This is the story of a girl who didn’t want what we all are more or less puppets to - being shackled as rats in this corporate world.
“Tell me somethin', girl
Are you happy in this modern world?
Or do you need more?
Is there somethin' else you're searchin' for?”
- Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga
An unfinished story, they say, tells a reader to complete it. The caveat is that it’s completed “together”. Such goes the story of my long-time friend and social entrepreneur in the making, Sanjana Barthakur.
Born in the foothills of the Himalayas in the Brahmaputra valley in Assam, her childhood was like any typical Assamese grandma’s story; the baritone monotony of just studies with a hint of fun and games. Uneventful, but that’s true for most of us.
I personally first met her when we got admitted to the same college for higher secondary studies. Call it teenage infatuation or just everyone around us being naïve, we never really talked about anything intellectually enticing during those two years. Or, maybe, I have just become a seasoned corporate customer who has lost his emotional quotient after just two years in a leading FMCG company in India.
Well, more of that latter, but the point is, the only thinly veiled memories that I retain of those two years is everyone recounting the panache needed to succeed in the corporate world, for good or for bad.
[caption id="attachment_261895" align="aligncenter" width="466"] During the Jagriti Yatra[/caption]
Anyway, I lost contact with her during both of our graduation days and we each went our separate but eerily prosaic ways as we made our advent into the corporate world; me with the aforementioned FMCG major while she with a leading IT company. The clickity-clack of keyboards for her, juxtaposed with the hum-drum murmur of machines churning out consumables by the minute for me; we had each set foot into the clockwork that we so believe runs the machinery of the world. So bereft of emotional intelligence, deadlines looming to be met, and bosses waiting to be answered whilst the fire that we had burning inside us since childhood keeps on getting smaller. All for the notational shot of Tequila on Saturday just to rewind the clock. But, is it all doom and gloom or is there any saving grace amongst all this madness?
Enter a chance meeting with Sanjana in January last year. I had tendered in my resignation and was an MBA aspirant then. She was at a crossroads in her career as well as in her life. We talked over coffee and maybe it was my disillusionment with the corporate world and the phlegmatic character that it possessed; maybe it was just the damn good coffee, but something just clicked. She talked about a greater purpose in life whilst I wanted to escape the rat race by hypocritically getting into an even bigger one, but a lifelong friendship was born.
As such, whilst I set sail to the beatific gates of IIM-Lucknow, she always chirped on about doing something for the social welfare of the people. But, not just mere social welfare as a one-off opportunity. What enticed me was that she wanted to be a social entrepreneur; someone who guides imprudent fellows like me, as well as companies (and their hallowed CSR acts), on how to better use the life that God has bestowed upon us. I was soon lost in the rigours of CV-freezes, PPTs and the you-know-what of MBA life. We still talked periodically but, for the first time in my life, I saw the spark in the eye of someone who had found her calling in life.
This brings us to the “encore” of this repetitive monologue by me, if I may so call it myself. She called me up one chilly November day. I guess it was the day after her birthday and she was ecstatic about being selected for Jagriti Yatra 2019. Jagriti Yatra, for the uninformed, is an initiative by an NGO (Jagriti Sewa Sansthan) to promote entrepreneurship and has the aim of exposing the Indian youth to social entrepreneurship and enterprise led development. Every year, around 500 young men and women are selected for a 15 day, 8000 Km long journey in a train specially built for this purpose. The “yatris”, as they are called, visit places as varied as the Barefoot College in Tillonia to the Aravind Eye Care in Madurai.
[caption id="attachment_261894" align="aligncenter" width="412"] At Aravind Eye Care in Madurai[/caption]
The purpose of such visits is to empower the youth in being the catalysts of change back home, for, as they say, the smallest deed is better than the greatest intention. The Yatra has also tied up with MNCs to provide the platform via which exciting entrepreneurial ideas can bear fruit.
For her part, Sanjana presented them with ideas on how to protect civil rights while looking into the integration of backward communities’ back home and the need for incorporating first aid training during the compulsory education mandated by the government. The ideas can always be worked upon to smoothen the rough edges, in that there is no doubt. The main obstacle to overcome is one of motivation within us.
[caption id="attachment_261893" align="aligncenter" width="610"] Social welfare vs social entrepreneurship[/caption]
For her part, she came back a changed woman after her 15-day journey. But she knew that her journey didn’t finish on that 15th day. Albeit, it has started on that 15th day and will continue to be with her for the rest of her life. Can Sanjana, or for that matter, anyone of use be the change we want to see in this world? Of course, we can.
We just need to see the light. For she knew she could, so she did.
Raj Kaushik Chaudhury