Retrospective narrations of one’s journey can be misleading. Its linear format is inherently deceptive because an ordered layout assumes clarity and purpose, when life itself is often a jumbled back and forth of trial and error. And though it is slightly disconcerting to ‘review’ one’s life at the age of 26, I will try.
Although brought up in the metropolitan bustle that is New Delhi, I have always had a strong connection with my maternal ancestral home of Rasmai (a village in Uttar Pradesh in northern India). Frequent visits to my village nurtured within me a love for nature and my attraction towards a simpler, less materialistic life. In Rasmai there was no TV or telephone, electricity came for a few hours, if at all. In Rasmai we had no restaurants or ice cream vendors, no shops and certainly no Coca Cola. But we did have walls lined with bookshelves, we did have endless paths to take walks on, we did have a spirited canal where we’d fish (unsuccessfully) and we did have a tube well where we’d jump in for a quick bath.
|Rasmai, my ancestral village|
A whole new learning curve
After completing my undergraduate degree in Botany, I went on to complete a masters in Natural Resource Management. This phase of my life opened my mind to battles being fought all over India: deforestation vs. mining, shrinking habitats and animal poaching vs. forest rights of indigenous communities, farmers applying pesticides vs. environmental activists condoning organic farming. I revelled in this assault on my senses. Yes, I felt uncomfortable, I often felt helpless, but I was stimulated by the discourses swirling around me and this helped me articulate what I wanted to do next.
After my degree, I chose to work with an NGO called Pragya. Pragya works with indigenous communities across the Himalayas (from Jammu and Kahmir in the west to Arunachal Pradesh in the east) promoting ecological conservation and sustainable development for these geographically isolated populations. I worked on projects aimed at watershed management, medicinal plant cultivation and livelihood diversification and these enabled me to spend months in the field, travelling to remote locations, often trekking for hours, and interacting with people directly dependent on natural resources for their livelihood. Some villages had no electricity. Others had problems of diminishing water resources. Some places saw youngsters migrating to urban areas in search of jobs. Mountain communities in India are marginalized from mainstream politics and as a result have suffered the consequences of unequal development. They have not benefited from the success story of India's economic boom. In spite of the vast sums of money being spent by the government on watershed projects and infrastructure development, economically viable and environmentally sustainable development is still a far off goal. I spent nearly two years in this manner. It was an invigorating yet somewhat challenging experience.
Feeling ill-equipped and restricted by my inability to help and contribute in a meaningful manner, I decided to
|Field work, Rajasthan|
My interactions with the less-privileged have made me value the luxuries I have had. Of a sound education. Of not having to be restricted by my gender. Of being free to choose and live as I wish. These learnings contribute to my person constantly. Which is why I believe travel is as much about learning about the outside world as it is learning about oneself.
First published on The Mindful Word.