The annual launch ceremony of Jagriti Yatra holds a special place in the hearts of everyone associated with it.
That eight-hour show takes more than eight months to plan. 2:00 a.m. on the night of December 23, as I finished arranging the Hindi and Marathi translations of the press releases, and feeling really self-satisfied with the amount of work I’d done, I decided to take a casual midnight tour around the TISS campus, where all the volunteers had been staying.
Outside the main entrance, I found three Yatra volunteers hanging from a tree. They were setting up banners to guide the new yatris the next morning. I headed further to find two more volunteers setting up a cardboard train, a photo booth to keep the yatris engaged during registration.
I’d barely fallen asleep at 3:30 a.m. when a frantic call at 6:00 woke me up.
“Quick! Registration desk! We’re one man short.”
I tried to focus. “Give me ten minutes, let me just freshen up…”
“No! We have a washroom here. Quick, quick!”
I was there by 6:08. Hey, cut the girl some slack.
Yatris started streaming in at 7 a.m. Dragging 2-3 suitcases, looking apprehensive, tentative, subdued, and yes, sleepy, they made their way to the registration desk.
35-year old investment bankers from Chicago had tea with shy women from Deoria who were perhaps stepping out of their districts for the first time.
“I run an NGO in Patna that helps guide physically deformed children…”
“I was a lawyer in Texas when I decided to quit and come back to India…”
“As a software developer, I felt like my life was going nowhere. That’s when I heard of Teach for India…”
Epiphanies. Dissatisfaction with cubicle jobs. The desire to do something greater than themselves. A search for meaningful direction. Work that fills them with purpose and joy. Mondays that excite.
The spirit of Jagriti Yatra, already imbibed in 480 yatris whose lives are going to be changed forever. The team looked on and smiled, proud of the selection.
Post-registration, the stage was set, and Ashutosh Kumar, Executive Director, addressed the gathering and talked about his inspiration.
“I was a software developer. I was stuck inside a box, while my bosses constantly asked me to think outside it. I realized there was more for me than this.”
He talked more about the general code of conduct, and instructions, as well as the agenda for the next 15 days. Shashank Mani, Chairman, Jagriti Sewa Sansthan, gave a highly inspiring speech about building India that was hair-raising.
“We are the only democracy in the world to be even thinking about attempting this. Lifting 1/5 of our country out of poverty, in the next two years, is an audacious plan. China did it, but it was not a democracy… We only have 20 years, until we have the advantage of the demographic dividend… our children will never forgive us if we don’t build India now.”
The speech was greeted with heartfelt applause, and the faces showed a renewed sense of purpose. Of responsibility. Of knowing, “If not us, then who?”
Kishore Madhyan, political scientist and a specialist in international relations and politics was the guest of honour for the evening. He talked about how to be ready to learn stuff, we need to first be ready to unlearn stuff.
“Before the beginning of this 15-day long journey, which is an opportunity to learn tremendous stuff, you have to prepare yourself to unlearn stuff. Empty your cup…and be humble.”
Our Honourable Railway Minister, Shri Suresh Prabhu, also addressed the gathering through teleconferencing.
Gauri Shankar Tripathi, Kathak practitioner and teacher, taught the yatris the Jagriti Geet next. Written by Prasoon Joshi and sung by Babul Supriyo, this song is always the highlight of the ceremony. The auditorium rang with cheer and laughter and sheer joy as 500 strangers got on their feet and held hands, linked by a calling higher than themselves.