Rohan Agarwal was chatting with a policeman on a sidewalk at Ramna. He doesn't speak Bangla, and the policeman didn't speak in Hindi or English it seemed. But still, from a distance, they didn't seem to face any trouble communicating. It looked as though the conversation flowed at ease.
With olive-coloured pants, a full-sleeved black t-shirt and a maroon and mustard woollen scarf, Rohan looked like my 20-year-old nephew - a tall, lanky lad with a shy smile and thin patchy facial hair.
The high-security VIP area at Ramna was cold on the December morning while we rushed (I for one was pacing fast for sure because Rohan walks very very fast) to meet the forest, environment and climate disaster minister at his residence. "I am late by an hour, can you believe it?" asked Rohan. It took him three hours to reach Ramna from Gulshan.
Not just that Rohan, a 20-year-old college boy, was rushing to meet the environment minister on a chilly December morning but Rohan hails from Maharashtra, India. And, he has been walking from city to city for the last two years to spread awareness against plastic pollution.
From 25 August 2020, Rohan has explored 27 states in India and 20 districts in Bangladesh. He came to Bangladesh at the end of September and is currently staying in Dhaka. During this time, he has crossed over 15,000 kilometres alone, either on foot or by taking lifts from strangers.
In the next five years, Rohan plans to travel through 12-13 countries, starting with other SAARC and Asian countries and eventually reaching Siberia, one of the coldest places on earth with -72 degree cel.
'Bad habits don't need to be taught, whereas good ones do'
And, perhaps, the most inspiring part of Rohan's journey is that he managed to continue his studies online. "Studying and travelling together is not easy, but it is possible. Sometimes due to the lack of a network, I have to stop wherever I get the network and listen to the lectures. I'm currently pursuing my second year B Com from G S College of Commerce and Engineering, Nagpur. I plan to do distance learning in my third year," Rohan told The Business Standard.
With his teenage soft hair bouncing, Rohan spoke as he rushed, "Bad habits don't need to be taught, whereas good ones do." For example, one can throw plastic bottles and packets in the water, it's easier to do than looking for a dustbin or a disposing ground.
That's the reason Rohan visits schools and educational institutions to meet the teachers so that they include environment conservation as the compulsory subject to be taught.
Rohan had always been impressed with the gurukul system of education in which students had to undertake a Deshantan (journey across India), at least once during their course of study. The journey has to be entirely on foot and the one rule was to never ask for food, shelter or anything else.
That's why Rohan decided to travel on foot and sometimes take lifts. Rohan said, "If you take a flight to Delhi, you will be there fast, but you will have no idea what the roads look like, how the people look like. You will learn less."
Rohan considers himself the descendant of Swami Vivekananda, who walked across the Indian subcontinent to learn from the communities. "Prophets, preachers have travelled to lands, to communities not just to preach their ideas, but also to learn from them which eventually helped them to grow, to gather knowledge."
And he strictly follows that mantra.
After meeting the minister at his residence, Rohan was going to meet the DG of the ministry of environment in Agargaon. I was instructing him how he can take a bus, but Rohan refused. He could not take a motor ride for just a 4-kilometre distance.
While it is tricky to say if Siberia can be reached or for how long Rohan can continue his journey, his determination proves to be commendable. Because at 19 years old, I couldn't fathom leaving my family to roam around the country alone.
Stepping out of the house
Before he became a traveller Rohan had hardly stepped out of his house. He was 17 when he went on a trip without his parents for the first time. He had travelled to Pune for a wedding and his parents had warned him that it might not be safe. On the day when he was supposed to leave for Maharashtra, he thought of doing some sightseeing.
At one point, Rohan's phone died and have his wallet with him. Moreover, his train was about to depart. Rohan couldn't contact his friends and nobody seemed to step forward to help him out. That was until a kind policeman came up to him, asked him what was wrong, gave him some food and helped him call his friends. It was then Rohan realised that there certainly was kindness among people.
Consequently, he became more confident about travelling alone. "You could say that honesty and humanity are my investment. Because when I got out of my home in 2020, I had 2,500 rupees in my wallet. But look at me, I survived," Rohan looked content, although his face looked pale, perhaps because he skipped breakfast.