around us

My work and my life

When I worked in Texas Instruments, I could switch off the work after leaving office. It was easy to forget office in office. Moreover what I did, did not influence or tried to dictate how I lived.

But working in development sector is different. To begin with its not easy to forget about work after 6pm. In most cases the work affects you as a person; when I go and meet children in orphanages and they cling to me when I am ready to leave asking me to promise that I will come back tomorrow; I cannot forget about it. I cannot let it not influence me as a person. I have always been humbled after visiting the homes. I have always been thankful for what I have and I have stopped complaining for what I do not have. In my day to day life, I have started to waste less, give more, bargain less, trust more. In a way I have let my work dictate my life. It has impacted my choices; I choose to buy from the local vegetable vendor, I choose to buy seasonal, I choose to buy cotton, I choose to buy fair trade, I choose to walk shorter distances.


Should it mean that I am wrong in wanting luxuries in life? Should it mean I feel guilty for wanting Nike shoes, Tommy jeans, BOSE speakers, for having a big car and a driver and etc etc?

Does it?

Should I be guilty?

Some of my colleagues from the NGO, I last worked at, were from the school of thought that yes, it is ‘ethically’ wrong to live a luxurious life when you are working in development sector. That when you see so many people suffering, how can you splurge. So in their opinion, a small car is a necessity but a big car is a luxury; a domestic help is a necessity but a driver is a luxury; shoes are necessity but a big brand is a luxury. They also during the discussion implied that they are a little wary of people who are working in development sector but sport a silk kurta and get down from a big car.

My question would then be where do you draw the line? Should it be between cycle and car or should it between small car and big car? I agree one shouldn’t flaunt luxuries, i respect those who live a minimalist life; but if wearing a branded shoe makes a difference to me, should I be judged for it? A friend told me that an unhappy person can never make another person happy so let me draw that line based on my ethics, don’t judge me; don’t question my intentions and dont mistrust me.

Categories: around us, development, Volunteer, work | Tags: , , | 2 Comments

The Muse

This was an amazing picture as is; but Instagram added to it’s beauty by bringing out the colours of the butterfly more sharply. Now a butterfly is not a very regular sight in my balcony. I had just come back from gym and went to put my shoes out when I saw her (I choose to call the butterfly ‘her’ and not ‘it’). I just stood inside the door fearing that she will fly if I go closer. The first picture I took was through the glass door. When she didn’t move for some time I decided I can afford a little bravery so I went closer, all the time praying for her not to get scared of me and fly away… and lo! she actually opened her wings! It was almost like she was posing for the camera. Such a delight. Such a rare delight J. I’ve never before been able to stare at a butterfly for long because they just don’t sit down but this one had all the patience. It was only on a closer look that I noticed the two red colour scales on her wings.. So beautiful! They were like a peacock’s feather tip, only red in colour.

I just kept enjoying her beauty before she decided she has entertained me long enough and flew away. The pleasures of living in a small town where birds and butterflies still visit us 🙂

Categories: around us | Tags: , , | 1 Comment

Utterly Butterly Amul

The Amul girl journeys through the popular history of India!

One of the clearest food memory of childhood is toasted bread with loads of Amul butter. I didn’t know any other butter brand (except for the home made white butter) until I went to the US and saw the whole shelf with numerous types and brands of butter and even there I wasn’t happy until I found the familiar Amul butter in the Indian stores :).

But it isn’t just the memory of the buttery taste that I remember and cherish but also the weekly Amul hoardings. I used to look forward to them on our way to school.. In fact, I can easily say that they were the only news connections that I had back then. Newspaper was of course not an interesting option and neither was the TV news. Amul always presented the latest, the hottest news in a comic way. I don’t know how much I used to get the humour back then, but now I really enjoy the puns, the hinglish language and the satire in each of the ads. Not to forget the cute little moppet which has been consistent throughout the 50+ year campaign.
Ever since I realised that the ads come in paper every Wednesday, I’ve been saving the clippings :). Maintaining it like a scrap book .. Just like a child 🙂
I have been thinking of writing about Amul ads since long, especially when i came across the ‘Amul’s India’ book but it took me a good 2 months to click the picture and put these few lines down. The book in a way presents the entire history of the last 50 years, the major headlines, the important people, the scandals, the achievements, the biggest films, international events… It’s all there. If you enjoy the seeing the little girl with blue hair and a polka dot frock and her witty messages, this book belongs in your collector’s edition. And what best it comes with a message from The man who made Amul possible, Dr. Kurien.
It’s just not possible for me to pick one favourite from the whole range.. every one is as good as another. Here are some ads for you to enjoy!

Amul ad on the success of Vicky Donor and spreading the message far beyond!


Amul on the politician’s porn scandal

Amul on the recent social media screening


Which one’s do you like the most or remember the most?

Categories: around us | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

It was Chocolate… Arrest it!

Wasn’t us!

It was our last morning in Khandala. The party last night went on till 4:00 am. The plan was to wake up at 10:00 am; get ready; go to Lonavla market, buy fudge from Coopers, have food and then leave for Bombay by 1 pm as one of us had a flight at 4:30pm.

Instead, we wake up at 7:30 am; get out of bed by 8:30am; after some general whiling away of time, we leave for Lonavla as planned at 10:00am. But it’s pouring and we have no umbrella or a jacket. The hotel guy calls as autowallah who agrees to take us to Lonavla, wait there while we shop and eat and then bring us back :). In yesterday’s torrential rain, he was a pleasant surprise to me. Didn’t ask us for a lot of money and we didn’t bargain either… waited patiently and made sure he dropped us as close to the entrance at all the places. We reach Coopers and are greeted by the aroma of freshly made hot fudge; we buy one for each of us and one for another friend. Have breakfast at McD and come back to room at around 12:00. It was then when we get the news that it’s been raining bad in Bombay as well and that the roads are crazy with traffic and water so we should leave as soon as possible. So we call our friend, asking him to hurry up but he is pretty much indifferent to this news.

While we wait, we open up the fudge to ‘just taste’ a little and we realise that the flavour we got for our friend tastes much better! We began tasting by just scraping off the fudge from the sides so that it doesn’t look like we had opened it; but then we slowly move in. The tasting lasts for I don’t know how many bites when finally my friends declares that the other one can go buy her own fudge and that she is taking both the packets at her home :D. We just tell the other one that we didn’t anything for her.

And then she makes this profound statement:

“It’s amazing what all chocolate makes you do”

It started from scraping the sides

It slowly made it’s way into the box


Categories: around us, Food | Tags: , | 6 Comments

A face in the Dark and other Hauntings – Ruskin Bond

The name is Bond. Ruskin Bond.

I don’t exactly remember when I picked up my first Ruskin Bond, but I’ve always loved reading his books. Having lived in the hills for quite some time in the hills in my childhood, I can easily picture his words. It’s almost as if the story is being enacted in front of me; I’m the spectator standing on the side, observing everything. And what better, sometimes I’m even part of those stories :).

Often I imagine his cottage; on one of the hilltops in Mussourie, isolated from most dwellings. I imagine it to have a tall hedge around for privacy and I see myself walking around it. I see myself trying to find an entrance, peeping inquisitively through the hedge to catch a glimpse of the writer who has been with me since childhood.

Coming back to the book, I am the kind who can’t stand horror. As a kid (and sometimes even now) I used to be dead scared of going to the bathroom at night… I would go only when it is absolutely necessary and used to keep chanting “there are no ghosts.. there are no ghosts” all the way. This is the first time I picked up an horror stories collection, and the only reason why I picked it was because it was by Ruskin Bond.

I was all alone in the house. Sikander was travelling on work. I had finished reading the book I was reading and when I went to the book rack, I couldn’t find anything else more interesting than this one. I started the book with some apprehension (the fear from the fact that I knew it was supposed to be scary!). But the introduction of the book put me at ease and I read on. I finished ‘A face in the dark’ and boy was I scared because as if it was planned, the electricity went off right after I finished reading it. I closed the book and didn’t open it again until Sikander was back and I was no longer sleeping alone. Once my personal ghost buster was back, I continued with the book. I was actually enjoying those stories… most of the stories didn’t scare but left me with a desire to actually meet such a ghost myself. Especially the ones with a funny side :). In some stories there is no actual ghost but just the hint of a ghost… winds whistling, tree branches moving to give an illusion of someone waving from behind the trees… I actually had to stop myself from reading more than one story a night else the book would get over too quickly :).

I know when I next go to the hills, I will be wary of taking a stroll in the night alone for fear that I might come across the ghost of Hamida or Rose or Gulabi… Or I just might, for I do want to meet the fairies that live underground on the pari tippa!

Categories: around us, Books | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 8 Comments

Kindness in Strange Quarters – Encounter with an Auto Walla!

I should say it upfront! I think this post is fairly long.. but I do hope you will have the time to read it through 🙂 I didn’t want to cut anything from the post after I re-read it to shorten it a little 😮

Long time back when I had attended a workshop on storytelling as a means of communication in development, I was amazed to see how most participants when asked to choose and tell a real story (with a message in the end), picked up a story where an act of kindness from a stranger had led them to question their distrust on strangers.

Sometime ago when I went to Gandhi Ashram, I met these young enthusiasts who have been helping people with no expectation of return and living lives on the principles of pay-it-forward or the gift economy. It brought forth so many random acts of kindness… kindness to strangers… an effort to renew our trust on each other, a belief that not everybody out there is going to cheat us.

As kids we used to trust people so easily. Just yesterday I was telling my friends how me and my sister used to walk back home for 2 kms (after a 14 kms bus ride) from school in scorching heat and we would wave at strangers, we would stop at anyone’s home and ask for water or just shade, we used to take lift from strangers without thinking twice. But today every mother will warn her children to be careful of strangers, not to talk to them, not to take anything to eat/drink from them. And rightly so, I’m not saying they are wrong. This caution is off course stemmed from the various child abuse/ abduction stories that get highlighted in media and are told over and over again. One story is repeatedly used to magnify our fears manifolds.

I think I’m digressing too far… What I wanted to say was we need to share more and more ‘good’ stories… We need to remind ourselves that the world is after all not such a bad place, that we don’t need to keep looking for monsters under our bed! The unknown is not always dangerous… Off course caution is necessary but distrust is not.

I shared one such story of how I was moved by kindness from Indian railway catering staff when I boarded the wrong train at Pune station. Yesterday a friend of mine, Prarthana, shared her own experience of kindness from strangers on email and I thought it needs to be told further on. We all take it for granted that the auto-wallas are out to cheat us.. But this one experience shows that’s not the case always! Below is her encounter with an auto-walla in Bangalore:

Today when I left from Adugodi at 7.15 pm (a difficult time to get auto:)) here comes an auto whom I ask “Old Airport Road starting Sir” and I get a reply after a pause of many seconds… “Madam naanu nimge Bidtini adre Madam bejar padako bedi naanu illi swalpa munde hogi ondu parcel collect mada beku, bekandre U turn tagondu illindane meter start madtini”; meaning “Madam I would drop you but if you don’t mind I need to collect a parcel a little further on this road, I would start meter once we take U turn and cross this place”. I readily agreed.

He collected his parcel and appreciated the fact that I didn’t say No and I wasn’t rude like many other customers he would get 🙂 On our way we shared our stories in short. I got introduced to Mr. Murali, who owns this auto, owns a small site and a small house has supported many of his brother and is loking forward for good education for his 2 boys studying in 5th and 7th Grade, does good to his best in life and very important he doesn’t charge a single extra penny from his customer except when he has to go in outskirts where he would not get any customer in return, he stressed saying his meter fare too is accurate:)…

When I reached my destination I realised that I had just missed my bus…. He slowed down and asked me “Madam how much is the meter reading?” I said “Rs 57 Sir”. It was his reply that took me by surprise… “Madam I am switching the meter off here, I am anyway going further to wish a good friend of mine for his Birthday and I would anyway go with my auto empty. So I will drop you to bus stop close by for no extra charge” and started moving further. I had no words….I was feeling so privileged and happy to see his kindness. He dropped me at the bus stop, I asked him how much to pay, he saw chart and new rate applied to Rs 57 was some Rs 75. He said I would want to stick to my commitment Maam, so pay me Rs 75:) I was very much moved by his act of helping and kindness and paid him Rs 80 and 2 Alpenliebe chocolates I had in my bag and lots of heartfelt thanks to show my gratitude and in turn I also got a lot of thanks and his contact no.:) that I didn’t want to miss saving in my phone book!!!

Not all Auto drivers are bad; there are many good people too!!! We crib about few asking more money but please appreciate good ones 🙂

Prarthana is an avid volunteer with a number of NGOs in Bangalore. She is also running the TCS world 10K marathon to raise funds for the NGOs she supports. Check out her story here:

 Have you ever been humbled by kindness from a stranger? I would love to hear your experience!

Image credits:

Categories: around us | Tags: , , , , , | 2 Comments

My very own ‘Chalo Dilli’ experience

For those who have seen the movie, this is the story of my very own “Chalo Dilli” experience. For those who haven’t, this is the story of how it took me 11 hours to reach from Pune to Lonavla (a distance of ~60kms).

Last Sunday I was to travel from Pune to Lonavala by the 6am Sinhagad express. Don’t ask me how but at 6:05 am I found myself on the Pune-Secunderabad Shatabdi express. Not only does it go in opposite direction, it has very limited stops. The next stoppage was only at Sholapur 3 hours later. Within the first 10 minutes, all passengers in the two cabins and all of railway staff (except the TT) knew my misfortune and everyone were forthcoming with questions and free advice. I also tried pulling the chain but the train would just not stop. One passenger suggested I should request the driver directly to stop the train momentarily on an intermediate station. Since there was nothing left to do, I thought why not give that a try. So I started towards the driver’s cabin. Before the driver’s cabin was the generator cabin where I was told that the driver’s cabin is inaccessible and that I could not go beyond that room. I resigned to my fate. Thought it’s no use fighting so let’s just go and sit in the cabin and pay the fine and figure out at Sholapur.

The AC attendant, Anupam bhaiya, then asked me to sit on the attendant’s berth, I didn’t question. The AC engineer came later and told me that the TT has done his round and has gone back. I should just stay here and not go inside the cabin else the TT will fine. I made myself comfortable, removed my shoes, sat cross-legged, opened a book and started reading. Anupam bhaiya got me the day’s newspaper and morning chai. At regular intervals someone or the other would come and strike a conversation. Later on Anupam bhaiya gave me proper Shatabdi breakfast tray. About 30 mins before Sholapur, the train stopped in the middle of nowhere. On the opposite track another train (Bangalore-Delhi express) stopped at the same time. Anupam bhaiya and the AC engineer quickly helped me switch the train and told me go up till Daund in the train and switch from there.

The coach I boarded was ladies general. While there was no seat, it wasn’t very crowded. It was a small coach of only 16 sitting seats and in all there were 24 people. Everyone sort of knew each other by that time and I was the newcomer, who boarded in the middle of nowhere. So I narrated my story again. After some time I learnt about a lady’s recent stomach operation; another lady’s troubles with teaching his son English; another one who was going to attend a wedding and her husband is posted in Sikkim and many more. There was Aparajita (~3-4 yreas old) who refused to talk to me but once I took out a biscuit packet she was all the more friendly!

Everytime the train stopped I would look out to see if Daund has come because i didn’t want to miss this stop and go in a third direction. Aparajita’s mother told me “Relax, we will tell you when Dound comes!”.

From Daund onwards there was not much adventure, I took a passenger train to Pune and then a local from Pune to Lonavla and finally reached Lonavla at 5:10pm. As if to mock me the announcement at that time was: “Sinhagad express from Mumbai to Pune is arriving shortly at platform no. 2”.

Till Daund the journey was quite exciting. I was amazed at how everyone helped in their own capacity and how easy it was to converse and be part of people’s lives in the general compartment. I usually travel 3rd or 2nd AC, where it is most difficult to strike a conversation with even your neighbour. Rarely does one get fortunate enough to receive random acts of kindness. And when it happens it leaves us so happy from within. I was humbled by the troubles the railway staff  and the ladies in the Bangalore-Delhi express took for me. It strengthened my belief in the inherent goodness of people and somehow I feel this could happen only in India (I know it’s clichéd, but it’s true). If I ask myself, ‘Do I regret it?’ – No; but ‘Do I want to repeat it?’ – No!. Despite all the discomforts, I will always remember this 11 hour journey with a smile.

Categories: around us, Travel, work | Tags: , , , , , | 4 Comments

In loving memory of Amma and Bauji

This is my diary entry dated 05/02/2012. I wrote it in train on my way from Jaipur to Baroda. On reading it again I thought I should share it with the rest of family. There is no structure to this writing, I wrote as things came to mind and I’m not editing the entry (except for adding the pictures). There are so many things that I got to know only after reading his diaries, here’s sharing them with you.


Today was Bauji’s tervi (havan after 13 days of death). I reached Jaipur late last night from Jodhpur. Everyone was there, all the sons, daughters, son in laws, daughter in laws and the grandchildren. One amazing thing about Sanaganer home is that no matter how many people come, there always space for everyone to sleep. 🙂

Last night till around 2am me and menu bua were reading bauji’s diaries. In his 2006 diary when amma was not well, bauji has poured all his emotions. We all knew he was tensed at that time and obviously worried about amma, but that he was afraid, that he was questioning the purpose of life? The diary showed a completely different side of Bauji to me. Bauji kept a regular diaty of every expense (as low as Rs 2), who came to visit, what is happening in the house, amma’s entire treatment – doctors, diagnosis, medicine details everything. But most surprising to me were the gazals he had written. Meenu bua said that she knew Bauji did amazing shayari, but I’m sure none of the grandchildren ever got a whiff of that. As kids we knew him as a strict grandparent who was always after our studies! (at least for the ones who grew up in Sanganer). Amma was the softer one and I think they both purposely maintained this “Good cop, bad cop” routine 🙂

Here’s a scanned copy of one of his writing’s

Ravi panditji came for the havan. Ravi panditji (earlier his father) have been coming to our home for every pooja/havan that I remember. His father and him have conducted every wedding in our family in Jaipur. I cried for Bauji for the first time today (after his death). During the aarti at the end of havan, I remembered how amma-bauji used to insist that we join for evening prayers, even at the time when there was no temple in Sanaganer and amma had her idols in a small room. How they both used to read excerpts from Geeta and Kalyan (a periodical on religious teachings) and explain the meaning.

As kids we often found these pravachans boring but used to sit through them, just to keep amma-bauji happy but never paid any attention. It was always in from one ear and out from another J. However, I think its because of those sessions that today I know anything about faith. That today I believe there is a god. While a follower of Hinduism, Bauji believed that all gods are one. In one of diary entries (circa 1998) he has written that he went to chaura rasta bazaar (the book market in Jaipur) to find a book on common teachings of all religions but couldn’t find any. More recently (circa 2011) he wrote “God is one”.

I feel I’m lucky I grew up with grandparents. I remember the sweet smell when amma made laddus or halva. I remember how she used to make the gadmad sabzi (a dish prepared 2 days before Diwali and has more than 50 vegetables). That day we will have around 30-40 people for lunch at Sanganer and the dish was packed and sent to relatives. The year before she died, she had asked chacha to make the dish and she was supervising. (Did she knew she won’t be there the next year? Was she ensuring the tradition continued?).

Amma-Bauji used to play rummy for 50p a point. Amma taught me how to play rummy but I never managed to earn much from them :). Cards is also a tradition in Sanganer. Whenever all the brothers and sisters are together, they have to play cards!

Theirs was a love story set in 1940s (Imagine!). Ravi chacha told this story when we were visiting him in Ahmedabad . Bauji used to take tuitions for amma’s brothers  and in return amma’s mother asked him to eat in their home and so started their association :).

As I was growing up, the amount of time I spent with amma-bauji somehow became inversely proportional with age. Growing up, school, friends and tv became more entertaining than spending time with them. I remember after coming back from school, we used to rush to our room on the first floor. Amma used to call us (shouting hard so that her voice would reach our rooms) to come down and we would keep saying after lunch, after homework, 10 mins, 15 mins L.

I wish I knew then, what I’ missing now. I always took grandparents for granted. Where are they going? They would always be there telling their stories, I can always sit with them tomorrow. It was only today that it finally hit me that the tomorrow will never come. For me, one entire generation is gone. When I read bauji’s diaries, the fact that he wrote down who all came to visit and where did the grandchildren go for studies/ after marriage, I realised that all he wanted was for us to spend time with them.

The fact that amma-bauji, nana-nani are no longer there brings home the realization that mummy-papa are also growing older every day. As we get busy in our careers, in raising our families, we pay little attention to our time with them. I don’t want to have any more regrets.


Categories: around us, Family, Old times | Tags: , , , , , | 9 Comments

From labourer to artisan…

A few days ago, a couple of friends were going to a village called Dahod to meet an NGO Sahaj India. Since they were going via Baroda, I tagged along. The route to Dahod was picturesque with varying shades of green all around. Closer to Dahod it seemed like we were driving in a lush green valley. Dahod is one of the towns in the tribal belt at the border of Gujarat, Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh.  For a long time Dahod was (to some extent still is) notorious for robbery and the Baroda- Indore highway was largely deserted during the night for fear of tribals.

When we met Ranvir, the co-founder of Sahaj India, he very naturally started talking about the villages, the tribal population, the problems and how the desire to end the violence and bring meaningful employment to the people of Dahod resulted in the movement called SAHAJ. All the time that he spoke, I wished for a voice recorder. His passion flowed in his words, but well I just had to bank on my memory and all that which follows come entirely from that.

While the landscape is green in the monsoons, Ranvir quickly pointed that come summers the land would be dry and parched. Water is scarce and agriculture is limited to corn, which provides employment only for a couple of months. There are no industries and thus people had little option but to migrate to towns. Life in cities for migrants is not easy. Looking for work daily and living on streets poses problems of health and safety especially for the women and children. Also migration meant leaving the elderly behind with no one to take care of them. Those who stayed back took to bows and arrows earning the place the ‘dangerous’ tag, which further discouraged new businesses.

A chance meeting in MSU Baroda, brought Ranvir and Jabeen, both residents of Dahod, together and from there started a journey of passion and commitment towards bringing dignity through meaning employment to the tribal population of Dahod. As Jabeen says “…and since that day we have been travelling together”.A follower of Gandhian philosophy, Ranvir was sure that the way out of poverty for the villagers was to develop cottage industries. The biggest challenge as Ranvir recalls was to convince people to learn the crafts and work for a living. The idea of an NGO was also very distorted in the minds of the locals. Their only interaction with NGOs was when certain organisations came to take some signatures and in return gave them some money. It took time to earn people’s trust and support. Almost 15 years ago, Sahaj started with 8 employees and 12 women artisans in 1 village. It has now grown to 80 employees, 60 villages, 3000 artisans and over 1600 products spanning different crafts like paper mache, jute and Bamboo artifacts, quilting, beading etc.

Artisans decorating Bamboo baskets and lampshades. 

Ranvir had himself trained the first few women in the crafts, who are now teaching other members of their community. Jabeen and Ranvir also travelled to different organisations like Shantiniketan and Auroville to understand the marketing of handicrafts. Today craft from Dahod is not only sold in all the major cities in India, it is going international and even international designers are coming down to contribute new designs and crafts to Dahod.

So what was the key to this success? According to Ranvir the success lies in the way the organisation is run. In his words Sahaj is a “Corporate NGO”. This reminded me of Pallavi from eyaas who had said “Heart of a non-profit, Mind of a business”. Sahaj is not a charity. When Sahaj started it had some support from it’s parent organisation: Sadguru Water and Development Foundation and it gets some minimal support from various government schemes like Adivasi Kalyan Yojna and Rashtriya sum vikas yojna. By and large Sahaj is a self-sustaining organisation, which is very much the part of the market and runs in accordance with it. The difference between Sahaj and any other for-profit handicraft business, as Ranvir puts it, is it’s key asset – the artisans. If the demand for Jute product in the market decreases, the for-profit business will stop sourcing from the jute artisan but Sahaj on the other hand will train the jute artisan in newer and contemporary crafts ensuring his/her livelihood. Fair trade and a commitment to the villagers are the core values that run through the organisation.

In the market Sahaj’s strengths lie in assured quality, contemporary designs and competitive rates. Sahaj sells affordable handicraft; thus tapping the growing middle class of consumers. Instead of selling one item as an art object for a higher rate and thereby bring income to just one artisan; Sahaj belives in selling 100 items at lower rate and thus bringing livelihood to 100 artisans.

Ranvir Sisodia in Sahaj's Dahod Showroom

We also got a chance to go into the villages and see the women artisan working. Most of the women collect a week’s raw material from the main office and return the finished product the week after. This allows them to work from home, look after kids and family and help in the farms when required. We met Kanta Ben who has been with Sahaj for over 10 years. She proudly tells her story that how Sahaj not only helped her pay off her loan from the local money lender (who was charging her 120% interest) but the regular income has enabled her to build her own home and also marry off her 3 children.

Just like Kanta Ben, thousand’s of women have found pride and a higher social status after joining Sahaj. Their message board rightly says:

“Together we have made a difference
Together we will make greater difference”

SAHAJ is a fair trade organisation working for empowerment of tribal women through art and craft based activities, providing opportunities and choices in life towards an equitable society. Visit online:


Other articles by me on Fair Trade:

Heart of a non-profit and mind of a business

In the market? Of the market? OR against the market?

Disclaimer: The article is a result of informal conversation with Ranvir Sisodia, Senior Executive Officer and Design Head, Sahaj and visit to Sahaj India operations in Dahod, Gujrat. Any factual errors, misunderstandings and misinterpretations are my own.

Categories: around us, development, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Technology in my Plate

GM Food cartoon by

Whether in the agriculture industry or not, all of us have a direct link with food. I came across this article about the seed industry in Economic Times last week. Now seed is the most important and primary input to agriculture and the demand for seed will always be there. No matter what the conditions a farmer will always sow, making seed industry highly lucrative in the entire agricultural chain. Scare land, growing population and rising food prices necessitate the need for agricultural innovations to increase yield. As the crop development is embedded in the seeds, they are the primary vehicles of delivering the new technology. According to the ET article, the Indian Seed Industry is currently growing at ~20% a year!

Broadly speaking seeds are of two kinds: varietals and hybrids. Varietal or open-pollinated seeds can be reproduced for many generations with little deterioration in quality. So after the initial purchase the farmer can multiply his own seeds. Hybrids on the other hand are developed through controlled pollination and cannot be reused and thus need to be repeatedly purchased. White and rice are mainly varietal seeds, while hybrids are large on cotton, oilseed, pearl millet, maize and sorghum.

The private sector is mainly into hybrid seeds. While the public sector consisting of the National and State seed corporations and agricultural research institutes is still limited in their research capacities focussing largely on varietal seeds. Now a growing private sector in something as basic as seed gives me mixed feeling.

Competition ensures that private sector is working on cutting edge technologies and innovations. Large International names such as DuPont or Monsato do bring in huge capital and expertise. Nearly 75% of agricultural biotechnology plant patents are owned by the private industry. Innovations have resulted in drought tolerant and pest resistant crops such as BT Brinjal, corn and sorghum. Most crops can now be grown all year round and across all the climatic regions on India. All this sounds good for the food industry.

The industry is pushing for a move from varietal to hybrid seeds. Seed companies maintain that while varietals may appear cheap they are expensive in the long run as yield and quality deteriorates from one generation to another. Now private firms are there because of the gains from the higher productivity and they would appropriate some cost of R&D to the farmer. Hybrids are thus priced higher and also need to be repeatedly purchased. Without any government control on pricing, are they viable for the small farmer? There are also concerns that land once tilled with hybrid seeds cannot be used with varietal seeds making the farmer dependant on the private firm.

There is also some recent research that claims that crop yield and quality can be improved by magnetic treatment. A development, which has received no interest from any of the seed companies!

A free market and competition should ensure better quality and benefits to the farmer. While I can’t dig a lot deeper into the economics of the seed industry, I just hope it is happening.

Disclaimer: The views expressed are author’s own. The views expressed herein are not intended to harm any person or entity – they are merely the opinions of the author. Any factual errors, misunderstandings, or misinterpretations are author’s own.

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