"Own only what you can carry with you; know language, know countries, know people. Let your memory be your travel bag." - Alexander Solzhenitsyn.
Tata Jagrithi Yatra 2010 was a one-of-its-kind train journey, wherein 400 yatris, selected from among 20,000 applicants across India, were taken on an 18-day journey across 9,000 kilometres and 12 destinations. The journey entailed the yatris' interaction with 11 entrepreneurs (role models) across the country; an introduction to 'enterprise-led development', which, in simple terms, meant transforming job seekers to job creators. My selection for the yatra came as a surprise, and the profiles of my co-yatris and their backgrounds was even more surprising. There were participants from 25 states, three union territories and other countries; all in the age group of 18-25, out of which 45 per cent were females and 64 per cent were non-urban residents. I decided to join the tour, thinking it would be a perfect way to end an eventful year.
Post yatra, people keep asking me, "How did you survive on a moving train for so long - 18 days?" Well, it's no big deal actually, as everybody had a story to share, different cultural experiences, and numerous reasons for being an entrepreneur - family backgrounds, childhood dreams, thinking big. The Steve Jobs/Narayan Murthy effect was very evident! Some hated having to report to bosses, while a few came on the tour because they had broken up with their girlfriends.
A certain Mr X gave me his visiting card which stated 'professional go-getter'. He then explained that he had founded two companies, which failed, and now he worked as a start-up consultant. As the journey progressed, I realized we had so much in common, as Yatra Captain Commander Menon rightly remarked, "We Indians speak English in numerous Indian languages."
Guided by five principles - Outer Journey, Inner Journey, Innovations, Collaborations, and Transformation - the yatris explored success stories of different kinds: The successful village model in Koodumbakkam, a private-public partnership like Technopark in Trivandrum, the Nandi Foundation in Hyderabad, the Barefoot College in Rajasthan, Gram Vikas in Orissa, and Asia's biggest eye hospital - Aravind Eye Care in Madurai, among other innovative ventures. The yatra was no leisure trip, and schedules were packed with sessions, presentations, discussions, and, of course, captivating games. We explored India's hinterland, which most of them wouldn't have been able to do otherwise. The achievements, creativity, passion and courage of Indian villages stood tall, and as one of my fellow yatris remarked,"they were more of unlearning than learning".
At Naandi Foundation, we saw the famous centralised kitchen, one of the largest of its kind, cooking over 1,20,000 daily nutritious meals for the children of Hyderabad's government schools. Before visiting Goonj in Delhi, thoughts on clothing have never gone beyond the 'Roti, Kapda and Makaan' ideology. But here, the sight of women making sanitary napkins at 11 pm was inspiring, teaching us that the right team and the right attitude were crucial in the success of any institution. The ideology behind Barefoot College, which was founded by Bunker Roy in 1972, was inspirational. It is a solar-powered school that teaches illiterate men and women from impoverished villages to become doctors, solar engineers, architects, and other such professions. Equally inspiring was the story of Dr V who started Aravind at the retiring age of 58, with crippled hands. What started as an 11-bed hospital in a mortgaged house in Madurai is now a 3,900-bed hospital with five branches to its credit. The life of Joe Madiath, the founder of Gram Vikas, who came to Orissa 38 years ago as a student, and settled there to establish an enterprise of his own, taught us the importance of working with people. Madiath was an outsider with respect to both region and religion. Despite people's initial apprehension towards his motives, he worked incessantly for the people. He did not instruct them about what should be done; instead he worked with them and became one amongst them. At Okhai, tales of empowerment in a drought prone area were inspiring.
After the yatra, we were introduced to the Jagrithi Enterprise Network (JEN), an alumni network. Membership continues to grow, and there will be over one lakh members by 2022. The long-term vision of the yatra is to set up Jagrithi Enterprise Institutes (JEN), which will promote the concept of enterprise-led development in four locations across the country.
Not surprisingly, yatris have already initiated Jagrithi Groups in their cities to support budding entrepreneurs and promote the yatra. It would be lame to assume that all the participants will start enterprises of their own. However, one conviction is unanimous: Being an entrepreneur is not a bad idea at all.
Swami Vivekananda reached Kanyakumari on December 27, 1892, to start his legendary journey across India. We reached there on December 28, 2011. In the midst of 400 young minds, in front of the wild sea, I tweeted: Standing at Vivekananda Memorial, I look at the motherland and bow before her majesty.
Jithin Paul Varghese is a Legal Associate with Civitas Legal Solutions. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org