Ramkesh – A boy loves to skateboard
Text and photos by Mannan Gupta.
A young boy loves to skateboard. Like a ninja, he swings, swivers, drops and effortlessly glides from tall walls and curves. There are only a handful of kids in India who are as skilled as him. So what are the first thoughts that come to your mind when you read this? That he surely must be a city kid? Any guesses on how old this kid is? 12? 15? Even he doesn’t know exactly. Nor do his parents. He will soon write his third grade exams which entails that he must not be more than 9 years old perhaps.
When I first met him he barely spoke a word or two, unlike the other kids who took an interest on any new visitor immediately. It was not that he was shy, but something else restricted the kid — was it the social restrictions I wondered. He was not alone in this situation. About eighty per cent of the kids in the region hail from the socially backward, poverty-ridden Adivasi Tribe of Janwaar village of the Panna National Park in Madhya Pradesh.
I, being a rookie skater, asked the kids to teach me skating. Spending time with them, where I was the learner and they were my teacher, made them my friends in no time. Ramkesh picked me up twice when I fell while practicing and started opening up to me.
This young skateboarding aficionado Ramkesh was born to a family of labourers and wood gatherers. One of the six children, Ramkesh and his siblings have to work along with their parents to make ends meet. His father is a daily wage labourer, his mother gathers wood, the kids cook, clean, wash and most important of all, fetch water. Last year, it didn’t rain enough, so the region is still witnessing a draught. But life has been tougher.
Ramkesh’s life has completely turned upside down with Janwaar Castle — India’s largest skateboard park made by a group of professionals from all over the world and lead by one Ulrike Reinhard from Germany. The purpose of the castle is to uplift the lives of the villagers in Janwaar, especially those of the Janwaar children.
Although life didn’t get any easier, it became a whole lot more promising. Ramkesh found his passion in skateboarding. He still helps his family in every way he can, but now he has an impetus–something to look forward to. Between school and daily chores, he squeezes some time out to skateboard everyday.
Without any professional guidance, Ramkesh started riding the board for fun. Slipping and falling countless times, injuring bones and collecting new bruises now and then. He doesn’t remember the pain or wounds, but only everlasting moments of joy. He would spend hours and hours in the park, trying to master newer skills, or just to show-off new tricks. Within a few weeks’ time, Ramkesh and his friends were pushing towards tougher levels of skating. By the time I met him his board had become like an extension of his body.
The most interesting aspect though is that Ramkesh has started taking interest in his studies. With the skateboard park’s rule — No school, No Skating — he not only goes to school regularly, but also enjoys it. Although the school facilities still need a lot of improvements, but with his own efforts and interest he can speak, write and read tit-bit of English, much better than most of his older counterparts.
When I asked Ramkesh what he wanted to do when he grew up, he was mostly silent about it. All he said that he hoped to travel to Delhi and compete with the city. With the roots from where he has come, people don’t really talk about future although he is much more hopeful and keen with the self-confidence and passion he found with the help of his new friend — The Skateboard.