It was a special episode of Gaon Cafe, Gaon Connection’s live show on rural issues, and we were to release the findings of our latest survey on the ‘COVID-19 Vaccine and Rural India’. Both anxious and excited, I slipped the jhumkas in my ear lobes as I got ready for the show. I picked up the little black bottle of eyeliner and started to apply it on my eyelid as I focused on myself in the mirror.
As the eyeliner-brush journeyed slowly from the inner corner of my eyelid to the outer, I looked into my eyes in the mirror and found myself gazing into another mirror. The mirror that hung on the wall of the Slow Campus at Kunaura village in Lucknow district of Uttar Pradesh, about 1,400-kilometres away from the mirror in my Mumbai home.
It was two years ago, in the cold winter of December 2018, when I had arrived at Kunaura village to attend the sixth foundation day of Gaon Connection, India’s biggest rural media platform. Being a reporter, travelling to the hinterland wasn’t anything extraordinary, as I had been reporting from villages for many years. But how was I to know that that trip to Kunaura would change the direction of my life?
After working full-time with a fortnightly for a dozen years, I had been working independently for eight years, enjoying my journey as a freelancer, avoiding any professional ‘attachments’ and ‘commitments’.
Almost like a beautiful coincidence (I do believe in coincidences and the important role they play in the journey of our life), Neelesh Misra, whom I used to follow on Twitter, messaged and after some initial exchange of messages, invited me to Kunaura to attend his organisation’s sixth foundation day and explore the world of Gaon Connection, an offer too hard to resist.
I decided to undertake the journey, but all the while kept telling myself — “No, no, I don’t want to take up any full-time job.”
On December 2, 2018, as I walked around the Bharatiya Gramin Vidyalaya, Kunaura (a school set up by Misra’s parents), draped in a Sambalpuri cotton saree, I felt the electric energy in the air and how Gaon Connection was changing lives in rural India. Silently. Away from the loud TV studios.
Two or three days later, I returned to Mumbai. But a part of me stayed back with Gaon Connection, in Kunaura village and Lucknow.
In the next two or three months, the vagabond in me kept asking what I wanted to do in life. And something kept pulling me towards Gaon Connection as I kept repeating to myself – “No, no, I don’t want to take up any full-time job.”
But destiny had other plans.
On April 1, 2019, I formally joined Gaon Connection not sure of how the new journey would be. I knew it wouldn’t be an easy ride as Gaon Connection, which was so far only in Hindi, wanted to turn bilingual and launch a separate English website too.
I was unsure. I was anxious. I feared failure. But, working with Misra, who is a great mentor (no, I am not saying this because he is my boss), made me realise that when you follow your passion, it is not a full-time job (something I always dreaded), you thrive and get real contentment in life. Even in moments when the adrenaline is rushing, like I felt just before going live on Gaon Cafe to share our survey findings, there is a sense of peace. A sense of purpose.
Coming from the world of print media, I was at sea in the multimedia world of Gaon Connection. But step by step, almost unknowingly and effortlessly, I learnt new skills, be it MoJo (mobile journalism) or going live at the drop of hat.
There were many moments when I thought I would not be able to do something, but Misra believed in me and gave me enough space to experiment, understand, fail and succeed. Patiently.
30, 29, 28, 27 … 1 live! As the Gaon Cafe show went live, with colleagues at Gaon Connection joining from different parts of the country, Misra led the show sitting in the corridor of Bharatiya Gramin Vidyalaya, Kunaura, Lucknow.
And I smiled at my journey with Gaon Connection, which started from the very same corridors of the village school. It was my wandering that aimlessly took me to Kunaura and helped me discover my passion. And myself.
Not all who wander are lost. Wandering helped me find myself. How about you?
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