I don’t mind being bone and feathers, Mum. I just want to know what I can do in the air and what I can’t, that’s all. I just want to know
– Jonathan Livingstone Seagull!
Having followed Jonathan Seagull’s story all my life, I knew that this 10-12 weeks stint in Kerala as Swaniti fellow would the deal breaker as far as my future aspirations are concerned. The quest to understand Indian polity and governance from a closer level goes back to 2010 when I started looking for opportunities to work in this space. An engineering graduate who worked as Derivatives Trader for five year and is now trying to know understand Indian polity- that sounds so confused right??..Well, In my defense, I would like to say that for a middle class boy like me, I always knew that it will be a constant duel between listening to your true calling in life and doing things which will help in paying bills for basic facilities. You would have heard numerous stories on the lines of “The day I snapped” from Finance kids or other business professionals. Let me assure you my journey has been completely different. NSIT and the super challenging world of Derivatives Trading will always be close to my heart but as much I loved doing what I was doing, I had realized that time has come to start looking beyond the “Numbers” and work in a space in where I can have tangible impact on the society I come from. Thus began this wonderful journey at Swaniti that has helped me in understanding problems at grassroots and also in developing more clarity about my long term road map.
People often talk about their unique experience of working in teams comprising of people with different skill sets. Here I was, working with Balbinder (A management consultant), Amit (a Social Enterprenuer) and Abhimanyu (an Architect). I believe this has been one of the highlights of our journey so far as I got an opportunity to understand complex issues from different angles because of the new perspective these people brought in our discussions. Kerala has been a truly phenomenal experience for a boy like me who has spent most of his life in North India. We spent the first two weeks in developing a broader understanding of problems at hand through meetings with top brass from various government institutions.I must mention here that the forthcoming and enthusiastic nature of government officials was pleasant surprise for all us. People like KJ Sohan (ex-mayor- Cochin) and Ajit Patil (Secretary- Corporation of Cochin) mesmerized us with their infectious energy levels and understanding of problem at hand. After a lot of brainstorming within the team along with active support from our mentors Varun and Ritwika, we moved to the next stage of root cause analysis in all three sectors- Drinking Water, Sanitation and Waste management. Field experts and Local Councillors helped us immensely at this stage as we began to feel the pulse of this vibrant city.
I found it completely astounding that a city which could boast of upcoming metro rail, an IPL team (not long ago) and dreams of attaining metropolitan status, was still struggling to provide basic facilities like drinking water to one fourth of its population. Questions like “why we have failed to provide drinking water to Kochi residents despite strong monsoon every year and numerous water bodies in the state of Kerala” forced us to work and rework harder on our approach. The problem began to look more convoluted with new details coming in. Participatory government and high level of literacy had instilled strong level of awareness among the masses but at the same time, previous failed efforts and enormity of the current problem had made people cynical about following a new road map.
The next logical step for us was to come up with recommendations to improve the existing system along with new proposals that can be implemented over the long term/short term curve. Once we had decided on probable suggestions, we went back to different stakeholders and discussed our findings. It helped us in carrying out a feasibility study and shortlisting the final set of recommendations for our client MLA Mr Hibi Eden. Hibi seemed genuinely impressed by our recommendations and congratulated us on reaching the goal we had set for ourselves 2 months back. He also expressed his desire to implement some of the recommendations after discussions with his team and completing the policy level formalities.
As we prepare to leave Kochi, we would like to express our sincere gratitude to our client and his team as well as our own local boy Amit for making our stay so pleasant. I am going back with a fresh perspective on urban growth challenges and the dichotomy between what the government wants to achieve and the ground reality. In terms of life experience, I believe the fellowship has given us some brilliant memories such as – “Amit communicating fluently in Malyalam in some of the meeting with Councillors, with three of us just watching him silently and trying hard to comprehend the incomprehensible, our visits to west Kochi especially Fort Kochi/Kashi cafe, the daily debate to decide where do get our next meal from (-Ottopura, Coffee beans, Cocoberry or Abhirami-). The eternal optimist in Balbinder and the refreshing young exuberance of youngest kid in our team Abhimanyu is something I will remember for a long long time. To conclude, I believe the insights developed during this fellowship will definitely assist us as we look for further opportunities to build on our current experience and contribute in whatever little ways we can. Till then – Nanni God’s own country”!