The only thing Rahul Karanpuriya loves more than walking is cycling long distances. In 2014, after being an entrepreneur and working temporary jobs in marketing and HR, he walked out 6 months into an MBA, mounted his cycle and set out to free himself from the confines of a formal education and steady employment, to pursue his interests, and explore new ways of learning. What began as a 115-kilometre ride between his hometown of Udaipur and Chittorgarh, stretched into a 1,100-kilometre, 28-day journey that took him across the varied landscapes of Rajasthan and into the homes and lives of its people.
The abundance of knowledge and hospitality he experienced from strangers along his journey left Rahul at a loss for ways to express his gratitude. In November 2015, with backpack, tent and camera, he left home on a journey that would take him to the furthest corners of the country in search of people following their hearts in alternate careers, allowing him to repay the generosity by spreading and sharing at least a modicum of what he’d received. And that’s how 52 Parindey began.
52 Weeks, 52 Inspiring Stories
I meet Rahul, 28, mild-mannered and slightly-built, in Bangalore — the halfway mark on his year-long journey. Over a celebratory cup of tea, he fills me in on his journey of 8,000 kilometres. 52 Parindey is a unique, year-long project to identify and celebrate the life and work of 52 innovators in Indian towns and cities who are making a conscious, eco-friendly living for themselves through alternate careers. Every week, he travels to a new location, makes his home with the chosen eco-entrepreneur, and joins in their work to understand their way of life. He transmutes his experience and learning into visual and textual stories that he makes available on his website.
His “parindey”(Urdu for birds), represent wide regional and vocational diversity — organic farmers, folklorists, artists, tribal rights activists, wildlife conservationists, water and waste management experts, alternative educationists, natural healers, and more. A sample of the type of unique individuals that he has met on his travels:-
- Kalle Bhai in Chanderi, a polyglot, oral historian, and authority on sustainable architecture
- Raghava, a home schooler and natural farmer in Davangere
- Amit Godse, a bee conversationist in Pune
- Khameesh Khan who is on a drive to green the desert of Jaisalmer.
Journeying out of the dark
The inspiration for 52 Parindey is three-fold — allowing Rahul to combine his wanderlust and his passion for the environment and sustainable living with his longstanding dream of transforming how the education system and its goals are perceived. He believes that industrialisation and business have systematically destroyed the planet and our focus should now be on regenerating the environment, reviving traditional systems of living and restoring lost ecosystems.
He explains, “The modern education system restricts our freedom to think freely, to discover new abilities and passions, and to explore multiple other potentials and interests we may have. In the rush to act, compete and succeed in the conventional sense, one has no time for self-reflection, and lives under an illusion of the freedom of choice. But, most harmfully, it severs the innate human connect with nature and suppresses humankind’s affinity for community life and collaborative existence.”
He adds that “…the academic and career paths we’re forced to take and the decisions we make therein, in turn make us. They define our world views and value systems, dictate the choices we make, and ultimately trap us in a way that is neither of our own making nor entirely agreeable to us.”
Travel is a great teacher, he believes. By forcing you out of your comfort zone, it puts your prejudices to the test and makes you independent. It takes you close to nature, lets you meet people, and have experiences you’d otherwise have missed, and it gives you plenty of time for free thinking and reflection.
52 Parindey is, thus, a journey to find people who’ve ventured away from the set path and transcended the borders set by societal convention. It’s a quest to discover those who have liberated themselves from limitations of their circumstances, literacy, language, gender, or physical ability; who are in rewarding livelihoods of their own choosing, jobs that are fulfilling to themselves and healing to the planet. Like the birds they’re named for, these are people who have found the courage to fly free.
“To me, 52 Parindey represents a journey out of oppression and into freedom”, he says.
Finding heroes among equals
As much as it is Rahul’s personal spiritual quest, 52 Parindey is also meant to be practical and easily replicable by students and young professionals looking to find themselves, pursue their interests or take time off to weigh out alternative career options. “The project has been designed as something easily achievable in a gap year with the aim of inspiring youth to follow their hearts and eventually help regenerate global ecosystems”, he says.
Guided by his mentors at Swaraj University, this former khoji is also demonstrating that it is possible for the average middle class Indian to traverse the country with minimum resources and in the most environmentally-sustainable way possible. He says, “Digital Empowerment Foundation that’s funding my pursuits, offered me a significantly higher allowance but since my goal is to show that this is possible for everyone, I have restricted my budget only to Rs. 10,000 a month (less than $150)” This includes his expenditure on travel, food, boarding, and phone usage.
Whenever possible, Rahul, a firm proponent of gift culture, travels to villages or small towns, stays with a parinda, and volunteers at their place of work as a means of paying for his board and food. When you collaborate with someone as a volunteer, a relationship is forged between you where there is no place or need for money, likes to say.
In keeping with his vision for the environment and to introduce a structure and discipline into his design, Rahul has adopted a zero chemical lifestyle, eats as local as possible at the homes of his hosts, walks, uses public transport or hitchhikes from place to place. His journey has taken him closer to the sources of his food, water, and electricity and broadened his understanding of socio-environmental problems. He has discovered that he can lead an operation to cook a meal for 50 and mix the right plasters for eco-friendly buildings.
But, his greatest lesson has been that inspiration is everywhere.
We are so accustomed to lionising popular figures that we often ignore the tales of inspiration close to us; heroes who are ordinary people like ourselves, living lives that are completely replicable.
“I’ve changed a lot as a person, learned so much from this journey, and received love from people I don’t know; way more than I know what to do with”, he smiles. He’s learnt the nuances of conserving bee hives, folk storytelling, and tried his hand at healthy cooking and growing millets. But, most of all, he’s learnt that it is possible to have a vocation that combines one’s passions and skills and that success and happiness can assume a myriad forms.
To those at a crossroads in their life choices, hesitant about walking away, or taking that leap of faith into uncertain territory, Rahul’s offers assurance with a couplet by the poet Majhrooh Sultanpuri that extols the power of one; that sings of journeys of many miles that begin with a single, lonely step, but that, as the destination nears, is joined by others to coalesce into a force to reckon with:
Main akelaa hee chalaa thaa jaanib-e-manzil magar
Log saath aate gaye aur kaarvaan bantaa gayaa.
Maya is a social researcher by training. Her writing has appeared in Scroll, YourStory and The Alternative. She is the Founder of Eartha and tweets @Maya_Kilpadi.