I was born and brought up in Kota, a small town in south-eastern part of Rajasthan. At the age of 17 after finishing school, I decided to go study at a college or university as far away from my hometown as possible. I was curious to be on my own and explore the world. I did. After 4 years of college in Allahabad, one thing was clear; I was not made to sit in a office or science lab somewhere. I needed human engagement and hands on work to keep me happy. I pursued my diploma in Events Management, and thought I was all set to lead the life of my choice and dreams. I got placed smoothly and worked with an experiential marketing agency for 2 years, and another 2 years working on handling events.
I think everybody should get rich and famous and do everything they ever dreamed of so they can see that it’s not the answer – Jim Carrey.
It took me 4 years to realize that I had to, for the sake of my sanity, do the work that not only makes me happy; but also has some value in it. Promoting Samsung Galaxy S2 will never be that. Planning a 3 crore wedding for some corporate giant’s kid will also not suffice. These are tough times you know – when one is too young to give up hope, a little too old to go back and course correct. I was stuck and I sensed the urgency to make changes. I was 27.
I quit my job and while looking for opportunities in the development sector, came across something called India Fellow. Applied and got selected. It is to date the most courageous, borderline reckless decision I have taken. Week 1 into the fellowship which assures journey into the heartland of India and an opportunity to find our true calling – I was told that I will be working with a social enterprise based out of Bombay. BOMBAY! My heart sank. This was not the plan at all. What happened to India’s heartland? I was going to go to its most crowded city. I felt a little let down. I do not know what kept me going and I did not quit. 3rd week into this new life and I landed up at Grassroutes Journeys Pvt Ltd. I was told that my project with the organization involved ‘curating platform to engage more people with the communities we work with’. It sounded another event management stint and by now I was losing faith. A sense of panic and unrest was growing. What was I go to tell all those people who were anyway warning me that this was foolish? My parents? What was I planning to tell my 27 year old self?
What happened over the next month put everything at peace and perspective finally. Grassroutes turned out nothing like anything I had imagined. It is a community based rural tourism initiative. The organization aims to provide livelihoods to communities across rural India. They chose tourism as a tool because they understood that not only will it create livelihood opportunities for the villagers, it will also help develop a more conscientious society by means of bridging the urban-rural gap through meaningful human interactions. The platform that was being referred to in my assignment are trips or events, that will help the communities showcase their cultural and natural heritage to the urban world. Suddenly, everything I had learnt was not a waste anymore. Infact, it all culminated to help me quickly pick up the threads at my new work and life. The city grew on me and it’s proximity to the sea ironed out a lot of bad memories of sleepless nights wondering where I am headed. The visits to the communities began pouring in new learning and relationships. Suddenly, there was so much meaning in everything I touched!
Fast-forward 18 months. I now work with Grassroutes, looking at their overall marketing and communications. What happened in the interim is a story i love to tell. A tale of SERENDIPITY. There are so many such interesting Grassroutes across our country. People doing meaningful work and adding value to themselves and others. It is so sad that they are hidden from plain sight and most of us miss it – looking for it in all directions. The fellowship was my serendipity. Almost like I stumbled upon it, just so that I found my calling. The 28-year-old Richa is happy and curious, forever learning and in general a person with a lot of faith, hope and love.
Many people will tell you that a 1 year fellowship, is a good break – its a free ticket to the social sector. But, I will testify, it is much more than that. A platform that believes that you and I, the youth of our nation is capable of more than fancy offices, beach holidays, expensive brands. We are capable of making a change in areas that matter, in lives other than our own. And even if we go back to our fancy office, which most of us will, we will be more human they we were before. A one-year fellowship will not guarantee job security but will secure your faith in relationships beyond cultural, social and economical backgrounds.
I do not want to stop writing, without sharing some of my precious learning from the 18 months thus far. Everything is susceptible to change and that’s absolutely fine. Jobs change. People change. Presidents change. Relationships change. Facebook Statuses change. Few things however should be preserved, for instance, the child inside you. At Grassroutes, people are encouraged to not grow up. And therein I found my opportunity to remain young forever.
HERE ARE THE TEN COOLEST THINGS TO DO IN A VILLAGE
No.10 “Chase a river to its source” – but be prepared to get up-close and personal with water snakes.
No.9 “Rob mangoes” – for no apparent reason and gleefully run when chased by the farm owner.
No.8 “Get a fish pedicure” – free of cost. Period.
No.7 “Chew on a grass blade” – step into the shoes of cows and buffaloes for a moment.
No.6 “Watch the sunrise” – trust me there’s no way you’ll miss it, the roosters will make sure.
No.5 “Drink Mahua” – and unleash your philosophical self.
No.4 “Read your favorite book” – by a forest brook, lying under a tree or sitting on a pile of hay.
No.3 “Take a bath at the well” – it’s okay to be in an awkward spot sometimes.
No.2 “Avoid your boyfriend, girlfriend, fiancé, husband or wife” – 100% no network zone.
No.1 “Lay on your back and watch a starry night”.