“If you are always trying to be normal, you will never know how amazing you can be.” – Maya Angelou.
There are many people who want to live a life that is more fulfilling and meaningful, they want to do something unusual and discover new strengths within.
One such dreamer who wants to give unlimited Love, never-dying empathy, bring joy, happiness, and compassion in the lives of the people he met during his 5000 km plus walk and cycling across rural India or during his social projects is –
Ankit Das- known as Ankit Banjara
The first obvious question I asked him was – why Banjaraa?
Ankit explains – A Banjaraa is someone who does not want to be tied down to one place for too long. He is one who wants to be on the move, exploring new avenues and living close to nature with minimum belongings and needs.
And that summarizes how Ankit lives today. But the only the addition is that he lives a very purposeful life and derives inspiration from nature and even from great men like Gandhiji, Vinoba Bhave, and Bhagat Singh.
Ankit grew up in Dehradun, a typical middle-class family with loving parents who provided everything a child would need regarding education or comfort. He developed an interest in computers at an early age. He was quite an entrepreneur and he actually started a business in class 6th and had his own bank account. He moved to Pune to join college. In the second year of college, he was running a call centre of his own in Pune and owning a car. So, he had tasted success in his early twenties.
Unfortunately, things did not go too well and he faced heavy losses which impacted him deeply. It was a traumatic phase for a young adult. Despite huge challenges, he always took everything as a learning chapter in the book of life.
He completed his education with a master’s Degree in Computer Sciences, however, started his own IT firm even before that and started working with various companies.
During his early college period, he started visiting some rural areas in Maharashtra and bonded with the local village folks.
While living in their homes, he realized that despite having less, most of these simple people are so humble and always willing to share without thinking of returns.
“Life should be great, rather than long. – was the fundamental he was inspired by. Ankit believed that if you want to get more out of your life, then you need to stop dreaming and take action today, not tomorrow.
Then was when the shift happened!! He decided to follow his instincts and take the path less traveled. He joined the non-profit Goonj, to start working in the non-profit sector starting from Uttarakhand and Delhi. He also started traveling in the Himalayan region and getting first-hand knowledge about rural India. He then traveled to Assam and worked there with various NGOs. He lived with the locals and adapted to their culture.
He proved that Simple ways to be more with less.
His experiences taught him to follow his own philosophy- is to live with minimum necessities, having a maximum Income limit and just enough baggage to survive.
He established Jeevan Shiksha (Education from Life)
An organization, to bridge the gap between the rural and urban divide. In his words, “at Jeevan Shiksha, we see ourselves as a tool for change, a change driven by learning from what exists, from past and present – from life. We are a community organization based in rural parts of Assam and Uttarakhand.”
It is an NGO with a difference. After years of service, he established himself as someone who believes in action to uplift those who need support.
Also Read: About Mohammad Sayed Shoeb
They have enrolled approximately 230 mentally unwell persons with various types of illnesses and with timely treatment during regular medical camps, many have gone back to the mainstream. Large-scale tree plantation drives were over 7000 saplings were planted, including the local villagers.
Rangakaar art workshops are held regularly with local schools which helps them to express themselves freely. Covid times, they reached out to over 8000 families in Assam.
Provided medical health care to support local medical units. Worked majorly with flood relief projects and helped in rehabilitating families who lost everything due to natural calamities. School sports are a very popular activity conducted by Jeevan Shiksha. Frisbee has been introduced as a sport and matches are held regularly- a girls’ team- called ultimate Frisbee. They have reached international levels- The coaches have been sent to Pondicherry for professional training.
If you want to bring change in Rural India, become one of them.
He is also the co-Founder/Trustee at People’s Initiative for Rural Development, Karbianglong (W), Assam, a grassroots organization working in the tribal district of Krabi Angling, Assam. And Now he is also a Member Trustee in Vivekananda Foundation, Majuli, Assam, which runs a low-cost English medium school for tribal children in the district.
Member – Governing Board & Director (Strategy) in Rural Innovations & Awakening Mission (RIAM), Dima Hasao, Assam, where he is trying to bring together a group of youth to work for their remotely located villages of the Biate tribe.
He also initiated the Universal Welfare Society concept which is Jeevan Shiksha’s primary living tool to engage with society, by restoring their ability to act directly or indirectly. UWS (also termed as सर्व जनहित समाज& in Hindi language). UWS has 11 components that ensure a holistic approach to development in any society. The tool calls for all possible localization of methods, processes, and communication through constant learning from people and institutions. One interesting fact about UWS is that it allows us to view the elephant as a whole, instead of repeatedly trying to observe just one of its body parts.
Ankit says- want to see the complete truth about the Rural-Urban divide- view both sides of the coin.
Most of his rural work happened during his walks. In 2017, he decided to walk on the same path as Gandhiji and participated in the Dandi yatra, a 400 km walk. No mobile phones. No money. No photos, no posting on social media. It was an impressionable experience that changed his attitude towards life.
Mohandas left for Yatra – came back as Gandhi. Likewise, Ankit left as Ankit Das and returned as Ankit Banjaraa.
Yatra – Vishwa ki Khoj.
In January 2020, he and a friend started on a walk from Auroville, Pondicherry, to venture out on a Padyatra, towards the end of Europe, maybe to Americas as well. They fondly call this initiative Vishwa ki Khoj Ankit has traveled over 7-8 lakh km across India using public transportation, 3200 km using cycle and 2100 km on foot. Memorable ones were Chhattisgarh – 200kms with a group of 200+ Adivasis. In June 2019, he walked along with four others from Dehradun to Yamunotri Pilgrimage (approx 200 km) without money, calling it The True Pilgrimage.
He also finished the cashless The East-India Cycle Yatra between Kolkata and Majuli (Assam), a 1400kms journey completed in 20 days during the months of April and May 2021.
Ankit expresses- I ‘struggled’ physically, to grow mentally.
He explains,” I think it’s part of my larger effort, to allow each of us to deeply look inside and assess our fears and insecurities. Ever since I started traveling, living in the villages, I discovered a sense of purpose, of my being, not in a way that can be accounted for or compared through numbers or data,” he further added.
In spite of coming from a middle-class family, with privileged inheritance, getting his education degree from one of the most reputed colleges, had their own start-ups, intellectual social network, tasting all the luxuries of modern city living, today, Ankit lives below the financial poverty line conditions, only to prove that one can live a life of simplicity and bare necessities, yet are content and happy.
He has worked directly in the tribal regions and helped guide them to maintain a balance in today’s fast-growing nation.
His goal is to learn about people wherever he went and to help wherever he could. He walked wearing basic slippers most of the time, no money, and just a few belongings, just as the actual majority of people live in reality across the world. In short, he learned that people ultimately want to be respected and live with dignity and love.
When asked, what are the three main components that might describe him – he says-
“Introspective – I feel introspection has become my way of life, like breathing. The moment something is happening, the same moment a part of me is introspecting my own actions first, followed by the overall events.
Realistic– Having worked professionally, either in business (formerly) or later in social services – my idea of reality has increased tremendously.
Free- I mean who would not like to be free, yet no one attempts to be free would still vouch for freedom and that connected to a sense of symbiotic responsibilities.”
Walked across Assam to bring people together to solve common problems.
Ankit has actually impacted 1000s of villages and countless people through his journeys and workshops over a decade. He is engaged in multiple projects at physical levels and otherwise, which include small as well as large movements like ‘Pumi Rago Brahmaputra’, where he intends to walk across the entire river line of Brahmaputra to bring people together across rural Assam (and other parts of the world) to talk about the land erosion happening continuously and the the only way to slow it down is by bringing everyone together without ego and barriers.
Ankit conceptualized a plan -The National Ecosystems Protection Movement
The plan is to use the power of the network to motivate/build a group of youngsters who are proclaimed environment lovers, in each village eventually (in all districts of India) and further train them slowly into maintaining their local ecosystems at the local level. This will at least ensure a the large level of afforestation along with river-basin protection, garbage segregation and also re-building other aspects of nature which is lost in daily life (like making soap cakes out of local material). Ankit sums up by saying, ”I am a very tiny creature to have taken birth on this beautiful planet Earth, which is indeed a tiny dot in this huge universe – a beautiful chance in itself. “
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