18 April 2016
(Also published in The New Indian Express.)
The Jagriti Yatra sounds crazy: It’s fourteen days on a train around India, starting (and ending) in Mumbai, with over 450 amazing individuals who intend to cover twelve cities meeting role-models like Bunker Roy in Rajasthan, Anshu Gupta in Delhi, M. S. Swaminathan in Chennai, amongst others. And this description—the one of the outer journey only just scratches the surface of what this experience offers. It’s the inner journey—the touchy-feely bit—that takes the experience further.
Primarily, the Jagriti Yatra aims to ignite the spirit of entrepreneurship in its Yatris. Entrepreneurship is fascinating: it goes all the way from running a provisions shop to building services that shape how billions of people communicate. What remains common throughout this spectrum of businesses is that they’re about change: change in society, change in power structures, change in ownership of one’s fortunes. A trait common amongst operators of these businesses is, by their candid admission, perseverance. I had a chance to meet people from diverse economic, social, and educational backgrounds doing remarkable work in a sincere effort to effect change. The Jagriti Yatra simultaneously levels the playing field and encourages its Yatris to level up together. The energy, enthusiasm, and passion is infectious to say the very least.
From meeting a dropout from school who’s representing India at Australian Rules Football (!) and effecting change at Dharavi in Mumbai to a married Rajasthani woman leading development in her village through engagement of dozens of women in sewing and knitting clothes. Slowly but surely, I learned about the role-models around me through meticulous activities conducted on the train. Their willingness to share anecdotes of their respective struggles made me reconsider how I had dealt with such a situation in the past. They lent a strong hand in conditions unfamiliar to me and taught me a whole lot about camaraderie and the importance of caring about not just the work we do, but also about how we actually do it.
During the Jagriti Yatra, I found friends like Shubham, who, in school, started an NGO in Nagpur which is mission agnostic; working wherever and whenever resources are needed. I met Asit from Ahmedabad who wants to change the perception around drinking water. I heard the story of Shruti from Chennai whose organisation trains MNCs post-layoffs. I met friends like Deepti and Abhishek who share my wanderlust for travel and photography. People such as Brendan and Afnaan from Australia who’re exploring their respective place in this world. Perhaps it was difficult to relate to one person entirely, but it sure wasn’t hard to find people with stories relatable to my own.
Recognising that not everyone has a chance to get their queries answered within time-bound visits at each location, the Jagriti team organises sessions on the train in-transit by representatives from every institution we visit in our journey. The representatives hold comprehensive sessions on their area of expertise and devote generous amounts of time on topics ranging from revenue models to design and user-testing to life and philosophy. Despite a packed schedule where days would begin at 5 a.m. and end at 1 a.m. the following day, it was upon the Yatris themselves to make time for peace and quiet. This was a true test of prioritisation and delaying gratification: doing what’s important over what we wanted to do for ourselves. Not lost upon us was just how well the Jagriti Yatra is organised considering the number of variables at play when it comes to managing logistics of such a journey (the Jagriti team is a part of a larger NGO, run by working professionals who, in the course of several weeks in December bring this together.)
Perhaps the greatest lesson here is of shedding entitlement and managing expectations. Here’s so many of us on a three-tier non-A/C train, going through climates at a fast clip, while trying to learn and grow. There was a rush of emotion I couldn’t fully comprehend and appreciate when the Jagriti Yatra ended. We unconsciously take our conditions for granted: Our friendships, our resources, and the conditions around us. I won’t divulge too much about what the Jagriti Yatra exposed us to but I will say this: enabling change is about noticing what’s wrong with how things are done by existing systems. It’s also an important lesson in doing incredible things for society with the fabulous constraint of limited resources—pushing through the self-doubt and noise of people who don’t understand why you do what you do, and the discomfort that comes with taking responsibility of the change you’re a part of.