A group of 25 students and staff members reached Camp Hornbill, situated in a village called Kyari in Uttarakhand on the morning of Oct. 8, 2018. We were at Nainital to visit the famous Jim Corbett National Park.
We were told that it will be like a resort, however, in reality, it seemed more like a campsite. I was irritated but at the same time, I knew that cribbing will not help, so I decided to stay open-minded and calm. As we entered Camp Hornbill, we saw a huge hut which was called chaupal by the natives.
As we reached, we were told to sit inside chaupal, which became the location for all our meetings and gatherings. We were all given a brief introduction about the week ahead. I assumed that the four adults and the young boy standing in front were our guides.
I began to wonder if the young boy worked here because if he did, it would be child labor and I would try to do something about it. So I decided to go and talk to him. I did not want to scare him off, so I told him that I wanted to make friends with him.
He seemed like a really cool guy. He greeted me with a “Hey Brrro” as I met him and told me his name was Pankaj Upadhyay.
I have been to villages in the past and the people I met mostly just complained about their lives. But this 16-year-old had a completely different outlook on life. I started talking to him for about 20 minutes at least, every day.
Pankaj felt as if he was extremely “privileged,” as his close and extended families are in the business sector and are doing well. They all support his dreams and rarely interfere in his life.
He aspires to be a person “someone can look up to,” and in order to do that, he wants to start from “scratch.” He wants to earn the respect for himself.
He is aware that his family is well off compared to other people in the village, and he acknowledges the fact that that is the reason he is able to”try on different things.”
He wants to make use of this privilege. He said, “Until I fail completely, I will keep trying and if I have no other option, I can go back into the family business.”
His dream is to be a part of the army. One of his cousins, who is now in his twenties, tried out for the army four times because he failed the first three attempts. Pankaj wants to be better than him by the time he turns 19, when he would try out for the army. He makes sure he exercises, and runs at least 8 kilometers daily.
In case he does not end up in the army, his backup plan is to start his own business. When asked about how he plans to pull that off, he said that he “never, ever” wants to go to college. Going to school was enough for his learning.
His uncle owns Camp Hornbill, and hence, he goes here every day at about 4 p.m. to help out. While helping out, he gains experiences on running a business from the people running the camp.
Unlike the other villagers I met in the week, Pankaj had something different about him. Maybe it was because he was still just 16 years old, but was more lively and positive in the way he viewed and approached life than several other teenagers. A smile was always plastered on his face. Every day of the entire week, he would call out, “Bro kya haal,” which literally translates to “What’s up brother.”
He was so friendly, not just to me but towards other people in the group as well. He always hung out with me and my friends. He talked to us about his girlfriends and his friends at school and outside the village.
He said, “My father tells me, making new friends and connections are always important.”
Growing up in a village, Pankaj has strong family values. According to him, it is the family that “matters the most.”
“My family has shaped me into who I am today,” he said. “It is them who I care about the most.”
Edited by Hyenjin Cho
Photo courtesy of Mr. Pankaj Pandey