‘Life brought us here and here is where we are stuck. It doesn’t look like we are going anywhere from here. So, yes, the future is dark.’
Round the bend, by the lakeside, dozens of youth from age 15 upwards…perched on the fence, strolling around. The chatter seems easy flowing, as if there is no care in the world. Reality is something else.
Percentages and numbers are so meaningless when you see bands and groups of youth loitering on streets in a state of disarray—whiling away hours and days, hoping to earn. Do they qualify under the various definitions of unemployment? Not really, because they are earning “something” “somehow”.
What seems clear is that in a semi-rural area, a so-called tourist hub, they are victims of dichotomous circumstances. Many are “educated”, meaning definitely high school, maybe even a bachelors, sometimes even a masters.
Many have less land now—sold off by elders, self, fragmented by family division. Whatever the reason, agriculture is no longer an option. Or choice…labour work is so demeaning for the educated. Even so, if it’s not seasonal agricultural work, they are still at the mercy of seasonal tourism-related employment.
Bhaskar, Mukesh, Rohit, Yogesh and their friends/co-workers are huddled around two large logs of wood by the lakeside. The fire has just been lit up. As I approach them, they greet me with warmth, making way for me to join the group. I strike up a conversation a bit hesitatingly. The “reputation” of those who are “taal kinaare” (by the lake) is nothing to write home about. Clearly, there was no need to worry. The welcoming vibes were more than obvious.
In response to my query, “Can we chat?” they all replied positively, almost in unison. So, I cut to the chase right away. Two words, how will you respond: Future and Employment.
Rohit, the eldest replied right away. Almost like noir haiku at its best. “Future is darkness. Employment is unsure.” I looked into his eyes, and couldn’t stop looking. He knew I was waiting for more.
“We are where we are. Here. Life brought us here and here is where we are stuck. It doesn’t look like we are going anywhere from here. So, yes, the future is dark.”
“Don’t you dream of a future?” I asked. He smiled almost piteously at me and said, “Dream? At forty? What can I dream of at my age?” There was despair, fatigue, hopelessness, cynicism, all rolled into one as he spoke.
I mentioned what an elder had told me about poverty just some days ago. About those who whine about their state but do nothing to strive towards change and betterment. There was silence before a few mumbled to the effect that it is a valid point.
Bhaskar is a handsome young man. He looked somewhat different from the others. I addressed him directly. “Can I be frank? I mean what I have to say is really demeaning…” He and some of the others promptly responded, “Yes, of course.”
Trying to be foolishly diplomatic, I said, “You know near the parking lot out there, you have these boys hanging around. They have locked their futures in pimping. Just hanging by the roadside, soliciting customers for their employers with loud calls, like outside a brothel. What is the dignity in that?” Harsh words. I was a bit tentative by now.
Bhaskar immediately responded. “You are right. We are doing exactly the same here too.” Clearly, they had seen through my so-called diplomatic foray and knew just what I meant.
Mukesh, much younger, was crouched on the ground. Without looking up, he said, “Yes but in any case, what else can we do? We don’t have that much time, you know…won’t live that long…” Internally startled, I fondled his hair and jokingly remarked, “Why? Because you have done a lot of ‘nashaa’ (local parlance for alcohol and weed)?”
The whole group broke out into laughter and Mukesh stood up to stand beside me. After that, he kept looking at me, wondering…I never figured out what. The lasting memory: He believed his life was already finished and done with.
I couldn’t resist digging in more. “There must be something you can do together. It is about putting your minds together, working as a group. There are so many schemes, things like micro-finance. Shouldn’t you be trying to look into opportunities to do something different?”
Mukesh promptly replied. “The problem is, no one wants to work ‘together’. Everyone is always jealous of the other, stabbing you in the back. No one trusts anyone. How can we work together?”
I argued for a long time. The long and short being, all good people have bad points and all bad people have good points. It is about looking at finding a way to make things work…together.
In bits and pieces, the group kept responding with comments: Right, something to think about, You have a point, I agree…
There was a sense that they were introspecting. It seemed best to leave, when both Bhaskar and Rohit said almost the same thing. “We are going to focus on what you have said.”
One of the dictionary meanings of Focus is: pay particular attention to. That is the word two semi-rural youth at the mercy of the vagaries of seasonal employment used. Youth loitering in a state of disarray…or looking for leadership and direction for fruitful lives? It’s not for them to say or do. Someone owes them something. You? Me?
Neelima Mathur is an India-based Executive Producer, Researcher, Writer, Mentor and Trainer for documentary and NGO films. She is also Festival Director of the Lakeside Doc Festival.