When I look back, growing up in Bal Mandir had one distinct plus point, rather than growing up in family. At least this is what is my personal opinion, which I strongly believe, when I look back. Although there are many to count my blessings, here I am going to talk about the after school programs only.
During ‘80s time, there may not have been much talent honing institutes in the country as it is today. Even then it is made available today; its still not easy for anyone to come up and made those services available under one roof. But it happened in that era, and it was the brainchild of royals. See; big can think big vision and small are afraid to see the big picture. Most of the preteens and teen children used to take part in this after school programs, but what I don’t know is was that paid or not. Maybe it was paid classes to hone the budding talents of those children. These children were most of the time from the very affluent families of the society.
I grew up hearing many big names of the entertainment sectors early in my life. But they were the big names, I did not knew then. It was the meeting hub for the big name and the budding young talents of that time. At the same time, it was not just training center. It gave opportunities to compete in nationwide competition too. The big day for completion happened, undoubtedly on 4th of Bhadra every year. It was the the children’s day and more than that, the day fell on Birthday of queen mother, who [perhaps] was the founder of Bal Mandir. So, not surprisingly; this day was the biggest day, for the children of Bal Mandir.
Some of the name of that time still has in my mind, some student and some teachers like Prachanda Mall was a drama teacher, Nati Kaji, the great musician used to train young singers, Nuchhe Dongol, was a madal player on dance group, who set record later on in his life for playing so many madals at a time. Nir Shah was one of the the participants on those program, who later on became a well known name in movie industry. I bet you all must have heard the name Shambujeet Bastoka, who is a big name in music industry even today. He too, I guess was one of the participants of those after school programs.
My dance teacher of one time was the lead male of ‘Madhu Malati’, that musical drama; which was the longest running stage drama show of the Nepali theater history. After school programs had converted Bal Mandir the talent hub of Nepal, where many great teachers polished many budding young talents, who made the big name in society later in the art and creative field.
As a child, roaming around in the room to room to see the different talent classes going on was one thing, but to take part in one particular program was absolutely another thing. My turn to take part in one of those program came, when I was around ten years old. I was in dance class, it was a group dance as always. The opening dance for the grand finale was always and always from Bal Mandir and it used to get opened with a dance called Bandana. Bal Mandir used to prepare for three main segment of creative art; a dance, a song and a drama for the main event. Other children’s home also used to take part in this big event of that era and then there used to be some selected dance and songs, which won nationwide school level competitions. So without a doubt, it used to grab the nationwide attention at that time, as it was the royal ruling era.
As for the children, I mean we participants, whoever took part in dance, drama and songs [all group], it was a good break from our regular days. Preparing for this kind of classes happened more than five - six months and for the final day preparation, it used to be about 12 -15 days long that kept us busy doing all the rehearsal inside the Pragya pratisthan hall. When I was in Bal Mandir, I had never ever spend that much time as much as I had spent inside the boundaries of that building, while preparing for the final day. For one more reason also it was good for us. During those rehearsal days, which went all day long kept us from the bland taste of Bal Mandir food, giving us a sudden kick to five star hotel food. As for me, that was the biggest prize. Later on, when I grew up, I came to know that, it’s the outdoor catering service, provided by Annapurna Hotel; a royal member owns this hotel.
Taking a stroll in the beautiful lawn and the territory of the building and sneaking in the lift and then offices of some staff was also part of fun. But our hectic schedule for rehearsal kept us mostly on the stage, doing all the steps over and over for the big day. It was so repetitive task, we used to copy fast the other’s group dance and song and some dialogue of the drama also.
About 15 days without school, homework and tasteless food of Bal Mandir and whole new friend circle around us, in absolutely new area was a real good break from the boring life of Bal Mandir. It was really fun for us, but dancing was a lot more fun and it also gave us chance to dance on others group dance and sing a song with others as we were fast on learning and copying then. It was really a good escape from the plain and boring routine of life and it did kept our mind busy from other things.
It was not just entertainment classes, but other talent classes also used to happen in this building, like painting and sculpture making and then there used to be poem, essay competition and then annual debate competition was some to name.
In short, Bal Mandir was not just famous for the biggest children's home of the country; but it was also famous for its after school program and we did get a chance to do many things, while growing up there. It was the time Bal Mandir was the apple of the eye of the nation. It also has the biggest art gallery, which kept pouring people all the time during the exhibition time, which of course went almost throughout the year. All that was part of our daily life, while growing up; all that made it more fun growing up in Bal Mandir than in a family.