I did my graduation in Zoology and post-graduation in Environmental Studies from University of Delhi. I have a strong academic background, having cleared all the requirements for a PhD at University of Delhi or abroad. A job in some environmental consultancy or as a research assistant would have added to my resume and paid me decently. But what am I doing at India Fellowship Program, a 13 month leadership program that involves working with a host organisation in social sector for 12 months, coupled with training, mentoring and reflection.
I have landed in Chhattisgarh, a state I knew nothing of except the name. Fighting against mosquitoes and hot weather, I am working in early child care and development, something unrelated to my field. To answer the continuous stream of questions that keep coming my way, I have decided to dedicate this post to all those inquisitive minds. I constantly keep hearing how I am wasting one year. This makes me ponder over the question of what is ‘useful and worth my time’. Anything that builds you up professionally is considered useful and time worthy. Honestly, I am not sure whether this one year is going to help me professionally or not. I wanted to do something related to environment and society. But due to the lack of assignments in this field, I ended up in early child care and development. Yet, I decided to continue with the program because professional development comprised only a small part of my bigger plan for the year.
I am not a rebel. Till date, to the best of my capacity, I have purposefully not done anything to go against the set rules of society. Initially, I was too baffled about what I wanted in life; not that I am sure now. But I have a better idea. The halcyon years of my graduation flew by quickly, with hectic schedules of Zoology and Spanish interspersed with some fun filled moments with friends and family. When I look back now, I realise I’d had quite a cocooned existence in the university campus during that time. I didn’t get to know different people. In my post-graduation, thanks to the diverse nature of my field, I met people from different age groups, fields and places. After some initial cultural shock, I bonded with them over our shared love for travel. The seed of wanderlust started sprouting. It became hard for me to stay at one place for more than 3 months, especially in Delhi. Though I love and miss Delhi metro and winters, the entire idea of living in a metropolitan with all the comforts didn’t really appeal to me. I wanted to go out and explore, to see the concept of India. Before making a bigger commitment of PhD, I needed to be really sure about it. Plus, I needed a break. I am the kind of person who is fully committed to whatever I step into, a course, a relationship, or anything else. This is the reason why I couldn’t explore the social sector before. I had always yearned to work in rural sustainable development. I sought this one year as a chance to do so, to clear my thoughts about future, at the same time, do things that I couldn’t do before due to my academic commitments.
While looking for fellowships in the social sector, I chanced upon India Fellow. I liked the concept and design of the program. I decided to try, and luckily got selected. I joined the fellowship with fear, shyness, and curious eyes of a kid not knowing what to expect on the first day of school. Being an introverted soul, venturing suddenly into a new place surrounded by new faces scared me. But once the training started, all these apprehensions disappeared. As one of my co-fellows rightly described the sentiment “Yahi to missing tha zindagi mein.” The 17 days of training taught us so many things that I doubt years of work would have taught. Through small activities and field visits, we learnt to become sensitive to our own inner selves and the community around us. Awareness is the first step to acceptance of who you are and what you want to be. The India Fellow team created an environment conducive to sharing and learning through experiences, themselves taking part in the process. They also rendered us with knowledge and skills to understand the issues of development in India holistically. I am highly biased positively towards the sessions on self-awareness that forced me to think about things I generally overlook or choose to avoid. The motley of 27 other co-fellows gave me 27 additional pair of eyes to supplement my experiences, along with the love and invaluable friendships. I realised that India Fellow Program would help me untangle the web of confusion I’ve always had. I need to ‘uncomplicate’ myself. More importantly, I need time to do this. This one year is that time for me and India Fellow is the means to do this.
It’s in the hardest of times that you discover your true strengths. After living 22 years of sheltered life, I want to move out, explore, travel, and see the world. After a month in my host organisation, Centre for Learning Resources, working with the community, I feel I am already learning and absorbing so much every day. The love and the true smiles I receive from the community make up for the few discomforts and unpredictability of my organisation which I have started to enjoy.
To my friends and family, who I know are concerned for me in the truest sense, trust me, I haven’t lost my mind, I am not brainwashed, and I am not a rebel. I am just trying to be with me for some time. Let us be.