From young authors and sports stars to teenaged artists and entrepreneurs, the eminent jury for TOI’s #Unstoppable21 campaign have identified a bunch of outstanding achievers whose success defines the aspirations of a country reaching for the moon and beyond
It was heart-warming, inspiring, almost magical – 21 gifted Indians under 21, celebrated by talented singers and musicians, all under 21. A packed auditorium loved every minute as the Times of India’s #Unstoppable21 – a 2-month-long search for the best of the best of young achievers – signed off with an awards ceremony.
Few award ceremonies honour 7-year-old concert pianists, 9-year-old artists whose canvases sell for $100,000, 10-year-old published authors, 16- and 17-year-old inventors, 20-year-old start-up CEOs, teenage star chefs, and 7- and 9-year-old singers with the poise and panache of established, much older performers.
When the afternoon event began with speeches by Kaustuv Chatterjee, director, TOI brand, and education minister and chief guest, Dharmendra Pradhan, the audience had an inkling of what was to come – a showcasing of young Indians so talented and accomplished as to be almost belief-defying.
Chatterjee spoke of the accelerating pace of change sweeping through young India. “Somewhere over the past few decades, the pace of our progress has acquired a massive momentum… I can just sum it up in one word: Unstoppable”.
Pradhan commended TOI for its #Unstoppable21 project, saying this was the perfect platform for celebrating young talent. He said India’s antiquity, history and mythologies are peppered with stories of youthful achievers, and the 21 Indians that a distinguished jury picked as the finest young talents tell the larger story of how India’s young will lead the ongoing transformation of the country.
Both Chatterjee and Pradhan spoke of the #Unstoppable 21 anthem – a reworking of the song Hum Honge Kamyaab to Ham Ho Rahe Kamyaab. But it was when the music video of the anthem was played that the audience started feeling the magic. Every performer – singer, musician, dancer – in the superbly crafted video was under 21. Music director and composer Shantanu Moitra headhunted every performer and Parasher Baruah directed the music video. Every young performer won hearts but, perhaps, the biggest stars of the afternoon were 7-year-old Esther Hnamte from Mizoram and 8-year-old Chhotu Khan from Rajasthan.
Esther, who looked like any other bubbly 7-year-old off-stage, transformed into a diva when she sang Vande Mataram. And Chhotu, who walked on to the stage to loud cheers, didn’t just look like a star because of his colourful turban and ultra-cool shades – the boy, it was clear, has the stage presence of a star. He sang a Rajasthani folk song with such aplomb that post his performance, he was almost mobbed by the members of the audience.
There was some disappointment, especially among young members of the audience who are keen chess players, that chess prodigies D Gukesh and R Praggnanandhaa, among the 21 winners under 21, couldn’t attend. Their absence was understandable though, prepping as they are for the gruelling tests that top-ranked world chess professionals are put through.
Moitra probably summed it up best. We should not ask what we are teaching our children, we should ask what our children are teaching us.
What the gifted young Indians of TOI’s #Unstoppable 21 taught us is this – if India can nurture its young, it will be unstoppable.