People's Basic Needs

Watch: What Inspired an IIT Madras Grad to Give ‘Wings’ to Wheelchairs

“To do things, to move around, without being dependent on someone, would be the greatest joy for anyone using a wheelchair,” says Swostik Dash, an innovator by passion and profession.

As a mechanical engineer by education, he has put his expertise to solving unanswered problems of persons with disabilities (PwDs).

Even during his college days at IIT-Madras, Swostik was a regular at the Center for Innovation. For his final project before graduating in 2013, he decided to create something that could find a positive use in the real world. He came up with a swimming pool lift that was specially designed for PwDs.

This enthusiasm, met with a sense of social responsibility, led him to build his own startup called NeoMotion in 2016. In this venture he was accompanied by Dr Sujatha Srinivasan, a professor at his alma mater.

The purpose of this startup was to cater to the needs of the disabled like never before. For this purpose, the company came up with two unique models of wheelchairs.

The first model, named NeoFly, offers 18 types of customisations for a personalised experience for each user. It comes in a variety of colours, back support heights, sizes and seat belt fittings.

The NeoFly

The second model, NeoBolt, makes it possible for the users to toggle outdoor mobility independently. It comes with an attachable front scooter which they can clip to the chair all by themselves. This means that the wheelchair is transformed into an on-road vehicle within seconds, and can travel up to 30 km per charge.

The NeoBolt

Swostik’s NeoMotion is enabling wheelchair users across the country to live and travel as they want, proving that no dream is impossible to achieve.

Watch this video to learn more about Swostik Dash’s journey with NeoMotion:

Woman Launches Cab & Caretaker Service With Ex-Servicemen, Caters to Over 2000

“Once an uncle called me to his house to thank me for the disabled-friendly cab services that he had taken for his daughter who turned out to be my former classmate. She broke down while describing how our cabs had made her feel important. We cried together that evening,” says Sartaj Lamba, founder of Buddy Cabs and Besure Care.

Based in Chandigarh, Sartaj provides caregiving and assisted travel, a service widely popular in the West.

Sartaj had everything from money, contacts to best healthcare facilities and yet she faced problems in terms of assisted travel and caregiving for her father-in-law who was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease in 2015.

Between 2016 and 2018, he was completely bedridden but required frequent visits to the hospital as he had amnesia too. He passed away in 2018, leaving a huge void in the family.

But this loss inspired Sartaj to make mobility and caregiving more inclusive for the elderly and disabled.

Sartaj Lamba

Thus was born Buddy Cabs and Besure Care.

“Being an army wife, we had support staff and yet we faced difficulties in providing efficient care for my father-in-law. The experience opened my eyes. Visiting the hospital is only one part of caregiving, we needed an end-to-end service. We have 13 crore senior citizens and many of them can be categorised into the disabled section due to locomotive limitations. They have to depend on their family for travelling in lieu of insufficient infrastructure options. I have built a model that not only provides transport but also services that an individual may need before and after travelling,” says Sartaj, who has played an active role in the Army Wives Welfare Association (AWWA).

The rental car system has a presence in several cities, including Delhi, Mohali, Ambala, Chandigarh, Faridabad, Gurugram and Noida.

How it Works

There are close to 70 vehicles in the organisation of which 20 of them are modified and tailored according to the needs of the elderly and disabled. The wheelchair-enabled vehicles have rotating seats, oxygen cylinders, first aid and more.

Sartaj hired ex-servicemen as both drivers and caretakers. They were provided training in caregiving.Users can also avail both the services in one of their options.

“Most of our users are patients who need to visit the hospital almost daily for chemotherapy or dialysis sessions. They can book the cab and if they want, the driver can stay around to help them with household errands or daily chores. The elderly don’t have to be at the mercy of others,” says Sartaj.

Users can also book cabs for long inter-city or inter-state services. This service is especially designed for the disabled who find it hard to travel in trains, buses or flights.

One of the most fruitful collaborations that came out of Buddy Cabs was with hospitals like Fortis. The cabs are now parked in the hospital premises for the elderly and disabled. They can also book doctor appointments and schedule services of caretakers through the cabs. This eliminates the need of waiting endlessly to meet the doctor.

Surinder Matharoo from Chandigarh, who underwent a knee operation, availed Buddy Cabs two months ago. She says, “I took their service post the operation. They sent a caretaker home for all my needs — right from waking me up on time, taking my meds to giving massages. It is not easy to find a caretaker who is attentive, gentle and good at what they do but Sartaj’s organisation was commendable.”

In another instance, a doctor from Patiala booked the cab for his son who was paralysed from below the neck. He had searched a lot of places and found us through someone,”

Meanwhile, Kawaljit is grateful for Sartaj’s contribution during the pandemic. She had converted her cabs into an emergency service for ferrying patients and had also started a small 25-bed COVID-19 centre along with the municipal administration.

“Our domestic help had contracted the coronavirus so we contacted Mrs Lamba. She immediately sent her vehicle and took our help to the centre and looked after all her needs. She is a wonderful and selfless being,” says Kawaljit.

Such heartwarming feedback motivates Sartaj to initiate new initiatives and make her services more effective.

Given the demand and responses, Sartaj hopes to scale up this operation pan India. She wants to hire women cab drivers and open this service for pregnant women and new mothers, too.

In the last two years, Sartaj’s organisation has catered to around 2,000 customers, most of whom have taken the service more than once.

An initiative that was born from a personal loss is now making a difference for the senior citizens and disabled communities, which are otherwise overlooked.

All images are sourced from Sartaj Lamba

You can reach Buddy Cabs here 

Edited by Yoshita Rao

A Simple Step Helped Me Diagnose a Deadly Cancer 2 Weeks Early, Saved My Life

In early 2021, Meher Roy was diagnosed with Acute Lymphocytic Leukaemia (ALL) in the nick of time by a routine standard blood test- the Complete Blood Count (CBC). ALL is a type of blood and bone marrow cancer known for its rapid progression.

“Ideally, a CBC is a routine automated test. However, if an unusual discrepancy is found in the readings, the blood work is analysed by a human pathologist under the microscope. In my case, that’s what happened,” he tells The Better India.

Ordinarily, one would expect such a cancer diagnosis to come thanks to severe symptoms or life-altering experiences. But Meher’s story began and continues today because of a simple alteration in the body – an increased resting heart rate.

Meher & his family Leading an aware life

From an early age, Meher’s father inculcated in him a habit of getting regular health checkups. “I don’t know why he did it. My mother went through an episode of illness, which only seemed to reaffirm his belief in the practice. So since my teens, I have kept a basic check on heart, kidney, blood, et cetera,” he says.

Born and brought up in Gandhinagar of Gujarat, Meher has lived in multiple locations like Italy, Germany and the United States over the past 11 years. He co-founded his own company, known as Chorus One and shifted to Switzerland in 2021.

But every winter, he unfailingly visits India for his annual health checkup. According to him, the quality of medical service here is excellent and cheaper compared to other countries.

This behaviour also means Meher has years of data about his own body, which gave him a heightened awareness of what is ‘normal’ for his body and what is not.

The story of how I got diagnosed with blood cancer.

OR

How heart rate monitoring led me to catch a deadly cancer 2 weeks early, and maybe saved my life.

— Meher Roy (@MeherRoy) September 2, 2021

The inception of a life-changing incident

Meher says that this year, he got his annual check-up done on 6 January. He contracted COVID-19 right after that.

“I thought it was best to get another check done after recovery, which was undertaken on 15 February.” Meher shares. “I kept feeling like I lacked energy after the infection. I even got a recurring nose infection. But the oddest thing was that by March-end, my resting heart rate was shooting up. From 55, it reached 90 beats per minute.”

Ordinarily, even this would be attributed to the aftermath of the virus. Nonetheless, Meher decided to get it checked. For as a person who had kept a daily check on his heart rate for years, he knew something was wrong.

“I was in Switzerland by then and got a CBC done there on 13 April. Then, on 14 April, I was asked to come in along with a family member and a few changes of clothes,” says Meher, mentioning the hospital visit was a day before his 33rd birthday.

He was diagnosed with ALL. The cancer cells had penetrated his nervous system. Of the approximately six kg of blood in Meher’s body, 2.5 kg had been infiltrated by cancer cells.

But there was still hope – as the diagnosis had come at such an early stage.

“Many cancers grow so slowly that you might not discover them for ten years. In my case, it had taken only two months for 30-40% of the blood cells to turn cancerous. If I had waited for another two or three weeks, it would have killed me,” Meher relates.

The story of how I got diagnosed with blood cancer.

OR

How heart rate monitoring led me to catch a deadly cancer 2 weeks early, and maybe saved my life.

— Meher Roy (@MeherRoy) September 2, 2021

 

“The disease was aggressive, so the treatment had to be aggressive too. It is expected to continue for two and a half years in my case. I have already spent about 100 days in the hospital this year,” Meher shares.

This has had its challenges. According to Meher, a cancer patient can never feel normal despite successful therapy. The medicines are tough on the body, and side effects of chemotherapy persist, even as symptoms begin improving.

“In my journey, I have gotten to perceive Switzerland on a deeper level. The doctors, nurses, insurance agencies, and others catered to any requests I had, making this journey easier. For this, I feel gratitude towards them,” he says.

The lessons that saved his life

Meher candidly warns that obsessive assessment can often lead to overdiagnosis and unnecessary questions about one’s health. But he still suggests that every person should undertake simple tracking of bodily functions.

“You should have an understanding of what your body normally feels like, and listen to it and respond when it feels abnormal. These days it can be done with smartwatches that track stats like heart rate and blood pressure,” Meher says.

He adds, “I also recommend consulting a doctor in case something changes. If it’s a fatal disease like cancer, one wrong step (for example, time spent in the wrong kind of therapy) can prove to be life-threatening.”

So, apart from monitoring your body, what kind of tests should you get done?

Dr Preeti Choudhary, a Senior Consultant in Radiology at Jaipur Golden Hospital, shares how awareness about early symptoms and diagnosis can affect the treatment of various cancers. She talks about DR-70, a comprehensive blood test that can identify 13 types of cancers.

Apart from this, a few tests she shares are:

Mammograms to find breast cancer
Colonoscopy to find colon cancer
Medical exams and self-exams to detect other health problems before symptoms appear

So we hope Meher’s story is an example to us all – let’s keep an eye on our body and take steps when something goes wrong.

 

(Edited by Vinayak Hegde)

This Muhammad Ali’s Unique Teaching Methods Are a Model for All of Ladakh

Muhammad Ali (43) is grateful for all the accolades that have come his way since receiving the National Teachers Award last month for transforming the lives of his students at the Government Middle School in Karith Shargole, a remote village, in Kargil district. Felicitated specifically for his imaginative initiative of setting up subject-specific classrooms, this award is the result of the five years he invested in his students and validates his philosophy of teaching.

(Image above of Muhammad Ali on the left and students at the Government Middle School, Karith, on the right.)

“My objective as a teacher is not restricted to helping students obtain high marks in examinations. I want them to learn for life. I want them to pick up knowledge and skills that can prove useful to them even as adults. Also, I don’t think we should induce stress on our children for marks. This is no way to truly learn. After all, not every child can come first in class,” says Ali, in a conversation with The Better India earlier this week.

He admits that “the award has brought upon greater expectation and pressure to raise the bar”. But he remains steadfast in his desire to deliver further as Acting Head Teacher of a government school where internet connectivity is virtually non-existent. Karith, a village with a population of barely 500 residents, is located about 36 km away from Kargil and set amidst dramatically coloured mountains, patches of green fields and awe-inspiring moon-line terrain.

In the past month, however, the village has made headlines in national and local publications, besides becoming famous on social media, purely because of the work he has done. The Government Middle School has become a model for other such institutions in the district. Nearly 20 private and government schools have visited this remote village since 2018 to understand what the fuss is all about.

Educational visit by the staff members of Spring Dales Public School, Mulbekh.

A Stimulating Environment

Born and raised in the Chanchik locality of Kargil, Ali’s family were originally inhabitants of Kanor village in Sanku tehsil. He studied at local government schools before completing his graduation in Amar Singh College, Jammu. After graduation, he taught at a local private school for two years before being appointed as a government school teacher in 2006.

While undertaking his responsibilities as a government school teacher, he obtained his MSc in environmental science, MA in English and MEd (Master’s degree in Education) through distance learning. The son of a cameraman for the local information department admits that he “wasn’t the brightest student” but lived in a family where passion for academics loomed large. It’s what kept him in the pursuit of higher education even after he got a job.

After 10 years of serving in different parts of Ladakh from Sanku to Zanskar and Leh, Ali was appointed Acting Head Teacher at the Government Middle School in Karith in 2016.

“When I first got there, it had many of the basic failings associated with government schools like the classrooms weren’t properly painted and the matting on the floor was coming off. Enrolment levels were reasonably high given that it’s at a remote location with few schools nearby. With poor learning levels, children were very shy to express themselves, under confident and largely weak in their academics, particularly their reading and writing skills,” he recalls.

Muhammad Ali, activist Sonam Wangchuk and some students from the Govt. Middle School.

Getting Students to Learn

During his time at Karith, Ali developed a couple of interesting teaching methods. One of the first issues he sought to address was the lack of confidence, aptitude and skills in reading English and Urdu. He notes that usually these languages are often taught by translation in the local language, and then written questions and answers are given towards the end of each class.

“Languages are meant to be spoken, written and learnt. So, I decided to gather the teachers under my office and revamp the way languages are taught. We began by acquiring a Rapidex English Speaking Course textbook, and decided to develop a grade-wise syllabus using the lessons in it. Little kids were taught the basics of spoken English and as the grade got higher so did the complexity. Also, in order to improve pronunciation during the early stretch of his tenure, he also taught basic phonetics to students and teachers. This was done by taking out only 5 minutes a day during morning assembly for nearly two months in 2016,” he explains.

Today, on each school day, he organises a 25 minute spoken English and Urdu class apart from other conventional classes. Besides teaching them spoken English, the teachers under his office also conduct a variety of activities associated with language learning like conducting short plays. Going further, teachers asked all the 41 students enrolled in the school to conduct presentations in English in the morning assembly as well. They designated each morning to one class, where students would do a presentation during assembly.

Since every morning assembly was assigned to one class, students had time to prepare and practice their presentations. Initially, the students found it odd, but presently on each school morning they present on a wide variety of topics or stories either in English or Urdu.

Another initiative was directed at subjects or topics where students would struggle with remembering tough concepts. One such example was learning the elements and their atomic numbers in the periodic table or the capital cities of different countries. What they did was designate an element in the periodic table and its respective atomic number to each student.

All students were asked to memorise the element and their atomic numbers assigned. Before the morning assembly, while taking attendance, instead of calling out their class roll numbers, teachers would announce their atomic numbers and students would respond with the element they were designated. As teachers kept repeating this exercise every day, soon the students from both primary and middle school remembered the names of many elements and their respective atomic numbers. They conducted similar exercises to help students remember the name of Indian states, countries and their capitals, and other subjects.

“The third initiative we took was to construct an artificial glacier (ice stupa) during the winter holidays at Karith so that they continue learning through the season. Earlier students would come back from their three month winter break forgetting a lot of what they learnt and lose touch with the learning process. To address this problem and ensure students maintain some degree of contact with the school, we decided to embark on an artificial glacier project. Thankfully, my staff members were very supportive of this initiative, and worked through the winter,” he recalls.

The first artificial glacier they constructed was in the winter of 2016. “It fortunately failed,” he adds, because it forced them to try again the following year. In the winter of 2017, the students constructed a 40 ft tall artificial glacier. Soon, word about their project reached well-known social activist and educationist Sonam Wangchuk, who popularised these structures in the Leh area.

“He felicitated our work and gave the school a cash prize of Rs 1 lakh. This was nearly four times the amount we would get annually from the government for construction and maintenance work in our school. In the following year, we were also felicitated at the national level in 2018 by the union water resources ministry for their artificial glacier project,” recalls Ali.

Receiving a cheque of Rs 1 Lakh earlier this year (once again after 2018) from Padma Shri Chewang Norphel and Sonam Wangchuk.

The school was given the first prize for Best Research/Innovation/Adaptation of New Technology for Water Conservation in the Project Glacier category. The school received a cash prize of Rs 2 lakh. In 2019, the ice stupa they built was at 73 feet high. In the words of National Geographic, “Nestled in the shade of a peak, it lasted through August (2020), allowing farmers to water their fields.”

However, the standout initiative Ali introduced was the concept of subject-specific classrooms in 2018.

His school does not have class (grade)-wise classrooms but subject-specific ones. They go to different classes where they are taught by the respective subject teacher with relevant teaching-learning material (TLM). With subject-specific classrooms, children have the option of not only going through their TLM, but also TLMs of higher grades. These subject-specific classrooms will not only make students familiar with higher grade TLMs, but also serve as a platform where children can revise their previous grade’s lessons.

Subject-specific classroom

These classrooms from Class 1 to 8 are attractive, stimulating and thus furthers the student’s understanding of their respective subjects. Piloted in 2016, the school today has 9 teachers and 10 subject-specific classrooms for social studies, science, language, games, mathematics, ABC Class, 123 Class, Urdu, smart classroom and a library as well. “Each subject teacher took this suggestion on board, developed their own respective TLMs and eventually began taking full responsibility for maintaining their own subject-specific classrooms,” he notes.

Subject-specific classroom

COVID-19 Challenges

There is no denying the past year and a half have been extremely challenging for school kids. In a village with virtually no internet connectivity and little preparation for what was to come, Ali admits that most of 2020 was a washout for his students with no learning happening.

“In fact, on 15 February 2021, the administration allowed schools in places with no online connectivity to reopen. When we opened up briefly, we realised that schools shutting down for most of 2020 had a debilitating impact on their learning. However, with the incoming second wave, schools were shut down again in March-April. Of course, we couldn’t sit down and do nothing this time around. We designed weekly class-wise assignments for students, and asked teachers living there to deliver them each weekend to homes in the vicinity of their residence. Given the requirement for social distancing, students would bring their written assignments on to the gate, and the teachers would take photos of them, check them and present their assessments. This was our way of keeping students engaged,” recalls Ali.

This went on for about two months, before community classes commenced at meadows, pastures and barren lands in different villages in collaboration with the village coordinator appointed by the Education Department and the Village Education Community.

Government school teachers in a given village and qualified youths who came back home during the second wave were engaged as voluntary teachers for community classes along with the VEC (village education committee) and PRI (Panchayati Raj Institution) members. The situation has improved since schools were reopened, and Ali says that “it’s a relief”.

For someone who was given a two-year tenure in 2016, it has now been five years. Given his stellar work here, it’s no surprise he continues to teach at Karith. “I hope to continue here and help these students further given how they suffered [during COVID],” he concludes.

(All images courtesy Muhammad Ali)

(Edited by Yoshita Rao)

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NIOS Recruitment 2021: Apply For 115 Vacancies With Salaries up to Rs 2 Lakh

The National Institute of Open Schooling (NIOS) formerly known as National Open School (NOS) was established in November 1989 as an autonomous organisation. NIOS has announced a recruitment drive to fill 115 vacancies.

Things to know:
  • Eligible and interested candidates may submit their application on the official website, here.
  • The positions available are as follows: director, joint director, deputy director, assistant director, deputy director, assistant director, accounts officer, academic officer, junior engineer, junior assistant and more.
  • Selected candidates will be paid a salary of up to Rs 2,15,900.
  • Candidates keen on applying for these vacancies must submit their application online by or before 10 October 2021.
  • Candidates must submit only one application for one position.
  • In case of multiple applications, the last application received will be considered.
How to apply: Apply now!
  • The candidates must apply online only through the NIOS website, and a hard copy of the application form need not be submitted.
  • Candidates must have a valid email id and mobile number through which they will get registered with the online application portal and all further intimation regarding the posts will be done through the registered mobile number or email ID.
  • There is an online application fee ranging from Rs 150 to 750 that needs to be paid depending on the post.
  • Those who wish to apply are advised to go through the official notification in detail before submitting the application.
Vacancies available:

There are a total of 115 vacancies that need to be filled. Some of them include the following:

Academic officer – 17
Electronic Data Processing (EDP) Supervisor – 37
Junior Assistant – 36
Stenographer – 3
Assistant – 4
Section Officer – 7

Click here to access the official notification.

Daughter’s Hair Fall Inspires 85-YO Couple to Launch Hair Oil With 50 Herbs

“If you like dancing, will you ever get tired of it? I don’t think factors like age, place or even non-preferable music will come in the way. Likewise, researching about and making hair oil does not exhaust me,” says Radha Krishan Choudhary, aka Nanaji (grandfather). 

The 85-year-old resident of Surat, Gujarat, has joined a growing tribe of entrepreneurs who emerge post retirement age. His wife Shakuntala is his business partner.

In June, the duo launched their startup ‘Avimee Herbals’ with an aim to provide a toxic chemical-free hair oil to resolve problems like premature balding, excessive hair fall, greying and dandruff. 

With approximately 200 orders a month from across India, the tiny venture has taken off in a big way. 

The Triggering Point 

After working for nearly 50 years in his family business, Choudhary retired in 2010 to begin his second innings. Little did he know that his entrepreneurial bug was still not satiated.

So in early 2021 when his daughter complained of hair fall, instead of researching existing hair oil brands or suggesting home remedies (generally involving the right diet) like every other parent, Choudhary went one step ahead.

One morning, he sat at his desk, switched on the computer and began researching the causes of hair fall. With several research papers and books by his side, he would spend hours at a stretch for the cause. 

“I was bombarded with hundreds of solutions, including hair fall masks, treatments, organic oils, kitchen hacks but none of them could address my doubts. Finally, I decided to put my skills to use and develop my own oil. I had always been engaged in these little home experiments while growing up so this was just another trial, or so I thought,” says Choudhary. 

Impressed by his diligence and focus, Shakuntala joined him in his research. They would identify the cause of each problem and find its solution in different herbs. 

“It is all about decoding the human body. For example, a male’s receding hairline is linked to Dihydrotestosterone (DHT), an androgen. For females, insufficient estrogen can cause hair growth imbalance. We searched for herbs that could block DHT to some extent,” says Choudhary without revealing the trade secret. 

Based on their extensive research, the duo made hair oil with a cold-pressed technique. It is a blend of more than 50 herbs infused in cold pressed oils like coconut, black sesame, olive, castor, kalonji and more than 50 carrier oils and essential oils. 

The duo tried it on themselves for three months. The results were overwhelming as Choudhary noticed a couple of new hair strands on his bald patch. 

Later, the oil was distributed among friends and family for testing and with all the positive feedback and demand, the couple launched the brand, which they christened ‘Keshpallav Hair Oil’, in June. 

‘Quality is Our Hero’

Choudhary and Shakuntala are very particular about the quality of the oil. They do not add chemicals or artificial contents to enhance the texture or increase the fragrance. This means that it takes more time to prepare the oil. 

“It is a tedious and exhausting process which takes around a month to complete. We don’t want to cheat our customers in any way. If we promise 50 herbs, we will add all of them in the required proportions. After our story was made public last month, our orders increased significantly and we received hundreds of calls daily. But instead of giving false assurances, we had to tell them to wait for a month. Our primary goal is not profits or to retain customers. Quality is our hero,” says Shakuntala. 

Thanks to this strategy, their social media pages are flooded with heartening messages from customers. One of the first indicators that their oil was working was when a lady in Kolkata personally called Choudhary and thanked him for lessinging her hair fall. She ordered five bottles in one go. 

“I was amazed by the results.I thought it was like any other oil but I thought of giving it a try. My brother was also shocked as we all were having severe hair fall post COVID-19. But now after using this only once, I witnessed dramatic results. My hair fall is almost zero,” reads a review on their website

The startup also offers spray and ortho-CP oil. Their next agenda is to customise the oil as per individual hair needs and perhaps start a factory to meet the rising demand. 

For the octogenarians, the experience of running a startup has been positive and satisfying so far. “Working together, seeing our brand flourish and interacting with strangers who are so grateful is surely the best reward for us.” adds Choudhary. 

You can reach Avimee Herbals here.

Edited by Yoshita Rao 

‘I Lost 31 KG in Four Months While Eating Ghee! Here’s My Fitness Regime’

There are a myriad of reasons that inspire one’s breakthrough weight problems for people. For 26-year-old Prakshi Talwar, it was a career choice.

A practicing dentist in Delhi, Prakshi had always been aware that her weight was above the healthy normal. “I tried dieting every now and then, but didn’t persevere with it to see a change through,” she shares.

But in 2018 she applied for a position in the Army Dental Corps and suddenly her 97 kilos posed a major hurdle in bagging the position. While she passed the interview with flying colours, the first round of medical examination flagged her Body Mass Index (BMI).

She had only four months until her physical examination. But undeterred by the time crunch, Prakshi decided to use this opportunity and ended up losing 31 kilos.

“When you have a chance to be a part of the country’s defence forces, you do everything you can to keep it,” she tells The Better India.

With a Touch of Ghee

This time, her agenda was simple — eat small portions of home-cooked meals and work out to shed excess unhealthy fat.

Prakshi was now ready to build her weight loss regimen.

Working at Apollo Hospital back then, Prakshi knew enough about basic nutrition to come up with a regimen for herself. For any doubts, she’d connect with her friend and colleague at the hospital, Veena, who is a certified dietician.

Her mother prepared each dish for her, which would invariably be cooked in ghee. “I have a low blood pressure problem, so it was important to get proper energy even if I was eating less. Having ghee-rich foods provided me with the necessary fatty acids and also made the food delectable enough to appease my senses,” the Delhiite says.

For breakfast, she had dishes like porridge, poha or egg whites. Lunch was invariably a light salad of chickpea, corn cob or other vegetables. For dinner, Prakshi would stick to a bowl of pulses cooked in ghee.

Commenting on her diet, she says, “I am a vegetarian, but I knew that if I wanted to see a drastic change, my diet had to change. For this reason I decided to go the extra mile and start eating eggs as well, for every food has its own nutritional value.”

The meals were complemented by a fitness regime that was recommended by the doctors at the army hospital during her examination. This meant that Prakshi began her day with yoga and jogged for 8 km. “This I did in two rounds — a 4 km lap before work and a 4 km lap after,” she adds.

Results began to show quickly, and made her believe that she was on the right track. She shares that everyday she would record her weight, and even the slightest shift in the numbers would motivate her.

“But the major driving force remained the dream of making it to my ideal job,” she reveals.

Apart from all this, Prakshi focussed on hydration. She would consume about seven to eight litres of water every day and carry Oral Rehydration Solutions (ORS) to work. She also says, “I realised that sweet lime juice helps in reducing water retention and burning calories. This was also something that was recommended to me at the army camp, and it worked.”

By month four, her weight had come down to 66 kilos. She achieved an all India rank of 25 at the army examination but didn’t end up joining due to kidney stones that were discovered during her final round.

She is currently working at a dental clinic in Delhi.

Lessons From My Weight Loss Journey

Prakshi reveals that even though her transformation was brisk, it wasn’t easy.

While she was persevering to cope with a major lifestyle change, her intrinsic belief took a hit when the efforts suddenly stopped showing results. After shedding the first 10 kg, daily recordings stopped reflecting a drop in her weight for a week.

“It’s called a weight loss plateau, and I was suffering from it. But it is said that in such phases you need to change something in your routine to get the body to respond. I increased my carb intake and switched to High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) workout then. Thankfully, it worked and I started shedding weight again,” she shares.

Apart from this, she chose to indulge herself in cheat meals only every 15 days, which were also home-cooked. She says that one never knows what kind of oil is being used in food outside, so it’s best to make whatever you desire at home where you know the ingredients are fresh.

For those beginning their weight loss journey, Prakshi recommends taking things slow. This is because the faster you trigger a positive change, the more susceptible you become to an intense relapse.

“I was bound by necessity to take such drastic measures, but I would recommend that one should only follow such a regimen if they plan to stick to it long enough for the body to get used to it. Otherwise, a relapse can cause you to gain even more weight. It’s always better to begin small and make one small change at a time,” she says.

She adds that losing weight and being healthy is not about anything else but harnessing the power of one’s mind.

“I recently suffered a major injury as I fell down from the stairs. Chances of a quick recovery looked grim in the beginning, but today, my doctor tells me that because of the healthy condition of my body, my muscles are healing faster than expected,” she reveals.

 

Edited by Yoshita Rao

Watch: 23-YO Builds Low-Cost Solar ‘Rickshaw’ Home From Scrap at 1/5th the Cost

Two months ago the Bombay High Court termed the mounting illegal settlements across the Mumbai Metropolitan Region (MMR) as a ‘situation gone out of hand’ as thousands of encroachers were living on government land for free. The issue of illegal encroachments is also found in Chennai.

As the population grows and land area remains the same, the uneven ratio needs immediate attention. Noticing the alarming situation, Arun Prabhu has come up with a low-cost solution.

An architect by profession, the 23-year-old built a house on top of an autorickshaw in August 2019. The 6×6 feet detachable and portable home took five months to get ready. It is designed in such a way that it can be attached to any vehicle.

Called ‘Solo 0.1’, the house is equipped with a toilet, foyer, terrace, living room space, kitchen and other such essential spaces.

It is meant for solo travelers, vendors, artists, homeless and construction workers. Arun says it can also be used for evacuations during natural disasters.

The best part?

It is entirely built from scrap, runs on solar power and can store 250 litres of water.

While a house in the slums of Mumbai costs around Rs 5,00,000, Arun managed to build himself a home in just Rs 1,00,000.

Step inside this beautiful home that could be a gamechanger here:

Banana Saris, Lotus Shawls, Bamboo Jeans: How Desi Fashion Is Going Green!

Changing the type of fabric or the accessories you use could potentially stop generating waste that clutters landfills while helping you make a unique fashion statement.

This isn’t about ethical, sustainable or slow fashion. This is a complete change in the basic fabric used by all of us. Changing from polyester to cotton or even organic cotton is passé because cotton, though comfortable, is the most water guzzling crop. According to the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), the plant needs 10,000 litres of water to get just one kilo of usable cotton.

So the time has come to replace cotton with alternatives like plant waste or the agro residue.

After harvesting the edible and other parts of plants like banana, pineapple, hemp, jute, lotus, bamboo, eucalyptus, flax, cork, sugarcane, etc, what remains is the plant biomass or the waste residue which are generally burnt causing air pollution or go into landfills. This waste is the best source of biopolymers like cellulose, lignin, pectin etc, which can be converted into textile fibres.

Of Natural Fibres

 

C Sekar with his award winning sari using 25 different yarns for the pallu.

Tamil Nadu-based C Sekar, president of the Anakaputhur Weavers Association, known to weave clothes from natural fibres, says, “Everyday, in the temples of Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh and Kerala, enormous amounts of banana plants are used to decorate the temple and the deity. The next day, they are thrown out. We collect and source fibres from this waste. Banana stems are the best source of fibre to make the yarn.”

Sekar, a third-generation weaver from Anakaputhur, (earlier famous for chequered Madras fabric), is well known in the weaving community and others associated with the textile industry. Ananafit, the brand under which he markets these products, experiments with natural fibres and his group of women weavers love to make yarns and weave fabric from banana, pineapple, bamboo, aloe vera plants. Sekar is now experimenting to produce silk yarn from lotus plants. In fact, he holds a Limca Book of Records (2011) of weaving a sari pallu using 25 natural fibres.

Weaver of Anakaputhur weaving a sari with banana fiber.

Problem is that the majority of Indian consumers aren’t yet aware of these textiles nor is the textile industry ready to produce the agricultural waste into textile yarn. As Sekar points out, the handloom weavers are ready to experiment but they aren’t getting the technical support needed to make these yarns, to weave the fabric in bulk.

Very few Indian industrial yarn producers have ventured into making these yarns and the production is limited as there isn’t much demand. Whereas several European countries like UK, Portugal, Germany, Italy and others like Australia, China, Canada, Brazil, USA, etc, have started production in bulk. According to UK-based Agraloop, a company which specialises in producing textile grade fibres from agricultural produce, annually nearly 250 million tonnes of fibre can be produced which is more than two and half times the global demand for the fibre from five plants—hemp seed oil, flaxseed oil, banana stem, sugarcane bark and pineapple leaves. According to Green Whisper, a France-based company with Indian roots who specialise mainly in banana fabric, the world produces 1 billion tonnes of agro residue.

That’s the best advantage of these plant waste fabric because there is no dearth of raw material. Hemp fabric strips; Pic courtesy: BOHECO

In a good harvest year, globally 86 million tonnes of banana is produced and in India alone 297 lakh tonnes. Pineapple production is nearly 2620 lakh tonnes and India produces some 16 lakh tonnes. It is estimated that 1.3 billion tonnes of food is wasted globally each year i.e. one third of all food produced for human consumption.

But slowly, the global fashion industry is waking up to the beauty of these fibres and their lesser impact on the environment. Many internationally well-known fashion houses like Salvatore Ferragamo have dresses for fabric made from orange peel. H&M, Hugo Boss, Paul Smith use Pinatex (made from pineapple leaves), and of course the famous Gucci and Prada use various plant-based fabrics too. Banana fabric is the most popular with a natural sheen resembling silk.

Hemp & Vegan Leather Bag by Beej using vegan leather.

“Fabric from hemp is good too. The more you wash a garment made from hemp the more soft and comfortable it becomes,” says Mumbai-based young designer Neha Rao, who heads the Hemp Fabric Lab of Bombay Hemp Company (BOHECO).

She says her reason for opting to be a designer with a difference is her first-hand experience in this second-largest polluting industry that made her more passionate about becoming an active change agent.

The problem that she encounters is that as hemp can’t be legally cultivated in India, they have to import the yarn. They get it from many South Asian countries, especially China where 70 per cent of world hemp is harvested, and Afghanistan. “Fabric using hemp can either be 100 percent hemp or a blend. Indian users are yet to become aware of the comfort of this fabric, says Neha, who is also a sustainable textile designer.

Like Neha, many young Indian textile and accessories designers are opting for plant waste yarns and fabric. Kolkata-based Arundhati Kumar who has her designing and manufacturing set up under the brand name ‘Beej’ in Mumbai​,​ loves to makes accessories from vegan leather.

Designer Priyal Turakhia with a model wearing her design made with plastic ornamentation.

Hailing from a family of common leather goods manufacturers, it was a vacation in Europe where the uncharacteristic heat that year forced her to accept the reality of climate change. What started as a personal lifestyle change of using sustainable products soon became her passion and work.

“We work with a range of innovative materials which includes cork extracted from cork plant, Piñatex made from Pineapple leaf fibres and Desserto, a leather alternative made from cactus pulp. Carefully selected for its impact, every part including the lining fabric of the products are made from consumer recycled yarn’’, says the self-taught designer who makes bags, clutches, belts etc. with material sourced from Europe.

Bengaluru-based Devdeep Saha of Loom Circle, who at present designs men’s apparel, focuses mainly on banana, lotus silk and bamboo fabric. He agrees that all these yarns need to be blended with other yarns like cotton, modal etc. and in the given circumstances can’t be completely sustainable at least in India as there are almost no quality and quantity producers of these yarns..

Devdeep says, “Efforts need to be made to completely transform the fabric industry. At present, sustainable fabric isn’t affordable by all. It’s clubbed into a luxury segment. These products can become affordable if the yarns are produced locally. We procure yarns from Italy,

Portugal, UK, Vietnam and others. If we can get quality textile grade yarn in India, the price of products will naturally come down which will lure fashion designers and also consumers.”

Recently, a group of fashion brands and industries started the ‘Fashion Forward Fellowship’ to support GenNext to take sustainable fashion forward. The winner of Rs 1 lakh grant, Priyal Turakhia of The United World Institute of Design, Karnavati University, designed a very innovative women’s garment. She not only used organic ethical cotton but enhanced her garments with one-time-use plastic waste, with the hope that this would help the reuse of plastic waste in the fashion industry.

Through her brand Nirantar, Priyal used water and cosmetic product bottles to embellish dresses made from handwoven organic cotton from Kutch. She also made sure not to use any dyeing material, which is another great source of pollutants. The young winner says, “These bottles and their caps are so colourful that they make the designed apparel quite colourful. So by cutting into different shapes, smoothing and shaping the plastic waste I could easily use them to enhance my designs, and they are as comfortable as any other attire which is embellished with sequins.”

So the fashion industry is brewing new ideas and new trends. Younger designers want to challenge the status quo. Handloom weavers are ready to incorporate new steps. The need of the hour is for governments and big textile industries to step in and aid the trendsetters in making this world as pollutant free as possible.

(Edited by Yoshita Rao)

Spending Just Rs 500/Month, I Grow 100+ Plants at Home. Here’s How

In 2017, Anna Mani Ratnam (27), a resident of Machilipatnam, moved into a newly constructed home with his family. One of the most exciting aspects of the move was that now Mani could finally pursue a dream he had nurtured since childhood — terrace gardening.

“In our previous home, we did not have much space to grow vegetables or fruit-bearing plants. However, here we have a 675 sq ft terrace on which I decided to grow a mini food forest,” Mani tells The Better India.

Three years later, his terrace houses over 100 plants including vegetables like tomato and brinjal, fruits like red guava and custard apple, and herbs like amaranthus, among others. Mani spends only Rs 500 every month to maintain his garden and shares tips and tricks on how he does this with 1,000 others on a Facebook group.

Organic and homemade

To kick things off on an auspicious note, Mani started by growing tulsi plants on his terrace. He then purchased seeds for flowering plants like jasmine, as well as for vegetables like tomato, which his family consumes regularly.

“I wanted to use the produce from the terrace garden for our daily consumption, so I needed to grow it organically. Instead of using chemical fertilisers or pesticides, I decided to use the waste from the kitchen as compost and make organic fertilisers like jeevamrut and panchakavya,” says Mani.

To learn more about how to make these organic fertilisers, he attended a two-week workshop at Guntur. Here, he learned all the basics and began implementing them at home. To keep the purchase costs low, he approached a dairy farm near his home and collected cow dung and urine.

“The owners offered it to me free of cost. Using that, I could make up to 150 litres every month. I made the fertilisers in discarded drums and kept them covered on the terrace. This was further diluted with water and added to plants every 14 days,” says Mani, adding that during the lockdown, when he could not purchase manure, he would use kitchen waste blended with water as fertilisers.

Recycled containers to grow the plants.

Soon, he started expanding his garden by planting fruit trees in cement pits created on the terrace, medicinal plants like bhringraj, soursop, flowering plants like adeniums, bonsais, and more. These were planted in recycled containers like plastic buckets or steel buckets that he purchased from a local kabadiwala.

Anna Mani Ratnam Sharing his experience

Early in 2019, Mani realised that as his plants matured, he did not have to purchase anything from shops. This ensured that costs were maintained within Rs 500 or sometimes Rs 600 per month. Apart from this, he also noticed that his home was generating less waste.

A full view of Mani’s garden.

“All the wet waste was converted into compost while some of the dry waste including bottles and boxes were recycled for the garden,” says Mani, adding that he wanted to share this knowledge with others in his neighbourhood and encourage them to follow a sustainable lifestyle.

Along with Gowri Kavya, a friend he met at the workshop, he started a Facebook page named Bandar Brundavanam to share tips about composting, organic fertiliser and pesticide making, and seed harvesting.

“I shared videos and posts on gardening hacks and shared seeds and fertilisers with members living within a 3 – 5 kilometre radius. In return, they would share something unique from their garden,” says Mani.

Most of the exchanges were done free-of-cost, which Mani says encouraged over 1,000 people to join the group and become a family. While sharing some positive stories about the group’s activities, Mani says during the second wave of the pandemic, the group’s bond became stronger.

“When an elderly member of the group passed away, her daughter reached out to the group and requested if her mother’s plants would be adopted by others, as her last wish. More than 10 members stepped forward and took in a variety of plants and continue growing them as their own today,” says Mani.

In the future, Mani hopes that the group inspires more people to take up organic farming in their homes. He says that it would help an individual follow a healthy lifestyle and reduce the waste circulated into the environment.

You can join Mani’s FB group Bandar Brundavanam here.