today and will build the future of Janwaar tomorrow!

#LittleHumans Of Janwaar Castle- Little Dipen


Usually Dipen stands alone somewhere. He hardly speaks, he almost seems autistic, living in his own little world and looking once in a while to the outside. To me, when I look at his face, I feel that I see so many questions which do not come out. He started to come to the skatepark after the monsoons last year. Silently he was finding his way around and he certainly developed his very one style. What was in the beginning a staccato kind of movement quickly turned into a smooth ride. It looked like he had fun – once in a while I even discovered a smile. He started to give me high-five when I arrived at the skatepark and whenever he couldn’t get a skateboard he would come and ask me for a board. “Ulrika, board!

Dipen loves skateboarding so much that he even started to go to school more regularly. He became just another “victim” of our simple “No school, no skateboarding!” rule.

Our first skateboarding challenge in November last year brought forth a new Dipen – the youngest experienced skateboarder (7 years old) at the event. He was literally riding on a huge wave of enthusiasm and he was deeply enjoying it. One could see it in his entire expressions and in the way he was moving around. At the skatepark, especially during the finals in grinding, the 300 people cheered him on like no one else. When he succeeded with a perfect grind the spectators would jump off their chairs and a huge round of applause and endless encouraging “Yeah! Wow! Boah!” shouts were all reserved for him. He didn’t know what was happening – he only enjoyed.

During the event I was sitting with the Member of Parliament (MP) of our constituency at the rear side of our Bamboo House when suddenly Dipen showed up, trying to climb up the terrace surrounding the house. He was so full of energy and it felt that he has come up for a very specific purpose. I stood up, he gave me his skateboard and I reached out with my hand and pulled him up. Dipen smiled, gave me a high-five, offered a high-five to our MP who was at first hesitant, slightly surprised and then joined in with a smile. Dipen said some words in Bundeli, his local language, to him and off he went. Unfortunately the MP hasn’t understood what he was saying. For me this was the first time ever I’ve seen Dipen approaching someone on his own and talking to him. And he did it with joy. And he was so confident and proud. Happy.

When he was gone the MP looked at me, I looked at the MP and somehow – without saying anything – we felt this was something big for little Dipen.

#LittleHumans Of Janwaar Castle – From Chewing Tobacco To Writing Diaries


In Hindi we have a saying, “Khali dimag shaitan ka ghar hota hai” meaning that a brain that has no work, is a demon’s abode. This – at least I believe – holds true for Ajay. Ajay is a thirteen-year-old Yadav boy in Janwaar. He is pretty good at school, although he doesn’t show up regularly. He is one of our best skateboarders. He is good in other sports, too. And he has a lot of time. What to do? Having no choices and options inside the village it’s very tempting for him to explore what he doesn’t know. And this he very often does with the wrong people, mostly a few years older than him. It’s then when he gambles, chews tobacco, fights, teases and what not. He’s always wearing a slightly naughty smile. And he is certainly always ready to jump!

In one line – it would be a pity to see him fall to the wrong side. So we try as much as we can and include him in our activities, especially those off the skatepark. Lucky us he loves to travel – so we take him along with others as often as we can. But this is sometimes quite a challenge. During our last train journey, he was teasing Saraswati so much that she started crying. And it seemed the more she was crying the more he was teasing her. After a few discussions, Ajay decided not to talk to Saraswati at all – but even this didn’t last long. It was a tough ride. 

Just recently we gave him another chance. He is currently with six other children on a 2-week journey from Janwaar via Varanasi to Assam. And … surprisingly enough, Ajay is not teasing anyone more than usual. Instead, he is involving everyone in having much more fun. Since he is not shy to speak up and doesn’t care if he is making fool of himself, others follow his lead. The result: all of them are having fun to the fullest. 

Ajay learns from everyone he meets. Here in Assam at Parijat Academy, he has shown a completely new side of his. He is funny, sharing and caring. He is talking with everyone, let it be a 10-year old going to school, a 20-year-old pursuing Bachelors in Commerce, or the elders at Parijat Academy. He is learning from everyone and teaching his skills to everyone else.

Being inspired from the new learning environment at Parijat Academy Ajay has now started to write. Unexpectedly he came to me and showed me a page he had written about Janwaar. I gave him a notebook. He said he would write more of his stories and experiences. Below is an excerpt of what he has written. Rest, he said, he’ll show only when he has written a lot more. Fair enough. And honestly I can’t wait to read more …

Here’s the translation of the first page:

“A madam came from Germany and built a skatepark in our village. But no one came to skate initially. Then Roshan uncle (remark: a villager in Janwaar) told us not to worry, nothing will happen. One day Ulrike asked if the kids wanted to visit Khajuraho and the kids said yes. The next day we went to Khajuraho. We traveled to Khajuraho, ate in a restaurant and stayed at Mamaji’s place. We also saw an airplane for the very first time. Then we came back to Janwaar. My parents asked me if there was any trouble and I said no trouble at all.

Next, when I went to the skatepark, a summer camp was going on. I went there and practiced dance, skateboarding, and singing. I chose to go to the dance classes. The Sir asked my name and I told him that my name is Ajay Singh Yadav. And then I started dancing. I started studying. I started to skate.”