For 28-year-old activist and travelpreneur, Akram, to travel is to, literally, live. He has been on the road constantly since 2009 and has bicycled, hitch-hiked, trekked, and walked almost 32,000 kilometers across India.
It all started with Jagriti Yatra, a 15-day long train journey that he undertook in 2009. Hailing from a small town, he was an engineering student, trying desperately not to end up in the rat race, but unable to find a way to break free. At the yatra, he felt for the first time, like he belonged.
“After being alone most of my life in my thought process, there were suddenly 500 people around me who were as insane – if not one step further – as was me! It was exhilarating.”
It was an eye-opening experience for Akram, who made sure to capitalize on this opportunity. The next step was the final plunge, he dropped out of his college, and he pursued what was really dear to him, performing arts while he travelled. As he covered various stretches on his journey, he shared his ideas with the people he met on the way, breaking regional and language barriers.
He started The Cycle Natak, a one-man natak mandli, with barely 300 rupees in his pocket, but an immense faith in humanity to sustain him. And has it paid off!
Complete strangers, and of course, the immense Yatri network, has stepped in at every junction to offer him food, accommodation, opportunities, and of course, validation.
“I once lost my phone while I was cycling near Chennai. A few of my friends pooled money and bought me another one immediately. They even bought me a camera for my birthday this January,” says Akram. To support his travel, Akram at times has run Kickstarter campaigns to generate funds, and to his awe, each of his campaigns has received an immense support.
At this exclusive interview, we asked him about his life as a nomad and the wonderful thrills and challenges associated with it.
“One of my biggest challenges continues to be society’s expectations of what it considers as normal. And I definitely don’t fit in those bounds of a normal person. My family constantly faces questions about the kind of lifestyle I lead and the small size of my wallet. I belong to a very small town – nobody there has ever experienced anything like it! I am lucky my family accepts me for who I am, without judgment.”
Being on the road constantly is another battle. He’s faced terrible accidents but made sure he showed up for the performance the next day. Backaches from traveling cross-country on a bike in terrible winters, or endless bus rides through the hills, nausea, headache…it’s a struggle to not let physical pain detract from the joys of new experiences.
One of the life’s biggest twists happened when he decided to launch a campaign for a world without borders through theater.
And was arrested two days before India’s Independence Day. He was “illegally detained” for a week in Rajasthan simply because police thought he seemed “suspicious”. He was at the Rajasthan border, inquiring about the further movement to the restricted area when the police arrested him.
He was kept in the police station in the name of interrogation and several agencies such as IB, and RAW grilled him on various issues.
He was kept in custody for three days, while his family ran pillar to post, looking up all contacts who could help release him.
It was the most traumatic time of his life, both physically and emotionally.
But the show must go on.
Akram is currently planning an Africa Caravan, in order to take his travels to Africa, and shall be back soon with new stories! At Jagriti Yatra, we understand how not all those who wander are lost, and truly commend Akram’s spirit. He is a true inspiration for all of us sitting at our office desks.
To hear Akram live, watch his TED Talk here.
To follow his fantastic journey, stalk him here.
– Written by Shriya Garg