#MyGration Story: What is this young Delhi girl doing in the remote village of Madhya Pradesh?

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Random meeting with a local Bhagchand Singh ji in roadways buses

The Back Story- I met her way back in September 2012 in the wedding reception of my friend in Modinagar near Delhi. It was a unique reception since my desi Friend Chandni Mittal had recently married an Austrian Abi. You can follow fun updates from Chandni on instagram here. I am friends with Chandni’s mother Punam aunty, a school principal. Young at heart, she is friends with many young people. Sanjana was one of the ‘friends’ and student of Punam aunty who was invited to the reception.

Sanjana was carefree, innocent, happy go lucky and was like any other girl her age. I had not met her in all these years. Circa October 2016. I see a matured girl, poised, balanced, still innocent but not really acting like the girls of her age. A Mohan Bhargav (Swades) like composure and focus characterized her face.

 

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Sanjana educating the local women during SHG (Selh Help Group) meetings.

I am moved by her story and that’s why I decided to extend my Press Trip to Madhya Pradesh and make a detour to the dusty village Sehore. I was jealous of her because I always wanted to do the work she is doing but was afraid to leave my comfort zone (Metro City life) for a long time. It takes guts to do the work she is doing.

 

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Sanjana doing follow up meetings with students in school

Here is why she left her cool life in Modinagar and Delhi to find meaning in torn cots, organic food cooked in earthen ovens and the many underprivileged school kids who run to greet her every time she visits the school.

 1) Tell us something about your background. Where were you raised and what did you study?

I hail from the small town Modinagar, in Ghaziabad District, U.P. My schooling started in a fancy school but later I was shifted to a modest one due to economical reasons. Due to a cash crunch at home, I have missed out on many co-curricular activities at school. Never mind, my parents did their best and never put any pressure on me to chase money. Later, I did BSc from Delhi University but found it meaningless. Disillusioned, I joined NSS (National Social Service Scheme). It gave me the opportunities to volunteer in many organisations. I used to bunk classes to attend the seminars and classes of 3HS (Social Leadership Forum) initiated by my mentor Mr. Gopikrishna Bali Sir in my third year of college. It was then when I realized my true calling in life. I understood that I am not going to continue in Sciences, but I have to start something in social sector. Without any prior experience, Social sector is the toughest sector to get into.

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Early mornings for Sanjana be like this. From her ODF follow up sessions in Pipalner village.

2) Tell us about the work you are doing in Sehore. What is your routine?

I joined the NGO Samarthan as a ‘fellow’ from ‘India Fellow Social Leadership Programme’. I work in a project which is “School Education and Sanitation”. This project has components like Health, Sanitation and Education. I work here with the child cabinet and SHGs (Self Help Groups) in 10 villages. Strengthening of the bodies like child cabinet and SMC (School Management Committee) is to ensure the other activities in the school development activities apart from the school annual curriculum. I live in one of my field area named “Uljhawan” in Sehore District.  It is located around 7 kms away from the highway to bigger cities. It is 20-25 kms away from Bhopal in MP.

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SHG (Self Help Group) meetings headed by Sanjana.

I usually get up in the morning by 6 am. Daily chores keep me busy and by 7:30 – 8 am. Then I go for the ‘morning follow up’ where team Samarthan educates the locals why they should not defecate in the open fields. It is one of the missions of Samarthan to make Sehore an ODF, viz. Open Defecation Free zone.

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Some times SHG (Self Help Group) meetings have to be held in night because women are busy in household chores and fields all day.

Then, I go out in the village to conduct some meetings with the SHGs (as women will be available at that time or in the evenings after 6pm). After that I visit the government school to monitor the activities done by my students in child cabinet along with the other students in village. Frequently we organized awareness rally and various other activities like training and completions with the child cabinet. The objectives is to make each child cabinet self sufficient and capable of running various activities for their school development and make them an independent body. Child Cabinet is an interesting concept where a team of school kids is formed and individual child is assigned a cabinet such as Health/Sports/Sanitation. It is much like the national cabinets. This concept in rural areas of India helps kids gain confidence and a civic sense.

3) Why did you decide to leave your comfortable life and move to a village? Did you have any doubts before doing it?

What defines comfort? I had a comfortable material world but my mind was not settled. I was doing things which I never wanted to do. Here I am comfortable because that’s what I like to do. Here I travel the roads less travelled, meet the people who are unseen and are unknown to the mainstream world.  I get the chance to understand my country India on a deeper level. Working at the grass roots level has helped me understand the real problems of India. Before coming here I was mentally prepared about the work I will have to do here. It was tough in the initial days to adjust to a village life but I love this life now. The life of an engineer is uncomfortable for me, as I can’t sit throughout a day in front of computers for coding. Never mind, to each his/her own. I chose this life and I stand by my decision.

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Sanjana addressing school kids. That’s how you make real change at grass roots level.

5) What are the personal and professional challenges that you faced while working in Sehore?

Personally you have to be positive in every aspect of the field. Ignoring small obstacles will help you reach your final goal. Blame the lack of human resource in this sector, one ends up multi tasking. Laziness is not even an option here. One needs to keep a tabs on many activities at a time.

Focus is really important, if you don’t understand the concept clearly, I would recommend you not to poke your nose in it. It will only cause more trouble to the community. Proper mentorship is a must before you get into this field. This message is especially for those urban people who have romantic delusions about rural life. It’s not hunky dory here. One needs to be ready to face the challenges of a village life.

 

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Child Cabinet Training sessions.

6) Tell us some interesting anecdotes from your experience in Sehore. Maybe, something related to your relationship with school kids.

The great bond I share with the students of the schools, is like one of my dreams turning into reality. Every single time, I arrive at the school, students run to me and greet me with a hug. There are many students who share a personal bond with me, they always stay around me. There is a girl named Swati Vishwakarma, who makes lemon tea for me every time I visit her. I casually told her once that I like to drink lemon tea and I don’t get it anywhere in village. She learnt it from somewhere and now religiously makes it for me. Then there is the unconditional love I receive from the people of the village. I celebrated Diwali with a local in her hut.

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Sanjana celebrated Diwali with this family in their hut. One of her best Diwali, she said.

It was one of my best Diwali celebrated with simplicity and love. When not working, I also love to cook with the local girls. I share a deep bond with the elderly women of the village. They are fondly called bau by the locals. In my free time, I spend hours chatting with them sipping tea in their huts. They also make delicious food for me. At other times, I decorate my room, roam around in fields with the kids and attend keertan and sangeet (Devotional music) events of village. I know I am changing as a person!

7) What do you miss about the city life?

One thing I miss about Delhi specifically is the accessibility to the lively places like Connaught Place in night. Sometimes, I miss the night life of Delhi in the sleepy villages. The day ends here by 8 pm and you can’t even sit with the girls in village just to chit chat because that is not a part of the culture.

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Sanjana’s simple austere room in Uljhawan Village where she lives currently.

8) How do you focus on your work when you know all your friends are busy partying and pubbing in city? Do you feel like quitting?

No I never felt like quitting, I am very positive and excited about what I am doing! I know I am not earning that much money which my friends will start earning once they will complete their masters. I am not against partying but my happiness is focused on the work I have dedicated my life to. I find my work to be more meaningful and satisfying than partying. For me the idea of wasting an evening in a pub is less exciting. The satisfaction I get here is something which I will cherish throughout my life and that will change me as a human being. The positive changes within me have already started.

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Sanjana grinding dal (lentil) along with a local girl. What she does in leisure!

9) What are your future plans? What next after this?

I will continue working in this field, enriching myself with more experience. Eventually, I would like to gravitate towards the field of Education. My aim is to impart my knowledge to the future generation and help build a better India and a better world. My ultimate goal is to expose the youth of India to different career options at the school level. I want to help the young minds to find the true calling of their life and make informed choices. They should not be bound to lead a life which they are not meant for.

 

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Global hand washing day in rural Sehore, the village I visited.

10) Any message to the youth of your age?

I have a simple message: “Don’t let yourself down under any circumstance of life and follow you heart. Despite the initial struggles, if you persevere through the odds, it will give you the happiness you always chased. It will take time but the results will be the ones which you will always cherish. All the pain and efforts you made to achieve that happiness will one day be worth it.

 

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SHG training with Krishna SHG in Uljhawan

Sanjana has indeed grown faster than her contemporaries. I am proud to visit her and know about her experiences. It was a humbling experience. Rural India needs the brains from Urban India for sustainable development. I wish I could do the work she is doing but I am still not mentally prepared to live in a village for long term. Hopefully, one day I will muster the courage. A sequel to this blog will be up soon. In those blogs I will write about how Samarthan is helping in making clean toilets in Sehore, how it is affecting the attendance in village schools and how the locals of Sehore won my heart in the few hours I spent there.

All the pictures are by Sanjana and Samarthan.

She posts about her journey online. You can follow her heart warming stories on social media here- Twitter  Facebook , Instagram , Blog 

YOU CAN DONATE TO HER CAUSE- CLICK HERE IF YOU WANT TO CONTRIBUTE TO HELP HER LEARN DESIGN THINKING SKILLS AT A TRAVEL WORKSHOP IN LADAKH.

It is a part of a series which I run on my blog. You can follow the hashtag #MyGration story on my Instagram, Facebook and Twitter too. (Links below). To read other migration stories on my blog, pls see the tab MyGration Story.

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Do you have it in you to make changes at grass roots level? Sanjana sure has it!

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Friends of Sanjana: She loves spending time with them when she is free.

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Night Chaupal (Village meetings): Can you spot Sanjana.

Madhya Pradesh Tourism Mart 2016 -A Great Idea To Boost Tourism!

Picture above: The CM Shri Shivraj Singh Chouhan, addressing the audience at the inauguration.

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My comfortable room in Marriott!

IT WAS MY first time in Bhopal. I was excited to discover a new city (and the many gems around it). More than the destination, this time I was curious to discover what all is in store for the Madhya Pradesh Travel Mart 2016. I was invited as the online partner for this annual event related to tourism in Madhya Pradesh. As me and my fellow Press colleagues rested in the comfort of the luxurious Marriott, I anticipated in silence what next day has to offere to us. But before the main action began, we were treated to an extravaganza at the Jehan Numa palace. It is more than a hotel. It is a heritage building. The architecture, the hospitality, the exquisite food and the décor transported me to a bygone era of Nawabs and Begums (Read: Royals). MPTM sure started on a pleasant note.

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The Pianist at the gala dinner in Jehan Numa Palace, Bhopal

The pianist filled the air with old Bollywood melodies,my favorite being ‘Chowdahvi ka chand ho’, wine flowing, delegates from across the world intermingling, candles lighting up the gardens. Films like Rajniti have been shot here. Madhya Pradesh, I loved the way you treated me and many others from 28 countries and 54 Indian cities. Approximately 70 hosted buyers from 28 countries, 175 domestic buyers from 54 Indian cities and a total of 61 Exhibitors, out of which 50 Sellers / Exhibitors being from Madhya Pradesh, participated in the third edition of M.P. Travel Mart. Presidents of major National Travel Trade Associations like IATO, ADTOI, ATOAI and ITTA also attended the Mart.

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In M.P., the heart is like that of a child!

“In Madhya Pradesh, it’s very easy to fix the appointment with the chief minister and the tiger!” The CM Shri Shivraj Singh Chouhan, said to an amused audience. The next day, after the inaugural function, the Chief Minister of Madhya Pradesh, the second largest state of India, presented the awards to the stakeholders in tourism industry. “MP tourism is getting lots of awards and we decided to give awards to those who are helping MP achieve all this.” 30 awards were given in 22 categories with Pugdundee safaris bagging 3 of them. The speech was flambouyant and laced with humour and wit, not something which I had expected. As the CM passionately engaged the audience with his vision of tourism in MP, I could see why Madhya Pradesh is doing so good in the tourism sector (and other fields too). MP is great for wildlife tourism. 25 wildlife sanctuaries, 9 national parks, 6 tiger reserves and an untamed landscape qualifies MP as ‘The Africa of India’. Most of these National Parks have world class facilities and some of the most luxurious resorts and hotels in India.

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That’s a cake! At the gala dinner in Jehan Numa Palace!

The discussions on the stage centered around the achievements of Madhya Pradesh in the field of tourism, the future plans and the still untapped potential of the many ‘hidden gems’ in the state. After all, MP has much more to offer apart from the best National Parks of India. Think the heritage legacy of Orchcha,Mandu, Gwalior, the famous erotic art on the temples of Khajuraho, Tribal belts, the 7000 years old rock art and paintings in Bhimbhetka, the Sanchi Stupa which dates back to the times of Emperor Asoka, the great!

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Me, so happy, to see my childhood dream – Sanchi Stupa. Pic by : Parnashree Devi

Post the address by the CM, the buyers, sellers and the media interacted with each other in a comfortable environment. More than 1900 business meetings took place over 2 days in the kiosks set up in the lawns of Hotel Lake View Ashok, Bhopal. In the capacity of a travel blogger/write/photographer, I met many resorts owners, stalls of the Travel Magazines like National Geographic Traveler India and Discover India and even tourism boards like MP tourism board, Telangna Tourism Board, Gujarat Tourism Board etc.

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M.P. mein dil hua bachcha sa!

We were treated with another grand dinner in the lawns of the luxury property Sayaji Hotels. Good food, nice choice in mocktails and cocktails, tribal song and dances, even a live DJ made it a memorable night. My fellow blogger friend Parnashree Devi did not want to leave. I was accompanied by Ms. Sailaja Revur and Mr. Rahul Bhatia who regaled us with stories and adventures from his travels of many decades.

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Heading to the safari in the jungles of Satpura in early morning!

On the morning of the 3rd day, we were taken on a Heritage walk in the old part of the city. I was surprised to discover the rich history of the unassuming city. The poha paradise that Bhopal is I loved bingeing on the Poha, black jalebi and special tea of the famous Raju Tea Stall during the Heritage Walk! The next day we geared up for the FAM trips (Familiarisation trip) to the jungles of Satpura and the hill station Pachmarhi. Since I have always had an inclination for the offbeat, I chose these two out of many tempting destinations which MP tourism Board offered me. Again, great company, good animal sightings, a stay in Colonial heritage hotel and a pleasant weather had me hooked. I was very curious to see more of Madhya Pradesh, so I made sure I don’t leave the state without paying a visit to Bhimbhetka, Sanchi Stupa and a very interesting detour to Sehore, a village near Bhopal which is making all the difference in the ‘Clean India campaign’. I will be writing all this in separate blogs. Stay tuned for the exclusive stories, videos and pictures. !

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Spotted a Gaur aka Bison in Satpura National Park
WSA : WAY SIDE AMENITIES
 
The Indian media had a special one on one interaction with Mr. Hari Ranjan Rao, IAS officer and Managing Director, M.P. State Tourism Development Corporation Ltd. in a press conference. He passionately shared the plans of MP Tourism and patiently listened to the suggestions from us. To boost tourism in MP, the government is planning many Way Side Amenities aka WSA on the highways. I observed while tarveling through the roads of MP, the state has baby bottom smooth roads. It makes for an ideal destination for road trips. The raw landscapes and pronounced sun sets adds to its charms. The proposed plan is to construct basic WSA every 25 kilometres and a larger one at every 50 kilometres. To simplify, WSAs are the roadside units meant for the refreshments of the road trippers. Expect restaurants, drinking water facility, clean toilets, kids’play area, bathing area, rest area for drivers, FMCG shops, parking facilities, the works! Not only will it help weary tourists but also locals and others who are plying on that particular road. It will be run on PPP model and many entities from private sector have shown interest, including a giant Corporate house and a ‘father who gifted his daughters WSA to run and make a living.”

THE VIEW FROM MY #SOULWINDOW IS MUCH APPRECIATED!

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Aren’t Madhya Pradesh Tourism Advertisements one of the coolest around? You Tube them for more.

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The cool train restaurant at Hotel Lake View Ashok, Bhopal!

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What a memorable evening at Sayaji Hotel, Bhopal!

Madhya Pradesh Travel Mart 2016 : here is what is in store this October!

I have always been fascinated by Madhya Pradesh as a destination. I went on a road trip to Madhya Pradesh with my parents as a small kid. I still have a very faint memory of how wide eyed I was when I saw the raw and exotic landscapes en route. Perhaps that memory still fascinates me. Or perhaps the enticing Madhya Pradesh Tourism ads lure me. Not to forget, the brief trip I made last year to Jabalpur, Bhedaghat and Bandhavgarh national park also left me with the hunger to explore more of this untamed state of India. Madhya Pradesh will always be special to me because I saw my first tiger in wild in M. P. I could not click the picture of tiger as he vanished in a hurry but a cab driver allowed me to use the picture he clicked.

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The Tiger we saw but could not click. This was shot by the driver of a jeep. He was taking care of this camera of a Photographer. He allowed us to use this picture. 

I was delighted when Madhya Pradesh Tourism Board sent me an invite to attend the Madhya Pradesh Travel Mart (MPTM), 2016 organized by Madhya Pradesh State Tourism Development Corporation (MPSTDC). The event will be held from 14th to 16th October in Bhopal, a city I always wanted to visit but could not. This year is the 3rd edition of the travel mart. The venue is Hotel Lake View Ashok in Bhopal. Just what I wanted! A nice place to stare at the lake for hours as I dig into my food!

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My Friend Mayuri Mandal Sen  posing near the massive Dhuandhar falls.

The mart will be inaugurated by Honourable Chief Minister Shri. Shivraj Singh Chouhan, along with other dignitaries from Madhya Pradesh and special invitees from other states. I am excited to meet the many representatives of top exhibitors from Madhya Pradesh’s Wildlife sector, hotels, Destination Management Companies, Conference venues, Car Rentals, Tour Operators, Heritage Hotels, and Wildlife Parks etc at The B2B Exhibition at MPTM.

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Delights of Bandhavgarh!

The main aim of the mart is to promote tourism in Madhya Pradesh around the year with a focus on domestic and inbound travelers to M.P. The show will provide a platform to the participants who can have one to one business meetings. I am sure the environment will be conducive to such interactions. The exhibitor, buyer and visitor are going to benefit with such interactions. As a travel blogger, I am looking forward to meeting the people who would like to collaborate with me on projects. Thanks to the mart, exhibitors, buyers, media and other visitors will get an opportunity to network, meet and share expertise with professionals who want to educate themselves about various products.

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Me, so happy, after sighting a tiger!

I think, with right infrastructure, Madhya Pradesh has the potential to be a world-class destination for Wildlife, Nature, Heritage, Pilgrimage, Adventure & MICE. It will not be an over statement to call M.P. the ‘Africa of India’. The state is teeming with wildlife and one can avail some truly world class and luxurious stay options in its wildlife reserves. What is even more exciting is that post the 3 day Mart, we will be taken on familiarization trips across the state. The Fam Trip Itineraries are so tempting that it is difficult to choose between them. I mean how do you choose just two destinations out of Bandhavgarh, Satpura, Orchcha, Khajuraho, Pench, Kanha, the works? My vote goes for Satpura National Park and Pachmarhi, the hill station of M.P. mainly because I find these two destinations offbeat and attractive.

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We came across these while returning from Bandhavgarh. Road trips are fun for sure!

I still vividly remember the massive Dhuandhar waterfall I saw near Bhedaghat. The marble rocks of Bhedaghat, was not like something I had seen before. I would also like to go back to Bandhavgarh National Park someday to spot more tigers or to just soak in the beauty of the forest.

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Me at Dhuandhaar Waterfall. (Pic : Sudeep Sen)

It is getting a bit difficult for me to wait for October. Maybe I should just get back to watching the cool videos produced by Madhya Pradesh Tourism Board. Or plan how can I use my time productively in Bhopal. I hope I am able to see some of the many famous mosques of Bhopal and explore it’s exciting food options. Though, I am not too keen on bumping into Soorma Bhopali (that hilarious character from the blockbuster Sholay) I belong to the ‘City of Nawabs’, Lucknow and looking forward to see how this other ‘City of Nawab’ welcomes me.

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A local singing Bhajan aka devotional songs at Dhuandhar waterfalls.

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I picked up some artefacts made from the soft marble near Bhedaghat

WARNING : COPYRIGHT TO ALL THE IMAGES AND TEXT HERE REMAINS WITH ME. YOU CAN NOT JUST LIFT THE CONTENT AND USE IT WITHOUT MY PERMISSION. STRICT LEGAL ACTION WILL BE TAKEN IF CONTENT IS STOLEN. YES, I AM SERIOUS.

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