Priya Dutt, who’s been nominated for the India Youth Icon Awards, speaks about today’s youth.
What does a youth icon stand for?
I don’t think the youth want to be told what they should or shouldn’t do. A youth icon is one who can lead by example. A lot of good work can be done even through a profession like politics, which is unfortunately looked down upon today. It’s the youth that need to bring it back to the stature it had 30 years ago.
What is your opinion about the youth in Mumbai?
I have great respect for them. Whenever I interact with school or college students, I’m amazed at how aware they are about everything around them. (Laughs) I always think, ‘God! We were so clueless at that age’. I didn’t know what to do with my life at that time, but today’s youngsters are very curious and have the ability to question everything. They can be the reason for change because of this ability.
Have youngsters today have become indifferent?
(Instantly) I don’t think so. It’s just that they want things to happen immediately. When that doesn’t happen, they get frustrated and disheartened. Their tolerance levels have diminished and it’s important to guide them.
Many youngsters come to me saying they want to change things. I believe in Gandhi so I tell them that you need to be the change you want. It’s easy to blame politicians and cops but we need to understand that we are all responsible about what’s happening around us.
How can the youth be inspired to understand this? After so many election awareness campaigns, youngsters still failed to turn up to vote.
Youngsters were very enthusiastic and gung-ho about elections. They had gone door to door asking people to vote. And after working so hard, some of them didn’t even find their name of the electoral list. The system wasn’t efficient enough, which was disheartening for the youngsters. So, I won’t entirely blame them for the turnout.
How are you able to relate with the youth to such an extent?
(Smiles) Being youthful is all in the mind. If I start thinking I am past my youth, I won’t be able to connect with them.
Your father, Sunil Dutt, also connected well with youngsters.
Yeah, he would always say, ‘Never ask me my age.’ He always said that he is 25 plus. My father was a 75-year-old Sports Minister, but every youngster looked up to him. I remember him talking to a hall full of youngsters once. He would motivate and encourage them.
Being his daughter, were you always an inspired youngster?
(Laughs) No, I wasn’t. I was just a college-going girl who was unaffected by anything. I was only concerned about what was happening with friends, college or at home. Things completely changed when, at 20, I went on a ‘padyatra’ with my father. I was clueless before that.
What happened at the ‘padyatra’?
I spent 78 days with my father walking across the country, meeting people. It was then that I started looking at my father as someone who inspired people and who people looked up to. I saw the diversity, simplicity and genuineness of those who lived in little villages and the problems they faced. I wondered, ‘What world am I living in!’ We tend to get narrowed down to our city, locality and home but after I got exposed to the entire country, it set me thinking, in many ways.
What did you do immediately after you returned from the ‘padyatra’?
I was a typical youngster. I came back wanting to make a difference — immediately. But I got disheartened when I realised not everything I wanted to do was possible. I also got a lot of media attention, which put pressure on me. There was speculation that I would join politics when I had no such intention. I just wanted to help out in my own little way and all the media speculation made me retreat into a shell.
But then, I started working at my own level. I worked with the dyspastic society, with documentary films, against child prostitution, and it made me realise that I really wanted to help the society.
Who was your youth icon?
(Smiles) My father. I idolised him and always looked up to him. But I didn’t follow him blindly. We had our healthy arguments and differences of opinions, but that really helped me. He gave me a chance not just to learn but also to speak my mind. Whenever I felt that things could be done in a different way he’d encourage me to come up with a solution. And you need to allow that to the youth today too — they can’t be asked to shut up. Youngsters need to be allowed to voice their opinion.
How have things changed in Mumbai since you were a college-going girl?
There were a lot of green spaces in Mumbai when I was young. It was not as populated, and there was always a sense of freedom. When I was growing up, I could run around the streets, or go cycling, and my parents never feared. It’s not the same today, and that’s quite sad.
So, what have you been learning about today’s youngsters from your toddlers?
(Laughs) They keep surprising me with new things every day. My older son is going to be four soon, and he’s suddenly started talking so much. I’m still at the stage where I’m teaching them and it will take a little while for the opposite. But I love spending time with them every day and the moments I spend with them are the best of any day.