Category Archives: PORTRAITS

TERRACE Farming BY an Ex-air force personnel!

George VJ, an Ex-air force personnel, is being featured in LST for the second time. During the 2018 flood, in Mavelikara, Kerala, he moved the furniture and household goods, on a war footing, before flood entered the house. We published a video on his commendable survival techniques.

He is the Assistant General Manager (Academics). TUV Rheinland NIFE Academy Pvt Ltd, and his wife is a teacher.

How long have you been farming at home?

I have been farming since 2012.

Cabbage farming

Do you do only home terrace farming?

Terrace farming was the beginning, now, in the lockdown,  extended farming to front and back yard also.

Wick irrigation; requires watering only once in two days

In total how much space is used for cultivation ?

In terrace around 350 Sq feet, and the extension on front and back yard is around  1000 Sq feet area.

Cucumber

What are the methods of planting- sacks, soil, pot, or any other method?

In the terrace planting is done in grow bags  and pots. I use empty cement bags in place of grow bags, which is available at free of cost. (One grow bag in market is costing Rs 18 to 25 as per size.)

Root vegetables

What all do you grow?

I grow Tomato, Eggplant, Okra, Beans, Cucumber, Green chilly, Bitter Gourd, Red Amaranth,  Ginger, Turmeric, Banana and Papaya.  In addition there is a small poultry farm only to meet the requirement of egg at home. 

George is able to meet the green vegetable requirement of three families

Do you buy food items from outside ?

Other than green vegetables I buy all other food items.

Front yard farm

What fertilizer do you use?

Cow dung, bone powder, fish amino acid and waste items are used as fertilizers.

Cabbage

Why do you farm?

I started as a hobby to get refreshing mind , now the produce meets a good portion of food (vegetable) requirement for my family. Further it  gives a sort of satisfaction while sharing the surplus items to needy poor people of neighborhood.

Vertical garden

How much time do you spend for farming daily?

I spent average 1.30 to 2 hour/day. When I am out of station, my wife, a busy school teacher and home manager, takes care of the plants.

Tomato

Is farming profitable for you?

More than to say YES, the return in the form of feeling joy and satisfaction cannot be counted in terms on money value.

Ivy gourd

Some say that home terrace farming harms the house? What do you think?

Necessary precautions are taken so that there will be no harm to the terrace.  The grow bags is not directly placed over the terrace, it is placed over brick or an 6 inch high support. So the water oozing from the grow bag  will evaporate soon. Enough gap is maintained between the bag and surface of terrace.

Red amaranth

What are your future plans?

At present my spare time is extended to the maximum . In future, once I am fully available at home,  I will expand the farming to available land. Present poultry will be expanded. An Aqua farm is also in the pipeline to meet requirement at home.

Lawn

How has lockdown helped in farming?

Extending farming to front and back yard was possible due to extra time available due to lockdown.

Wax Apple

The previous feature about George

His residence is on the banks of the Achankovil river. He also took pictures of the preparation post-flood; and the relief and cleaning activities after the flood. With his military training and experience, he could help not only his family but also many others.

He was actively involved in the relief works. well admired by colleagues and friends for his meticulous planning, vision and dedication to execute any work with perfection. Watch the video.

Meet the Bean to bar chocolatier couple in India

Apart from the milk chocolate, dark chocolate, or homemade chocolate, another range of chocolate is slowly gaining a loyal group of customers in India. Know as the bean-to-bar chocolate you might have seen them displayed at events, fairs and malls.

Coincidentally, two weeks ago I came in touch with a chocolatier couple based in Chennai, L Nitin Chordia, and Poonam Chordia. They started Kocoatrait the only zero waste and sustainable bean to bar chocolate brand in the world.

They are the first certified male and female chocolate tasters in India. In addition, they own Cocoatrait, a consultancy firm for chocolates, and Cocoashala, an education, and training institute for chocolates.

Nitin and Poonam are part of the bean to bar revolution that is happening world over and particularly in India. In a bean to bar chocolate making the entire process from procuring the cocoa seed onwards is done by the same manufacturer in small batches.

In a bean to bar chocolate we know exactly where the seeds come from. For Kocoatrait, they procure cocao seeds from Kerala and Karnataka.

Like in wine making, the terroir of the chocolate is important. Climate, soil, terrain, of planting Theobroma Cocao influences the flavour of the chocolates.

Poonam the creator of Kocoatrait brand incorporated a number of local and indigenous ingredients in the 12 vegan chocolate varieties. Lemongrass, sukku coffee, lavender, coconut, banana, masala chai and red rose are some of the exclusive chocolate flavours. The rose petals are sourced from Rajasthan, Jaggery from UP thus keeping the production of the chocolates local and sustainable.

Kocoatrait chocolates are all vegan and free of vegetable fat or oil. And to keep the chocolates sugar-free natural sweeteners like Jaggery and coconut sugar are used.

The cocao seed processing to the final packaging iof the chocoate is done in small batches with lots of dedication, hardwork and passion. Every process is ensured to be sustainable, local causing the least harm to the environment.

The couple run the wet table top grinder for 24 hours continuously to bring out the natural flavour of the cocoa. And the chocolates are wrapped using packaging materials made from reclaimed cotton and coconut husk.

I had a online interview with Nitin Chordia who talked about their brand of bean to bar chocolates and about the benefits of consuming chocolates. The interview was an eye opener about the benefits of consuming dark chocolates. Nitin also tells how to develop a taste for dark chocolates which is good for health.

About Bean to Bar Chocolates

What is bean to bar chocolate making? How prevalent it is in India?

Bean to bar chocolate making involves making pure chocolate starting from cocoa beans without substituting the fat, which is cocoa butter in this case. This is a new wave globally in chocolate making and India is not left behind.

It involves making specialized and pure chocolate in small batches. We have 5 successful Bean to bar chocolate makers in India and I had earlier predicted 40 such Bean to bar makers by the end of 2020. 

Bean to bar chocolate is seldom imported.

Milk vs Dark Chocolates

What is the difference between milk chocolate and dark chocolate?

As the name suggests if there is milk in a chocolate recipe, then it is referred to as milk chocolate. Milk chocolate usually has a very less percentage (less than 20%) of cocoa and is dominated by sugar and milk.

When chocolate is made without milk and has a higher cocoa percentage it is called dark chocolate. One must be very careful and note that the milk should not be substituted by sugar and hence of 50%, dark chocolate makes no sense. Most of the balance of 50% is sugar! 

Comparing Bean to bar chocolates with dark or milk chocolate categories is like comparing oranges and apples. They are not the same.

What is the rate of consumption of milk and dark chocolates in India?

As of today, predictably so, milk chocolates form most the market. Dark chocolate is a category that is currently very small but promising huge growth opportunities.

Particularly after the pandemic, we have noticed more people understand the benefits of dark chocolates. We are in no way implying that the entire country will start consuming dark chocolates going forward. 

Are dark chocolates healthy?

Not all dark chocolates are equal. Dark chocolates above 65% are considered healthier when they are made without adding any other vegetable oils or milk.

When milk is added to chocolate, our body’s ability to absorb the antioxidants that exist in cocoa is nullified. In my opinion, a freshly made Indian sweet is better to consume than 50% dark chocolate.

In our earlier research, we figured out that any Indian sweet has a maximum of 36% sugar content whereas a 50% dark chocolate would mean 50% sugar content! This is alarming! Hence we cannot say that all dark chocolates are healthy. 

We Indians have a sweet tooth, how do we eat dark chocolate which is bitter?

While Indians have a sweet tooth, we also like beverages like beer wine and coffee. We must also note that in India we do not know to differentiate between a sugar craving and chocolate craving.

Also, it is a myth that all dark chocolates are bitter. The bitterness depends on the quality of cocoa beans used while making chocolate. Lower quality cocoa beans are usually bitter and hence are cheaper.

During my early days as a chocolate taster, I have tasted and enjoyed 100% dark chocolate made without any sugar and was still able to quite easily enjoy it. I enjoy 100% dark chocolate quite regularly these days.

We must also note that much like wine beer and espresso coffee one needs to develop a taste for dark chocolates also. With more education, people will start appreciating the flavour nuances in dark chocolate just like how they do in the case of wine and coffee.

Is there difference between Indian and international dark chocolates?

This is not a straight forward question to answer. However to put it simply most of the international dark chocolates being imported are commercially made and mass-produced chocolates.

Most of the available dark chocolates in India are also mass-produced.

However, if you have to choose between mass-produced Indian and imported dark chocolates, I would have to say that imported dark chocolates are perhaps a better buy (produce wise and not necessarily value-wise) simply because of the strict Ingredient laws that govern chocolate production internationally.

We must also remember that we are paying a much higher price for imported chocolate (3 times more than the price it is sold in retail in the country of production) simply because a majority of the price constitutes import duties and transportation costs. Hence you are not actually paying the entire price for the product. 

Sustainable Chocolate Making

What is sustainable or zero waste chocolate making? 

Chocolate making where, every aspect of a business including sourcing of raw materials, use and reuse of existing resources and packaging material which is safe and good for the environment Give while taking and not to create landfills is our definition of sustainable and zero waste.

How you have made your brand Indian, traditional and eco friendly?

Almost all the ingredients that we use in our products are made in India and are organic. We use traditional stone grinding to refine our chocolates which help us retain flavour.

We use the most energy-efficient machinery to produce Kocoatrait chocolates. They may not be cost-efficient processes and equipment but the intention is to be eco-friendly and hence we make our choices a specific way. Last but not the least, our packaging is zero waste and that completes our offering.

What is the cocoa husk packaging that you use to wrap the chocolates?

While creating Kocoatrait as the world’s 1st truly zero-waste, sustainable, and eco-friendly chocolate, we were clear that we have to start from the outside. The wrapper needed the most attention because, like potato crisps, the packaging of chocolates have always been seen in a negative light towards the impact of it on the landfills and oceans.

What we decided to do was to work with reclaimed waste cotton from garment factories and Cocoa husks that we generate during a roasting process. We put them together and make a material that is upcycled, completely paper-free, plastic-free, tree-free, compostable, biodegradable, and recyclable.

This is the first and only such wrapping material used by a chocolate brand. Until March 2020 we have helped save 50 kgs of single-use plastic chocolate wrappers from entering landfills and the ocean. 

How lucrative is chocolate making business in India?

The mass-produced chocolate business will continue to behave like an FMCG offering with pressures on sourcing and margins. As far as Bean to bar chocolate industry is concerned, we see very high profitability, the ability to start small and very attractive ROI

Can a rubber or coffee planter make more income from cocoa plantation?

An existing rubber or coffee planter can usually add cocoa as an additional crop within the same farm. However, we must remember that cocoa has a long gestation period.

When the planter starts selling cocoa, it certainly gives him the luxury of a balanced income. Every crop whether it is rubber, coffee, or cocoa behaves like a commodity and has the same uncertainty. 

Ferro Rocher, Toblerone, a box of Quality Street Chocolate, Snickers, Galaxy, and Mars are some of my favourite imported chocolates. Are they milk or dark chocolates? Should I eat or not eat them?

All the above-listed products are milk chocolates. whether you should eat them or not depends on the purpose or intent of the value to be derived.

Broadly speaking, if you are up for some indulgence and a sugar rush, all the above will fit your bill and you could consume them. People usually consume dark chocolates with the aim of lower sugar intake and the health aspects (antioxidants) which they could benefit from. 

Meet women fashion entrepreneurs in India

The Indian fashion industry is one place where you can find several women entrepreneurs. Through their creations, they nurture some of the subtle aspects of nature, culture, tradition, and environment. A woman knows best how to bring out the best in her creations. She knows how to protect and give a breath of new life to those things from the bosom of mother nature that are on the verge of extinction.

Sustainability is the watchword these days. Creating sustainable products is not just trendy; it is the need of the hour. Climate change and the environment depletion make us all sit up and think about what we can do to save mother earth as we know her. These women fashion entrepreneurs are on the path of sustainability.

Here are interviews with a few women fashion entrepreneurs in India, who have carved a niche for themselves in the field of fashion and sustainability.

Rebecca Reubens

Rebecca Reubens

Dr. Rebecca Reubens core expertise is for bamboo and rattan. She is the founder of Rhizome, a multidisciplinary sustainability design studio. She is a world bamboo ambassador for the World Bamboo Organization. A trained industrial designer from the National Institute of Design, India, she focuses her creations on design, craft, and sustainability. She is associates with multi-governmental institutions, governments, NGOs, SMEs, and communities in Europe, Asia, and Africa. Rebecca is the author of the book, ‘Bamboo: From Green Design to Sustainable Design.’

Here is an interview with her, where she talks about sustainability, her journey so far, and her experience of being a woman entrepreneur:

About her enterprise

Tell us something about Rhizome, India’s first multidisciplinary sustainability studio?

Design impacts sustainability because it orchestrates how materials are harvested, produced, used, and discarded. The question is whether you want to take accountability for these design decisions and their impact on sustainability. Rhizome, since its inception in 2009, does commit to doing this. We go beyond the environmental aspects and also consider the social, economic, and cultural elements which influence sustainability.

What can we expect to gain by visiting your studio?

Bright minds hard at work and sound design! 

Who can visit?

Anyone and everyone

Journey So far

From your student days at NIFT, how has your journey been so far?

Exciting and always growing larger and yet quieter. Moreover, the scope and understanding of things that impact design required consideration while designing expanded exponentially. Whereas, the ego has become smaller.

About Sustainability

Why have you chosen bamboo and sustainability?

I chose bamboo because of sustainability. Bamboo is one of the most sustainable materials known to man and needs leveraging for sustainability. While I don’t only work with bamboo – I work with other sustainable materials as well.

Bamboo is my material of choice because I have been working with it for almost two decades now. I began my bamboo journey as a student at NID, then as a part of the International Network for Bamboo and Rattan, and finally through my practice.

What are your future ventures, especially at this time when a sustainable lifestyle is become a necessity due to compelling environmental reasons?

We have a new brand of sustainable jewelry called Baka. We are also moving into the fashion space. 

Fashion Tips

How can the college-going youngster and the young office going population adapt bamboos and sustainability in their lifestyle?

Buy less, and what you buy, buy sustainably. Read and keep yourself informed. Check up on tall claims and beware of greenwashing. Pick the real ones – we all know who they are – and buy things that are classic and will last you longer. Buy into experiences rather than ‘stuff.’ Look at alternate service models rather than ‘stuff.’ – take public transport or an Ola instead of buying a car.

How can the common man, especially the college-going and the office going people make the best use of your creative collection?

Our collections are convenient and competitive in terms of price and performance. They are a good design. So it is simple – buy them, use them, don’t throw them away. Get a piece customized from us – we want you to love what you own and keep it forever.

As a successful woman entrepreneur, how was your journey so far?

It was possible only because of support from my family and friends. Cultivate a strong network – this is what will catch you when you jump into the universe with eyes wide open. 

Women’s Day Message

It would be super if there were no women’s day – because gender equality existed. Unfortunately, it does not. Some of us are more privileged than others – we need to speak up and be the voices of those who cannot speak for themselves. Fight for equality – quietly and loudly – make sure you are heard and seen if you are privileged. Be the change you want to see.

Rebecca Reubens

Medha Khosla

Medha Khosla

Medha is the founder of the designer brand Anomaly that focuses on workwear wardrobes. The clothes are designed for Indian professionals and created using natural Indian textiles. She completed her academic studies at the prestigious Pratt Institute of Brooklyn, New York. Armed with the skills, expertise, and exposure of working and studying in New York for ten years, she returned to India. Anomaly has become well-known within a span of four years since its inception.

About her enterprise

Tell us something about your brand, “Anomaly’?

ANOMALY is a premium clothing brand specializing in high-quality essentials for men and women. Since we are a brand born out of dislike for excess, desire for subtle detail, and clean design, we create classic, everyday staples crafted from natural, Indian textiles.

Journey So far

Tell us about your journey till now?

It’s been a rewarding and challenging journey at the same time. Being a first-generation entrepreneur and never having worked in India before, I’ve faced many difficulties in setting up our studio and workshop. Finding the right team is an ongoing work in progress. I have had to fight many battles to execute my vision and goals for Anomaly. But, I wouldn’t trade this experience for anything else as I continue to grow and meet incredible people along the way!

As a successful woman entrepreneur, how was your journey so far?

The journey was exacting, rewarding, full of hurdles, and excellent opportunities at the same time. At the same time, it is no doubt challenging to navigate a man’s world in business. It is inspiring to build a business from the ground up and enrich the lives of our workers and karigars with relevant skills. I have decided to keep going no matter the challenges because resilience and perseverance are essential to continuous success.

About Sustainability

How are your creations sustainable?

We holistically approach sustainability from designing smaller collections, using ethical and lean production methods to manufacture based on need/orders.

We use only natural textiles like cotton, linens, and silks to ensure each textile scrap gets upcycled into trimmings, home accessories, and fabrics. Our philosophy is ‘less is more,’ and we believe in practicing sustainability in every aspect of the design, sourcing, and manufacturing process.

What are your future ventures, especially in providing sustainable products?

We are working on building our accessories range into an exclusively sustainable collection of upcycled home goods. Strengthening our business as an ethical production house for other brands and startups is very important to me as I firmly believe our studio has the right skill set for helping other like-minded brands grow. We would like to tie up with more prominent companies/corporates to develop a line of sustainable clothing or accessories for them – this would be an incredible step forward for us to execute a shared vision on a larger scale. 

Will sustainable fashion become affordable to the larger population?

First, we need to identify what affordability means to the average Indian buyer and educate them on why it is better to choose a sustainable garment or textile over synthetics and cheap mass fashion.

There is a lack of awareness amongst the average consumer, and so they decide to opt for inexpensive clothing over a well-made, ethically produced, and beautifully designed apparel.

Sustainable fashion cannot be cheap because a lot goes into the development and creation of a garment from the design to sourcing to execution. We need to stop comparing everything to mass fashion instead of focusing on why sustainability is more valuable and imperative in today’s world.

Fashion Tips

How relevant and affordable it is to the college-going and the young office going population?

We focus on elevating classic silhouettes into contemporary garments relevant to a broad audience from 25-65 years. Our styles are not trend-based but designed for everyday wear and all seasons.

Our price points are very accessible, primarily since we only use 100% natural, high-quality textiles to create a superior quality product. We don’t compromise on either and keep our prices very competitive at the same time.

Now slow fashion and repeating garments are becoming a trend, can you give some fashion tips to the young generation about what factors they have to take into account to look trendy and presentable every day?

Taking care of one’s garments is essential. We recommend choosing the right detergents and hand washing whenever possible for longevity in one’s wardrobe. I recommend finding unique ways to style one’s staples to feel and look presentable. The more we care for our garments, the longer they last and stay relevant. 

Women’s Day Message

Keep breaking barriers and follow your passions. Don’t stop trying and be prepared for failure. Women hold this world together, and this is the time for us to push ourselves to the forefront – be seen and heard.

Medha Khosla

Image Courtesy: Rebecca Reubens and Medha Khosla

Remember Priyanka’s stylist Sophia Banks, she is now a Film Director

After Priyanka Chopra’s Oscar outfit became the most googled outfit in 2016, I got a chance to interview her stylist Sophia Banks. For that interview, I contacted Ms Banks directly via email and she personally handled the communication. Two years later she is a busy director in Los Angeles, and my communication for this interview was handled by her team.

Here is the interview with Sophia Banks where she opens up about how she balances her career and family. Her achievements prove that a woman can achieve her dreams with her grit, determination and hard work. Read on to know more…

Hi Sophia, it is nice to interview you after a gap of two years. What a career growth you had in these two years. From a celebrity stylist to a Movie director, how was your transition?

Thank you so much for catching up! Two years has really flown by. So much I could say about my transition into film making but, to start, I think that I was more nervous in the beginning to make the change than I should have been. That was one of the reasons that I did not pursue this as my career, to begin with.

A lot of people might not know that I actually started in film over 15 years ago. I went to school in Sydney but was discouraged to become a filmmaker and director because I was told I “couldn’t carry heavy equipment” as a woman. There were many more reasons that I was given by my “peers” at the time not to pursue the career that I really wanted to and it was suggested that going into Costume Design would really suit my gender role more.

That is how I eventually ended up becoming a celebrity stylist in the first place, which was such an amazing experience and one I will always cherish and be grateful for.

Luckily, many years later, the industry started to make major changes and a friend of mine and I were having a conversation about it one day. She pointed out that with all of these new improvements and the public eye being aware of the problems of lack of diversity that it was perhaps my time to fulfil my true passions. That is where it all started.

How do you manage to wear many hats? What are the various roles you handle right now, apart from being a stylist and a director?

First and foremost I am wearing the role of “mom” to my amazing and beautiful 10-year-old daughter. She is the biggest inspiration for me to work hard and be a success so that I can show her that we can do whatever we set our mind to and especially as a single parent, it is important for me to balance my work life and family life.

I want her to have the knowledge that she never has to sacrifice one for the other. I also currently have projects in both Television and Film on top of the commercial work that I direct so there is always something in development or in production. Balance and consistent hard work are how to make it all successful in the end.

Sophia Banks

Tell us something about your Short Film, ‘Unregistered’?

Unregistered was my first narrative short film. It’s a Sci-Fi love story that takes place in the not-too-distant future, Los Angeles, where the Government has enacted a “one child per household” policy in order to prevent a second famine.

Our story follows a young couple in love, Rekker (Trevor Jackson of ‘Grownish’ and ’Superfly’) and Ata (Dylan Penn) who are trying to navigate through their life, school and a semblance of a normal teenage life while living in a covertly hostile environment.

All seems to be well except that Ata is hiding something from Rekker which will test his love for her when he finds out.

Unregistered made it’s World Premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival in April and has now been selected for 10 Film Festivals including the Oscar-qualifying Hollyshorts Film Festival this August.

How did you come up with the project?

My grandmother is a survivor of the Holocaust and as a child, she would tell me stories of the oppression that her people experienced from the Nazi regime. She told me of the horrors of losing your loved ones with no way to fight back and what it is like to not only experience for herself but to have seen others experience the complete loss of their freedom.

It struck a chord with me and her words were always ones that I wanted to tell within a story. That is why I love living in a country like America. Of course, no place is perfect but in a country like America you see that the underlying theme to a place like this is “Freedom”.

My film explores a cautionary tale of what could occur when that theme is taken away from its people if we continue in the political climate that we see today.

How well was the film received by the critiques and audience?

It was such a wonderful experience to see people from all walks of life and backgrounds in those theatres and enjoying the film. You put heart and soul (and a lot of sweat) into making something that hopefully will resonate with others.  

I could not have done it without my incredible crew (such as Co-Writer Erin Dignam and DP Paul Cameron, ASC). It also would not have been the same without the incredible cast that we were lucky to work with.

Overall, I was incredibly humbled to have received the incredible honour of being the only woman selected in the sci-fi genre section for Tribeca. From there it has only continued to gain attention. 

Are you planning to make more movies?

Yes, I am actually working on developing several projects. I am also attached to three films set to shoot one after the other here in the next few years.

I have signed with CAA (Creative Artists Agency) for my agents as well as Circle of Confusion as my management team since the release of Unregistered. We are all working as a collective team to put out some amazing new projects together which I could not be more excited about.

What other endeavours are you planning in future?

Aside from our preparation for shooting my first feature by the end of this year, I am currently working with my development team on a series for “Unregistered”.

Commercial work has always been something that I love to do in between my other projects so I am also flying out to Australia for a large commercial project there, then flying back to LA for two new projects. It has really kept me busy! 

Other than being the stylist of Priyanka Chopra’s Outfits, what other association do you have with India?

Currently not as much as I would like! When I was heavily involved as a stylist I would work with Indian designers all of the time. I love the flair and unique take on fashion in India.

Today I would love to branch out and shoot projects in India if the opportunity were to arise. The landscapes and beauty of the country are breathtaking.

As long as you persist through barriers, continue along your path no matter what comes your way and to always stay true to your vision. Thank you for reading along about my story and I hope it inspires you.

What message do you have to give for the readers of Lifestyletodaynews?

I think that the biggest message that I would like to convey is that any person who has a goal or a purpose in life has a chance to make that dream a reality.

On this Mothers day a few words about Mother Earth and her precious kid Greta Thunberg


Top post on IndiBlogger, the biggest community of Indian Bloggers

Today the most vulnerable mother on earth is Mother Earth herself. She has been exploited beyond repair, and if we do not pay heed to her distress signal, then another mass extinction is not far away. On this mother’s day we need to act on her behalf and that too on a war footing.

Natural calamities are common and weather changes are unpredictable. Wild fires, thunderstorms and flood are occurring on an unprecedented scale and causing mass destruction. We talk and write a lot about curbing climate change and about recycling, reusing and reducing. We talk a lot about reducing carbon footprints. But we take little action.

Mother Earth knows about our indifference to the critical issue, so she sent a kid. A Girl who speaks like no one else does and makes every adult and kid sit up, and not just listens, but take action.

Greta Thunberg, a 16-year-old girl, from Sweden, has become a global celebrity among the kids when she decided to school strike for climate change. In November 2018, she decided to bunk school and protest every Friday in front of the Swedish parliament so that action is taken to combat climate change. She wants the Swedish Government to reduce the Carbon Emission as per the Paris Agreement.

Greta is a special child. At the age of 11, she was diagnosed with Asperger syndrome, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) and selective mutism. And because of her condition, she speaks only when she needs to and she can see everything black and white. Experts say that since she is on the Autism spectrum she is obsessive and quite blunt on her views.

Greta knows the data of climate change by heart. She analysis and views the future crisis is a way that climate activists have never done so far.

She is from an illustrious family. Her grandfather and father are famous actors and mother a famous opera singer. She began her activism at home first. She made her family become vegan because having meat increases carbon footprints. She told her father that owning two homes increased carbon footprints. She made her family travel on foot or bicycle.

She avoids flights because air travel is the major cause of carbon footprints. Greta declined to receive an award because she had to board a flight to attend the award function. Her mother gave up her illustrious career because she had to travel frequently by flights.

Kids on strike for action to Combat Climate Change

Gretas strikes for climate change inspired children the world over. In December 2018, 20,000 children went on strike in 270 cities. Her action has made politicians say that kids have begun to protest because adults fail to respond to the dramatic changes in the climate. Her logic for evading classes for the cause in simple. She says that what is the use for the kids to study for a future which is not there unless action is taken to reduce carbon footprints drastically.

She says we have already exhausted the carbon footprints by 1987. Our budget on earth is over. We need to act fast. All the talks and studies have been done in plenty. What is now need is action.

Thousands of species are getting extinct each year because of climate change. We need to curb our Carbon footprints and take action to bring our Mother Earth back to life.

On this Mother Day we need to have more Greta’s to protect Mother Earth and all the Flora and Fauna.

Happy Mothers Day

Hema Sardesai: A woman playback singer with over 60 superhit Bollywood songs

Many a time we know a melodious movie song by heart, but we do not know who sang the song. We watch a lot of Bollywood movies, and all we recognise are the actors. Most of the time we do not know who the singers or the directors of the movie. There is a saying that a picture is worth a thousand words. We remember the actors we see, but do not remember the singers we hear.

Thanks to social media and Google, I discovered recently that many of the famous songs that we often keep humming were sung by Hema Sardesai. She has sung over 60 Bollywood songs and all of them were super hits. For instance Badal pe paon hai from Chak De India and Awara Bhanware an A R Rehman song.

She has got the rare accomplishment of singing the duet with top Bollywood superstars like Amitabh Bachchan, Shahrukh Khan, Govinda and Salman Khan. One of the five songs she sang with Amitabh Bachchan is Chali Chali in Baghban. This years women’s day post is dedicated to Hema Sardesai because apart from being a prolific playback singer, she is also involved in many social causes like women empowerment and Save the Girl Child.

In 2017, She gave an audio interview for the Radio Playback India program Ek Mulakat Zaruri Hai. Here is an excerpt from the interview with Sajeev Sarathie:

How was the early stage of your singing career?

Those who work with principles and values will face difficulty in achieving anything in life. I consider my music a gift of God, and so I do not let any harm to happen to that gift. Besides, I believe in giving high status to women. Like in any other industry in the world some people see women as a sex object, and that happened with me also.

Whatever I achieved is because God wished that I achieved that in life. I have a struggled a lot in the industry. Initially, I walked out of every studio. I wanted my voice to reach everyone by doing what was righteous before God. Because God was with me, I could achieve something. I got the opportunity to sing with great singers like Sonu Nigam, Kuma Sanu, Shaan and Udit Narayanan. And by God’s grace, the more than 60 songs I have sung are all super hits.

What is the secret behind your Bubbly posture?

I give credit to my smiling face and energetic song performances to the blessings of my Guru Sri Sri Ravi Shankar.

How was you experience working with the music directors?

All of them know my mind. They knew that I will work only if I got respect. So wherever I went, I got respect.

Hema Sardesai
Listen to the complete Interview of Hema Sardesai by Sajeev Sarathie for the Radio Playback India programme Ek Mulakat Zaruri Hai

Hema Sardesai made her American debut with an International single in English ‘Power of Love’.On this Women’s Day we wish her all the best for her future endeavours in Bollywood and Hollywood.

Thanks to Sajeev Sarathi for permitting to use the complete interview for this blog post.

She became a journalist at 40, and completes more than 40 years of Journalism

Leela Menon is the Mamooty and Mohanlal of Journalism in Kerala. Even after forty years in the field of journalism, her position as the most dynamic Journalist in Kerala remains unrivalled. Twenty years back when I joined Indian Express, Kochi, for an internship, Leela Menon was working there. She was one of my inspirations to join journalism.

Leela Menon, 83, has got enthusiasm and tremendous memory that people half her age do not have. Some of her investigative reports paved the way for social changes, especially for the women. One such story she always narrates is about reporting of the prostitution happening at a village called Aruvacode. The villagers who were potters turned to prostitution when pottery business became unprofitable.

Leela Menon went to the village with photographer Jeevan Jose and made a report that gained national attention. Finally, the potters were taught to make terracotta pots. And thus the village was back to a normal village.

She wielded her pen to bring changes to the society, especially to the women. At Indian Express, the senior journalists used to advise me to write like Leela Menon. She was the yardstick.

Her wording, whether about humans or animals, was so powerful that when she wrote a report steps were taken on a war footing. Once she reported about how using elephants at a certain function was cruelty to the animal. Immediate steps were taken to ban the parading of elephants at the function again.

Leela Menon, might be a rare achiever in India, who has been working from the age of 18 in 1948 to the present date. She started her career at the Post Office and went on to become the first woman telegraphist in the post office. When a Journalist, from Indian Express, published story about the telegraphist, ‘sitting pretty at the post office’ she became interested in Journalism. After getting trained in Journalism, she became a journalist with Indian Express.

Her journalist instinct, nose for news, was so strong that sometimes she could bring out powerful, life-changing stories by just sitting in her office. She tells when she was at the desk in Delhi, Indian Express, her air hostess roommate told her that they were not allowed to marry when in service. Leela Menon interviewed some air hostesses and wrote a story that not allowing them to marry was against their fundamental right. Her story paved the way to change the law that prevented air hostess from marrying.

She was born in an aristocratic family, in a pristine village in Eranakulam district of Kerala. She was surrounded by book and the beautiful landscapes in her childhood. She married Bhaskara Menon who was very supportive of all her works.

Leela Menon is a fighter, who survived second stage cancer in the 1990’s. When I met her she was so jovial and energetic that little did I know that, at that time, she was actually a cancer survivor. She now gives counselling to cancer patients. A heart attack and facial palsy could not dampen her spirit.

She is now the Editor in Chief at Janmabhoomi.

When I tried to contact her I came to know that she is under treatment at a hospital in Kochi. Wish you, Mam, a speedy recovery.

And Happy Women’s Day.

Meet Thripthi Shetty a transgender businesswoman, model and actress

The story of Thripthi, is a story of resolute willpower and determination. As a young boy, Kiran he lost his parents and he did not have anyone to share his psychological turmoil. He wanted to be a woman.

He left his home and wandered in various cities. Doing menial jobs and all the while contemplating ways to have a surgery for a sex change.

Surgery for Sex Change

Finally, three years back, he had enough money to get the surgery done. And then Kiran changed to Thripthi Shetty.

The story of Thripthi Shetty is the story of a transformation. It is the story of successful women entrepreneur, model, and actor who is being constantly interviewed by media. As a transgender she has got many firsts to her credit:

  • She is the first transgender to get employment in Kerala.
  • She is the first person to apply for mudra loan under the transgender category.
  • She is aspiring to be the first transgender businesswoman in Kerala.

Tripthi Shetty
Thripthi Shetty at a beauty pageant

Story behind the transformation

Thripthi came in contact with Dr Annie, who took her to an old lady, who taught how to make handmade jewellery and showpieces. Since then, at her rented home, she creates beautiful jewellery in stones and black metal. She participates in a number of exhibition and there is a long queue to buy her attractive jewellery.

She also creates beautiful show pieces from used liquor bottles.

She is a creative person and talented. She got an opportunity to act in a movie. She is looking forward to acting in more movies.

Recently a beauty pageant, Queen of Dhwayah, 2017, was held for the transgenders in Kerala. In which she was selected in the final fifteen.

Her Dreams

Thripthi is a bundle of ideas, and she doesn’t want to rest on the laurel. She has many plans for the future. A roof over the head and delivering the schemes for transgenders without any obstacle is all that Thripthi Shetty wants right now.

Her dream is to open a handicraft shop in a tourist destination. For which she hopes to get the support of the government.

Obstacles for transgenders

Thripthi feels that there are many people who want to help the transgender. But they are reluctant. If one person shows the way by helping the transgenders then others will truly follow.

Thripthi says that there are a number of schemes for the transgenders in Kerala. But due to some obstacles, the schemes are reaching the deserving persons. She hopes that steps will be taken to ensure that the schemes would rightfully benefit the transgenders.

One noteworthy fact that Thripthy said is that because the transgenders are not given voter ID card, the government is losing many valuable votes. In another interview, with a channel, she said that there are 25,000 people who declared themselves as transgenders. Those who hide their identity may be many times more.

People like Thripthi want to live a normal life like any human being. They do not want to stir upon, teased or abused. And they should receive jobs like anyone else.

Thripthi’s jewellery is going on today also (December 24th) at Marine Drive, Kochi. If anyone is at Kochi please visit her stall.  A glimpse of the products made my Thripthis are here:

This blind journalist guides those who can see with his wealth of knowledge

Swaminathan Rajappan Pillai, may be congenitally blind, but the moment he begins the conversation with his favorite word to break the ice – “Hello”, we will marvel at his depth of knowledge and brood at our own inner darkness. He is a post graduate from the prestigious London School of Economics and he is MA (History) gold medalist from Kerala University.  He is the winner of cash awards, medals, certificates, books and trophies from voluntary organizations and trade unions for getting first class in all public examinations.

He has traveled to more than two dozen countries and wherever he went people wrote about him in newspapers and magazines. What attracts people to him is his positive attitude to life, and his amazing usage of other faculties to compensate of for the one disability that he has. He achieved every dream like others – he is well educated, married, has a daughter, and has a lot of friends.  He is a blind journalist, which is a rarity in India. And above all, he is a motivator and counselor for friends, students, and colleagues.

We worked together in an Institute, where we worked as IELTS instructors. He is lovingly called as Swami Sir by everyone and his classes were always crowded. We were assigned the task to prepare possible questions and answers for the speaking and writing module of IELTS exam, which was to be published as a book. I used to create the possible questions and Swami Sir gave the answers. No matter what question I created from topics under the Sun, he immediately churned out answers from his wealth of knowledge stored in his mind. Swami sir does not carry any gadgets. Whatever knowledge he shares is extempore. The book that he helped in essaying, ten years back, sells even today like hot cake.

He has extraordinary insight about human abilities and fallacies. So he could help many people solve their family issues. He recommended the CEO of our institute to assign me with the editing task of the IELTS book. Neither I nor the CEO was aware of my book editing abilities. I am indebted to Swami Sir for being the beacon in my writing and editing career.

Here is an interview with Swami Sir who has guided many, those who can see, for a better future in their career and family life.

What do you do nowadays?

I am an academic and freelance journalist. I teach English to students of IELTS, TOEFL, PET, GRE, GMAT, SAT and general English at Centre for American Studies, Vazhuthacaud Trivandrum. I sent articles to various publications such as Daily News and Analysis in Delhi. Moreover, I broadcast on some American radio stations.
British and Indian media organizations have accepted and published all my articles with no change of even one word. Interviewing the then British Education Secretary David Blunkett for my first-ever radio program is a remarkable achievement in my journalistic career. My listeners of BBS RADIO, which is an online radio station based in California like my talk shows very much.

Many girls who had been with me during school and college days were very fond of me.

Tell us something about your childhood and education?

I am the eldest of my parents’ four children. I have a brother and two sisters. All of us are now married and settled.
I began my schooling at the age of eight because my parents were unaware of the existence of special schools for the blind in India. I joined a newly opened blind school at Varkala on July 15, 1968. I was the smallest child. I have never looked back since then. Even now, most blind children study at separate residential schools until they are ready for high school in India. I did that. The blind school at Varkala had no government recognition at that time. So, my parents moved me to a government blind school at Kottayam and I did my primary school there.
I had my high school and early university education up to my BA degree respectively at T.D. High School and S.D. College at Alleppey, which is my hometown. I had my first Master’s degree at the Kerala University Campus at Karyavattam Trivandrum. The rest of my education was in London after working in Lakshadweep as a college lecturer for nearly nine years.

Tell us something about your wife and daughter?

My wife Sunitha is a qualified medical doctor. We have only one daughter and her name is Devi. She is now studying medicine in Russia. She is going to be a fourth-year student.

blind journalist
Swami Sir at his niecies wedding

Where did you meet your wife?

I met my wife at the Alleppey Bus Stand on May 10, 1988. She is a native of Quilon. At that time, she was studying medicine at Alleppey Medical College. We were introduced by some common friends. Gradually, our friendship grew to romance and we got married on September 30, 1991.

Which all countries have you been so far?

I began my overseas journeys with England where I went to do my higher studies at the prestigious London School of Economics and Political Science. I have been to 29 countries so far such as the UK, the US, Germany, France, Poland, Holland, Switzerland, the Middle-East, the West Indies, Russia etc.

Which country is the friendliest to people with different abilities?

Britain and the United States are very much friendly to people with special needs. Asia and Africa are far from friendly. In the Middle-East, they are not in the limelight of society.

Proclamation by ministers and officers are not scarce but many people with disability have a tough life in India.

What is the situation of differently abled people in India?

It is far from friendly in India. Proclamation by ministers and officers are not scarce but many people with disability have a tough life in India. With little or no assistance from the government and a society heedless of the plight of disabled people, their lot is cast in a world of darkness and solitude. They drag out their sterile existence in silent agony. For example, visually impaired people need scribes to appear for various public examinations including university examinations. Government remuneration for such scribes is very poor. People are unwilling to perform this role for such meager wages. Besides, there are several other restrictions such as the scribe should be a less qualified person than the examinee.

What all gadgets assist you in your activities?

In the past Braille was the only available tool for blind people. These days, computers and access technology have improved their lives significantly. I use computers and mobile phones. Android and Apple phones and similar devices are really good. I use them in my life. In the past, a very informed and knowledgeable blind individual could be at least a couple of years behind his/her sighted counterparts even in Britain and the United States. Now that online facilities are accessible thanks to modern technology, it is possible for us to work together comfortably.

I use my other faculties, i.e. my hands and ears. I am a keen observer of everything that happens around me.

Unlike other people with special needs you are a jolly person, you live your life to the fullest. You used to tell us about women in your life in schools, colleges, and family; can you share some of the stories here?

I do believe that men and women are complementary. To like gentlemen is what good women like. I have profound pleasure and pride in being a gentleman. For that reason, I have had several women in my life as friends, colleagues, advisers, well wishers,  and counselors. Many girls who had been with me during school and college days were very fond of me. I had similar feelings towards them as well. With some, the passion was inexplicably deep. However, as a person with a disability, I was unable to give them any promise until I was standing on my own feet. Some of them have not forgotten it.

People around you marvel at some of your extraordinary abilities, which even a normal human being does not possess – your roti and sabzi gets over together, for a normal person either the roti or the sabzi will be left in the end; you can touch and immediately say the model of the bike; and you know every denomination of currency, no one can fool you. What is the secret your success?

I use my other faculties, i.e. my hands and ears. I am a keen observer of everything that happens around me.

How are the new Indian currency notes different from the old ones?

They are less wide. They have some identifiable marks. However, Indian coins are more difficult than notes.

What message do you and your wife have people—able-bodied and disabled?

I would like society to become just and egalitarian. Equality before the law, the equal opportunity before the law and equal protection before the law are the cardinal principles of rule of law. These principles must be practiced everywhere so that the man in the street has room for liberty and justice.

Sajeev Sarathie: This Keralite is a well-known Hindi Lyricist, Poet and Writer

He speaks such scholarly Hindi, that you will never imagine that Sajeev Sarathie was born to Malayalee parents in Kerala. He grew up in Delhi from the age of four and he became more familiar with Hindi than Malayalam. Now he is a connoisseur of Hindi Language and Literature. He has carved a niche for himself as a Hindi Poet, Writer and Lyricist. He is a much-loved writer the Hindi media to write of Hindi songs, poems and screenplays. He is doing tremendous teamwork to promote unknown talents. He is also part of radioplaybackindia.com a leading Hindi blog in podcasting. He also worked with Late President Honourable DrAPJ Abdul Kalam. He also wrote songs for Honourable Prime Minister Narender Modi’s Beti Bachao, Beti Bachao movement.  After the release of his latest song Bekhud, I had a voice interview with Sajeev.

1.     Tell us something about the latest song Bekhud?
Bekhud is my latest single, it is a romantic song which has an Arabic feel to it, Composed by very talented Krishnaraj and beautifully rendered by International pop sensation Biswajit Nanda along with super singer Hema Sardesai who need no introduction at all, the voice behind songs like Awara Bhanvare, Badal pe paun hai and many more Bollywood hits. She worked with the likes of ARR, Salim Suleimaan, Anu Malik etc, she is indeed a living legend, and we are fortunate to have her voice for the duet…
Sajeev Sarathie hindi lyricist

2.     Tell us about your life as a songwriter?

I am writing lyrics for the last 10 years collaborating virtually with many national and international composers and singers. Since most of them are placed in different cities of the world, we connect through the internet and do a lot of online jamming to create music. I started with an online platform called “Hind Yugm”, and in 2008 released our very first and literally a zero budget album called “Pahla Sur”, which has 9 songs, all done through our online jamming process. It was an experimental album released in the World Book Fair and became the second largest sold product of the event. 6 songs in this album were written by me and the kind of response I got really pushed me to go further and to take new challenges in this field.  After that, I produced two more unique albums called “kaavyanaad” and “Suno Kahani”. In Kavyanaad, we gave an opportunity to new generation music composers to compose great work of legends of Hindi Literature like Nirala, Pant, Jaishankar Prasad, Mahadevi Verma and more. While in Suno Kahani we compiled 15 stories of the great Munshi Premchand in an album.
Another album of mine, “Beat of Indian Youth” which has 13 songs in 9 different Indian languages was released in 2013. This unique feature of this album has 13 songs in 9 different languages on one single theme saw it enter into The Limca Book of Records. Though I penned lyrics only for 3 songs, this album gave me the honour to share the lyrical space with our National icon and Ex-President Late Dr A P J Abdul Kalam Ji in the song “Hindustan”.
One of my song from Pehla Sur, “Baat yeh kya hai jo” was recreated and featured in the movie Dam999, which was released in the year 2011.
Apart from my 96 singles which have been released so far, I have also penned for various initiatives/ movements by our Govt or other institutions. For example, one of my song “Druzba” was featured in Indo-Russian Friendship festival in Moscow. In 2015, I wrote a song for the “Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao” movement started by our Honourable Prime Minister Shri Modi Ji. “Hindi Meri Awaaz Hai”, one of my poems is part of the 10th standard curriculum in Maharashtra.
An anthology of poems, “Ek Pal Ki Umr Le Kar” has been published by Heavenly Baby Books.
Apart from lyrics I have also written a lot of screenplays for various production houses. So, overall it has been a very satisfying journey so far.
Sajeev Sarathie hindi lyricist

 4.     You are from Kerala, then how did you get interested in Hindi poems and songs?

 Yes, I was born in Kerala and while I was 4 we shifted to Delhi. So, both the places are a part of my childhood. My schooling began in Hindi medium while at home we communicated in Malayalam. However since all my friends spoke Hindi, so probably that’s why Hindi became the dominating medium for me to express myself.

 5.     You are doing tremendous work online for promoting unknown singers and songwriters,  Tell us something about your online web radio radioplaybackindia.com?

 Well, radioplaybackindia is doing very well and is a leading Hindi blog in podcasting. We promote original songs, involving amateur artists. We have a weekly programme called “Bolti Kahaniya” through which we podcast Hindi stories and is a huge hit among our audience. The blog is rich in information on Indian Classical music, Film and Non-Film music.
I host a programme called, “Ek Mulakat Zaruri Hai” which recently completed 50 episodes, featuring several famous Bollywood artists like Shubha Mudgal, Amit Khanna, Ritu Pathak, Shriram Ayyar, Ibrahim Ashq and many more.
There is another programme I host, “Geet Ateet” which takes the audience into an unknown or lesser known story behind the song; using some artist associated with that song.
Programmes like “Old is Gold”, “Mehfil-e-Ghazal”, “”Podcast Kavi Sammelan” etc are big hits of our channel.
I am one of the 6 founding members of the channel and though I have been given the honour of being Chief Editor; but to tell the truth I have not been able to devote much time to radioplaybackindia.
Sajeev Sarathie hindi lyricist

 6.     Your songs are different from the Bollywood film music or mainstream albums. Your songs have the nostalgia of the yesteryears. Do you have a huge fan following for your kind of songs and music?

 Of course, there is a huge audience for my kind of lyrics. Actually, I got a little surprised by your query on following for different style of lyrics and music. As a matter of fact, I am open to all form of music. Old, new, Indie, western…for me music is music and it’s my way to connect with the God almighty.

 7.     You were affected by polio from the age of one, Has the disability been a hindrance or an inspiration for your successful career in Hindi literature?

 We all have weakness and shortcomings, as no one is perfect in this world. Life. I would say that God has been kind that my disability is only at a physical level and I am very well aware of that; otherwise many people don’t even get to know what their weakness is and therefore find it difficult to move ahead in life.
As a matter of fact, now I don’t even consciously think of it until someone points it out. I think, when people talk about my progress despite my physical disability, I feel God is presenting me as an example for many others who have no physical disability; that they can achieve so much more in life if they only follow their passion with dedication.

 8.     Tell us something about your family and those who are behind your success?

 My parents always supported me. I have an understanding wife and two beautiful and gifted children, and all of them have contributed immensely in more than one way in all that I have achieved so far.
Apart from my family, I got strong support from my friends. I am really blessed to have such nice friends. And above all, its God, my best friend; who is always holding my hand.

 9.     Please recite one of your poem for us?

 Sure….this poem is titled “punar-janm” which means ‘Rebirth’
sangsaari kii had se pare,
Duniya kii jadd se door,
wo jiddi paak bedaag sa khwaab,
Dekha tha use jaate,
shaam ke dhundhalke men,
Doobte sooraj ke paar,
jahan samunder toot ke girta hai,
Kisi Anjaan si khala men…
Fir se lautne ko kabhi,
Kinhin a-janmi aankhon men….

10.            Have your written in English or any other language?

 No, I think I am not that versatile. So, for me, one language is sufficient for this life.