My ten commandments to realising a Quest: learnt from a 1700km walk

My ten commandments to realising a Quest: learnt from a 1700km walk

Gita Balakrishnan

Architect; Founder Ethos and ACEDGE


Yes – I walked and walked and walked. A 1700 kilometre walk from Kolkata to New Delhi over 70 days.

When I came out with my decision to undertake this journey, there were many who love me, who openly told me I was crazy. There were many others, I am sure, who thought similarly in their hearts; but chose to hold on to their opinions.

There are still many more, who are intrigued and have quizzed me on what I have achieved; and what next, now that I have walked this distance.

The Quest was a cross country walk

Honestly, each of us is on a quest; and this was and will be a personal quest for me too. The desire to do a long-distance cross-country walk had been brewing in my mind for a few years. It was spawned by an article on Priya Dutt, walking from Mumbai to Amritsar, along with her father, Sunil Dutt, the veteran actor.

I could imagine the different moments and experiences that could transform me through a similar journey; one that had its own intent and meaning.  The completion of Ethos’s 20 successful years, coinciding with the 75th year of India’s Independence, gave me the perfect opportunity to turn this dream into a reality!

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More recently, I followed the heart-rending stories of the thousands of migrant workers who were forced to walk back; from a life they had dreamed up for themselves. Images of a solitary slipper, spilt food or a doll on the road, were grim reminders of a life they had left behind. Their long walk would have changed them too for sure; as it turned their lives upside down. I often imagine their state of mind and their conversations to keep their spirits high, as they undertook this torrid trip.

The purpose behind the Quest

In the pursuit of this quest centred around the long walk, my purpose was to shed light on the role of good design, the contributions of the Architecture and Design fraternity in society and issues that they aim to address through design.

The Indian construction industry employs over 30 million people and creates assets worth over ₹ 200 billion. It contributes more than 5 per cent to the nation’s GDP and 78 per cent to the gross capital formation (Source: Wikipedia). Through working with the different stakeholders in the built environment, our fraternity of Architects, Designers and Engineers directly contribute towards nation-building.

Hence, it is essential for us to go out to the larger community, in order to reinforce this awareness. Design and architecture are largely unknown as professions in India. It is in this same context, that the fraternity needs to be a lot more visible, in the realm of social and community good; and through their actions, showcase the importance of their technical expertise.

Challenges and Support

A good idea, planted at the right time, becomes a magnet; to attract all the goodwill and participation that is needed for its fulfilment. But to be living out of a suitcase, waking up in a different bed every day, being away from your family for this long, is certainly not easy.

Even though I had been preparing for the walk for a while, it does take the body some time to get accustomed to such a routine. While there were challenges on this quest, there was immense support as well. Local Institutions, fellow architects and designers on the route, came forward to support the initiative. Even people unknown to me, whom I met along the way, have tried to help and motivate me in every way possible.

Lessons Learnt

Every step taken was a new lesson learnt. Learning from communities, cities, institutions, organisations, climatic conditions, landscape, built and unbuilt environments, formal and informal settings helped the two-decade-long efforts of Ethos to come full circle.

I fondly recall my memories at Madhabpur, a village in West Bengal, where I was absolutely moved by the reception I got from their Self-Help Group, who didn’t even know me or expect anything of me. Despite their worries, they sang and danced with me and interacted with such affection!

 I left with a heavy heart, hoping to find answers to some of their issues, with the involvement of my fraternity.

The journey itself was exciting, arduous and enlightening!

While fulfilling my quest of completing the cross country walk, every day was an overwhelming experience. Experiencing my country’s rich cultural heritage, natural resources, people, lifestyles and issues kept my mind running at a pace much faster than that of my walk.

Design touches everyone’s life. It is imperative for young architects and designers to understand the local infrastructural and architectural issues. Much like doctors, they can go back to their hometowns and help the common people understand how massive changes can be brought about, through design intelligence.

While the walk is over, for me it is but one step towards the change we could all achieve together. Until I reached Delhi, it was one day at a time for me. Now, the job at hand is to bring together the various stakeholders, who could be catalysts in making the difference that is required.

Change is occurring at a furious pace and hence we need to act fast – to make robust and responsible action plans.

My ten commandments to realising a Quest

I am sharing here, as the ten commandments, my learning from this very satisfying cross-country walk I accomplished.

  1. Allow the quest to completely possess you.
  2. Write and internalise the reason for this quest. Have clarity on the intent and the outcome.
  3. There is no alternative to planning. Attention to minute detailing is a must.
  4. Ask for and accept all the help you need.
  5. This is the time to harness and utilise all the connections and goodwill you have built over time. Be unabashed about it.
  6. Go to town with it and the pressure will be on you. Pressure is the magic potion.
  7. Yes – this will probably be the most intense and stressful time of your life. Learn to manage the pressures.
  8. Read about other similar quests. Learn from them. Reach out for advice from the achievers. Believe me – these are largehearted people and will help.
  9. Record the many magical moments of this mission of a lifetime. You need to see it as a mission to make it happen.
  10. Enjoy the journey. The journey is the destination!

I am extremely content on having achieved the intent of this long journey and on having completed it despite multiple unexpected obstacles.

I encourage you to think about a quest you may be having, buried deep in your heart. Take it up and go for it!

Please do leave your comments at the bottom and do share with others if you like this article.

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Meenu Sareen
1 year ago

What grit and determination!

Gita Balakrishnana
Gita Balakrishnana
1 year ago
Reply to  Meenu Sareen

Thanks Meenu!

Meenu Varshney
Meenu Varshney
1 year ago

Your determination and courage is admirable

Gita Balakrishnan
Gita Balakrishnan
1 year ago
Reply to  Meenu Varshney

Thank You – it is interesting that two Meenus have commented 🙂

1 year ago

You have been inspiring many of us by the way you quench your thirst..! You have showed many of us the way to follow your dreams. Thanks for being one of the kind. Keep doing many more achievements Gita Ma’am…!

Gita Balakrishnan
Gita Balakrishnan
1 year ago
Reply to  G.Tamilvanan

Thank you so much Prof.Tamilvanan! Looking forward to some collaborations

Michele Fonseka
Michele Fonseka
1 year ago

What indomitable determination and courage Gita, to achieve your mission/quest!

Reminds me of the popular song- To dream the impossible dream’-
Quote” This is my qwest to follow that star
No matter how hopeless no matter how far,
To fight for the right without question or pause”
‘To be willing to walk on the road for an earthly cause ‘( change of words to suit)
Well done!!

Anita Guha
Anita Guha
1 year ago

Great achievement Geeta but you have always been an inspiration to many of us .. God Bless