The chug-chug sound still rings in my ear,
I look for support to stand still.
Jagriti Yatra 2011.
I went on a train journey around my country, India, to 12 destinations in 15 days covering 9000 kms with 450 like-minded youth from all over the world, to meet 15 role models. This was said to be a journey of discovery and self transformation according to the official website. Trust me, it was a lot more than that! The entire yatra made me learn and unlearn a lot of things.
The moment I read about this yatra on their official website, I knew that this was something that I wanted to do! On the night that I received my selection e-mail, I was unable to fall asleep as I was very excited; the fact that I was among the 450 chosen ones from among 15,000 entries only added to this.
The yatra started on 24th December 2011 (a day after I finished my semester exams) in Mumbai, and ended on 8th January 2012. The yatra’s main focus is on enterprise led development. We travelled to Hubli, Bangalore, Madurai, Chennai, Vishakhapattanam, Bhubaneshwar, Patna, Deoria, Delhi, Tilonia, Ahmedabad and returned to Mumbai. Every place taught us new things, every single day.
A typical day on the train would start with a wakeup call from the engine room club via the PA system. Then we would hurry to get ready and rush to take a bath in the bathrooms built on the train in a really innovative way. Breakfast was then served in our compartments or on the railway platforms, after which we boarded the buses which were waiting for us at the stations to take us to visit our role-models. We then had an interactive session with the entrepreneur in that city and listened to his success story and even visited his impact group in certain cases. The bus rides back to the station were always filled with endless rounds of antakshari and impromptu dancing. On reaching the station, we huddled together for compartment discussions where we talked about the day’s visit and our views and learnings from it. We then had group presentations on role model visits in the AC chair car after which, we retired to our compartments.
During this special journey, there were two role-models that made the maximum impact on my way of thinking and future plans.
The first one being Mr. Bunker Roy who started the Barefoot college at Tilonia in Rajasthan. He started this college in 1972, to educate illiterate people and enable them to become solar engineers, water testers, mid-wives, artisans and architects. People with no prior education are admitted to this college and are transformed into professionals who can work towards the upliftment and betterment of their community. This college has been registered as the Social Work and Research Centre. This college does not award degrees or certificates as the students are trained to serve their community.
Listening to Mr. Bunker Roy narrate his story and the interactive session with him thereafter was a truly inspiring experience. This amazing man has been selected as one of the 100 most influential personalities in the world by Time magazine in 2010.
Mr. Anshu Gupta, who started Goonj is another social entrepreneur whose story opened my eyes to the harsh realities of my country. He started a movement to provide clothes for the people who could not afford them, so that they too could lead a life with dignity. He is an alumni of IIMC, Delhi and chose to take the road less travelled and is doing all that he can, to ensure that the poor live with dignity.
He started the ‘Vastradaan’ movement and has successfully built a model where all the clothes that are not being used by the urban population are sent to rural areas where it is needed. He is supported by his wife in this noble cause. Mr. Anshu Gupta is an Ashoka fellow who has succeeded in utilising easily available resources and providing an effective solution to a persistent social problem.
Every single day was a unique experience with ever-changing weather patterns and new situations to learn from, as we traveled across India in a train, which become our home away from home. We were divided into cohorts and groups and had facilitators to mentor us. The time spent with my fellow yatris contributed to my learning, in many ways. The discussions that went on past midnight, the New Year party on the train and the bonds that I built with the fellow yatris will never be forgotten.
Everyday on the train, I met new yatris from different compartments and remembering all their names was definitely challenging. We had a great time working with each other in groups and learning new words and songs from different languages as we had people from all over the world travelling with us.
These two weeks of experiential learning made me aware of various prevailing social conditions in the nooks and corners of India. This train trip has truly been a yatra of a lifetime. The real journey has only begun now..