How India Fellow Happened To Me – Swati Saxena

by | Sep 19, 2017

अब ज़्यादा डर नहीं लगता,
अपनी बात रखने में झिझक नहीं होती,
अब खुद पर एक भरोसा सा है,
कि मुश्किलों का सामना कर ही लूंगी,
अब कुछ नया करने से पहले,
सत्रह दफे सोचती नहीं,
अब दूसरों से बात करना आसान हो गया है,
और खुद से भी
शायद यही बदला है इंडिया फैलो ने मुझमें
शायद यही काफ़ी भी है फ़िलहाल

I was one of those characters who always wanted to work in the development sector, in that giving-back kind of way, where you already keep yourself at a superior position, in your head at least. But life was on an auto-pilot. I was also someone who did an MBA and to date, can’t figure out why. Following others around me, I joined a multinational company afterwards and over the years, could only take part in meaningless activities known to be a part of CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility).

On outside, my life looked great. But, to me, it felt unsettling. I hadn’t forgotten about all the things I thought I’d do some day but wasn’t doing them. A few years later, I left chasing the so-called American dream (that too in Gurgaon. Slow clap!) and was doing random things, calling them experiments. Such privilege, I tell you.

One fine day (and I can vouch for its fineness now), I had returned to my one room-apartment in Delhi, from a Volunteer trip to a primary school in Sikkim, and aimlessly started looking for interesting-things-to-do that would pay enough to cover daily expenses. Under ‘Jobs’ section of The Better India, I stumbled upon something called ‘India Fellow’ through which I could work full-time with an NGO, for a year. The procrastinator in me delayed the application and finally submitted it on the last day at 11:56 PM.

Picture from apartment’s balcony

A long telephonic interview (I hadn’t taken seriously) and an assessment day (that was surprisingly fun) later, the journey started from Udaipur, last year in July.
But before that, some more serendipitous incidents happened, and it’s important to mention them:

  • ‌During the telephonic conversation, I asked, “If I get through this, would you be able to schedule my next round before 21st April“. Because on the 21st, I was flying for a holiday that gave me my first passport stamp, which definitely looked more attractive than an interview which didn’t really promise anything at that time. Thankfully, they called me on 20th Aprilfirst day of selections that year. Or else, I would definitely be direction less, depressed and/or broke today.
  • ‌Before India Fellow, I got chosen for a 6-month fellowship. My project required me to stay at Manipur and I didn’t go. It may have been fear, mixed with apprehension that overpowered the willingness and thrill of working in a remote area. Looking back, I’m not proud of declining it but if it would have happened, India Fellow wouldn’t have. And today, that sounds more scary than living in Manipur ever did.
  • ‌Along with India Fellow, I had also applied at a social healthcare organization working at grassroots. I would continue to live in Delhi, travel the country, plus get paid equivalent to my last corporate salary. It was an easy choice, but I got eliminated in their 2nd round. By then, I was selected for India Fellow and had to send my confirmation for joining the program. It was both regret and rejection, that led me to the induction training at Udaipur, quite reluctantly though.

Throughout the journey from Delhi to the first day as a fellow, I was unsure if I want it or not. To tell the truth, I read the welcome letter halfheartedly, searched about Udaipur more than the fellowship and didn’t even pack appropriately, thinking I may back out at last minute.

But once I managed to show up, the kind of faith the program team had in us and the way we were accepted as equals from day one, was assuring. Soon came the time to leave for the organization. On third day in the field area, when I had to spend a night on a smelly stained carpet in a dingy room with two co-fellows, one local woman and four creepy men, I thought I wouldn’t survive. An entire month was spent speculating what will I lose if I quit. The worse days were yet to happen and I lived through them, after all.

18 months from that gloomy evening in Delhi, I can only say that it has been one of the few good things I have done with my life. Applications for 2018 are now open. You don’t have to be that last minute applicant like me.

गुलाबी सर्द

गुलाबी सर्द

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