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Journeying through paradoxes: My experience at the YIF

Sakshi Mundada recounts what forms the Young India Fellowship experience, beyond the apparent and obvious and articulates what this did to her perception of the world

Sakshi Mundada

29 August, 2023 | 4m read

It has almost been a month since I graduated from the Young India Fellowship, but I am still struggling to explain all that it was to those around me.

“It was an experience,” I find myself saying. They laugh and say, “Everything is one.”

I nod and try again to put into words, to neither reduce nor distort, neither glorify nor reshape the year that was. I find it to be an impossible task.

Over the past year itself, in countless discussions I have had with the fellows, we have done exactly this—reduced, distorted, glorified and reshaped what the fellowship is depending on the argument we were making. It is somehow, simultaneously, all those versions that we paint in our heads and more. It is diverse yet not diverse enough, comforting yet suffocating, meant to create socially conscious young leaders while operating in an insulated bubble. The paradoxes are real and present. They collude to create this space, this unexplainable territory almost, that warps itself according to the gaze of the viewer.

It is this space, not just filled but built through paradoxes, that we lived in. It is in this space, that we left marks of our existence, together and alone. Forever changed by the space, forever changing the space itself.

I entered this space, like most other fellows with certain ideas and expectations of what the upcoming year would be like, what it would do to me, and ways in which it would make me. Now that the year has ended I can safely say that it was an entirely different experience. I am more socially conscious than I was before. I have felt the comfort of a larger community more than I have ever before in my life. I have been intellectually stimulated and challenged. I have made friends that I hope will last for a lifetime. All these promises that are thrown around while talking about the fellowship have been fulfilled in some way or the other. But the experience that the year provided was much beyond these lines.

It lay in the discomfort of recognising personal privilege and the social structures, deeply intertwining in the way of your living, that have enabled and consolidated that privilege for you. It lay in the strain of constant questioning, not just everything around but inside you. It lay in the journey of learning to let go of the familiar. In the friction between the shifting worldviews. In the dilemmas of action and inaction. In the growing distance, you feel with the life you lived before the fellowship and the one you envision after it.

It lay in the passions of the fellows who shared them with the community. The conversations they started and sustained. The critique, the compassion and the camaraderie they offered, all in the same breath.

For me, the experience of this year really, truly lay in moments of vulnerability and connection. When I, someone who has cried only a handful of times in her entire adult life, sat in a room with 20 fellows filled with cameras capturing me from every possible angle, yet cried three days in a row. It lay in times of test and dependence. When I shouldered the responsibility of putting on an art exhibit and a fashion show for the Friends of YIF and found helping hands whenever I needed them. It resided in the support I received as I built myself up, and the encouragement and validation of my abilities that I received from everyone involved in the ecosystem. In the interactions, and this space that facilitated them for me, lay my experience of this fellowship.

Today, the world itself seems to be transformed to me—it has shed its layers and the structures underneath the skin, and the surface has now become visible. It is almost like a watch has been turned and it is back opened to display the gears that keep the hands ticking. While I might not be able to grab a tool and make it function any other way, I now know or have started knowing the mechanisms that keep the watch functioning in the exact way that it does. In opening up the back of the watch, this programme has forever changed the way I look at watches (aka the world).

I now move through life, constantly looking at the back and front of the watch—checking for cause and effect, looking beyond the obvious, and probing into the layers. What I now do with this newfound way of being— which is equal parts taxing and joyful in the effort it demands and the perspectives it unveils—is entirely on me. It is without a doubt, a new way of being in this world—both a burden and responsibility to bear. I stumble as I walk forward with it, unsure of how to pull off the balancing act, still, I would not have it any other way. Uneven steps in a complicated world seem better than a self-assured walk towards a barely understood destination.

(Sakshi Mundada is from the Young India Fellowship batch of 2023 currently working as an Innovative Associate with Hrim, a creative consultancy firm. She is a design graduate with a penchant for words and an ability to forget more than she remembers)

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