Friday, August 6, 2010

Bal Bhawan

One of the fondest memories I have of my childhood remains to be of my two trips to the National Bal Bhawan, Kotla Road, New Delhi in 2001 and 2002. The event being the Annual National (later, International) Children’s Assembly  organized by the Bal Bhawan generally in the third week of November in celebration of Pt. Jawahar Lal Nehru’s birth anniversary ( November 14). Now those of you (I’m sure most) not aware of the magnitude of the event, it brings together five to ten children each from the 80 odd Bal Bhawans across India to stay at the National Bal Bhawan for a week  amidst cultural performances, competitions, talks, workshops, etc. So that makes it around 600 children from every nook and corner of India and some other countries coming and staying together in the complex (huger than you can imagine, right in the heart of New Delhi) and music, art, dance, theatre, literature and so much more.
For the first moment, spine chilling, intimidating. 11 years of age (my first time), alien city (then, we lived in a gated township at Unchahar, secure and cocooned), no parents. Only your bunch of friends and your escort. But equally was the idea exciting, meeting new people, seeing and learning new things, making new friends and…. no parents !!
The Director, Ms. Amita Shaw and children at a recent assembly
First things first, the living bit. All the girls put up in dorms. The boys in the two floors of their makeshift emptied Research Training Center.  People from neighboring cities, towns grouping together, with their mattresses next to each other. Common toilets and bathrooms (some with hot water). Even though the early winter chill gave reason enough to bathe only on alternate days, still there would perpetually be a queue. And, also there always were these other kids (read better) that were up early, bathed every day, never missed the breakfast timings and their morning stroll. :P
But the most amazing part of the whole fiesta was the cultural events, a host of talented children showcasing their parts of the world. From Baul music from West Bengal, to the endangered art form of Kalamkari from Andhra Pradesh and the Sambalpuri dance from Orissa, everyday one discovered the awesomeness of our country a little more. And in all that, meeting like-minded people and making friends.
So much fun !!!
Another strong memory is of PCO shacks, outside the complex, we had to walk to, post dinner, to make phone calls back home. Yes, there were no cellphones then(which also meant staying with your group all the time) and calling parents every alternate night was obligatory. We had to cross this huge play field to reach the main gate and outside it. And in the slightly chilly breeze, it was quite a journey. Also, it so happened in all years, that one of the assembly days used to be Eid. Devotees sitting on crisp white bedsheets offering prayers would line the Bahadur Shah Zafar Marg (I found out the name later)in the morning and the catering staff would cook up the most delicious Vermicelli Kheer for dinner dessert.
Anyone who has ever been to the Bal Bhavan as a child shall forever remember the place for what it is.   So do I, quite vividly so. My later associations with the Bal Bhavan have only further strengthened my sense of belonging to the place. And it is only this belonging that keeps pulling me back to it and relive those cherished memories.

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