So when i am travelling, be it a bus, a train or a plane, somewhere deep down i am always hoping that the passenger sitting next to me doesn’t ask me the question “so what do you do?” It’s difficult to introduce myself in a phrase, or a sentence. My friends often joke about how people print visiting cards, i should print a brochure. And i just laugh at that, because it so taxing for me. Firstly, to tell people what exactly do i do?
Secondly, to deal with their confusing expressions, when they don’t understand how everything i do is so unrelated to one another. And to be fair, they are not wrong. This is my attempt to explain #whoisbijniswoman, what i do and why i do it.
I was a kid with many interests. My parents, for goodness’ sake, could never figure out what was i meant to do in life, sometimes i was seen singing, sometimes painting all evening long.
some days, i just sat and wrote sad love poems, i was hardly 12. I was found in the school dance team and all i could imagine myself doing with my life was to be a lead singer in a punk-rock band, back in high school. I loved psychology as much as i enjoyed physics and math. It was difficult to distinguish my interests or to even categorize them.
Giving it a direction was difficult. I took up psychology, for my graduation, thinking, i’d still have time to “figure it out” and with that thought in the head, i moved to bangalore.
Coming from gwalior, comparatively a smaller city than bangalore, people knew so much in my college. My class was full of intellect, and the vocabulary they used was hard to comprehend. In the beginning, i blamed my small town education for not giving me that kind of exposure. My interest in dance, music and arts became useful in conversations and i was thankful for that. Then an important realization struck me, that a lack of something is a sign of an opportunity. This was my chance to start again. To learn everything from the scratch, it took me time and slowly and steadily i learnt
During the summer of my first year of college, i had come back to gwalior for a vacation. Out of pure intentions of wanting to do something productive with my time – decided to join shubham- my family friend’s initiative – gramiksha.
I was only 17 when i headed my initial projects – first one in an orphanage and then in a government school. Back then, we had no idea about how we were going to do this except that we were a really passionate group of young people trying to work with children who needed support and better education. Slowly and with time, we drafted our first project and then the second – we built our first city team in gwalior and that followed to bangalore, jaipur and indore.
bangalore chapter dissolved after a very successful project of teaching english to kids in a government school. I grew more and more passionate and the organization evolved as we did, people came and people left – they left behind a part of themselves in gramiksha and they took a part of gramiksha in them. We became a family and ever since, we still are a family, scattered across the globe. For those of you who don’t know, gramiksha is an ngo that works for the education and welfare of underserved children, with 500 volunteers established in 6 cities (delhi, gwalior, jaipur, lakshmangarh, indore and bhopal). . . While i enjoyed such diverse things, i now recognized that i loved working with children as well – causing more confusion. I was only 20 when i was appointed as the national head of gramiksha.
I graduated from christ university with a psychology honors degree in my hands and one question – “what next?”
I had applied to tata institute of social sciences,bombay (tiss) for the masters and i didn’t make it to the list after the interview. That was my life’s first significant rejection. It ripped me apart, yes, so right after my results, summer of 2014, i went to delhi for an internship – it was barely related to psychology. Within 12 days of it, i got the news that i was selected for tiss calicut branch. I wasn’t sure about it because, before that, i didn’t even know that tiss existed in calicut.
I moved to calicut to take psychology further on. The first week of being there, i was sure i won’t survive this small town. I was really depressed about living there after bangalore. But the tables turned for me.
I found friends, beaches became my muse and my companion. I could see the sea from my window and beach was like 3 minutes of walk. I learnt that life is beautiful if you let it be/happen.
Now, i wrote poems in my classes, i wrote poems in the evenings, i wrote poems when i couldn’t sleep, when i travelled, when i went to clinics, i wrote after a good conversation in our balcony, i wrote poems all the damn time. I started to post it on facebook and it became a habit – a poem a day, sometimes even two or three. Ishani was too kind to hear them all. After writing poems for almost every day past two summers and one christmas, i decided to compile the selected poems and get it hardbound for the fun of it. And i did. And that black colored hardback felt oh-so-good in my hand. With no intentions of doing so initially, my first book – sublimation was published when i was 21. An ideal example of how to take facebook comments seriously.
not to make money out of it, but to add a milestone to my story.
Luckily, calicut was a good spot to take short backpacking trips from. Almost a perfect spot to reach any place overnight. We took buses, trains, autos, boats, tractors and everything to reach anywhere, everywhere.
I covered the entire west coast, then took travelling a little more seriously and went to over 40 short and long trips, solo and group, a few planned but most of them with no arrangements – in a span of two years, all across the north, the west and the south of india.
the budget was small, of course, but the will was strong.
From udhampur to nelliyampathy, from lazing at the backwaters of alleppey to diving in contemplations in mcleod – travelling influenced me the most.
I met people from all across the world and exchanged the knowledge of our culture and society – caste, class, creed, education systems, defense and the list is never-ending.
It was truly enriching.
My love for travelling is inherent as my parents have that travel ka keeda in them, too! We have done several trips – from gwalior to kanyakumari via road is one of our benchmarks (i was hardly 8, then). So, they didn’t mind much when i told them i was stumbling at the beaches and lumbering at the hills except that i became really good at “pitching” it to them.
It was when i was in my undergrad that i started to fall in love with the idea of living and studying in edinburgh. Most of the phenomenal people who were mentioned in my history of psychology notes had studied there tracing back from 16th century. I knew there was nothing to stop me to go to edinburgh at one point of time. I applied in the final year of my masters; i got through and even got a scholarship.
But there was a strong feeling that i might not go, now that everything was in place. My father faced a huge business loss two months later and i had to keep my dream on hold (at least that’s what i had thought, then).
I was shattered like a little girl whose dollhouse caught fire. And while all my friends were looking for jobs, i was clueless about what i was going to do with my life anymore – because working with someone was never an option. All my life, i never believed in having a plan b, because, for me, it was a sign of doubt that your plan a might not work out.
Now that my plan a did not, i felt like i was drowning in endless amplitude of uncertainty. In retrospect, i’d say, uncertainty is the most uncomfortable place to be in, and yet, that’s where you grow your best.
As a part of my course (masters in clinical psychology), i was required to do a month-long internship, so i moved to goa from calicut with all my bags packed, and some sent back home.
During my internship in goa, working and struggling nine to five/six in a set up which worked really well but i was a complete misfit there.
I wondered every evening while riding a borrowed turquoise vespa through the beautiful landscapes that how am i ever going to be okay with this life if this was not a one-month thing. That ride was about ten kilometres or so from anjuna, where i was staying – so you can imagine.
Evenings were pleasant, spending time with the people of the world, listening to stories, sharing my experiences of being an indian girl/woman. Sunday afternoons were poured with my love for dogs and their love for me, with the music of a guy who played the western flute while i sang hindustani classical, and evenings were emptied through introspective catharsis, as the sun said goodbye to the day. My feeling towards working 9-5 caused more repulsion each day, and i crawled through.
After living a traveler’s life for two years in calicut and with that kind of education in tiss (free and open to change), it was almost impossible for me to imagine myself working minus passion. I felt so lost.
If i had to tell my future plans to someone. I was living a very vibrant life before, back in kerala, groups every friday morning, about three trips a month, a love-filled atmosphere. After given that kind of exposure you just cannot imagine yourself working in the same environment where everyone is just working so that they can earn and conform to the society that looks! This is what i am doing.
But to step out and do something you really think is the best for you, is the hardest job. Not only because you will have to face the society but also because you have no fucking idea how this is going to make sense to your parents, how will you explain to them what exactly do you want to do (tada! For that you should know what you want to do in the first place) and i was in that state where i was just figuring it out.
A very important part of my story that i almost skipped – did it not occur to you – how did my parents react to this idea of starting a chain of backpacker’s hostel in the mountains.
It was march ‘16 when i was awarded as the youngest woman achiever in the city for my work in the field of child welfare and education – as the national head of gramiksha. This was probably the first time in all these years that i saw my parents being proud of me for my social work.
I went to gwalior from goa for the ceremony and it was around this time that idea had emerged. While i was home for a couple of days, they knew i was going through a tough time now that i wasn’t going to edinburgh.
So i “pitched” the idea to them, i actually made a powerpoint presentation and presented it to my father. I told him, he would have spent a huge amount sending me abroad, and i needed only a small percent of it to start something of my own.
It took time and patience, and a few disagreements from them – but finally, i managed to sell the idea. It was almost an impossible thing to do – considering i’m from a small town in central india plus i’m the only girl in my entire kin who’s ever gone out to study. But yay, i did it!
We spoke more about this, took it a little more seriously. We listed all the t&cs, decided to provide with free food and accommodation to the artists we select – named it summer art festival ‘16 – and thought, who’d stay no to art in the mountains, with free stuff. And you won’t believe, it worked. I made a poster on my mobile app (with the little bit creativity i have) and published a small event post on facebook. I shared it on a lot of art forums, and despite people not knowing about the lost tribe hostels, we received a whole lot of applications – with some people describing this opportunity as their dream come true. . . What happened next? We also started to get bookings and therefore, we had to limit the number of artists. Even though i found most of the entries worthy, i selected them on the basis of their statement of purpose. I felt that it wasn’t the art of the artists alone, but also their heart that matters while they create something in the house.
I am 23 now. You can call me a serial-entrepreneur (who’s never sure how to pronounce it correctly), a published author, running an ngo with 500 volunteers in six cities, and also, an emerging psychologist. What i have learnt so far is, being flaky and changing interests is not a bad thing as long as we are giving our best at that point. It is all about adding value to who we are. We eventually will “figure it out” and it’s important to realize that not all of us can have that “one true calling, one true path to success.” We should remember to never lose an opportunity to learn, no matter whom we are surrounded by, there’s something to learn from everyone. This world is a library, and everything else is a book, a human book, an animal book, a nature book. If your daily interactions are limited, ask your milkman how to set a sweet card or ask your postman about post offices.
We are losing out on so much if we let society tell us that a job that “pays us well” and a marriage that “settles us down” are the best choices we can make. We must taste all that interests us and see how all our passions intersect. Whatever we learn, it will always come in handy at an unexpected time. What people like zuckerberg are doing or what newton, aristotle did before – they took their knowledge in one field and applied it to fix a problem in an entirely unrelated area.
All our sideline interests, all that intrigues us – they are all our superpowers waiting to be tapped. There are complex, multi-disciplinary issues going on in the world right now and we need to embrace and enhance all our interests, learn more and more, grasp as much as we can and see a sign of shortage as a sign of opportunity.
Having said this before and will say it again, and again and again. Like a tree is hidden in a seed, like a fruit is hidden in a tree- there’s unimaginable potential in you and me. Let’s embrace all our interests, let’s embrace our potentials. let us all embrace our super powers!
This article was written by stuti in the year 2017 as part of her instagram series named #whoisbijniswoman.
Stuti, now 24, lives in gwalior and spends most of her time juggling between different roles at amrutam, the lost tribe hostels, gramiksha and a traveler & poetess. She also practices as a psychologist in gwalior.