Yatra Diaries (Part 3): Of Lifelines and Lessons - Saanya Gulati

Photo of Yatra Diaries (Part 3): Of Lifelines and Lessons - Saanya Gulati 1/1 by Saanya Gulati
"Go and seek out that person who is the opposite of you. Then, you will gain the maximum value from this journey."

Day 1 of Jagriti Yatra is dedicated to knowing each other better. This means making the arduous journey from Bogie number 15 to 6, in order to meet the rest of my group members. Lesson #1: Do not underestimate the challenge of walking up and down a moving train inhabited by over 450 enthusiastic individuals.

The boys' bogies feel more spacious. Lesson #2: There's a price you pay for wanting to wear clean clothes every day 😉

Conversations are in full swing. A yatri's enterprise is the centre of attention, and a glossy brochure being passed around that ighatly showcases some of the work being undertaken by his venture. The founder is animatedly narrating his journey as an entrepreneur. His audience is captivated. There is one exception.

He is gazing out of the window. He occasionally turns an ear toward the conversation but says nothing. His expression is distant, and his mind appears distracted.

A role-play that was enacted in the Jagriti Yatra facilitators' workshop suddenly becomes all too real.

Imagine that your group is discussing the final presentation. Ravi from Bangalore is a natural leader of the pack, and the rest of the members are eagerly listening to an idea that he has. Meanwhile, Suraj, who is from Bihar, has an idea, but he is unable to express it, as he is not as good an orator, nor comfortable with English How will you handle this situation?

The English-speaking city girl in me is conscious. A sense of panic urges her to create parallel conversation. Pleasantries are exchanged: His background, his education, his profession...and his voice trails off. We're back to silently staring out of the window. He moves to the neighbouring compartment. "The boys over there converse more in Hindi," my co-facilitator explains to me.


On Day 1 we are asked to conduct a lifeline exercise among our groups: each member represents his/her life on a graph, depicting the high points and low points. Having studied in the United States, I spent the better half of my education playing such icebreakers.

I demonstrate the process to the rest by illustrating my own lifeline. The high points: immersing myself in new cultures by studying abroad, securing admission into good institutions, enjoying work. The low points: lacking a sense of purpose, not finding a good job, being stuck in a rut. Applause ensues.

So, Who's Next?

Blank faces stare back at me. There's one exception. He raises his hand.

His lifeline takes double the time that mine did to narrate: Hardships that most of us can't fathom, education as a privilege rather than a birthright, pursuing a personal passion but defying familial expectations. The flip charts and markers suddenly feel like extraneous accessories, for they cannot capture the raw emotions with which he tells his story. He tells it with a life that my lifeline lacked. I am bored of repeating my story. He is grateful for the opportunity to tell it at all. Lesson #3: Listen more, talk less.

I look around to see some teary-eyed faces in our compartment. Safe to say that he, and not me, has set the benchmark for the activity, for not a single flip chart is used over the next three hours.

This is the third part of #YatraDiaries, a mini-series chronicling my 15-day journey on the Jagriti Yatra, 2015. Read the previous post P.S.: The characters referred to in the story have no relation to those in the photographs used, in the interest of protecting their identity. Jagriti Yatra is an ambitious train journey of discovery and transformation that takes hundreds of India's youth on a 15 day, 8000 km national odyssey to meet diverse social and business entrepreneurs in the country. Their vision is to build India through enterprise. As a Yatri-2015, I will be chronicling snippets of my journey in a blog series called Yatra Diaries. You can also follow #BombayDelhiGirlxJY on social media for some of my photographs capturing the yatra.