Every time I discuss my upcoming trip on the Jagriti Yatra with a friend or relative, they tell what an amazing opportunity it will be. They are filled with enthusiasm and I mirror it during my conversations with them, hoping to feel inspired myself. After all, a 15-day train ride across 13 Indian cities to see social innovation at the grassroots level seems like the exact opportunity for an AIF Fellow who came to India to – well, be inspired by social entrepreneurship in the country. Truth be told, though, I lack the enthusiasm those around me have about the prospect of the “journey of awakening,” or Jariti Yatra, that the program promises.
So today, I downloaded the program’s handbook in the search of the right itinerary plans or guidelines that will clue me into why I should feel awed, jazzed, pumped – anything – about the journey. Luckily, Shashank Mani, the chairman of Jagriti Yatra, seemed to know I would come looking because he began his welcome letter with the exact words I needed to read:
Hope is the locomotive of a young nation. It drives the passion of its young citizens. It gives them the energy to excel and build a country of substance. In its absence cynicism and corruption take hold; in its presence the future gets lit up by the energy of citizens moving in one direction.
Shashank had gotten me thinking. I asked myself what gave me hope in that moment and to my own disappoint, I was at a loss for words. The reality is life in Delhi is exciting, illuminating, and easy to love, but that’s only one part of it. The other things about the city make me into a disillusioned cynic.
I emotionally counter being wonderfully exposed to India’s Mughal history here with seeing the local shop owner bribe the police with sweets to “make things as easy for him as possible.” I marvel at the fact that I randomly discovered a weekly drum circle at the local park, but the excitement is overshadowed by the three men who aggressively harassed me on the walk back home. I love the convenience of our apartment and the friendly aunties who live in our neighborhood, but going out to talk to them is not worth the possibility of running into the group of men who fail to equate a woman to a human being. And meeting new, unique individuals here is thrilling but these opportunities come after I open myself up to those who end up having distasteful personalities.
Overall, life in Delhi has exposed me to much more than I was ever aware of – including myself, my culture, and the complexity of life in India. But I also feel like I’ve done a crash course in growing up. I put my guard up when interacting with people and I often feel the idealism within me fading away. When I think about the idea of hope, it seems much more abstract than it used to be. I can’t articulate what it embodies for me, for those around me, or even India. I can’t grapple with countering the extremely negative experiences with the very positive ones in a way that creates optimism or hope within me.
But I do feel hopeful, even if it is abstractly, that perhaps the Jagriti Yatra will give me a much different perspective on India and ultimately, Delhi. I am coming to understand life in India as complex, but I know that a myriad of learning in defining this complexity awaits me. A train ride across India will undoubtedly begin the process. The more I think about it, the more I’m getting excited, even jazzed, at the thought of meeting the individual who has started a small-scale revolution in a community, or the person who defied the societal norm to do something outrageous that just ended up working. I want to have a conversation with the Indian who challenges my half-hearted beliefs on hope here, and I want end the journey with what it was intended to inspire, an awakening that transforms my cynicism into optimism. The program begins on December 24th, and I’ll keep a record of the conversations, inspirations, and the education on hope for the curious ones out there.