The journey might have come to an end but it is just the start of a determined attempt to change by the yatris

After three weeks, 9300 kilometres and a lifetime's worth of experience, the Tata Jagriti Yatra has come to an end. This train journey, meant to awaken India's dormant entrepreneurial spirit, took 400 travellers across the nation, introducing them to the idea of Enterprise-Led Development and being inspired by people who've done just that.

The Yatra began and ended at Mumbai and over the course of it we've stopped over at metros and commercial hubs, ridden through Naxal-infested areas and visited villages that don't figure even on an adventurous tourist's map. We were encouraged to keep diaries; our own records of all we've learnt, unlearnt and absorbed along the way. Here are extracts from my Jagriti journal.

December 24, 2009:The air is thick with excitement, and surprisingly, it's not about Christmas. Over the day-long induction programme, we learn of TJY's mission of development through entrepreneurship, of Middle India and its income constraints, and we meet our first role models — Mumbai's dabbawallas. We were set to leave at 11:00 p.m. but the train is nowhere in sight at the station. Five hours, a few wrong cues and some desperate shuteye later, our ride finally rolls into the platform.

December 25, 2009:A late start to the morning, and when we do wake up, we're hurtling through the Konkan landscape to our first destination down south. The yatris start to familiarise themselves with the train, its layout, routines and rules. The constant rattling takes some getting used to, though.

December 27, 2009: Thiruvananthapuram's Technopark, India's original Silicon Valley, is our first stop. Here, founder and CEO, G. Vijayraghavan explains the caveats to entrepreneurship: “Nothing ever comes free, so don't accept favours” and “Interpret the law correctly, but also to suit your requirement”. According to him, it's infinitely better to dream big and fail rather than to dream small and succeed. Quite fittingly, our dream exercise follows; we have to put down our own big ambitions for the future in paper.

December 29, 2009: We're at Madurai, home to the Aravind Eye Care System. What started as a post-retirement project for Dr. G. Venkataswamy is today a very productive eye care facility, helping eliminate needless blindness, mostly cataracts. It's a charitable hospital, which makes 300 per cent return on investment, and profits are ploughed right back into the system. A classic case of social entrepreneurship; exactly what we're here to learn.

December 30, 2009: The road to Kuthambakkam, a village outside Chennai, was dotted by tiny hamlets and imposing engineering college campuses. Ironical because R.Elango, our role model for the day, complained of the growing distance between the higher education and the villages. He believes that to rebuild India, one must start with the villages. He should know. This chemical engineer left a comfortable city job and returned to native Kuthambakkam to create a self-supporting rural economy here. For a village that not until recently was burdened by poverty and caste divisions, the transformation is evident.

December 31, 2009: It's been a long day and we're expecting a New Year's Eve minus the fizz. So the night-long partying on the platform is a pleasant change from schedule.

January 3: On our way to Bhubaneshwar. We spend the morning tickling creative juices at an art workshop in the common room, followed by the now-regular group discussions and analysis of role models we've visited.

January 4: Joe Madiath's Gram Vikas works on the same lines as Elango. He's a Loyola College alumnus who went to Orissa for relief work after one of its devastating floods and was moved enough to stay back and work for rural development. That first meant shedding urban airs and appreciating indigenous wisdom. Case in point: Madiath initially planned a dairy co-operative for the Adivasi community; makes textbook sense to us. What he learnt the hard way is that milking cows is against Adivasi culture. Experiences such as this created Gram Vikas, which doesn't use technology to revamp village living. It only tweaks and tinkers to improve on natural processes, such as ensuring continuous water supply to villages through induced gravity flow.

January 7:Current stop: Deoria, eastern Uttar Pradesh. Here, yatris were faced by a business project challenge — creating sustainable village industries, social leaning (W2) in place. Topics include agriculture, floriculture, workforce management and healthcare. It's interesting to watch as they converse with locals, brainstorm in their groups, add and subtract to each other's ideas and arrive at business plans, marketing strategies and cost and revenue models for their mini enterprises.

January 9: “As the educated, be kingmaker, and not king” is the advice from ‘Bunker' Roy, founder of the Barefoot College in Tilonia. At this model village in remote Rajasthan, we met grandmothers who work as dentists, rural women engineers and scientists and an illiterate village architect who's designed Tilonia the way it stands today. Sounds fantastic? Roy's second piece of advice follows: Be pragmatic about village development. It takes a lifetime to change a rural community. Most of us wouldn't last seven days.

January 11: Our return to Mumbai at midnight brings the Yatra to a close. At the end of a long and physically exhausting journey, the learning has been invaluable. While some heads are already buzzing with plans for development, it's clear that most of us aren't going to start enterprises anytime soon. Tomorrow, we go back to our own lives and routines. But between all the frenetic last-minute photos with friends and hugging goodbye, I see that a spark's been kindled. The mood for serious deliberation has set it. And if we came here as starry-eyed youngsters eager to be change agents, this unique three-week experience has left us wiser yet more spirited and a lot more determined than before.

Tanya is a II Year student of B.Com. at Stella Maris College.

Trivia on train

Now all of us on board the train were sort of geared up for three weeks of not-so-nice food. So, complete three-course meals everyday, right from soup to sweet, took us by surprise. We've packed on kilos, but nobody's complaining.

Every large group has its fair share of geniuses and whizkids; one of ours was Ranphoa Ngowa, a national Rubik's cube champion. The lanky Arunachal lad can solve the technicolour puzzle in under 20 seconds. He's won so many titles that it's hard for him to keep track; he actually has to Google his list of records!

Rewati Prabhu, board member of the TJY team, insists that social entrepreneurship should not boil down to plain number-crunching. An architect herself, she also wants it to involve creativity and vision. So on board were artists and poets from The Southbank Centre, London. They created ‘visual minutes' – keeping track of all interactions and meetings through real time paintings.

The televised panel discussions at six key locations were a high-energy, essential part of the journey. The topics ranged from women entrepreneurs, renewable energy to the Power of One debate which officially wrapped up the yatra in Mithapur, Gujarat.

We know the heart of India isn't exactly the best place for internet connectivity. So when we learnt of a cyber café on train for blogging and research, hopes rose and Facebook addicts sighed in relief. What we didn't read was the small print — the directions to accessing the internet. The first one went — “All the best!”

TJY has left its mark on the yatris, but there's also been a reverse effect. Wonder how? The names of all yatris and organisers were engraved on nameplates, installed near the village temple in Deoria.

The yatra is a serious journey of awakening. But it also is a train ride to an India most of us wouldn't discover otherwise. Highlights of its cultural aspects included a Chhau performance (folk dance form native to Jharkhand) in Jamshedpur, a pharvaari by Deoria's male dancers, and a puppet show starring the peace-broking village elder ‘chachaji' in Tilonia.

Piece of advice: If any time you're near a solar panel that concentrates sunlight and want to experiment by burning some paper, switch to your trusty goggles. Or for the next half hour, naked eyes see the world in jaundice-d shades of yellow.

How difficult can it be to drive a pack of 400 yatris, who've been let loose on an eco-friendly shopping centre in the heart of shopaholic paradise Bangalore, out to waiting buses? Harder that imagined, as the organisers found out.

The Yatra Begins

A trojan charge of young minds soak up the sounds of a shifting landscape. Real India woven into their memories. Delicate images of glistening solar panels, village paths and hand-made futures. On leaving the train the Yatra begins. A long walk home. Ideas and inspiration lighting a new India.

YEMISI BLAKE, a TJY yatri, and a writer and photographer. He is currently an Artist in Residence at The Southbank Centre.


Trotting through town May 12, 2010