I have always believed that “travel is our best teacher”. When one steps outside the four walls of a classroom, one gets to meet new people, see new places, learn new traditions and gain different experiences. When we travel, we connect to beings and things that we would otherwise have been deprived an experience with. Travelling forces us to confront our stereotypes, challenge our narrow-mindedness and superstitions and widen our perspective of the world and people around us.
Education is incomplete without travel. From Kashmir to Kanyakumari and from Kutch to Kalimpong, there exists so much diversity in our country itself that there is can be no end to learning. The history, architecture, agriculture, environment, folk music and dance, traditional art and so much is so vibrant when experienced that no textbook could even come close to approximating the subtleness and grace of it in real life.
As I pursued my academics, I found that experiences could not be gained by merely sitting within the four walls of the classroom. That’s when I decided to go on a journey of self-designed learning. On the course of this journey, I found that travel is the tool I was looking for my own learning.
My first experiment was a journey from Udaipur to Chittorgarh that I covered by bicycle. I began this voyage without any money and when it came to an end 28 days later, I was still rupeeless. It took me to various parts of Rajasthan, inside people’s homes and their lives. In a way, I was travelling for the clichéd reason of “finding myself”. This finding happened differently than I had imagined. Despite the difficulties, the contradictions, having no resources, no place to rest, feeling extreme uncertainty and aggravation there was compelling beauty, amazing diversity, inspiring resourcefulness and spirit of abundance that made me feel so alive and made the urban world pale in comparison.
So while I gained a greater appreciation of the privileges that I possess, I have I also found myself wondering if the modern way of life is really the key to happiness?
By the end of the “Cycle Yatra”, I realized that we have been made it believed that learning can only take place through instructions and schooling. From the perspective of the system, schooling is just a tool for social conditioning to attain compliance with a materialistic and authoritarian society. Compliance and allegiance to large social systems is deemed essential for a successful, economically viable society even if it is at the expense of the wellbeing of the individual.
I felt that in order to bring about a change, it is necessary to break this arrangement of the modern society. What this entails is to question the ongoing trends and search for the answers. This dilemma gave rise to uncomfortable questions.
How can we change the present system? Can the institutions of the present system collapse anytime owing to their shortcomings? Or are they so powerful that they can rebuild themselves and become stronger than ever? Can efforts undertaken at the bottom lead to a change at the top? Is there a way to bring local efforts from across the world together in order to challenge the system? How can education and youth be brought together for this kind of a movement? Perhaps, the biggest question in front of me was ‘what will be MY role in this?’ How can I contribute?
I still had to find answers to all these questions but now I had a direction. Now, I had to find ways to challenge the system. Most importantly, I had to find a way to break free from this system myself.
All this seeking led me to my next experiment with travel and learning. The experiment was a 25,280 km long gap year journey across the country to reclaim my own education, “52 Parindey”. Usually, a gap year is when a student, after finishing school and before starting with college, takes an year off to find out what he or she wants to pursue in life.
52 Parindey was a project dedicated to identifying and documenting the lives of 52 innovators who are making a conscious living for themselves and their planet through alternate careers in Indian towns. The aim of this project was to celebrate those people who’re involved in eco-careers, so that the youth can be inspired to lead a similar path and eventually help regenerate the ecosystems in India and the world.
The journey of 52 Parindeywas not an easy one. People often ask me, “What is the most important lesson that you learnt during your journey?” I tell them, 52 Parindey made me realise that all of us are conditioned in a particular way right from our childhood. A religion was given to me (without my consent) right from the day I was born. I had no right to choose my religion. It was simply handed down to me by my family. Same with my ideas on gender, sexuality, life and identity at a very tender age. These notions weren’t based on my experiences. They were drilled into my mind by others. There was a whole system; media, religion, school, community around me that filled my mind with what they assumed to be their truths. They created an entire worldview for me which was not mine. Before I could grow up and learn to see things through my own eyes, my mind had been whitewashed. It was difficult for me to come out of this imposed and restrictive worldview.
Travelling across the country and meeting eco-pioneers transformed me and propelled me to take my experiments with travel to a higher level. This has manifested with the creation of the“Travellers’ University”. The idea of a Travellers’ University is to put travel at the centre of learning and use experiential learning pedagogy to awaken learners and empower them to take responsibility for their own learning, to rethink and reclaim one’s education.
It is a platform for youth to explore their inner selves and empower them to carve their future with more clarity and understanding of society. By designing and implementing multiple learning journeys and workshops, we provide a learner with an opportunity to explore different thematic areas such as the idea of Swaraj (Self-rule), alternate education practices, sustainable travel etc. By designing longer engagement like transition programs, we facilitate deeper engagement of a learner with their surroundings i.e. exploration of how media impacts one’s daily life, how their consumption patterns are formed, how can they define their role in shaping the future. We also help individuals design their unique individual exploration around the topic of their choice such as food and culture, education etc. In a nutshell, Travellers’ University is a learning community for the people and by people to support individuals who are interested in travelling and learning to deepen their understanding of a larger worldview and are looking for alternative choices for their education. We imagine this platform to serve as a tool of new knowledge creation and preservation of traditional wisdom and as a community that is conscious of their choices and impact they create on the world around.
Travel transformed me and empowered me to take charge of my own learning and development. I believe in its transformative power and in an individual’s ability to become the best version of themselves. So I invite everyone to go out and learn from the universe freely available for all of us, anytime and everywhere.