Just a couple of generations ago, almost every home was a centre of folk culture, music and dance. Children received this living tradition from their elders in joint families. Many went on to join the various streams of classical music and dance, and most were familiar with the folk customs of their family background. Unfortunately, with rapid social change associated with urbanisation, and adoption of the nuclear family norm, this inter-generational transfer has greatly shrunk. Even when inclined towards the performing arts, children have little time in their crowded schedules and limited resources to pursue this interest. Song, dance and music are no longer part of natural inherited tradition.
Those who have known this world realise what a loss it is. There is greater dependence, therefore, on the school set-up to make up for this loss. Unfortunately, there are very few institutions with that extra dimension in the highly materialistic direction education has taken. Dehradun is fortunate in having one such unique institution that incorporates this culture in its curriculum – Nanhi Dunya, ‘The International Movement of Children and their Friends’. It is now celebrating its 75th year of existence, continuing down a path of integrated education laid by its founder, Prof Lekh Raj Ulfat, and his wife, H Sadhana Ulfat. The present day inheritors of this onerous responsibility are their offspring, Kiran Ulfat Goyal and Alok Ulfat.
Nanhi Dunya strives to integrate the differently-abled and the less privileged into mainstream education. The well-known Alok Ulfat has added a heavy dose of theatre activism, which has produced a large number of successful directors, actors, writers and activists, who have gone on to contribute in multiple ways to the performing arts. Helmed adeptly by Kiran Ulfat Goyal, the institution constantly reminds visitors of the lived tradition of culture that produces creative human beings.
The celebrations of Indian festivals that take place at Nanhi Dunya are a reminder of how elegant and graceful these used to be – in contrast to the commercialised, event managed versions of the present. It is no surprise, therefore, that the influence of Nanhi Dunya has spread to many foreign lands. Citizens of these nations visit to savour the flavour of a composite culture, and learn the nuances of teaching and learning in Nanhi Dunya’s many centres scattered around the Doon Valley. More power to this movement, and may it go on to celebrate its centenary, with its usual enthusiasm.