Most people travel to exotic locales with an agenda — leisure, curiosity and sometimes, to pretty up their social media feeds. But a husband and wife duo from the city is giving us reasons of substance. Trotting across the country, Akshatha Shetty and Piyush Goswami are documenting the reality of our society, highlighting issues and working on human interest stories through their social work art project called Rest of My Family. They are now on a mission to drive through rural India, non-stop for an entire year through their crowdfunded campaign #DriveForChange. We bring you their story live from the road!
Travelling across the length and breadth of the country, it wasn’t just enough for this couple to confine people to mere names, faces or empty promises. “We had formed deep personal connections with the people we met and we couldn’t move on knowing fully well that these newly-formed friends and family were continuing with their struggles. The people we met, despite all the hardships they were going through, treated us like family,” says Piyush, a 30-year-old documentary photographer and filmmaker. That’s when they decided to step out of what they call “me and my circles” and connect with their larger family — humanity. “We decided to give up our homes, to live life on the road and do everything in our power to not just document, but support these communities as well,” says 29-year-old Akshatha, who is an engineer by education but a passionate writer by choice.
Ever since, the couple has quit their jobs and have been travelling through the tribal belts of Shyamgarh, Bawariya near Aravalli Ranges and Nagaland. “In Shyamgarh, Rajasthan, we stayed with the locals in an old house opposite a massive fort. We later learnt that the entire fort was occupied by the queen and her caretaker and that no one else lived with her. It had an eerie vibe to it, yet it signified the remnants of an era when royalty once thrived in the soils of the village,” reminisces Akshatha. The traditional bamboo houses of the Nagas with the hills providing a vivid backdrop and witnessing Ladakh’s true character at the peak of winter were other unforgettable experiences for them. “While travelling to Tso-Moriri, we were stuck in a snow blizzard. We took shelter in a Tibetian refugee camp nearby where an old man, who has been there for over 60 years, offered us shelter,” says Piyush, adding that the man hadn’t even applied for an Indian citizenship, hoping that someday he’d go back home, to Tibet. To tell similar stories and to help where they can, the husband and wife duo is now running a crowdfunded campaign through which they have raised $9,386 in under a month to sustain them on their journey. They also freelance and write articles to keep going.
Currently journeying through the mists of Nellyiampathy in Kerala in a Mahindra 550, the duo is now looking to traverse through Telangana, Jharkand, Bihar and into the hills of Assam, Orissa, West Bengal and eventually, the North East — the duo has taken some lessons too. “To trust fellow human beings and embrace similarities and differences between us,” they say. Admiring Humans of New York’s Brandon Stanton, they have been documenting their journey through photographs, staying true to the fact that a picture speaks a thousand words. “Through this journey, we will focus on highlighting social issues and human interest stories, documenting the triumphs of the ordinary man despite all the hardships they face constantly, and help these stories reach a larger audience and wherever necessary extend support to the individuals and communities that we write about,” says Akshatha.