This post was originally penned for HuffPost India here
“Tum ho kahaan
ki?” (“Where are you from?”), he asked. I was
puzzled. Should I say Patna or Delhi or Mumbai?
I was in Muzaffarpur in Bihar speaking with three
NGOs on a late January afternoon. Beside us, a team from the NGO were sifting
through reams of paper. I learnt later that a social audit of the Mahatma
Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) was underway. Everybody
needs data and it’s all about reporting your activities and results these days.
All the while I was aware I owed him an answer, so I
replied “Mumbai”. Mumbai - because
that’s where it began.
|Misty mornings in Muzaffarpur|
Once upon a time I used to be a regular normal person,
a Mumbaikar i.e., I did what most people did – worked from 9 AM to 6 PM Mondays
to Fridays and chilled over weekends. Then things changed. My travel bug grew
tentacles and got the better of me. I wanted to travel and write. I realised
that not only was there an India out there waiting to be explored but there were
experiences that needed to be narrated.
So I took leave of my senses and eventually left my
job. Sooner or later I’d either find my feet on the ground or I’d learn from
the experience and know better. With that frame of mind, I began snooping
around for opportunities I could
explore exploit. For weeks my Chrome
history comprised of Google search pages related to ‘travel+quit
I was looking for something at the convergence of my
academic and work background within the development sector along with travel and
travel writing. All the Google search was but in vain until the day I opened up
The Better India’s newsletter that I’d been subscribing to. I was scrolling
through an article on the power of play (also known as the use of sport to
provide children and young adults with life-skills) when two words - ‘travel’
and ‘internship’ - on the extreme right of that post tickled my curiosity pink.
I clicked on a link that introduced me to the six month Himsagar Fellowship by
SocialCops. That’s when I first heard and learnt a little about this start-up
company. For the uninitiated, SocialCops is a technology social enterprise that
revolutionises the way data is collected, monitored, and analysed at the
Right there in front of me was an opportunity to not
only travel across India but to travel with a purpose; the purpose would be of
taking technology to the grassroots. In that instant I’d stumbled upon what
seemed to be a part of a preordained plan; what I was looking for didn’t seem
too ideal to be true.
A couple of conversations ensued with the team and
before I knew it I was packing my bags for Delhi. A new beginning in the new
year was perhaps the only cliché there would ever be. I hadn’t traded places to
merely move from one metro to another. On my first day at SocialCops I was let
in on a little secret - the first state I’d be assigned would be Bihar. Nobody
I knew had ever gone to Bihar. Nor wanted to go there! Bihar’s reputation of
being ‘dangerous’ and ‘backward’ (amongst other adjectives) precedes it.
What did that mean for me?
Over the course of two weeks I’d begin identifying, reaching
out to and meeting NGOs across Bihar with a two-fold intent: (a) to learn about
the work they’ve been doing and (b) to share with them the role they can essay
in the movement towards data-driven-decisions.
|Patna is just like any other city|
I’m still in Bihar as I pen this post and I have to add
that I haven’t an answer for why the state has such a tarnished reputation!
I’ve been moving around on my own and have been impressed (by the locals) and
inspired (by the NGOs).
Now how often do you hear a local apologise to you
because they couldn’t help you with directions.
|The Ganges from the Gandhi Setu enroute from Madhubani|
And when the founder of an NGO looks you in the eye
and says, “I have 10 years before I retire. With technology like yours I may be
able to do 40 years’ worth of work in that time span” you know you are where
most people talk of being but where only few end up – of trying to make a real
difference! It is through such partnerships at the grassroots that SocialCops empowers
NGOs through technology to propel real-time decisions backed by their own data.
While I’m figuring out the most accurate answer to
the question ‘where are you from?’ I’d urge you to look no further because if
‘being the change’ meets ‘wanderlust’ for you too, then carpe diem!
P.S.: Be assured and prepared to be changed in return
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Labels: fellowship, female solo traveller, guest blogger, India, nonprofit, solo travel, travel