JY Day 0— Induction (Mumbai, Maharashtra)

I didn’t understand how anxious I was until I stepped foot on the TISS campus. I began to have second thoughts about the Jagriti Yatra — I started to doubt if I would make any friends on this trip, if I would learn anything substantial, if I would be able to relate to the other yatris or if I would survive on the train. I didn’t want to admit it to myself, but the uneasiness started as I left my house in America. I had no real plan for my 4-month stay in India; I was venturing into unchartered territory and the question of ‘what the hell am I going to do’ never escaped my mind. Luckily, my cousin had dumped a bunch of Cadbury Eclairs into my purse, so for every negative thought I had, I popped one of those bad boys into my mouth.

By the time I walked into the auditorium for the induction session, I befriended three girls, Janvi, Susanti, and Purnasneha Sundaramahalingam, two of whom were in my cohort and all of whom turned out to be my best friends from the Yatra.

During the session, we were given an overview of Jagriti Sewa Sansthan’s organizational structure, mission, vision and upcoming projects. We met the Jagriti board members, executive staff, security colonels, and the Engine Room Club (ERC: Ex-Yatris that worked in special teams to handle all the logistics of the trip). Of all the Jagriti staff that spoke to us, Shashank Mani was the only individual who put the Yatra into perspective. Shashank is an Executive Director at PwC and was key architect of the Jagriti Yatra. Back in 1997, he organized the Azad Bharat Rail Yatra to celebrate 50 years of Indian independence. In his book, A Journey Through a Healing Civilization, Shashank describes how the trip helped individuals of various backgrounds and ideologies witness the progress India had made, but also discuss what problems still lay ahead. He told us that now, 20 years after the first Yatra, is the moment for Indian youth to actively and urgently work on building enterprises that can drive the country to greater heights. We only have approximately 2 more decades until India’s working age population peaks. Thus, it is crucial that we target the 800 million Indians in the Tier 2 and Tier 3 districts and fill their lives with a sense of purpose. He said, “If the American founders talked about the pursuit of happiness…for Indians, our belief is that the pursuit of meaning is the operative phrase. Indians in search of meaning come together to discover common purpose. Once they commit to that purpose, magic happens and long term solutions to many issues emerge.” Shashank instilled in us a belief that helping build a new India could bring prosperity to 1/6th of the world’s population.

Induction at TISS, Mumbai | Photo by Jagriti Yatra

If Shashank gave us perspective, it was Kishore Mandhyan, a fantastic orator, who told us how to broaden it. Mr. Mandhyan was once the Deputy Director of Political, Peacekeeping and Humanitarian Affairs at the Executive Office of the United Nations Secretary-General. He dedicated most of his life to international political service, but reminded us that at the end of the day, even he drew a salary. He encouraged all of us to strive to be in a position where we are no longer focused about drawing a salary, but giving a salary. One clearly has more impact than the other. “Read everything that comes your way. Read literature. History. Biography. Renew yourself with the ideas of others” he said. He told us the importance of unlearning and relearning from the people, institutions, and news around us and reminded us to move away from hate to love in order to drive our creativity. After a quick performance of the Yatri Geet, a song written by the famous lyricist Prasoon Joshi (Taare Zameen Par, Bhaag Milka Bhaag, Fanaa, Hum Tum, etc.) and choreographed by Gauri Sharma Tripathi, we left for VT station.

The minute I stepped onto the train, I was jolted awake by a pungent smell. I dropped my luggage on the cleanest berth and took a look around bogie 15. There was a single plug point in the first compartment. The bathrooms on either end were extremely dirty and one even had leftover secretions from god knows when. The berths in my compartment were blackened with dirt and I saw rats scurrying around underneath the seats. I knew we were travelling in sleeper class bogies, but didn’t realize the conditions would be this bad. After introducing myself to my remaining cohort members — Shweta, Puja, and Neha — I took out my wet tissues and started wiping down every single berth in the compartment. In a matter of minutes, I used up an entire packet of 50 wet wipes. I dug into my purse for an Eclair and noticed that I had one left. I popped it into my mouth, climbed into the middle berth, and wondered if this Yatra was going to be worth it.