They say when you travel far enough, you meet yourself. Most of us have travelled in and across the country, but how many of us can proudly say that we have discovered ourselves during this journey and deciphered the problems our fellow citizens deal with every day?
We plan trips with our friends, take a weekend off work; we visit home almost every quarter of the year; visit our relatives residing in opposite parts of the country.
They say wherever we go, becomes a part of us somehow. Is it true though – do we journey across the nation as tourists or as travellers?
Do we see what we see, click pictures and upload them on our Facebook timelines or do we see what we’ve come to discover – ourselves, our land and the nature surrounding us?
A lot of us have immense love for travelling but not all of us are exposed to an opportunity that changes us as individuals.
When in college, Siddharth cycled from Calcutta to Bombay with a friend. It took him a month, but in the process, they documented issues of child labour, child education and access to credit in rural India. He partnered with not-for-profit organisations like CRY and Rang De and also managed to raise funds for them.
“The journey had a lasting impact on me,” he says. “It changed me and I wanted to do the same for others who might have a fondness for travelling but not the platform to explore.”
Veditum India Foundation
Veditum is a research think tank and a media organisation which works on topics under the environment, culture and social sectors.
“I founded Veditum as a means to increase interesting ground level research opportunities for young minds, while also creating a media parallel for online participation that extends into ground work. Most of our work at Veditum is based on primary information and are generally slow projects. It, therefore, made sense to design things around walking, an activity that has tremendous power to act as an equaliser and also in providing insight into people’s lives,” said Siddharth Agarwal to The Logical Indian.
“We are trying to fill an information gap about issues pertaining to both urban and rural India. There are many aspects that we are unaware of because there is a lack of resources in terms of information availability. For example, if you look at some of our projects like City Water Walks where we are trying to map the urban commons like parks, roads, information is hardly available and we don’t have enough people actively involved to bridge the gap. The more information we have documented in a rich format, the easier it becomes for us, as a society, to make smarter decisions,” he continued.
Veditum in Sanskrit means ‘to understand’, and rightly so. There are a couple of projects undertaken by the organisation which focuses on research on an individual level through frugal journeys, understanding issues, creating content and delivering them to activists, researchers and anyone with a knack of exploration.
“We’re hoping to create newer partnerships soon, to collaborate with other organisations in environmental, cultural and social research areas. Also, we’re trying through our small means to also encourage as many women as we can to participate,” said Siddharth.
“The way we document our projects gets people interested in serious issues. We don’t limit anyone to contribute full time. We have 10-15 people who are contributing in different capacities in different cities across India and through different projects,” he continued.
Veditum works on the concept of ‘slow journalism’ which is not about reporting per se but about being present for an issue and giving it enough time without rushing to things. “We try not to push for the sake of results because our aim is to represent the information which is missing from the system. The idea is to move slow enough to absorb and experience a wider range of things and get more responses to questions that we ourselves are looking out for,” said Siddharth.
From reverence to ignorance, we live in an age where the idea of co-existence will supposedly hit home only when there’s nothing left to destroy or fight over. Great civilisations have flourished on the banks of rivers across the world, bringing to life and supporting generations of people and their needs. A sincere enquiry is all that is required to realise the plight of our rivers and notice our appalling treatment of them. The ‘Moving Upstream’ series is an attempt to document the stories of the rivers of India, bringing out a first person narrative of the river’s condition and life of the people of the basin, reads the Veditum website.
The project revolves around Indian rivers where those who undertake it, travel around Indian rivers and document lives around them. “We work on creating a documentary, writing a book, creating an exhibition so we can take this information to a larger group of audience. We are also building a background tool so that this information can be made accessible in digital format and be shared with other river activists and researchers in India. Currently, there is a lot of overlapping work so how can we decrease this and increase efficiency? We are currently running a crowdfunding campaign for one of the projects that we had done on Ganga where I had walked 3000 km along its coast,” said Siddharth.
[Know more about the Moving Upstream project here.]
The Ganga basin holds great importance for millions of people in India – it accounts for 26% of the Indian land mass and serves 40% of the country’s population.
Since June 2016, a 3000 km upstream walk of the river along its banks from the ocean near Sagar Island in West Bengal to the temple town of Gangotri in Uttarakhand has been completed by Veditum.
Veditum had undertaken another project ‘City Water Walks’ which sought to address three main questions: Where does the water in our city come from?, ‘Tracking the journey of this resource’ and ‘Where does our waste go?’.
Inspiration behind starting Veditum
Siddharth always wanted to become a mechanic or an explorer. He has completed his B.Tech and M.Tech in Aerospace Engineering from IIT Kharagpur.
“I was not very convinced with the way things were in college and that took me to some thinking to what it is I could be doing. I did not want to subscribe to the idea of mediocrity. Hence, I decided to explore, the love for which stems from my childhood years when I used to binge watch national geographic,” he explained.
As a part of Veditum’s project – Walking Back To My Roots – Siddharth walked across Rajasthan to explore his ancestry and identity. “While doing this, I was exposed to the current scenario of things around these areas and focused more on the cultural aspects,” he said.
“The things we came across while on our journey had a lasting impact on us,” said Siddharth.
Siddharth wishes to offer the same to people who want to explore and research from the ground level but do not have the necessary platform.