She had just satiated her love for visiting palaces in Bangalore. She was uncertain about her next destination, city with the famous simmering Biriyani or the city known for it’s surfing schools. The answer was both, Hyderabad followed by Chennai. Instead of visiting the top ten tourist places of the city, she chooses to meet people who live in these cities, breathe in the air of these cities as they do.
The fact that Mallika Arya is backpacking through India, isn’t something new or different. But the mission that she is carrying with her on her way, certainly is. I have utmost respect and envy for what she’s doing. So much so that I did not feel like writing this at first, but wanted to stuff a bag only to join her at her next destination. But here I am. So let’s get to know about her a bit.
Mallika has been born and brought up in Delhi in a household where her family shares a love for the environment so much so that she says,
“We were raised in a family where my parents and grandparents are environmentally very conscious. When I was about 7 years old, my birthday party was themed, ‘Save the world’.”
We as students grow up learning about how to protect our deteriorating environment, from textbooks, but she grew up with it. Mallika’s father Mr. Aditya, is a renowned professional photographer, and every Sunday he visits his farm, to meet his love for farming. Her brother is a professional gamer and her mother gave up a corporate job to be a preschool teacher. A family where she, just like her father, was encouraged to pursue her passion. Even she made an effort to hold her own, be it her education or passion for travelling.
“On my 18th birthday I was sent alone to the US for 2 months, as a graduation present. That was the only trip funded by my father.”
She wanted to carry herself, become independent. So much so that she funded her own college education by doing odd jobs.
“I haven’t taken money from my parents for college fees. Granted the Delhi University fees is low, but I was able to pay through three years of college. I used to babysit for a single mom, putting up stalls in diwali mela selling handmade paper bags, some of it was banal work, but then I was mainly able to fund everything myself.”
Mallika saved up solely for this trip while she was working as a fellow with Teach For India. Talking about her fellowship she says, she was already inclined in working towards a better environment but when the kids in the class she taught, asked her the how, the why, the what, it hit her hard. She had to have all the answers. So she started working with them on various projects, like composting, best out of waste, growing food in an organic garden, so that in future they won’t have to read about global warming.
“As a teacher, you’re a role model not just for the 40 kids in your classroom but the entire school. You can’t expect to preach about all the horrible things happening in the world out of a textbook and not have any answers to the problems.”
Before she began her journey she brought together two things she loves, travel and environment. She backpacked thinking how she would be able to reduce the use of plastic. She carries a sturdier plastic straw, which she has been reusing for a month now. A biodegradable coffee mug. Eventually she’s hoping to switch to biodegradable material for most of her inventory.
“There have been days when I just can’t help it. Our lives are so dependent on the use of plastic that, 9 out of 10 times you can find ways to avoid plastic but that one time you’ll just have to. However the use of plastic in my life has drastically gone down.”
Talking about her travel to the first destination, Manali, she recounts how exhilarating an experience it was when she got to meet a woman cooking in a dhaba, where she ate everyday.
“While I was talking to this woman, I got to know that her daughter is a pro kabaddi player. Being a footballer, I had always seen people coming in from different backgrounds, but I never got to know about their families. I might not remember their names, but I’ll always remember that the mother of a pro-kabaddi player served me maggi and parathas.”
The woman had two daughters and a son. The son who had just come home for a break, helped his mother, instead of hanging out with boys his age. The thought that people who we level look at twice can have such inspirational backgrounds is what keeps her going.
She passes on the message to the people she meets. During her stay in ISB in Hyderabad, she asked the woman in the mess if they had some system for leftovers. Mallika asked her not to pack the food in boxes which got them talking about how she is reducing the use of plastic and avoiding waste.
She doesn’t bind herself to dates and time. She has a tentative itinerary and if she likes the place she’s in she extends her stay.
Freedom of travelling is inexplicable, the challenges are teachers, and you’re an artist taking in and sharing what you get, permeating thoughts into the depths, of the who you meet. For now I live vicariously through her blog and conversation I had with her, but I hope I’ll get to be on one such journey soon.
She is going to visit Chennai next. Her journey is far from over, I have just scratched the surface. Hear her share about her travels at Mallika Arya.