I had heard about the concept of the Cycle Yatra ever since Manish, Shilpa and the Shikshantar folks went on the first yatra five years ago. That time, I firmly decided that I would NEVER, ever attempt such a crazy thing in my entire life. And after five years, I still held on to this decision. First of all, I could NOT cycle, having fallen off one many years ago when I used to cycle in our colony with my childhood friends. The fall had given me a scar on my arm that was hardly visible anymore, but many in my mind that I still carried. The most I had cycled was back in Std. 10th, three years ago, to my tuition class which was a couple of kilometers away from home. After that, never. And secondly, why would I want to leave all the necessities and amenities of modern life behind and delve into completely unknown, unconquered territories of body and spirit? I was never an adventure enthusiast. I preferred my securities and comforts tightly wound around me.
And hence, on January 9th, 2011, it was with a feeling of foreboding and heaviness in my stomach that I woke up. Today was the day I would be setting off on a five-day yatra, cycling for nearly 100-120 kilometres, carrying no money, medicines, cosmetic or toiletry products, electronic gadgets and especially no cell-phones. Basically, leaving my entire life behind. “What kind of mental ‘environmental’ rigmarole have I got myself into?” I wondered.
It had started with my joining Swaraj University, an alternative to degree colleges and universities, last year. At Swaraj Uni, we learners called ourselves ‘khojis’ and took the responsibility of our education into our own hands. We would decide what we wanted to learn and how we wanted to learn it, as well as deepen our understanding of society and the environment, so as to live a sustainable and socially just life. One aspect of this perspective building was the Cycle Yatra, where all of us would venture into the so-called ‘un-developed’ villages of our country, leaving behind the shackles of modern development and education, to re-discover our connection with nature, with each other and with ourselves… a connection based on trust and faith rather than facts and numbers.
It all sounded very nice and poetic and romantic, but when it came to actually doing it, I was petrified. Would I be able to survive once I let fall all the warm, cozy shields of comfort I had built around myself, and my life? I didn’t know. But I still decided to try it out, because my entire khoji community was going and I didn’t want to be left behind. Since the last year, all of us had formed a deep bond with each other, and I trusted my group that, I felt, no harm could befall me if I was with them.
But still… how? How was I going to cycle so much, having near to zero experience? How would I survive the possibility of no food? How would I survive the cold, sleeping in the open, no toilets and the complete lack of hygiene? How could I live without my cell-phone, and without talking to my parents, with whom I spoke to almost daily? Adding to the list of these tangled-jangled thoughts was another worry: It was my birthday on the 12th, and was I going to like celebrating it in such conditions of adversity?