It was Ajay’s first break from his one-year program “Diploma in Rural Technology” at the Vigyan Ashram in Pabal. After 15 weeks he returned back home for his well-deserved Diwali break. He was happy to be back in Janwaar – and proudly and loudly he announced that he won’t go back to the Ashram. But this was only at the “forefront”, so to speak. We could easily feel and see in conversations with him that he loves this place, which will be his home for another nine months.

During his stay in Janwaar, we only got snippets of his experiences – and these we got in a very clear Ajay style: slightly naughty, precise in words, fluently spoken and with a good vocabulary. This guy had improved a lot in the way he talks and articulates himself!

So three days ago he made his way back to Pabal. Due to the Diwali rush, we couldn’t get him on a train directly to Pune. So we decided to take him via Delhi and put him on his first flight. But this wasn’t as easy as usual 🙁  In Khajuraho our train tickets didn’t get confirmed. So instead of simply dropping Ajay on his train seat, I boarded the train with him. We were lucky to get a ticket to Jhansi, which is only one-fourth of the journey. On the way to Jhansi, I told the story to the conductor (TT), a guy we know quite well being frequent travelers on this train. He is very strict on the outside but it turned out that he is very caring indeed. He gave me his phone number and said he will take care of Ajay after Jhansi. So I got at midnight off the train in Jhansi and jumped at 2 am on the train back to Khajuraho. The TT gave Ajay a nice seat, and in the morning when I called him to talk to Ajay, they were sitting together while the train was just about to reach its final destination, Nizamuddin Railway Station.

Amish, who provides together with his friends the scholarship for Ajay, had booked Ajay’s flight ticket. Rijul from Yuva Ekta Foundation, an NGO we work with, picked him up from Nizamuddin Railway Station and put him on the flight. Ajay got flight assistance as well. Another friend, Shakti, received him at the other end in Pune and put him on a taxi to Pabal. A network effort to get him back 🙂

I’ve had my tête-à-tête with Ajay on the train to Jhansi. He was then when he started telling his stories about Pabal. What a mischievous fellow he is. He doesn’t bow down to anyone. He is the youngest and smallest at Vigyan Ashram, but that doesn’t mean that anyone can overpower him easily and for a long time. Everyone who ever tried to bully him eventually made peace with his badass nature 🙂 He has even given some teachers a hard time!

The first weeks at the Ashram weren’t easy for Ajay. He really felt homesick. On top of this, he had a language problem – almost everyone spoke in Marathi. He felt very much alone. Many days he just sat in his room and skipped the program and the workshops. Sometimes he even threatened to run away.

Once a student had bothered him. As a revenge, Ajay took a bucket full of water and poured over him while this guy was in the toilet. The guy came out and threatened to kill him. Ajay took it seriously, ran away and hid up near the water tank from where he watched the scene unfolding. The entire campus was up on its feet looking for him. Some even went to the village. They were really scared – because Ajay had warned them before to run away. Finally, Ajay showed mercy, he climbed down and was caught by one of the kids. When asked why he disappeared, he simply said, he was scared because the guy had threatened to kill him. The teachers gave this guy a serious tongue-lashing for saying this and Ajay felt OK.

Ajay was telling me when he didn’t go to the workshops and only slept in his room, another kid joined him. They both watched videos on youtube. One day when Vishal Sir, one of the teachers, busted them, Vishal was actually ready to send Ajay back. Lucky Ajay – Vishal couldn’t reach me. This was the day when things start changing. Ajay didn’t feel homesick anymore. His welding skills started improving. He made small benches and stuff like that. For three weeks, he learned brickwork. He, along with one more kid, made three pedestals – 9’x7’x2’4”.

Ajay(second from left) with his batchmates at Vigyan Ashram

There are no exams at Vigyan Ashram. Nevertheless, the students are asked basic know-how about the things they do. What safety things should you keep in mind while welding? Why do you wet the bricks before construction? Ajay knows all such things now. He said he is confident that he can use these skills for building things at home or even make a living out of it.

Meanwhile, Ajay is truly everybody’s darling at the Ashram. Being the youngest everyone takes care of him. A girl who is a part of the cooking course makes sure that if she bakes a cake, Ajay surely gets a piece of it. “That’s the reason for his chubbiness!”

To me, the most interesting part of the story was how he managed the daily meditation session. This session is a must for every student. The first 30 minutes is silent meditation, the last 30 minutes is a discussion on the thought of the day. Every kid has to speak its mind. If no one volunteers, they are called randomly by names and then they speak. Ajay always tried to sit in the back and hide. Sometimes he succeeded, sometimes he was called. When Vishal Sir took the class, it was a sure sign for Ajay that he will be called to read the thought and be the first one to share his thoughts. I could see how much he enjoyed these discussions and – I have to say – they had a very positive effect on him. His language has improved significantly, he presents his arguments clearly and takes his stand.

Ajay adjusted at his own pace and manner to the new environment. And he has started to love and enjoy it! Although he said in Janwaar he doesn’t want to go, once he was out of the village, he was looking forward to the next semester 🙂

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