As a child, I found great joy in riding the bicycle along the streets of the little town I grew up in; the independence it gave me, the pride I experienced when my father asked me to do little chores, and using it as a transportation device to and fro from school, each day.

The bicycles then, made of strong steel, would last a lifetime. It was also an entry into experiential learning related to applied science; as I spent time taking care of it. Most of the simple repairs were done by me, with help from my father, using simple tools that were available at home.

What does this all have to do with Skills and Skill India Mission? For that, you have to wait a little longer. So do read on:

About 6 months back, our son wanted an adult bicycle and we bought him a reasonable, inexpensive one. He was off riding a bicycle for some time and as parents, we were a little scared. But as all skills learnt, this is one that I guess one never forgets! He was riding it with caution on the 1st day and confident from the 2nd day onwards. He is now an avid bicycler around the little street space we have around the place we live and has volunteered to pick a few things from the local grocer, that are not too heavy and can be fitted in a small carry bag.

Kids are kids, and the bicycles these days are flimsier. It has fallen a few times and suffered minor cuts and bruises, and that has affected his riding. He has been pestering me to take a look at it and fix it, but given my experience that has now become theoretical in this space, and the horror that I could visualize if something goes wrong, I have been finding ways to sidestep him.

Well, kids are very persistent! He found out that there was a bicycle repairman about a km from where we live, and one who has fixed his friends bicycles.

I was hesitant; I did not trust this person. Unlike the one about half a km from the place, I lived in my little town, who had a small shop under a large tree, at the corner of one of the busy intersections in our town. One that I and my friends and my father and his friends would take the bicycle to, with confidence, for any and all kinds of repair. One who ensured that my bicycle survived about 20 years, through the rough rides, and vagaries of nature. A silent, focused, person, who rarely spoke.

Legend has it that this person had won a princely sum as a lottery when I was in high school and was possibly the only one I know, who had won a lottery in our little town. But he never confirmed this and continued doing what he was good at, for as long as I can remember.

With great hesitation, I took our son and his bicycle to the current repairman. A small shop, with hundreds of bicycles, small, medium, large, some hanging on chains, in his shop. All kinds of models and brands. I was mentally tuned to a week-long wait, on repair.

He came out of the shop, spoke to us, more with our son, with a big smile on his face, and like a physician examining a patient. All the details were patiently heard; the bicycle stand that is sliding off, the handlebar that was out of alignment, the brake that is not working, and so on. He then asked us to come back at 3 PM.

We reached at 4 PM, giving a little more time for him to get it all in place. Our son noticed that the bicycle was in the same spot where he had left it in the morning, and has not been touched!

He came out of his shop and asked us to wait for a few minutes. Simple tools came out of his armour; a screwdriver, a spanner, a wrench nut. He remembered every single thing that our son had told him and methodically started fixing these. He found a few more things, reconfirmed it with our son, and fixed those too. The final bit was oiling all the machine parts, and also the brake cable. 30 minutes, we were done, and I could see a happy child.

I was for sure, surprised. I did not believe that these species existed on the planet anymore. I had to ask him. How many years have you been doing this?

He replied with a smile. 30 years, and went back to his next bicycle. Focused, as ever.

I was left wondering. What are we creating in this country, via the millions of schools, and myriads of professional colleges? A generation that does not want to hold tools, does not want to dirty their hands, does not want to acquire ground level skills…

Who has trained this bicycle man? And the one during my time? And the plumbers, electricians, the carpenters and many more, who were experts in their field then? One whom you could rely on, to solve your annoying day to day problems? Truly a rare species these days, in danger of extinction!

Their learning has been mostly via skills acquired in association with similar people, some amount of mentoring, but mostly driven by the insatiable desire of the person, to learn and master it, and via it, generate a source of sustenance!

Skill India is a great initiative. We need a lot of skilled people in India. But what is really needed is a drastic change in thinking, in creating mindsets to acquire such skills. Where such skills can fetch a decent earning. Where it can be taught methodically. Where the focused knowledge they acquire, and one that still cannot be replaced by AI and machines, is given a pride and place in society.

I hope our son realizes that and picks a few of these as he grows up. And learns to respect such people, and the value they add to the society, for without them, we would be truly lost!

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