Finding Jagatpura: My Welcome Back to India!

“For me, that day lives forever. The constant fuel of inspiration for my work with young people in India and beyond.”

This is a follow-up piece to Jazzmine’s earlier piece Namaskar, Jazzmine. Read on to learn more about her inspiring, emotional India experience!

DSC04632

Once I’ve made a decision, I follow through. (Which often means lingering in the decision making process for months, or even years, if I’m unsure.) When I left India in 2014, I told myself I’d be back. And in January 2015, I made the move for a 6-month internship with a local grassroots development organization. 

It had already been about a month since I arrived, but all I could think of was Vishal, Abisher, and the grinning faces of my students back in Jaipur. I had just settled into my new home in Bikaner, and was eager to hop on a train to see them. The problem was, I didn’t remember the name of the school, or the colony where they lived. I didn’t want to risk calling the organization – they weren’t exactly thrilled with the strategic implementation I led while volunteering for them – so, I took it upon myself to figure it out on my own. 

My Spanish roommates needed to extend their visas so they could stay in the country a few months longer. They had sent them to the consulate in Jaipur and were now in need of pick-up (as you can tell, visa extensions wouldn’t become an online process until post-pandemic). With an excuse to run to Jaipur, I boarded a train at Bikaner Junction with them late one evening. Cuddled into our sleeping bags, the chilly winter air of Rajasthan kept me awake all night in sleeper class – I also wasn’t used to trains yet and was nervous we would miss our stop with no announcements made to passengers. To date, I’ve never missed a stop, but I have heard stories from fellow travelers who’ve continued up to 50km in the wrong direction…

When eight hours finally came to an end, my tired eyes peeked out the window. Jaipur Junction. 

Arriving early at your destination in India is always bittersweet, you have the whole day ahead of you, but not many places will check you into your accommodation until closer to 11AM. That’s why Hotel Pearl Palace, a low-budget hotel with a rooftop terrace and restaurant that opens at 7AM, has always been my saving grace. We smushed into a rickshaw and cuddled close as the cold wind invaded our space. As we came to a stop in front of the hotel, we rushed inside only to come to a halt at the feet of the sleeping hotel staff on the floor, wrapped like Egyptian mummies next to the front desk. 

“Namaskar,” I whispered, poking one of the three sleeping men. Startled, the young man jolted awake and quickly removed the sheet from his face, his eyes red and swollen. I apologized and asked if we could have somewhere to rest until the restaurant opened. We followed him up two-flights of their narrow marble staircase and into the common area. The couch in there, that’s my spot. What hospitality!

Extreme hunger brought us up to the restaurant an hour later where we were able to plan our day. The girls needed to spend a few hours at the consulate so I decided to head downtown for the morning and into Jagatpura where the school was.

As I hailed for a rickshaw, it dawned on me that I had no idea where I was going. I pressed my luck. As the ride began, I started recognizing familiar bridges and large signage – even a sign with the name Abisher plastered across it. It was definitely a sign! With the sun on my face, I couldn’t help but smile. I knew I would get there, somehow. My gut was pulling me in the right direction and the universe was about to let me greet my kids once again. 

But then 30 minutes went by. 

Then another 30 minutes. 

Then, my severely annoyed driver started giving up on me after two hours of circling the locality. I was completely lost. Nothing looked familiar anymore. Every railway track and painted boundary tricked me into thinking I knew where I was. I could feel the tears welling up. 

After multiple side roads, yelling out to uncles for directions, and aggressive turns whenever I would yell out a turn, we began our journey back into the city, exhausted and defeated. I had also run out of cash to pay the driver, but I wasn’t going to let him know that until I reached my destination. 

We hit traffic at a railway crossing dividing the locality. He turned the engine off and I threw my feet up, texting the girls to let them know I was heading back into the city. The train was loud, I remember feeling so exhausted, the rumble almost put me to sleep. Suddenly a familiar, raspy voice in the distance rose above the white noise. I scanned the crowd. Just a few meters away, awaiting the train to pass, Abisher, his aunt and sister were on their way to the bus stand. I threw cash at the driver (I promise I didn’t rip him off), jumped out of the rickshaw and into the chaos of buses and cars as they fought to cross the tracks first. I screamed his name, but no sound escaped me. I was breathless, beaming from ear to ear. I  ran and caught up with them.

“Abisher.” I placed my hand on his shoulder.

He whipped around. 

“JAZZMINE!” He jumped into my arms. “You come back for us!” 

I burst into tears, unable to contain my emotion in public, embarrassing the three of them. They rushed me over to the bus stop. Abisher struggled through broken English while trying to recap everything that had happened to him, his family, his peers, and the school since I had last seen him, which had now been about 10 months.

We jumped off the bus at a half constructed society development. We approached one of the homes and ascended the concrete stairs, Abisher’s voice echoed through the emptiness. When we approached the second level, Abisher’s mother was already outside ready to greet me, with gifts and sweets in hand. It had been about 45 minutes since Abisher and I had spotted each other near the train. Somehow during this time, his aunt was able to hop on the phone and arrange for food to be made, while juggling traffic, trains, and boarding a crowded bus. I corrected myself: that is hospitality. 

We sat on the couch while his mother made chai, working through a conversation mostly made up of giggles and toothy grins. I didn’t have much Hindi vocabulary at this point in my travels but was able to navigate my way through conversations. Although, this still made it very challenging to keep up the conversation when the other parties don’t understand a lick of English. 

We moved to the veranda to enjoy our chai, while Abisher and I discussed ways we could surprise the rest of the kids with a visit. Because I was only in Jaipur one more day, as I had to return to work, I assured them I would be back after Holi. They all gave me a similar stinky face, expressing their dislike of my choice of timing. 

“Too long”, Abisher noted. 

But, it was better than not returning.

As the clock quickly approached 5pm, and completely unsure of where I was geographically, I called up a friend in hopes he could find me and pick me up. I handed the phone to Abhisher’s mother to provide directions.

As we descended the stairs, Abisher’s smile began to fade. He handed me a slip of paper with the address of the school. I hugged him so tightly, I can still feel his skinny arms squeezing me back. Kabir pulled up to take me back to the city. I jumped in the front seat and stuck my head and arms out the window to wave goodbye as he swerved the car around in the dusty sand and headed for the main road. 

When I finally returned in March, my heart glowed through my shirt. I intentionally tried to sleep a little longer the morning of, but found myself lying awake for an hour and a half on the top bunk of my hostel bed. I had come alone this time, thrilled to have as much time as I wanted to spend with the kids. The rickshaw cruised down familiar streets – and this time, I knew exactly where we were going. I closed my eyes to relax myself. The last thing I wanted was another emotional outburst. The rickshaw halted abruptly, as usual, and I jumped out. 

I was here. 

Here in the square where the van would drop Anna and I off every morning. 

Here in the square where we would take the kids on their first field trip. 

Here in the square where the kids would chase after the van when school was done for the day, longing for more. 

They deserved more. 

As I approached the school, Chandrakanta walked out, one of the teacher’s we had worked with to push our agenda forward.

Namaskar ji!” I opened my arms and embraced her, forgetting the past. 

She smiled, “you are here in India! What are you doing here?” 

I explained my emotional journey here, feeling so open in the moment, only to realize the few words she captured from my five minute TedTalk included “job”, “Bikaner”, and “NGO”. 

“That’s wonderful! Congratulations and welcome back to India.” I asked if I could enter the school and she led the way by opening the door. I walked in to find two European girls wearing bindis taking selfies with a few children I didn’t recognize. 

“Oh, hello!” I’m sure they could sense my confusion (and dislike) but could have cared less. 

“Hi!” They replied without even glancing at me. I paused, waiting for some type of physical acknowledgment. I never got it. I climbed the tall concrete stairs to the upstairs room. Five kids ran around in circles, throwing crayons and pencils at each other. Again, none I recognized. Chandrakanta slowly followed me up the stairs, clearly reading my mind and the confusion on my face. 

“They cut a lot of the funding, we will most likely have to close the school”. I quickly turned to meet her eyes. 

“But what about our plan?” She shrugged her shoulders while failing to stop the mischievous children from chucking pointy objects at one another. I slowly backed away and out the door to where most of the kids lived. I re-entered the square and made the slight right I always remembered. As I walked down the busy side street, I scanned the many faces looking for a familiar one. 

“Jasmin!”

 I looked up to find Mahima dangling from a balcony. 

Namaskar Mahima!” A jolt of energy shot up my spine. 

Calmly and without moving from her spot she replied, “aap kaise ho?” I chuckled. Her “how are you” was so casual, you’d think we saw each other last week. Our brief exchange of words influenced onlookers to investigate further. Suddenly, a bunch of little familiar faces started to bounce out of homes towards me.

“Jasmin! Didi!” Mahima eventually joined in. They gathered around for hugs, to touch my famous curly hair, and stare into my soul with their sharp gazes.

My visit was 3 hours of smiles and laughter, which resulted in two sore cheeks, four cups of chai, and one very VIP Rajasthani puppet performance by a few older brothers and fathers. The visit is exactly what my soul needed to calm my fears of these children not having enough. They didn’t have much but they had family, they had each other, and they had a love for learning influenced by two generations continuing to support their studies. They weren’t great schools, but it’s an education.

 As my visit came to an end, so did my faith that I would see Vishal. When I walked out to the square to head back to the city, Vishal appeared in the distance, with his hair combed over and his crisp blue school uniform tucked in and ironed. 

“Hello Jasmin didi.” He said with his infamous smile – a smile I often see when I close my eyes and think of those days in Jaipur. My day was complete. One of the older boys, a sixteen year old now with a wife in Delhi, had his father offer me a ride back into the city in this rickshaw. He refused to take payment and I refused to take a free ride. 

For me, that day lives forever. The constant fuel of inspiration for my work with young people in India and beyond. Unfortunately, I’ve yet to see those kids again, but I do hope that one day I see their smiling, grown faces in a newspaper or on a website somewhere as they continue to make strides for the next generation of learners who will rise up and out of their economic situation to break generational patterns.


Passport Perspectives, Travel Column with Jazzmine Raine

About Jazzmine Raine

Jazzmine leads from a background of over 10 years in project management, social impact, and experiential education. She is the proud founder of Hara House, India’s first zero waste guesthouse and tourism organization, and has been recognized globally for her work in the sustainable tourism sector.

Her diverse career has spanned across multiple countries with a strategic focus on providing young people the tools and knowledge needed to solve global challenges. With a love for storytelling and leading social impact, she thrives when coaching students and young professionals in leading new, innovative ideas.

Jazzmine has been a key leader in many unique social projects such as Causeartist, Sustainable Travel Network, Studio.89, CanGap and Hara World. In her spare time, you will find her writing short stories and drinking chai on her balcony at 8000ft in the Himalayas.

You can read all stories under the ‘Passport Perspectives’ Travel Column here.

WhatsApp
Facebook
Twitter
LinkedIn
Email

Related Articles

Scroll to Top