Engine Room Club – the backbone of Jagriti Yatra
Jagriti yatra is a unique concept of education from travelling. Ever wondered how is it made possible? What work is put behind the scenes for the train to get rolling, for the news to be out in the media, and how is the running train managed? What challenges do organizers face on the fly and how are they tackled? For the ones who have not traveled on the Jagriti Yatra train, they can only imagine the amount of toil put to get a train ready to carry around 500 people across the Indian subcontinent.
Youthopia decided to talk to the team involved behind the scenes, in organizing Jagriti Yatra, and bring their hard work into light. We got a chance to talk to Narendra Patil – who oversees the management of the train; we talked to Prayaga Hoge- media manager for Jagriti Yatra. Her challenges during the Yatra ,include, generating content for media during the Yatra, collaborating with media for news and interviews, and ensuring that Yatra gets a good coverage in newspapers, internet and on. We also got an opportunity to chat with young volunteer Vipul Patil, who hails from rural part of Maharashtra, and takes care of all electronic stuff etc which is stored in a separate coach on the train. A number of times the poor guy has to travel in that coach all alone, because the train stoppage duration is very short and he is unable to hop onto the passenger coaches that quickly!
The organizing volunteers like to call themselves ERC Team. ERC stands for Engine Room Club. Most of the members of the Engine Room Club are yatris of 2008. They share a common opinion that Yatra made a life changing impact on them, and therefore they stayed to see other batches of Yatris having similar or better experiences from the Yatra.
How is the train readied for Yatra
Narendra Patil, a Civil Services officer, and a 2008 Yatri, oversees the entire communication with Indian Railways, and manages the train, its route, and maintenance during the entire Yatra. He has very fond memories of his first Yatra. He made bonds with his fellow travelers in 2008, and still is in regular touch with all of them. Infact he got the interview call for his civil services job during his 2009 yatra. Talking about his work Narendra explains; “My major take-away from 2008 yatra was the development of vision about my life, and I became much focused. There was a huge change in my perspective for career and life during the Yatra. The experience was so overwhelming and enriching that I decided to volunteer to manage Jagriti Yatra.”
Explaining the management of train during the Yatra, he elaborates; “Usually we begin our communication with the Indian railway department six months ahead of planned yatra dates, and make a deposit of around forty lacs rupees with the railway authorities. We work with the government on the kind of bogies that we require, the route that have available for yatra, and the railways stations we would be stopping the train at. We have to chalk out the entire Yatra schedule and route.
The most interesting and challenging aspect regarding chalking out the route is co-ordinating with all zones of railway departments in India. We also get the tickets done for the yatris, and tickets are charged per kilometer, per seat.
Once formalities are done, Jagriti Yatra volunteers invest one full day labor to get the train prepared and ready for the yatra. This involves configuring and shunting coaches, pantry cars are checked, other coaches are checked for lights, air conditioners and fans , housekeeping department is informed etc. Drivers and stations are notified. Volunteers also work with the punctuality department of Indian railways during the Yatra.
Narendra has also designed the unique bathroom set-up for yatris on the train. He understood that catering the bathroom demands of 450 yatris during the Yatra was a tricky and it required an out of the box solution. Therefore he went ahead and used one general compartment bogie for his make-shift bathroom, during the Yatra. This make-shift bathroom was set, without disturbing the original set-up of the train. Now there are fourteen bathrooms on the train, with separate bathrooms for girls and boys.
Handling media during the Yatra
Prayaga Hoge, a journalist and content writer by profession, is the media manager for Yatra, is slightly disappointed by the kind of coverage which Indian media gives Jagriti Yatra. She speaks;” Jagriti Yatra in itself is an extremely positive and constructive experience. However media is so used to of serving sensational news, that they do not find our story very appealing. Also if ready to cover they at times focus more on the roadblocks that we face during the Yatra, than spreading the good message across. Our usual strategy is to get Yatris from extremely rural backgrounds covered by media, so that we are able to attract more such Yatris for this nation-building experience. At times due to delay in arrival of train, or any other issues we miss the planned session with media. Like this year, we got delayed in reaching the Madurai station due to some technical problems, and therefore all media persons had left!
Being a Yatri and a manager at the same time
It’s an extremely different and more fulfilling experience for these volunteers while managing the Yatra, and travelling at the same time. Prayaga , very excited to speak, says; “As a young girl I could only dream of travelling across the country. But with Jagriti Yatra I have actually got an opportunity to travel across the country. At times the change in vegetation, soil, local architecture patterns are so evident that you can’t help but notice. I have been travelling for around 5 years now. Being the media manager I get to interact with Yatris every year, and I feel that Indian youngsters want to do so much, and they are so talented and so full of zeal all the time.
Narendra on the other hand does not get enough opportunity to interact with fellow travelers. He is mostly busy with station masters and train drivers. But he has learnt a lot while interacting with Indian government officials. But he is sure that Jagriti Yatra adds immense value to every traveler’s perspective and experience.
Vipul brimming with excitement chuckles and speaks; “Being a part of managing team we have to be very optimistic under every situation and enjoy every unforeseen moment, if any. There are times when I get stuck in the coach where we stores batteries and other supplies; I have learned to enjoy being stuck there. I have learnt being proactive and service oriented. I have interacted with Yatris from a variety of background and am very happy about this aspect of Yatra.
Prayaga and Narendra can’t agree more with Vipul . Prayaga’s biggest learning as a manager has been disaster management skills! Narendra has learnt so much about Indian railways system, and cutting through corruption in Indian system.
Experiences and memories
Narendra tells us; “There are innumerable experiences from the Yatra, each of them special for some or the other reason. I am still in touch with my friends made during 2008 Yatra. There have been instances when we have had stoppages at stations where there was no station master, and then there were times when we had to cut through dense fog of North India in the month of December, and we were able to do that successfully.”
Prayaga gets sentimental when asked about her memories. She says; “There was this instance when we stopped in Lucknow, and went to meet chikan-kari workers. All of us fell in love with that embroidery, and seeing our love; one of the young embroiderers there quickly stitched my name through the fabric, and gifted it to, as a memento. I am still full of gratitude for that little girl. Also another instance, during my 2008 yatra, I befriended a co-traveler on the train. She was a woman of African origin. She did not understand any Hindi, and I did not understand much of English then. But we became best of friends, and are still in touch.”
Vipul chirps in; “I am a traveler from 2011 Yatra, and I hail from rural parts of India. I had never thought I could meet scores of talented and like minded people from prestigious institutions across the world, had I not opted for Jagriti Yatra.”
ERC members have their own rejuvenating sessions during the Yatra, when most of Yatris are asleep. They stay awake, work hard and take care of everyone like a responsible parent, and guardian angels.