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Building A Better India – Is School Education Enough?

It is often said that the best gift we can give our children is Education. Indians have taken this adage to a whole new level with Indian parent’s, especially the belly (read bulging middle class) of India becoming obsessive about education. The picture below is self-descriptive and explains the Helicopter Parenting well.

Education has thus emerged as one of the largest industries in the country, and with commercialisation of education, rote learning without stress on the holistic development of the child has become the norm.

Education to most of us in India has been about gathering as many fancy degrees as we can. With the imbalance between good schools and our population, parents have also quite justifiably mostly focused on academics. Unfortunately, somewhere in the rat race, the core of Education, Knowledge and Learning, has got lost.

‘You can impose a certain discipline on children, dress them into a certain mould, lash them into a desired path, but unless you can get their hearts and natures on your side, the conformity to this imposed rule becomes hypocritical and heartless, a conventional, often a cowardly compliance’ – Sri Aurobindo

As a young mother, I was pretty much the same, but the entire paradigm of education changed for me when we moved to London, UK for a couple of years and I was introduced to the Montessori system (founded by an Italian doctor). The irony is that I was introduced to it by a Japanese friend – An Indian parent introduced to an Italian system by a Japanese in the UK.

For readers who are new to Montessori, this method of teaching was introduced by Italian physician and educator, Dr Maria Montessori. A paediatric doctor, she would often observe children in her care. Soon she developed the material and method to educate children with learning difficulties and later on went on to teach low-income mainstream children. She noted that given the right environment, free choice of education material, uninterrupted work and freedom of movement and activity under limited adult supervision resulted in better learning.

I was intrigued by the system and attended numerous sessions. The key difference was the mixed age classrooms where the teacher played the role of a facilitator and let each child operate at their pace without force-fitting a curriculum. The children were free to explore the various activities in the classroom and had the liberty to pick any activity they liked. The activities / materials have been designed keeping the learning needs at various ages / stages of development, e.g., motor skills at an early age, being independent at a slightly later age and social and cognitive skills as they turn 6-8 years old. The focus is on discovery and invoking basic curiosity in the children. By doing this, the Montessori system prepares them to be life ready and better individuals.

Outside of what parents impart at home, children spend considerable time at schools which forms the building blocks to shape them and in turn, the future of our society. While it is not practical to change our education system, I think it is important that we imbibe some of the aspects of alternative systems such as Montessori which can lead to an overall improvement in our society.

In my experience as a mother, following are the key attributes which the current education system does not stress enough upon:

1. Independence – Dr Maria Montessori famously said, “The greatest gifts we can give our children are the roots of responsibility and the wings of independence.” A task completed on their own not only gives them a strong sense of accomplishment, but it also increases their confidence. Everyday activities like choosing their clothes, dressing up, eating on their own, cleaning their cupboards, cleaning up after meals, etc. can help instil a sense of independence. It is worth all the wait and patience, to see the child tie the lace and their eyes light up on their achievement.

2. Responsibility – One of the biggest failures of our incumbent education system has been to celebrate individual success with lesser regard to collective achievements. This has led to a callous approach towards familial, societal, environmental responsibilities. There are multiple attributes of the Montessori system which promote a deep sense of responsibility and social awareness. E.g., (i) Children are trained to clean up their surroundings and ensure the activity area is returned to its original state before they embark on a new activity, (ii) With the mixed age classes, older children are trained to support and guide younger children with their activities, (iii) Every day, one child brings food for the entire class promoting a sense of sharing and caring. A lot of large problems faced by India could be eradicated if we start preparing children from their primitive years, e.g., cleanliness, social harmony, sharing, etc.

3. Empathy – Joint family system naturally leads to strong sense of empathy amongst individuals. Nuclearisation of families leads to undue focus on children, with empathy being one of the biggest casualties. Strong societies are always built on strong empathy. I would recommend workshops with less privileged kids, children with special needs, visits to old age homes, orphanages etc. to be made part of the cur-riculum. Parents and schools should encourage the habit of giving and charity for the needy.

4. Decision making skills – Parents at home and teachers in the school tend to micro-manage everything a child does during a day. In the Montessori environment, every day, the child is required to choose an activity that they want to do. Once chosen, the child organises materials required to undertake that activity, completes that activity, and then keeps all the materials back in their respective place. This cycle repeats every time a child wants to do an activity. This entire sequence of choice, orderly execution, completion and winding up instils number of qualities – decision making, ability to operate on their own and being organised.

5. Curiosity – Children by their very nature are very curious and the present education system tends to suppress their curiosity by force fitting a curriculum. Rishi Kanad or Newton later would not have discovered the Laws of Motion if they did not have curious minds. There should be sessions where speakers from various walks of life take workshops on a variety of topics like current affairs, art, music, history, space science, mythology, business etc.

6. Environment conscious – This is really need of the hour with the clock ticking away. Explaining waste management, minimal and optimal use of plastics, farming (a lot of schools do take children on farming trips to show them the laborious process to grow food and empathise with the farmers) will make the children better citizens of the world.

In a nutshell, the education system should also focus on Emotional Quotient (EQ) and not just on Intelligence Quotient (IQ). High EQ will help children face varied situations more holistically, teach them empathy, resilience and build confidence. In the primary years, the education system should focus on equipping the children with ability to understand their feelings and ways to cope and deal with them.

This news piece was so heartening to see post the World Cup match between Germany and Japan. I would really like to believe their schools have done something right to instil this habit in their citizens.


About: CA Ankan Gupta Rastogi,

A Delhi girl by heart living in Mumbai for the past 10 years, she now loves both cities. Chartered Accountant by profession she works with a CA firm for the past 10 year. She is a good listener, people friendly and likes to mentor her juniors. She likes reading non-fiction and Indian mythological books and watching documentaries on various subjects. She constantly strives to contribute to saving the environment in her own small ways, from curtailing unnecessary purchases, to instilling the habit of reuse in her children.

She can be reached on : ankan.gupta@gmail.com

Are We Eating Healthy? Right? Enough?

Kinship of the Actual Kind!

After years of spending one’s life to find the purpose behind it, there is an epiphany of sorts. One needs to have an open mind to recognise it. Stronger the desire, stronger will be the opportunity. Let me narrate a short story that changed not only my life but also the life of others. I am convinced that God made me an instrument to bring a kindle of hope to a few underprivileged children and help them stand on their feet through education. This has given me a sense of fulfillment that would not have been possible otherwise. It has convinced me that good thoughts and deeds come back in some way to create a circle of positive influence that spreads exponentially once you have passed the rigorous test that God may subject you to, to check your resolve. Let me share my story with you.

During a social awareness campaign in our ward (the S Ward), one concern which was raised by several of the residents was “Our girls do not have a school in this section/area”. I was keen on making a real difference by addressing this concern, and so I decided to start a school for the children from economically backward families of my area, who are unable to afford paying fees at other schools. On 23rd April 1992, we established and registered our Trust, and within just 50 days, on 12th June 1992, we started our school. My wife and I went around each and every household in our ward and got 402 students to apply for admission to our school.

The school started with Nursery, Primary section, and Secondary section up to Standard 8. The challenges we faced in the initial years were very many, first of all, the school is located in a mountainous area, with slums around inhabited by people with zero understanding on the importance of education or schooling. The real challenge was in getting parents to appreciate the importance of sending their children to school. The first five years were doggedly spent in creating this awareness. By 1994-1995, we had classes up to Standard 10.

It was then that the Chembur High School Trustee spoke to me about the work being done by KEF, a corporate education foundation in our ward, the M-East Ward. He was kind enough to arrange a meeting for me at his school. Another friend and Principal of Amar Kor Vidyalaya, accompanied me, and we met Dham Sir for the very first time in 2006.

The biggest challenge we faced then was that in spite of my Standard 10 students knowing basic English grammar, they were unable to express themselves and communicate in English, which would definitely impact their ability to perform well in college. The children lacked confidence and were scared to interact with other English medium school children. Our children could not cope up with English as a language of communication in college and the English medium school children fared far better than them, demoralizing our children further.

I expressed my concern to Dham sir during the meeting with him. Dham Sir suggested I start a Spoken English program through the Foundation in my school. The program soon started bearing fruit and our school children started speaking the English language well and became confident in college. This was the start of my school’s relationship with the Foundation. Over the years, based on my school’s requirements, the Foundation started designing projects and supporting us with them. Programs like regular eye check-ups for children and their parents, eye operations for children were supported by the Foundation.

As the school grew bigger, the Foundation helped us build bigger toilets for the school children. Our school had cement roofs, which made the classrooms unbearably hot. With the help of the Foundation, these were changed by adding panels to the roof.

The real meaning of parenthood and parental responsibilities was taught to our school parents by the Foundation, not our teachers. While we had opened the school for the slum children, it was the Foundation which brought about an overall change in the behavior of the parents and their involvement with their children.

Under the guidance of Dham Sir, we started a semi-English medium section, which helped our children to speak the English language more fluently. In today’s times, while I see many Marathi medium schools around us shutting down, in our school, admissions are full, and we are forced to turn away applications as there are no seats left.

I very often ask my staff to emulate the work ethics of the Foundation team which is so focused on the work assigned to them, which considers it to be their personal responsibility and does not look at the clock.

One of our success stories is Amol Jadhav, from the 2010 batch who scored 83% in SSC. He was awarded the ‘Kotak In Search Of Excellence’ scholarship to pursue higher education. After studying at Dr. D.Y. Patil Medical College, Navi Mumbai, he joined K. J Somaiya Super Specialty Hospital, Sion and worked there. He was selected by Maharashtra Government Health Department as an Operation Theatre Scrub and since December 2017, works an assistant surgeon performing independent surgeries.

The pandemic and lockdown restrictions forced education to move online for even schools such as ours. The Foundation supported our school-teachers and provided all the required guidance for starting online schooling. We received Tabs through the Foundation for our children and schoolteachers. These Tabs have the entire portion in-built; our teachers were taught how to operate these tabs and how to teach the students with them. We have now realized that if we want to work in this digital age, we will need Tabs and digital classrooms. We cannot do away with them. The Foundation has taken up the responsibility to help and guide us through this transition. COVID relief kits were also distributed to the families in collaboration with the Foundation.

Private trusts such as ours need all the support and assistance from corporates, and if there is anyone who believes that we do not need NGOs in Mumbai, they are wrong. We really need NGOs in Mumbai, especially in Adivasi wards like ours which have no proper roads and if in these areas, there are no schools like ours, the children suffer, they need to travel far to attend school. Boys will still manage to go to school, but the girls will not be able to do this.

Today, the ratio of girls in our school is way higher than the boys, and all the credit goes to the safe environment which has been created in the school. The parents have placed a lot of trust in us, and to maintain this trust, we are making all efforts to provide quality education through the teachers and support staff. The partnership with the Foundation has played a huge role in us achieving this.

With the success that God has bestowed on us, we have started dreaming big. We would now like to aim higher and set up a junior college for all our students in the future and the school management also intends to start an English medium school. The main challenge here would be good infrastructure, a well-furnished building for the students as well as ventilated and spacious classrooms. Just as He provided me with the necessary support and assistance of the Foundation to come this far, I pray that He makes it possible for me to serve my community further. I also pray that He blesses each person with His Grace.

 

 

 

 


About: Mr. Sadanand Raorane,

A passionate educationist, Sadanand Raorane is also the Secretary of Jay Bhavani Shikshan Prasarak Mandal, General Secretary of the Mahamumbai Education Society Association, working President of Arjun Raorane Vidyalaya & Hemant Keshav Raorane Junior College and Executive Trustee of Anandibai College, Vaibhaivwadi.

She can be reached on : milindvidyalaya@gmail.com

Declutter Your Wardrobe to Declutter Your Life

We have all heard the terms ‘recycling’ and ‘sustainability’ very often. But how much do we actually practice?? How does one do this?

This is exactly what we four friends, who had known each other for over fifteen years, wondered. Our friendship dates back to the time our kids went to school together, and though they have long since left school and are now professionals in their respective fields, our friendship has stood the test of time. If anything, it has deepened over the years. It is said, “When we tend to our friendships, they grow in connection and nourish us in return.”

Traditionally, we invest huge amounts of time and money in customising unique attires for weddings and other traditional functions. And over time, we have a wardrobe full of these beautiful pieces.

Despite our varied interests and professions, our similar mindset prompted us to come together to brainstorm on avenues available to simplify our wardrobes, while giving us a chance to leave a lasting im-pression of sorts… बस एक छाप छोड जानी है!

Thus, on a fateful day, while sipping coffee and chatting with the girl gang, Jayshri came up with the idea of recycling sparingly used heavy traditional wear. Jigna and Taruna shared that they often give away their heavy outfits to lesser-privileged relatives who are more than happy to use them. Monicka revealed that borrowing each other’s outfits is common among Gen X. Several cups of coffee later, the outline of a new venture started taking shape. Exhilarated by the thought of realising our dream in real life, we promptly named ourselves ‘The Awesome Foursome’!

Life seemed to take on a new meaning, so we naturally named our venture, ‘Studio Arth’. We believed that we needed to rent a small place to house these outfits and hence the word ‘Studio’ in the name; ‘Arth’ is the Hindi word for ‘meaning’. Thus, ‘Studio Arth’ was born to give a new meaning to pre-loved clothing.

At Studio Arth, pre-loved outfits are collected from well-meaning donors; they are then curated and sold. Each outfit is carefully labelled to make it affordable to one and all! Fortunately for us, the rental deal didn’t go through, which led to the idea of organising exhibitions across the city.

We initiated the process by decluttering our own wardrobes and collecting pre-loved clothes from close friends and relatives. We then sanitised them to follow Covid protocols, and thereafter, personally checked each outfit in detail, repairing/ darning where required, discussing the pricing, and finally labelling them with the agreed prices.

Once we had a sizable number of outfits, we scouted around for someone willing to sponsor a banquet hall where the exhibition could be held. Our well qualified children stepped in to help their dear moms by customising banners and spreading word through social media. We held our first exhibition in August 2021! It was a huge hit, and we have never had a second thought since! We have held four more exhibitions and now our baby is a year old! Nothing is easy, but when you aim high, you sail through difficulties.

Those who donate are grateful that they have had a chance to give a new meaning to outfits that they once lovingly bought and wore. Our exhibitions have witnessed buyers walk out happy and return for the next one! Some have even gone on to donate their pre-loved clothes and pick up something that caught their eye. We have noticed that our buyers hail from varied strata and age groups. Young people are certainly practical! They do not believe in investing heavily for a single Instagram story! Many of them have a new idea to share and a new story to tell us – however, all agree that the purchase of pre-loved outfits saves them a lot of money. They go back home ecstatic after getting 7-8 outfits for the price of 1 new outfit!

On our part, we have channelled the sales proceeds into supporting various social causes – be it tying up with a non-profit organisation to make food available to the underprivileged, organising a cancer detection camp and providing aid for medicines and other needs of cancer patients, organising a workshop to create health awareness, etc.

An important fallout of pre-loved shopping is in keeping our Mother Earth healthy by being conscious of our resources and reducing waste. The onus is on each of us to ensure that we do our bit to conserve and live sensibly.

We invite you all to join hands with us to work towards a sustainable future. Let us declutter our wardrobes and spread happiness – let us give a new Arth to our lives!

 


About: Ms. Jayshri Nandu,

Jayshri is a powerful force in the workplace and uses her positive attitude, creative and tireless energy to encourage others to work hard and succeed. A designer herself, she understands the need to recycle, as styles change over time. For her, fashion needs to be sustainable, easily accessible, and inexpensive. In 2013, she co-founded Ista Sarees that caters to the young Indian woman who loves her sarees and rich handlooms. In her free time, she likes to travel, cook and design.

About: Ms. Jigna Gala,

Jigna has a background in fashion design and is an integral part of her family business. Blessed with a calm, composed and philosophical outlook, she believes in giving back to society to ensure one’s own well-being. She is often found pondering over philosophical thoughts, exploring new places and trying out new cuisines.

About: Ms. Monicka Thakker,

Monika is a teacher and fashion enthusiast who provides free academic guidance to those students who cannot afford it. For her, every child is a unique creation of The Al-mighty and has a right to be educated.

About: Ms. Taruna Gosar,

Taruna is highly resourceful with a ‘can-do’ attitude. She has run a toy library in the past and uses her free time to serve as a part-time schoolteacher.

Studio Arth can be reached on : studioarth4@gmail.com

 

Taare Zameen Par

Many moons ago, in a small room acquired at a measly rent, sat a group of stately ladies with a daunting task at hand. In elegant simple cotton sarees covering their neatly-bunned hair, the ladies’ committee sipped on chai prepared by another group of ladies who were too shy to even step out of the kitchen.

“Par baima*, ame loko su karsu, amne toh thodu moti nu kaam avde chhe, biju toh kai nai!”, the shy ladies hesitantly told the committee in Gujarati. Other than running their own kitchen and a small tiffin-and-canteen service (which had also been supported by the committee), all they did in their spare time was weave some beads and threads together to make the traditional covers (hindoli) for coconuts, and beaded mats used on special occasions.

The IHS** committee knew very well that given the limited resources they had on hand, it was important to channel the talent possessed by the ladies in creating something that would appeal to the modern Indian woman.

Several brainstorming sessions and experimentations later, the traditional white, green and red colours of the ‘hindoli’ gave way to a burst of vivid colours at the skilful hands of these ladies. Over time, the beaded products in sophisticated colours and elegant designs caught the fancy of the society ladies and the young professionals. The elite of Mumbai flaunted the beautifully handwoven batwas and clutches, with the vibrant necklaces gracing their elegantly draped sarees. Tara slowly expanded into tableware for elegance in dining, penholders and gift items for corporates and festivals.

The committee realised the need to streamline this avenue further, giving birth to ‘Tara by IHS’. As the popularity of Tara grew, so did the smiles on the faces of these ladies. Income started flowing in, and they started to reap the fruit of their labour. Dreams of educating their children were no longer distant, and their confidence levels began to soar.

Growing demand led to the pressing need for new designs. The constraint was that the work involved either three beads or five beads being woven in a certain manner, so all designing needed to revolve around the ‘teen ya paanch moti’ pattern. This posed and continues to pose a hurdle for the designers.

A couple of years ago, Ahmed Moustafa, an artist and scholar of international repute, known to the then President, offered to help create a mural. A painting by him would be replicated in beadwork. The ladies worked in an assigned room under his guidance. They watched him mix paints in various proportions creating shades they never knew were possible.

The mural required them to sit and weave collectively on this one piece of work, a feat never undertaken before. Weaving one tiny bead at a time, at times undoing work that didn’t quite sit right, and at other times, bursting into shy giggles, they employed their beloved ‘teen moti ka kaam’ to painstakingly create a mural. When it was done, the ladies could hardly believe their own eyes – it was the size of an entire wall, one fit to be displayed in a museum! The humble ‘teen moti ka kaam’ had transcended to another level, and they began to see the limitless possibilities of their talents.

As time went by, the composition of the committee changed and the need to further engage and guide these ladies was acknowledged – giving rise to a mentorship program. Mentors lend an ear to the difficulties of their mentees and help in every way possible, often times going beyond the needs of bead craft. Somewhere along the way, the mentors have also started learning – about designing a craft, exploring new markets. Between many a ‘Baima yeh toh possible hi nahin hain’ and an equal number of ‘Ho sakta hain, baima, aap try toh karo’ is the resolve to tide over the hurdles in creating a new product. This helps create a bond between the designer and the creator, a bond formed out of respect and love for each other!

How times have changed now! In a small room now, there sit a few committee members, sipping on chai, this time provided by a chaiwala, checking and admiring the wares woven and brought in by the ladies. The once-shy ladies confidently sit around in the same room, sipping on chai and eating snacks as they wait for their products to clear quality check, engaging in small talk, enquiring about each other’s families.

In addition to the beads, now crystal, kasab and jute thread are also used to create new looks and styles. The ladies are groomed to attend exhibitions and sell the bead craft themselves, standing alongside their mentors. They are encouraged to help each other create new products and teach/ learn the importance of sisterhood. The value of remaining ethical in a competitive world is strongly inculcated within them.

Each Tara product is tagged to the maker of that product, so each time a product sells, one household benefits directly and the entire proceeds go into helping that lady further her dream of owning a home, paying for her children’s education, and sometimes even buying that one new saree she has been dreaming of for over a year.

I am the currently the Secretary of IHS. My job title entitles me to more responsibility, while continuing my role as a designer and a mentor. My association with IHS goes back to my childhood, ‘giving duty’ at exhibitions with my mother in her role as a committee member. She, in turn, started her association with IHS when she accompanied her mother similarly as a child. Being a part of this vibrant group has taught me humility, gratitude and brought about a passion within me to support home-grown businesses and small enterprises. Ex IHS committee members continue to help the cause; as we say, once an IHS member always an IHS member.

If we take a step back in this mechanised, corporate, and fast paced world, and learn to love and embrace the beautiful imperfections that are a part of hand-made products, we would not just be buying a product, we would be putting a value on someone’s time and efforts, holding a hand and helping them move forward.

I strongly urge everyone to consider the small vendors and help where possible. For all the handicrafts out there, the fight for survival in a mechanised world of cheaper goods is a very real one. Art is not just a form of creativity, it is a form of expression, spirituality, and a blessing to be cherished and nurtured. Buy handmade, buy homemade, hold the hand that creates and nurture a home. Help the humble stars among us shine brightly!

* Many of the ladies, being from Saurashtra, speak in Gujarati and baima is a term of respect used to address each other.

**IHS is an abbreviation for The Ismailia Helping Society.

 


About: Ms. Shaheen Rattonsey,

Shaheen serves as Honorary Secretary of The Ismailia Helping Society (‘IHS’). Hailing from a business-oriented family, but one where service towards one’s brethren is a critical aspect, she carries forward the legacy of offering her services to the IHS, just as her mother and grandmother did in the past. She belongs to the faith of Ismailism where volunteering and service to mankind is given a lot of importance and strongly believes that volunteers and beneficiaries are two sides of a scale, where the receiver grows materially and so does the provider – in humility and empathy. Her aim for the committee is to reach out to as many needy and talented women and help them increase their livelihood through their talent and art.

She can be contacted at : tara.society1@gmail.com

Yog – The Time Is Right

In Hindi, there is a word, ‘bulawa’ – used to indicate that it is only when He wills, will one actually set out on the journey (to the holy place) of one’s intent… and at times, even when there was no intention to do so.

Sometime in early 2019, I remember a dear friend telling me about these Yo-ga classes she attended and suggested I sign up too. I politely declined then without much thought. A year passed by, and it was in the third week of March 2020, that I actually found myself at the Yoga studio, attending a class.

We started with the invocation – the sacred word ‘Om’ being said three times, followed by the prayer to sage Patanjali, the founder of Yoga and our Guru, BKS Iyengar or Guruji, as he is commonly referred to as. I remember being instructed to stand with ‘heels out, toes in’ – the opposite of Chaplin, as the Yoga teacher called it. After the class got over, the Yoga teacher suggested I come in a little early the next time so that I could register for the morning classes at 7 am.

That weekend of course, life, as we all knew it, literally came to a standstill. A few days later, the Yoga teacher reached out to tell us she was starting online classes. It took us quite a few sessions to correctly position our laptops/ mobile phones so that our teacher could watch and correct us as we did the asanas. In those uncertain times, the classes grounded us, brought us together.

My first inkling that I had set out on a journey like no other was when our teacher announced that she would not be charging any fees – this was her way of supporting the society during these trying times. The morning class, twice a week, gave me a reason to get up early, sit and watch with awe as the seasoned practitioners deftly moved from one asana to another, and acknowledge the limitations of my own body.

As she guides us into an asana, very often our teacher gives us an insight into what the asana means and does to the organic body within. She draws parallels with little things that happen in one’s life, the involuntary way we use our body, and the long-term damage that some of these wrong practices can have. For example, some of us sleep with our tongue curled up against the palate of our mouth – this suggests that our brain is in constant overdrive. The tongue must be trained to rest in the lower jaw instead.

During Yoga, we use a lot of props – blankets, chair, bricks, belts, and bolster Our teacher tells us that our Guruji devised these props to help us with the asanas. At times, she gets us to do the asana – initially without the props and the second time, with the help of the prop to help us appreciate the role they play. Do you see the analogy here? Alone, we may find it difficult to accomplish something.. but with the right help, we can.

The invocation at the start of the class has an energizing effect and prepares you for what is to follow. Over time, the names of (most of) the asanas have become familiar.. gone are the days when I would peer into the ‘gallery view’ hoping to catch a glimpse of one of the seasoned practitioners perform the asana that was being asked of us. Though, I must confess, some asanas come easier than others, and then there are some which this body is yet to mold itself to. After years of neglect, getting the body to behave is indeed a task, but I tell myself, these are baby steps one has to take.

With the lifting up of the lockdown restrictions, the online classes have turned hybrid. Never a morning person, I do not know what it is that has brought about this change – I am able to make it to the in-person classes at 5.45 a.m. There is a sense of belonging and familiarity there.

Somewhere on this journey to take better care of the body, I have started to appreciate the rich legacy left to us by our forefathers, and their deep understanding of the human anatomy.. and somewhere along the way, it has seeped into my soul.. I do not know when the shift happened.. but there is a word in Marathi, ‘Yog’ meaning ‘the time is right’..

 


About: CA Preeti Cherian,

Preeti Cherian is a Chartered Accountant with 30 years of post-qualification experience. Her most satisfying work experience has been in the CSR space, be it working with corporates or with NGOs. Mentoring articled students, a Con-venor of the Seminar, Public Relations & Membership Development Committee where she focuses on the felicitation program for young professionals, women centric programs and mentorship programs are her main drivers.

She can be contacted at : preeticherian@cnkindia.com

Made By Hands – Shaped By Destiny

The story of Vivarang began some 12 years ago…when I bought a hand-painted Madhubani dupatta from an artisan.

As an individual, I was always attracted to things ‘handmade’ – though till the age of 30 years, I didn’t clearly understand the difference between ‘authentic handmade’ and ‘machine made’ fabrics and garments.

I started my business with passion and a willingness to learn, support and promote ‘Made in India’ textiles. A single hand painted dupatta bought from an artisan made me wonder what the possibility of doing this on a large-scale could be. My marketing background paved the way for a clearer understanding of my goal. My Economics and Management learnings have been a key in aptly positioning the handmade pieces. Making customers aware of the intricate patterns and differentiating factors in our products is an important part of my work. It’s often that I think about concepts like brand and strengths that I learned, and later taught in Marketing. Taking all the stakeholders together as one artisans, suppliers, customers, logistics partners, and channel partners is a continuous challenge, that I am able to overcome because of years of hands-on experience in dealing with people.

Initially, I started by getting some hand embroidered t-shirts made from Kantha artisans and selling them to my friends. The product unfortunately didn’t do very well, but the learning was immense. We gradually got into making wraps and sarees and later hand-painted and hand-embroidered items. There has been no looking back since. I gradually moved from my marketing faculty job to full time devotion to Vivarang. My biggest success to date has been word-of-mouth growth of our brand…slow and steady…it is a sustainable boot-strapped model that today supports about 250 artisans and weavers directly or indirectly. The fact that as a brand we are supporting livelihoods and at the same time making customers understand the difference between machine-made and hand-made is a huge success. My success also is defined by the knowledge attained in this ongoing journey. I do not have any degree in textiles or designing, also when I started my knowledge of art and fabric (types and limitations) was almost non-existent. But today I can confidently differentiate between synthetic, handwoven and machine woven, among many other things. Persistence and patience have truly become my virtue – as I realize that there is so much more to learn and inculcate. The business has been self-financed since its inception and has managed to develop that way. Adding new artforms, and expanding portfolio is our future goal.

Vivarang started as a one-man (read woman) army but continuous effort with resolution is helping it grow and sustain. With increasing competition (read online stores) the challenge is to make sure that we do not lose our ‘value proposition’ and in the process not only retain our existing customers but also add new ones. When we started 10 years ago, the logistics in India was not that evolved. We used to ship using Indian Postal Service which meant literally going to a post office and standing in a queue with a bag full of parcels – which meant a lot of effort and time going into a non-creative activity. With time, as the industry has developed, we started working with the best courier service available for both domestic and international shipments. Another challenge was to meet customer expectations, in terms of how the ‘real’ product looks. We do our photography ourselves and they go on our website without any edits or special effects. Thus, when the product finally reaches the buyer, it not only meets but mostly exceeds their expectations.

Creative people who work at the grassroots level and come up with new concepts and designs, every independent female who is trying to maintain that very delicate balance between her success and family life – these are my role models.

Being an entrepreneur during COVID had its own challenges. We struggled to get orders and keep our business going, especially in the initial months of lockdown, and then around 2nd wave. However, while sustaining business was crucial, ensuring continuous income for our artisans was our primary concern. It broke my heart to see their spouse losing jobs and some artisans selling their hard work for peanuts. On our part, we tried to keep giving them work and the cycle didn’t stop. The fabric was continuously reaching them, to generate sufficient work, even if it meant additional and large inventory in our warehouse. We could afford to hold inventory, but to them, each piece they created made a difference.

I also got innumerable calls from artisans who worked for some other brands and boutiques. They had stopped getting work; these were the weavers and artisans who mostly worked for middlemen. I also saw loyalties shift, as workers (some working for over 15 years with their employer) did not get paid in the months of lockdown. It wasn’t easy to accommodate so many requests for work, but we tried to distribute work amongst as many as we could. The wallet payments came in handy, especially for immediate money needs like filling college forms etc. for a weaver’s son. We have actually seen our Ikat weavers’ son study, and dream of making it big.

There was a lot of satisfaction and mental calm to know, that we could in somewhat limited way, make a difference, in these demanding times. Honestly, in the process we also managed to scout some very able hands, and ex-perienced workers to associate with our brand.

These items, made by hands and labour of love can be ideal corporate gifts and heirloom pieces. It would be great to see society, warm up to the idea of HANDMADE and buy and endorse it. Our products have been part of some weddings, not just as ensemble but also as wedding return gifts.

Lately, the Government has also been very actively promoting handmade and handwoven, by organizing events like National Handloom Day, Hunar Haat, etc. The artisans are also being encouraged for their talent, through Padma Shri awards and government funding.

I sincerely hope that we keep on adding more talent (from grass root level especially) to our bandwagon. I also hope that people at large, understand the difference in handmade (time and detailing) involved, and support and adorn handmade. And, if that ‘handmade’ is Indian, better still!

 


About: Ms. Tarang Indrayan Vaish,

She is an entrepreneur with over 20 years of experience in consultation, teaching and training of Sales and Marketing Management. She delves into writing through blogs and has also authored some articles and book reviews in ICFAI publications. Her sensitivity to surroundings and futuristic thinking is what makes her a goal achiever. She believes that success has no shortcuts, and that perseverance and hard work is the only way to achieve it.

He can be contacted at : tarangindrayanvaish@gmail.com

Acupuncture

Health is an integral part of the Human Development Index published by the United Nations Development Program and is one of the three main parameters which gives meaning to the existence of human life.

Health is an umbrella term, which includes an individual’s social, mental, physical, emotional well-being, as per WHO. When I would treat a patient, i used to feel restricted because apart from treating the physical pain, the patient would often continue to feel uneasy and could not get back to his original routine. This prompted me to explore a more comprehensive/ integrated approach to human diagnosis and treatment.

When we travel back in time before the advent of modern medicine, we realize that civilizations had their own way of diagnosing a condition and treating it. One such ancient method is acupuncture.

Acupuncture is a part of Chinese medicine, and dates back 5,000 years. To the uninitiated, it is a treatment by inserting needles. The unversed may question, “How can you treat disease by inserting needles?”, “Is it a form of quackery?” Or “Is it just psychological”?

Acupuncture is a detailed science with a written descriptive script, “Huang di neijing” tracing its origin to the start of the Christian era, approximately 2 B.C. It is interesting to learn how the acupuncture points were discovered. During a battle, many soldiers were hit by arrows and while treating them, the physician discovered that at certain points where the arrows had pierced, the soldiers were stable and recovered well. By identifying the points and tracing the pattern, he was able to plot a proper flow chart of points – the first step towards development of acupuncture science.

What are these acupuncture points? Acupuncture points are areas on the body with low electrical impedance – a mode of communication of the body with the external. According to acupuncture, our body is a closed system of energy flow chains called meridians which carry our internal energy in a predetermined direction and path. Acupuncture points are places on these meridians through which one can manipulate the energy. It is an interconnected system from head to toe. E.g.:- to treat a migraine disorder, we often choose a point near the web space of the foot.

Now, if the energy flow is in a predetermined direction and path, what causes a disturbance in the flow of energy? Is that a cause of disease? This is where conventional medicine and modern medicine differ. All the conventional sciences acknowledge the existence of energy system or flow which is called ‘QI’ in Acupuncture, Prana in Ayurveda, etc., whereas modern medicine though recognizes energy systems, does not have a formal place in treatment or diagnosis.

Allopathy usually enlists symptoms like headache and treats them by objectively giving a medicine which would reduce the symptom severity (symptom reduction). In acupuncture, a practitioner does not stop at the symptom but asks many questions related to food, sleep, eating habits to determine whether the energy system is excess / deficient and then treat to balance the system (cause reduction).

Acupuncture believes that a body flow is affected by various internal factors and environment. Internal factors include but are not limited to emotions, dietary habits, pre-existing behavioural changes, body tendency / susceptibility towards particular objects.

E.g.:- It is well-known that anger raises blood pressure, but the mechanism behind this is not known. According to the five-element theory, anger is related to the Liver Meridian. When one is angry, the Liver Meridian stirs up and heat enters the meridian. This meridian is also related to the blood system and eyes; hence, an angry person has red eyes and high blood pressure. Similarly, grief can affect the Spleen Meridian, often causing people to have improper stomach issues. Fear (of exams) can particularly affect the kidney system, making the individual visit the washroom frequently.

Seasons, weather, environmental conditions also affect the individual meridian system, causing a change in the body balance. These external factors enter the body through the acupuncture points and are in a constant state of connectivity. The moment their intensity increases due to change, or the body defence system weakens, they enter the body and target specific organ system.

E.g.:- Eating pani puri in the rainy season usually leads to stomach infections, the culprit is the damp weather (and not water used in the roadside pani puri) which affects the Stomach Meridian causing the stomach infection.

Acupuncture is not a pseudo-science. It has its own methods or ways of diagnosis and treatment. Can it treat each and every disease on the planet? The answer to the first question is NO. Like all other medical sciences, acupuncture has its own limitations. It has its own theory of cause of disease and other methods of treatment, but it cannot treat all disorders. The conditions which it can treat most successfully are pain and paralysis, because pain occurs when there is stagnation of energy within the meridians. By inserting needles at painful points, the energy blockage is removed and the flow within the meridians is restored. The same principle applies in paralytic patients. In my experience, treating such patients right at the onset of symptoms is critical to get near 100% results.

Treatment of various lifestyle disorders such as hypertension, diabetes mellitus, hypothyroidism and chronic disorders like rheumatoid arthritis have been treated very effectively with acupuncture. In my decade plus clinical practice, we have seen several chronically ill or bedridden patients getting medically stable and better, after a mix of allopathy and acupuncture.

In chronic patients, typically multiple meridian systems are affected and since acupuncture targets the root cause, it may take a little longer to get better. The WHO also recommends acupuncture as a mode of treatment or treatment adjuvant in various disorders.

Eg:- many patients undergoing chemotherapy experience symptoms like nausea, vomiting, pain, weakness. They are unable to take any medication for this; acupuncture brings relief to these patients.

Cosmetic or facial acupuncture is also a part of Acupuncture Wellness program in many developed countries. Acupuncture on the face and head improves skin tone, texture and has an anti-aging effect. In some countries, they name it as a ‘Natural Botox’.

In my experience, people are scared because of’ the fear of the unknown factor’, once they realise the benefits, they actually start liking it. So why is it not available everywhere? The answer to this question is – it is a science which is subjective – for the same patient, different practitioners can diagnose the condition differently and treat it accordingly.

While modern medicine is also subjective, it is so only to a small extent as compared to conventional medicine. Hence, a doctor’s depth of knowledge and understanding play a critical role in acupuncture treatment. Finding a good practitioner becomes imperative. All the treatment sciences are equally potent and effective, but the best medical science is the one which works for YOU!

 


About: Mr. Dr. Varun Shanbhag,

Dr. Varun Shanbhag, BPTH DTCM Certified Physical Therapist and Medical Acupuncturist. He practices at Vile Parle and Andheri.

He can be contacted at : nuravana@gmail.com

Celebrating Sindhutai!

They say who you meet in life is destined. It was my good karma and fortune that I was able to meet and listen to Sindhutai up-close, more than once. Padma Shri Dr. Sindhutai Sapkal passed away on the 4th January 2022.

Sindhutai, popularly referred to as ‘Mother of Orphans’ and fondly called ‘Mai’, ran an orphanage, the Sanmati Bal Niketan Sanstha in Pune where she adopted more than 1,000 orphan children. A Marathi film ‘Mee Sindhutai Sapkal’ released in 2010, is a biopic inspired by her life. The film was selected for world premiere at the 54th London Film Festival.

I was totally mesmerised as this old lady in a traditional Maharashtrian saree, started to weave Urdu and Hindi couplets into the story of her amazing life when she came to address us at our offices. I was happy and sad as she spoke unapologetically about the enormity of hardships she faced, like badges of victory. Like the phoenix she rose from poverty, harassment, torture, abandonment, to being a universal mother to many, including her ailing husband, when she offered to look after him in the last years of his life.

In one of her talks she said and I translate, ‘Darkness will come every day. Light the lamp inside you, generate your own light. Generate so much light that people will come looking for you and will want to be a part of you. That’s exactly what I have done. Don’t go near the light, generate your own light instead and the world will come looking for you.’ Unquote.

Mother to not only the many orphans she raised at her centre, but to all those who met her. Her life was a living example that one does not have to birth someone to nurture them. She raised a grand family of 382 sons-in-law, 49 daughters-in-law, and over a thousand grandchildren, they say. Being the wise and far sighted being that she was, she continued to raise and ask for donations personally even after all the global fame, recognition and connections, as she understood that people donated to her and her story and she needed to provide for her children in case of an eventuality.

She quoted in a gathering, ‘Yeh bhi kuch kam nahin, tera dar chhootne ke baad, main apne paas aaya dil tut ne ke baad.’ She further said, ‘because I was broken, I have reached where I have. I was 20, had nothing, I would beg in the trains, live in the cemetery and would be scared in the night and would sob I have nothing and nobody. Somebody then had told me, “Sindhutai, kafan ko jaeb nahin hoti, aur maut kabhi rishwat nahin leti”, meaning the cloth embracing the dead body has no pockets and death takes no bribe. I then started to shout – I am cancelling dying, I am going to live. I learnt to live and became a mother to all who had nobody of their own.’ After all, nurturing others is what being human is all about.

Married at 12, educated till class 4, she held no degrees nor privileges of any kind. She reframed her circumstances to write a new story, script and chapter for herself. Her presence came from her authenticity, being comfortable in her own skin, living purposefully, giving for the sake of giving, being smart, staying in the game, clarity, long term vision, pure intentions, bringing her true and whole self each time, staying relevant and updated and so much more.

When I asked her what advice she would give to the women of today, she said, ‘be financially independent and learn to forgive’. Her advice is universal, gender neutral and for all age groups.

Sindhutai for me will always be an inspiration and an epitome of women empowerment, whose life must be cherished and celebrated!

 


About: Ms. Ruby Thapar,

Ruby Thapar is a reputated branding and sustainability strategist and executive & communication coach with over 30 years of experience as a builder of coalitions within organizations and with external stakeholders to drive change agendas. She is a certified coach and EQi2.0, DISC and ADD certified and is an uncertified yoga junkie. She also sits as an independent director on the board of an NGO.

He can be contacted at : ruby.thapar@gmail.com