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Upasana Makati

UNFINISHED BUSINESS / MY BEST 300K YET

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Author: Hitesh Sablok
Ride Date – December 10, 2022
Ride – 300km – Indirapuram (UP) > Karnal (Haryana) > Indirapuram (UP)
Flag Off – 5:35 a.m.

My last BRM was a 200K (on November 26, 2022) for which I had aimed to achieve an average speed of at-least 33.4 km/ hr; but, the Almighty had something else planned and we had extremely strong headwinds all the way and I could only manage to achieve average speed of 31.8 km/hr. While that was my personal best for a 200k; but, I had fallen short of achieving what I had aimed for and therefore, there remained some unfinished business to settle. Anyone who knows me, knows that I am a determined guy and would not rest until I achieve what I set out for; and this 300 BRM looked to be the perfect opportunity to try again.

Coming back from the above 200, I rested for a day and was immediately back to my training schedule. The plan was to mix running (base runs) and cycling (hill repeats); and I also planned on twisting and mixing up some of my diet and sleeping habits. During the last couple of rides (including the previous 200) I could feel that there were points early on during the ride when the body felt completely depleted and exhausted (while it gradually used to recover and kick back). The idea this time was to come over this. During all this time the mind was also extremely disturbed on account of avid cyclist Subhendu sir’s accident and it was hard to focus and think straight.

A couple of days before the ride, Abhilash (one of my riding buddies) called and told me that he will also be riding this 300 and wanted to check on the ride plan – I spontaneously replied “full force, bro”; and that’s when I started mentally preparing and focussing on this ride and the related preparations. A day before the ride when I was cleaning my M30, it asked about the plan, and I replied “easy pace” cause I wanted the M30 to just go with the flow and with no pressure, at all! I wound up work, loaded the M30 into my car and slept around 9:30 pm (leaving behind all unread work emails – as I knew how important proper sleep would be for this one).

It was Ride Day. Woke up around 2:30 am, got ready, made some Chai (I mean 3 big cups – 1 to drink at home and 2 to carry along in my flask as it was gonna be a long drive to the start point), and then left home around 3:30 am. As always, it was a “Carnival” when I reached Cyclofit Indirapuram (the start point) and it was wonderful to catch up with so many new and old friends. For me this is one of the best times on any BRM – meeting, interacting and catching up with everyone. It’s such a brilliant community that we guys have! Abhilash arrived a couple of minutes later. Met Brijesh and a couple of other friends; and finally also met Meet bhai ji. Such a humble person he is! While Meet and I, have been on many common BRMs, but unfortunately we never met till date. I also noticed that we had Legends riding on this ride too Sanjeev, Rohan, John and Vishal! They are some of the strongest riders that I know (on the endurance circuit) and it was great to briefly catch up with them before the ride.

The ride flagged off at 5:35 am and we were headed towards Karnal today (using the KMP Expressway and the GT Road). Abhilash and I started building pace right from the word GO and the plan was to go non-stop till Check Point 1 (at 74 km mark). M30 immediately realised what was gonna happen today and shouted “Game ON”; and I smiled back. It must have been around 5 kms into the ride and we found ourselves riding among a small group of 7 riders; and gradually, as we were just about to get on to the KMP Expressway (at around 15 km into the ride), it was the 5 of us riding in a formation – Sanjeev, Rohan, John, Abhilash and I. Sanjeev and Rohan were switching the lead position after every 2-3 minutes (this was something new for me; as I am more habitual for 5km lead and switch style) and the three of us followed them for sometime.

It was dark, slightly foggy, chilly (with around 8 degrees celcius) and our train was on fire. Soon John moved ahead to lead the train; soon thereafter, I switched to lead and later, Abhilash. So now the plan was to lead for 2-3 minutes – then drop and fall back to the end of the train. We were croozing at speeds around 35 and these top guns were hammering pedals effortlessly. It was just amazing to ride along side the Ace(es).

OH!!! Did I forget to mention that the 3 of them (and Vishal too) had returned from the epic 1200 km CKB ride just 4 days before!!! NOW, read the above sentence again, where I said “these top guns were hammering pedals effortlessly”; and now you actually know how strong these riders are; and needless to say equally BIG INSPIRATION too!! There were some head/cross winds, but,our train kept cutting through. There was a point when I shifted my attention to click a picture and instantaneously I got left behind and it actually took me some time and effort to re-align with our “bullet train”.

Just before we were to exit from the KMP Expressway on to the GT Road, I noticed Abhilash was not along and I immediately stopped. While I was just about to call him I saw him coming. His chain had slipped off and he had stopped to put it back on. We got off from the KMP and in the next 5 minutes reached Check Point 1; and the first thing I did was – ordered Chai. WOFF such a brilliant ride this was!!! We got our rider cards stamped, refilled water, had a sandwich, loaded 3 bananas for the next 75km (i.e. 1 banana/ 20 km), enjoyed Chai, and were now ready to leave for Check Point 2 (at around 151K mark). Sanjeev, Rohan and John had left Check Point 1 around 15 minutes before us.

Abhilash and I now started with our regular 5km lead and switch and we were now croozing smoothly at speeds around 34-35. At around 100K mark we guys re-united with Sanjeev, Rohan and John and our train now kept steadily going. Abhilash and I kept switching the lead for the next 20-25 km until we reached a construction patch/ traffic jam around Panipat. This is where we all dispersed and scattered. I found the jam so thick that I had to literally walk (that too with cleats) for the next 1 / 1.5 kms.

Once the jam was over I started riding and then re-united with Abhilash (who was waiting for me at the top of the Panipat flyover) and the next stop was straight Check Point 2. We saw John starting his return as we were entering the Check Point 2 and Sanjeev and Rohan were sitting there and having food. Kamal and Gurleen were yet to reach and therefore, we clicked a selfie and sent on the Ride WhatsApp Group to confirm check-in + timings. Since morning I had had around 7 bananas (one for every 20 kms) and yet, I was hungry and craved a cup of tea.

Ordered Chai and some Curd Rice. Gurleen and Kamal also arrived by then. Sanjeev and Rohan started their return shortly thereafter. Abhilash and I finished our light food, refilled our bottles, stripped off our jackets, stocked up 3 bananas for the next 75 km (that’s until Check Point 3), posted my first on-ride Instagram story; and started our return. The plan again was to keep pushing hard and stop only at the next Check Point – Dhaba Bollywood (which was right where we were to get back on to the KMP).

There was some cross wind support during the return and the weather had also warmed up nicely by now. It was amazing weather to ride. We kept switching leads and kept pushing harder and harder. At around 200K mark Abhilash asked me to keep continuing at my pace and that he will meet me at the next CheckPoint as he was more comfortable maintaining a pace of around 30km/hr and did not want to push beyond that and simultaneously also did not want me to slow down. This was completely understandable and that’s when the distance between us started to increase. I reached Check Point 3 and met John there (who was just exiting). He had got a puncture and that had delayed his ride.

I ordered for some …. WAIT A MINUTE, I am sure, by now you can easily guess what I ordered for. Yes, that’s correct – it was Chai. Shortly thereafter, Abhilash arrived. I replied to some important e-mails and texts, filled up our bottles, loaded 3 bananas for the next 75 km (that’s until the finish) and then started this last segment of our ride.

We got on to the KMP Expressway and the first few kms had torturous head winds. I totally ruled out “increasing pace” and shifted all my focus on just ”maintaining pace”. Thankfully, the winds got better and that’s when the time was to PUSH AS HARD AS POSSIBLE.

Somewhere just when I was about to reach the KMP exit, my headlight (along with its clamp/ hook) fell off and I had to immediately stop. Thankfully, nothing had broken (EXCEPT, my Momentum) and the light was intact. The screws on the mount had loosened and had fallen off. I eventually put the light into my jersey’s back pocket and started riding to the finish line. I was sweaty by now and was looking forward to reaching the finish line and changing into a fresh TShirt (that I generally carry with me in the car). It was 5 pm when I reached Cyclofit and met Sushil there. FINALLY, the 300 was done and dusted exactly how it was planned.

I think more than me, my M30 was happy and satisfied. The first thing I did was – went down to my car (parked across the road inside a Mall) and changed my T-Shirt. I got back and realised that I had not closed my ride on Garmin and had just left it paused in the hurry to change. Abhilash had also reached by now and we just talked for a while and loaded up our cycles and left for home.

This was one of my best rides in a LONG time!! I tried a new strategy (eating a banana every 20 km) and I think it worked well. Also, I had greater focus on hydration this time as in my last 200 I had some cramping issues. While I keep telling everyone to “eat before they are hungry and drink before they are thirsty” whenever they are on long rides; it looks like I had taken it lightly during my last ride.

On a lighter note, I think, I Eat and Survive on DREAMS and TARGETS and that’s what keeps the FIRE BURNING and ME GOING STRONG and BTW – I am still figuring out if I want to pursue Endurance, Speed, or Both. But, I think “both” is working well for now.

This cycling experience would be incomplete without thanking the Lakshya Randonneurs team, Gurleen and Kamal for being the amazing hosts they always are! More power to you guys!!! Keep Rocking!!

Until we meet next, Ride Safe!

God bless all

Ride safe

Hitesh is a lawyer by profession. He also runs and manages a cycling dominated Instagram Profile (@CycopathHS) and a Cycling Blog (www.CycopathHS.com) with the aim of inspiring and motivating more and more people towards cycling.

He expresses his love for cycling with, ‘I don’t have a Bucket list; but, my BIKE-it list is miles long,’

A Biochemist’s Journey Of Cooking And Baking With Millets : Meet Neeru Gulati

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Food satiates the mind, body and spirit. Food has medicinal properties and if we reflect on ancient wisdom then the food we eat defines our health status. You don’t believe this then welcome to Neeru Gulati’s kitchen. It is a biochemist’s lab where a lot of scientific learning has been put to practical use to decode health. Simplicity is the bedrock of Neeru’s life and she shares her most profound learnings through cooking and baking workshops. She shares her learnings through many platforms and if you are lucky to be in Hyderabad then she will give you a taste of her delectable cakes, breads and cookies that spell health as well as taste. White Print spoke to Neeru Gulati about her millet – journey as she churns out easy recipes and conducts workshops to educate people all about the inexpensive ways to cook and at healthy.

WP: Why should millets be used? How do you help others become aware about the benefits of cooking and baking with millets?

NG: Millets are fiber and nutrient rich grains. They are gluten free and environment friendly. The crop cycles are very small and very little water is needed for the cultivation. When I started using millets I didn’t know some of these facts. I used them as I knew they are healthier as compared to wheat and rice. I started with cookies. Now I offer a three week course in millets cooking and baking.


This is an intensive course that helps health conscious people to understand all aspects of millet cooking/baking. We cook regular millet meals. We bake cookies, cakes , crackers, tarts and breads with millets. We have a lot of scope in millet baking. Millet flours give a number of options. Everyday you can use a different millet flour. And such diversity is good for our gut.

WP: What made you so passionate about cooking and baking after studying biochemistry?

NG: I like to eat/cook healthy. Being a biochemist helps here as food is divided into carbs, proteins and fats. I know my ingredients better. I studied biochemistry however didn’t pursue a career as my husband is in a transferable job. I took up cooking voluntarily, the science I knew didn’t leave me. I applied biochemistry to decode a healthy lifestyle first for my family and then decided to share the same learnings through workshops. This is who I am. I invest all I have in whatever I do. Be it teaching my baking skills to people or cooking a simple lunch for my family.

I try to do it to the best of my capabilities. As I was cooking I wanted to be the best cook. So the kitchen became my lab and I applied the science on food.

Baking was picked up much later. We were in Hanoi. I was away from the extended family. I had a lot of time in hand. Also since our daughter was in grade 3 by then and was interested in cakes, cookies and breads I wanted to bake healthy for her. Fortunately I found a very small oven in the furnished apartment we were staying in. I started with a whole wheat chocolate cake which didn’t rise at all. Then tried cookies and bread. I failed initially as even on google not many whole wheat recipes were there. Failures don’t dissuade me. Not even now. Once I set my mind on something I don’t stop until I achieve it.

WP: What does health mean to you? Why did you take the tougher road to healthy baking?

NG: For me health is a state of being happy with yourself and with your surroundings. I think
you should be able to eat what you like and do what interests you. This is something most
important if you want to stay healthy.

As good health isn’t dependent on just the food you eat everyday. It’s a holistic thing. It includes the work you do, people you meet, literature/books you read. Everything you take in impacts your health.

I didn’t plan to take up anything. It just happened. When I was cooking/eating healthy, baking healthy came naturally. Eating good food with healthy ingredients should be a habit. We don’t like to have a maida pizza or say a packaged cookie. It doesn’t feel good. It feels like a sinful act.


WP: You make everything sound easy. How did you evolve as a baker with easy tips and simpler methods as compared to many who feel that baking is technical and not everybody can bake?


NG: I am an easy going person who loves simple things. I believe that something you do every day should be easy. Who loves to solve difficult problems every day. We all love simple things and like to repeat them.

Science helped me in simplifying baking. First, I use the regular ingredients that are available at home. No special flours are needed for my bakes. Even if my recipes need some exotic things I try to find the simple replacements. As I know the basic nature of the ingredients, it’s easier to find replacements. I rarely watch youtube videos for recipes or search recipes on the internet.

This is something which comes naturally due to scientific temperament. I would also like to add that good food is something we enjoy as a family. All my experimental food is loved at home. The appreciation I get keeps me motivated to experiment more and cook/ bake better.

WP: Do you mean to say that healthy cooking or baking is all about the ingredients that we use? Can you explain further?

NG: Yes, healthy cooking/baking is definitely all about the choice of ingredients. I skip the unwanted ingredients like improvers, additives or refined flour or refined sugar all together. Baking has been synonymous with unhealthy ingredients like a lot of maida, white sugar or say a lot of butter. If you don’t add these, how can your bakes be unhealthy?

WP: What makes you share all your tips and tricks in your workshops?

NG: When I started I had no idea that I would ever be baking commercially or teaching people healthy baking. I started as I wanted to serve healthy food. I learned by trial and error. Best part of my work is I loved it all through. All the good bakes and all the not-so-good bakes taught me something. As I learned all by myself, I know it deeply. I know the problems that a beginner faces.

And since I am looked up to, I share what I know. Feels good when I am treated as an expert in my field. I think all that hard work I did is paying off.

WP: How do you plan your meals?

NG: We plan in advance. My husband takes an active interest in everything I do. From shopping for groceries to vegetable chopping he is always there. We decide a day before the menu for the next day. This makes everything easy. As we keep moving, outside food is very different at different places. Sometimes it’s too spicy and at some places it’s too bland. We mostly rely on home cooked food. My husband and daughter carry their lunch boxes religiously.

WP: What is sourdough baking? How is it different from normal bread baking?

NG: Before I write about sourdough I would like to share my passion for baking breads. I love baking bread, be it yeasted bread or sourdough bread. We never buy packaged cakes, cookies or breads. Cookies and breads are a staple at home.

In sourdough bread we use wild/natural yeast. We first capture it in a culture of water and flour. This wild yeast culture is called a starter. In sourdough breads instead of commercial yeast this culture of wild yeast is used. Sourdough bread uses just four ingredients: flour, water ,starter and salt. These are gut friendly/probiotic. They add good bacteria in your gut.

WP: Share a few tips that can help a beginner plan a healthy meal?

NG: Always plan ahead. Design a menu for the entire week.
Keep the ingredients ready. You can buy your ingredients once/twice a week and refrigerate them.
Keep peeled garlic and ginger in airtight containers to save time. If you like homemade chapatis with wheat flour or millets then make the dough the previous night. You can make dosa/idli batter in advance.

Bake your cookies on the weekend. They will come handy as snacks. You can plan and bake a loaf too in advance and have a healthy sandwich for breakfast. Chopping vegetables and storing them in glass bottles in the refrigerator helps to cook faster later. For salads also you can follow the same thing.

WP: You have clients who buy bread from you. What are their preferences?
NG: These days people like to have cookies, cakes and bread with millets. Some also prefer sourdough breads. However I think people should try to know the ingredients that make their bakes. Instead of following a trend follow what you like and what helps your body to work better.

WP: 2023 is the year of millets. How do you disseminate your learning?
NG: I have been conducting free awareness workshops to educate people about the goodness of millets and that health is our true wealth.

Since millets are fibre rich and are very different from our regular grains like wheat and rice, they confuse people. If millets are not consumed in the right way, they can create digestive problems. So I talk about the correct way of using millets and my cooking and baking workshops are there for people who usually interact with me on social media and then register to learn. I share the recordings of these online workshops with the participants for future reference and we experiment and communicate on the whatsapp group.


I have participated in charity bake sales for Good Universe, an organisation which provides sanitary pads to women. And one more group which was working for covid relief. Have done a charity workshop for LECIN and for Minakshi Yadav who stays with life coach Chitra Jha.

Also on my social media pages I share millet recipes to encourage the use of millets in everyday food. Millets have a lot of scope. You need to give yourself some time to adapt to this new taste. Start eating millets gradually and see how they help cure lifestyle diseases.


WP: What does a baked meal look like in your house?
NG: A baked meal that’s loved by all of us consists of whole wheat or millet garlic bread with soup and some oven roasted vegetables or some stuffed whole wheat/millet kulchas with curd and mildly spicy chana pindi. We love our stuffed buns or pull apart breads equally.

WP: Do you have easy recipes for our readers who would like to start their journey with baking and cooking with millets?

NG: Jowar masala roti
Makes 4 rotis
Ingredients
Jowar Flour 1 cup

Onion 1 chopped
Green Chillies 3
Ginger one inch piece
Coriander leaves 2 tbsp
Turmeric Powder 1⁄2 tea spoon
Salt 1 tea spoon
Ajwain 1⁄2 tea spoon
Roasted Jeera Powder 1⁄2 tea spoon
Water 3⁄4 cup
Method
In a bowl add all the above ingredients except water, mix well and keep.
Heat water in a pan and soon as it boils, switch off. Slowly mix hot water with the flour mixture with the help of a spatula and quickly gather into one ball. Keep adding water gradually until the dough comes together.

Keep it aside for 15 minutes.

Make rotis on a hot girdle. Apply ghee.

Finger millet crackers
Ingredients:
3/4 cup wheat flour
1/2 cup ragi/ finger millet flour
3 tbsp butter/ oil
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp black pepper
1/4 tsp turmeric
1/4 tsp carom seeds
1/4 tsp red chilli powder

Instructions:
Mix wheat flour, ragi flour and all spices.

Add butter/ oil. Rub it with flour using your hands.
Use water to make the dough.

Dough should be tight.

Rest it for 1/2 an hour.

Preheat the oven at 170 C for 10 minutes

Roll the dough between two layers of parchment paper.

Cut the crackers using a cookie cutter.

Bake for 12-15 minutes

Cool and store in airtight container.

White Print wishes Neeru Gulati the very best in all her endeavours. Follow @neerubakes and @themilletlover on instagram to know all about millets. Write to her at neerugulati76@gmail.com to begin your health journey with millets.

The Battle Is Never Over by Manju Chellani

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“If you cannot understand that there is something in man which responds to the challenge of this mountain and goes out to meet it, that the struggle is the struggle of life itself upward and forever upward, then you won’t see why we go”. These words by Edmund Hillary, the first person to have stepped on the peak of Mount Everest, along with Tenzing Norgay, leap to mind as I start writing about Dr. Renu Addlakha. They sound just right. I have known Renu for a long time and have never seen her run away from a steep challenge. And there have been many in her life. She has had an acute visual disability since her early childhood. Now well into her fifties, she has also had a number of other illnesses throughout life, associated with her visual disability and otherwise. There have been other obstacles as well. Obstacles of not being comfortable in crossing busy roads; not being able to read for long hours at a stretch; of stereotypes and mis-information about disability; of feeling that her vision will get more limited as years go by. But she has moved avalanches and rock-slides out of her way and marched on with grit. Sometimes she has just walked around the boulders. In a way which most other people, with the advantage of having no disability, would not dare to even dream of. But she has dreamt…both while sleeping and awake. And with her characteristic grit, coolness and determination (which seem almost superhuman sometimes) she has transmuted her and her parents’ dreams to reality. Today she is standing at the peaks of both her personal and professional life. Based in New Delhi, India, she is an internationally respected academician, researcher and author; and also a consultant for many organizations of diverse disciplines. She lives a full life and manages to dictate her own terms single-handedly. But reaching here was not easy. As she has often expressed, she has been brought to the brink of hopelessness many times in her life. Sometimes she has pulled herself back with dire action; at other times, waiting it out has helped. But never has she turned back. I feel very proud to have known her, walked with her on some rocky terrains of her life and now to introduce her to the readers of White Print here. A prolific writer, she will tell us about the trail she has carved out for herself, in her own words.

MC: Your research and work have concentrated primarily on issues related to women, disability, psychiatry and public health. You yourself have had an acute visual challenge since your early childhood. Has that drawn your professional interest to these issues? What have been your areas of focus, at different points of time?

Dr. Renu: My work has always been inter-disciplinary and trans-disciplinary in nature. This probably began with my Master’s degree in Social Work which is a professional course. It draws from disciplines like sociology, psychology, economics, political science and management, among others. Subsequently, even though my higher degrees were technically in the discipline of sociology, my topics were again drawn heavily from psychology, and medicine in addition to sociology.

My professional journey has also followed the same trend. I have worked in the diverse but overlapping domains of health, women’s gender and disability studies; within different work spaces like the government, civil society, multilateral and bilateral agencies over the years.

So though it does not seem to me that the diversity has been influenced by my visual disability; but definitely it cannot be denied that it has played a role in my choices.

MC: Having worked with various Indian and international organizations for many years, what do you perceive as the key differences between the organizational programmes for development of women living in different types of regions across the country: tribal, villages, towns, metros?

Dr. Renu: Privileged access is an advantage for urban educated women. However due to absence of adequate sensitization and ad-hoc networking among different agencies, they may not always be able to access opportunities and resources despite ecological proximity. On the other hand, the disadvantages of women living out of the cities are too well known to be repeated here. Nonetheless a handful of persons located in even the most far flung areas may benefit from opportunities if they fall within the catchment area of enterprising NGOs (non-government organizations) or are fortunate enough to be in areas where government agencies are doing their work. But the latter is too random. So the urban rural divide continues to predominate.

MC: You have now been with the Centre for Women’s Development Studies (CWDS) for a number of years, in a senior capacity. Please tell us about its role in bringing issues related to gender and disability to the forefront of both academic discourse and non-academic initiatives?

Dr. Renu: CWDS is primarily a research institution and my work therein has also been largely research-oriented. However the research has been more in the nature of action research resulting not only in the production of academic papers and books but also of advocacy materials such as manuals on sexuality and reproductive health for people with disabilities; and legal empowerment of women with disabilities in India. These materials have been circulated to leading disability NGOs and government departments working on disability in the country.

Due to its historical location, CWDS is itself part of many national and international networks. It is also well-known in the government and funding sectors. Hence the opportunities to advocate for the issue of gender and disability have been umpteen in the diverse arenas of academia. Same is the case with civil society, the corporate world and the non-governmental sectors both nationally and internationally.

MC: You have spent your childhood and early adulthood in different countries. How would you compare the lifestyle of a person with one or more disabilities, in India and in some other countries, especially the western?

Dr. Renu: I was living out of India as a child. My adult life has been mostly in India apart from occasional short trips abroad. A lot has changed in India since my childhood – both for persons with and without disabilities. Hence, I really cannot make a comparative statement but it really depends on our location. For instance, a disabled person from the lower socioeconomic strata may be worse off in the West (state support notwithstanding), as compared to an upper middle class disabled person living in a metro in India.

MC: Over the decades, the specialized facilities to make daily routine easier for persons with different disabilities have increased in the country. Do you perceive them as being sufficient both in terms of quantity and quality, across the different regions? Examples of such facilities could be getting in and out of public vehicles; specially-equipped washrooms; ramps for wheelchairs in restaurants; separate sections in bookshops dedicated to books in Braille etc.

Dr. Renu: You have to have some level of privilege to be able to access the facilities enumerated above. One of them is living in an urban area because most of these facilities are available in large cities. Secondly, even within cities, such facilities are clustered within specific enclaves like airports, high end hotels, convention centers etc. Although more facilities are now emerging in schools, colleges, banks, transport hubs and offices, they are still few and far between.

MC: Whenever a non-disabled person sees a disabled person, the immediate instinct is to start helping her/him with a “difficult” chore, such as opening the car-door for them or holding their hand while climbing the stairs. What do you feel about this?

Dr. Renu: Such actions are rooted in misperceptions about disability and the capacities of disabled persons; they are often borne out of ignorance and ad-hoc thinking. They show some good intention but are patronizing and may not be needed – depending on who is the recipient of such actions. It is better to ask the disabled person upfront what is her need. However, non-disabled persons feel hesitant to do that for fear of being offensive. A lot of the confusion arises out of miscommunication and the lack of an established disability etiquette system.

MC: Stereotypes also hamper the recognition of the problems faced by a person with a disability. Apart from some well-recognized and obvious problems, what are the tensions below the surface you would like to put out in the open?

Dr. Renu: Stereotypes are not always false but they may be based on misperceptions and prejudice. The effort should be focused on dealing with the latter. This effort should be to challenge the negative stereotypes. One example is the stereotype of disabled woman being asexual and this should be challenged by more realistic presentations of the lives of disabled women. While movies like “Margarita with a straw’’ may do this dramatically, more realistic presentations may be more effective.

MC: Do you think that gender and disability sensitivity in early scholastic education and in non-scholastic reading would be influential in bringing about more consistent changes in attitudes, imprinted stereotypes and the resulting behaviour at the individual and societal levels?

Dr. Renu: That may be the case logically because early socialization significantly impacts personality development but I feel constant reinforcements are required throughout the lifecycle for the changes to be made permanent. With regard to non-scholastic reading, I agree with the standard reply of making the central characters disabled and making a conscious effort to remove the linkage between disability, negativity and evil which crops up in fairy tales, religious scriptures and other literary and artistic genres including painting, theatre and poetry.

MC: How can parents work towards strengthening feelings of self-esteem and inclusivity of a disabled child from as early an age as possible?

Dr. Renu: Parents can do a lot to increase the confidence and wellbeing of their disabled child. But in order to do that they have to first overcome their own anger, guilt and unhappiness about having a disabled child. Once these deep-rooted emotions are sorted out and they begin to look at the child not only through the lens of disability, other things will fall in place. Of course, the child will have some specific needs due to the disability which require understanding and management. But then every child has some ‘special’ needs which require understanding and management.

MC: How does the financial status of the family impact the psycho-emotional nurturance it can practically provide to a disabled family member?

Dr. Renu: It may appear obvious that if the family is financially well off, there would be no difficulty in investing in the wellbeing of the disabled member. Furthermore, it is likely that higher educational status should result in better awareness about disability and a subsequent decline in stigma. In seven out of ten cases, this is indeed the case and the disabled persons coming from a well off family would have access to better life opportunities and hence have a better psycho-emotional status than someone from a less well off family. But sometimes families refuse to invest in the wellbeing of their disabled members. This may be especially in the case of a female disabled member even when the resources are available to do so. This is because the power of negative stereotyping is so powerful and the disabled member may in such a situation be actually worse off in all respects than someone similar in a less privileged family.

MC: You have faced other health issues throughout your life. Dealing with them physically and emotionally must have demanded a high level of introspection and self-discipline. Could you share some of this personal space with us? It could prove to be very motivating and insightful.

Dr. Renu: Disability often carries a high probability of secondary health conditions and I have not been spared from that. Apart from normal ups and downs of health, I have had chronic conditions like idiopathic thrombocytopenia (ItP), hypothyroidism asthma among others. And now there are also issues related to aging. I manage them in the same spirit as I have managed other difficulties in life i.e. being proactive, strategic and cautious.

MC: Due to your visual disability, what additional life-challenges did you face in your developmental years? How did you deal with them and emerge as a high-achiever, multi-faceted professional which is a difficult achievement even for those who may not have had to grapple with your challenges? Have you been able to subsume those challenges completely?

Dr. Renu: Lot of challenges came from the family that have not been helpful in developing good levels of self-esteem. An inferiority complex and low esteem linked to my disability have been constant challenges in the journey of life which I continue to struggle with even now in my fifties.

MC: Since the past nearly two years of the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, all of us have been through extremely stressful times. During these and at other difficult points of time, how do you keep yourself relaxed, serene and self-motivated?

Dr. Renu: I have been an only child and now both my parents have passed on. So I do not have any family support. But I am fortunate to have supportive friends and colleagues. The pandemic posed many challenges especially when I contracted the infection and had to be hospitalized. However, my own vigilance, determination, independent spirit and the support of well-wishers have helped me pull through. I am fortunate in having a high level of resilience and the capacity to both be on my own and do things on my own.

Thank you so much Dr. Renu for your realistic insights and inspiring words!

The Story of Robin Singh: Reducing Suffering Footprint by Geeta C Yadav

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What is the purpose of my life? This question usually comes from a seeker who wants to evolve and grow spiritually. The answer to this question comes after being in a constant state of struggle that comes from striking a balance between personal needs and responsibilities. Money beckons, materialism flocks around in its varied avatars and one lives to chase the mirage of happiness that is hooked to people, situations and things. Time flies and confusion is replaced by utter frustration. Is life a pursuit of happiness?

Slowly another question pops up and that is Who am I? This question is the beginning of a journey of exploration which is no longer about winning or losing in the outside world but all about looking within to know and understand the higher purpose of life. The answer to this question lies in realising that ‘less is more’. At this juncture, life becomes an expression of happiness and one seeks kindness for its selfless nature and tries to reach its formless centre. It is like a drop becoming the ocean.

Robin Singh, the co-founder of Peepal Farm, dropped all his baggage that reeked of unresolved emotional turmoil, the hopelessness of being anxious about whether or not he would know or find happiness and picked up life as it thrived in the innocent eyes of the voiceless animals and re-purposed his life around them. From being an ethical hacker who successfully led an e-commerce company in the United States, Robin now works to spread the philosophy of reducing suffering footprint. He finds complete and unconditional support from his partner Shivani who heads Peepal Farm Products where she works with the local women of the village and his team at Peepal Farm. Together they strive hard, lead a simple, sustainable and purposeful life in a small village near Dharamsala, Himachal Pradesh.

Let’s know more about Peepal Farm from Robin Singh.

WP: Share the story of Peepal Farm and why did you call it by this name?

RS: Our mission is to alleviate and prevent the suffering of as many beings as possible.

In December 2014, we began by building a place where people who wanted to share our mission could have the space and resources to do good work, and where we could involve and inspire others. We expanded to build our stray animal rescue, farm, product line, and media team!

The Peepal Tree sprouts in the most unfertile climates, including in the sides of buildings. If left there, it will eventually grow so large that it will break down the structure it rests on until it reaches the ground. Like the Peepal tree, we are breaking down the societal structures which cause the oppression and suffering of beings.

WP: What is suffering footprint? Can you guide us to reduce or reverse our suffering footprint?

RS: Suffering footprint is the trace of physical harm caused to life and liberty of other creatures in our pursuit of food, clothing and shelter. When you buy a kilo of rice from your local grocer, for example, to begin with it carries the history of pain in soil organisms — from rats to earthworms — when the earth was tilled to sow the paddy. Then there is the transportation of water and exploited, under-paid labour, which involves the mining and burning of fossil fuels. At each further stage, harvesting, transportation and storage, until the grain arrived at the grocery, there has been physical pain, no matter how minuscule, caused to some or the other life form. It is heart-wrenching to imagine all the bits and chunks of suffering that add up to bring a single chapati onto your plate.

There is apparent suffering, like the slaughter of animals for meat, and there is hidden, implicit suffering, like in a kilo of rice. Every act of survival, even the most benign, causes some physical pain or loss of liberty in another creature. Whether you see it or not, our hands are always covered in blood. This is the inevitable truth of existence on earth. For someone to live, someone has to die. As a conscious and choice-empowered species, what are we to do about this? What are the choices we have?

If we must exist despite this bitter fact, we could begin by reducing our individual suffering footprint. One direct and verifiable way to do it is to simply reduce our consumption. Limiting the consumption to needs and avoiding indulgence. The first step towards reducing consumption would be figuring out our bare necessities — the bare minimum food, clothing and shelter needed for our survival. But living by calculating the suffering footprint implied by each and every one of our actions can become a complex and paralysing task. As a beginning, along with reducing consumption, it is simpler to eliminate actions that cause direct harm to others.
WP: What makes you focus on pain and suffering? What according to you are the 3 basic reasons behind pain and suffering in human life and also what makes the lives of animals painful?

RS: Physical pain is something that all sentient beings avoid. It is the common denominator between all. Pain is universal, everyone feels pain. This is why we have dedicated our lives to alleviate physical pain.

For humans, some of the reasons behind pain and suffering are –

  • existential pain and suffering
  • having expectations from others
  • ruminating over the past and the future

For animals, the reasons of pain and suffering are –

  • being born an animal, as they lack the ability to think and reason like humans.
  • our attitude towards them
  • all the exploitation the world does to them

WP: Why are humans, in general, cruel towards animals? Share from the sad experiences of stray or pet animals rescued by your team at Peepal Farm.

RS: People often pick on those who are weaker than them. Humans tend to exploit these beings because they can, and also because some of them are not even aware of the pain and suffering their actions cause. Laws around animal welfare are so weak and have not been updated in decades. The Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act (PCA), 1960 currently stipulates a penalty of Rs 50 for any act of cruelty against an animal.

We see many heartbreaking cases here at the farm. We have seen many breed dogs being abandoned. Once the family has fulfilled their desire of wanting a breed dog for a bit, they don’t even think twice before leaving them on the street when the dog needs them the most. These poor dogs have no idea of how to live on the streets and end up starving or being hit by vehicles. These cases break our hearts.

Just like abandoned dogs, we also see many abandoned male calves on the streets, starving. This is also a direct result of the dairy industry.

WP: What are the evident changes in animals when you remove physical pain from their lives at Peepal Farm?

RS: Our volunteers help us plenty with enrichment of our animals. When an animal comes here for the first time, a lot of care is put into them being treated for their wounds as well as giving them the love and affection they deserve. When we spend time with an animal, not only are we treating their physical wounds, but also some deep emotional trauma. We see them opening up and their real personality starts to shine through.

WP: How are veganism and no-till farming instrumental in supporting your philosophy of causing minimum harm and living a life to do maximum good work?

RS: Our goal is to minimize our suffering footprint and alleviate physical pain and suffering. The most evident way to do this is by eliminating animal products from our diet, but another not so obvious way is by growing our food by no-till farming.

We are trying to grow food with a no-till/low-till method, and we try to save seeds. Most of the year, we manage to grow veggies and herbs needed in the kitchen. We are learning how to store root crops and make them last longer. We also preserve our produce by dehydrating and fermenting.

We have an emphasis on beauty, to temper suffering with beauty so people who are not used to seeing it, can be exposed more to the animal rights issues.

WP: How can we bring up children to live with virtues of kindness, compassion and empathy towards one and all?

RS: Our schooling system needs to be less human centric and include all beings. Parents too need to put in extra efforts to sensitize their children towards animal welfare. If they did not have exposure to animals, they need to make sure that this is not passed down and the chain is broken. The least we can do is start eliminating animal products from our diet, and living by the mantra “do no harm”.

WP: What are the basic ingredients of a happy life?

RS: Knowing what your purpose in life is the basic and key ingredient to a happy life. Also knowing that doing good feels great, makes life happier!

WP: How has sustainable living changed your life? Is minimalism the cornerstone of sustainability?

RS: Minimalism and sustainability has not only decluttered my physical space, but also my mind. I now have more time to focus my energies on things that are more important. My mind is not drawn towards trivial matters such as what the latest fashion trends are, but more on how I can use my energy to make the world a better place!

WP: What are the virtues that animals can teach humans in order to simplify life in general? Has your life with animals at Peepal Farm diminished your ego (feeling of separateness) and increased your naturalness and sense of belongingness?

RS: Animals just need food, love and a safe space to sleep in. That’s really about it. They teach us that life is all about these simple pleasures, and not much is needed to be happy.

When volunteers come here, interact with cows, pigs, sheep, etc. they start to notice that they are not very different from dogs and other animals they are comfortable and familiar with. This breaks many barriers and helps people make connections that they would have not made otherwise.

WP: Who can volunteer to work at Peepal Farm?

RS: Anyone can volunteer here at the farm, as long as they are okay with doing repetitive tasks. We are a place of karma yoga, and if you find repetitive work boring, instead of finding it meditative, then this volunteering program might not be for you.

WP: How do you involve people to spread your message of kindness towards animals?

RS: Our motto is to involve and inspire.
Our volunteers can choose to work in Animal Enrichment, Farm work, Teaching and Products. More specifically, assisting in stray animal rescue (dog walks, brushing animals, poop scooping, flea and tick removal, baths, laundry, feeding infant puppies, playing with dogs and teaching the kids from the village) and assisting in the farm (weeding, mulching, preparing new farm patches, digging, planting, moving rocks).

We have noticed that people are more likely to take home learnings when they are physically involved in the work we do.

WP: What made you think of Peepal Farm Products?

RS: The quest to reach out to more people for spreading our message and getting them to join in the cause gave birth to Peepal Farm Products. Starting with farm grown herbs, the product line kept growing gradually into a vast range of categories with a major aim in mind – to generate more employment for women.

Our ethos is “Consume less, harm less”, so we even encourage you to NOT buy our products! We have recipes and how to’s for almost everything on social media. But if you don’t have the time for that, we got you covered. When you buy from us, all of our profits generated from the sales go towards saving animals in our rescue.

White Print wishes Robin and team Peepal Farm all the very best as they walk the talk every minute of their lives by loving animals, being kind to them and leading a sustainable life.

Championing sustainability: Chaitsi’s journey of nurturing ‘Brown Living’ by Upasana Makati

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The planet we live on is burdened beyond measure. The number and intensity of heat waves, heavy downpours, hurricanes, flash floods has undergone a drastic increase. Human habits and consumption patterns play a disastrous role in damaging the planet.

While the leaders of countries throw numbers, voice promises, they continue to damage the planet in the name of development. We at an individual level, can take small but impactful steps to save Mother Earth. Every step counts. It truly does.

A closer look at the incredible journey of Chaitsi Ahuja, Founder of Brown Living, an online platform that aims to promote a sustainable way of living.

  1. What gave birth to the idea of Brown Living?

In early 2018, I was going through a personal journey of switching to a more sustainable lifestyle. During the time, I started to re-evaluate my ways of consuming, eating habits, figuring out what I believe in, my ethos are and the kind of work I would like to be known for.

My personal struggles, clubbed with my eco anxiety* led me to change and start my journey of zero waste & plastic free living. I realised that this journey wasn’t easy, unless you put in many months of research on choosing the right products for your health and the planet’s too.

I began conducting research and spoke to numerous customers and businesses to understand why the green-products (or eco-friendly) industry hasn’t received the limelight it deserves both from a consumer preference and a business focus point of view. It was in November 2019 when I finally launched the platform WWW.BROWNLIVING.IN, to make a sustainable lifestyle accessible and affordable to all.

*Eco-anxiety refers to a fear of environmental damage or ecological disaster. This sense of anxiety is largely based on the current and predicted future state of the environment and human-induced climate change.

  1. Building a business from scratch is a Herculean Task. Trace your journey for us.

I am deeply concerned with all the wrong we (humanity) have done to the health of this planet, which has affected our own health as well. A lot of lifestyle diseases today are caused by adulterated chemically-treated produce. Plastic is not just in our oceans but in our foods. Our previous generations may not have had the technology and aspiration we have today, but they definitely lead a good life (pre-industrialisation era).

How do we live like they did, and do no further harm than we already have? In March 2019, I started a challenge called the buy nothing project where I decided to not buy anything new except food. I also turned vegan that same year and started exploring sustainable ways to consume and nourish Earth in the process; I studied design thinking from a circular approach, ethical production methods and sustainable materials.

All this led me to ask another question, what if we could continue consuming conveniently, without waste? The first step for me to make a change was unlearning about consumerism and fast fashion and going back a few decades to when our planet’s health was better than it is today. I realised that the problem is not just management of human waste but in the consumption patterns itself.

I became obsessed with understanding ingredients, methods and packaging materials for products in my home and around me. I took multiple courses to study the impact of production, consumption, permaculture, and circular design for sustainability.

I started listing down all the things around me that I wanted to replace and not create more waste than we already had, right from from pens, pencils, toothbrushes, straws to skincare and even furniture that was made sustainably. Then, I evaluated them on parameters that were “earth-friendly”, for example measuring carbon footprint, plastic waste and footprint, energy and water consumed in the process, the cost of human capital involved. At the time it was a simple excel document where I would tick each product that worked according to this method, which later evolved into our product selection framework.

The Brown Lens, which evaluates each stage of the products lifecycle on parameters of lifecycle impact, carbon and plastic footprint, circular design, social impact, fair trade and ethical practices, zero waste production methods, biodegradability, compost-ability, plastic-free and reusable packaging and overall design functionality and aesthetic.

Why not just environmental footprint, you ask? Sustainability is a wholistic way of thinking and doesn’t only look at the environment. While the materials / ingredients you use are crucial to the sustainability of the product, it is also important that we are able to support a community that wants to make this planet a better place – In our case, artisans who are trying to preserve a craft or come from underprivileged or diverse backgrounds, and/or are MSME’s who have taken adequate measures to tick of all boxes for our sustainability parameters.

In just under two years, we have been able to positively impact over 3,000 artisans, 270+ MSME’s, 176 women entrepreneurs while planting 10,000 trees to negate our footprint as a business.

My ambition with all I do at Brown Living is to bring back some of the old practices of living (from pre-industrialisation and prior to invention of harmful chemicals and plastic) and make them relevant to our urban lifestyle.

  1. Sustainable living is at the core of the conversation across platforms, conferences because of the urgency to avert further damage to the planet. You’ve spent over two years in this space. What are your findings, learnings.

Going plastic free is a journey, it doesn’t happen overnight.

It definitely doesn’t happen overnight as you can’t just throw all of your plastic away. We also need to get used to the fact that Plastic is a relatively new material (just about 200 years old), but is not leaving our homes anytime soon (min 900 years for all the stuff we’d made in just 200 years).

Everyone must focus on Sustainability today, to build for a resilient future.

Competition is a great way to say that there is a definite market for sustainable products and is an upward trend for growth. This is exactly why we wanted to create a marketplace that promotes a healthy, fair and financially viable platform for sellers both small and big to showcase and sell their products.

We have helped form a lot of collaboration and synergies between sustainable and ethical brands as well as platforms, wherein they collaborate and co-create to promote this lifestyle; from categories that are complimentary (example, personal care and home care) as well as are completely unrelated (example, Eco-Tourism and Ethical Fashion), seen thrive, together.

However, our challenge remains to compete with large, funded companies with over- consumption and single bottom-line growth (read profit) as their main agenda. It’s about time we institutionalise the triple-bottom-line reporting (read people-planet-profit) to be able to truly make a change, quickly, we are already seeing the shift in equity markets with ESG Funds.

  1. Consumers are bombarded with a cheaper alternative every minute. How does Brown Living tackle this roadblock?

This is purely due to the economics of the segment. Many years ago (say 20 years), Solar panels were neither easily accessible not affordable for masses. However, today it is possible to even get subsidies and affordable rates (whether you are an individual or an enterprise) for using renewable energy sources.

I call this the “Economics of Accessibility”, wherein the more something is made available, the cheaper it becomes over time (read affordability is a function of availability). In about five years from now, you will see the entire eco-friendly and sustainable products and services industry go through a massive structuring, quality scrutiny, price mapping and consumer regulations.

Some of this is already happening via external certifications and quality metrics such as Fair Trade, GOTS certification, PETA Certification for Vegan and Cruelty Free, Ayurvedic Certification by Ministry of Ayush. We are yet to see this segment reach 10% potential, we have a while till we reach the bell curve but don’t have time till 2050 to make false promises.

Your impact is as good as the number of people using your product or service.

We, at Brown Living, want to make products and services for sustainable living reach the larger masses in India (to support the Economics of Accessibility concept I mentioned earlier), make it convenient, easy, affordable and accessible to all. We have also noticed that our target customers are age, gender, and income bracket agnostic, that supports our vision to do so too.

  1. An entrepreneurial journey is faced by a number of challenges. Share some prominent ones and how did you work around them to find a feasible solution?

Nearly three in four millennials suffer from Eco-anxiety without really knowing about it. Some of it stems from the fact that we are aware about the larger problem of the climate crisis, but we don’t know where to begin, what to do, or how to make a difference.

I am one of the 75% of these millennials and I can tell you with faith that it is because of this anxiety and fear that we are seeing even a slight change in consumption habits, brand communications, business models, and government policy changes at large.

Unfortunately, our generation doesn’t have a choice but to switch to a sustainable lifestyle as we are bringing in the future generations and raising them for a world that may not exist.

When you are at war, you worry about survival, we are at war against time left on this planet. Sure, it is an easy path if you have an intent to make a change and a super tough journey for those who want to make excuses or say it’s too hard.

Convenience being the key focus, at Brown Living our goal has always been to make low- waste and sustainable living super convenient and accessible to all. We do this by bringing over 200+ categories from 250+ brands under one roof (spanning over 6,000+ products).

It’s like any other lifestyle change you will make, like changing your diet; at first you will find the recipes difficult but once you try a few, you’ll be able to explore so much more.

  1. You now have a business partner too. How does it help leverage the conversation around sustainability and growth for the business?

I like to think that I have attracted some very inspiring people to be part of my tribe and Pragya Kapoor is one such person. She has been a great addition to the Brown Living Family. When she decided to support our cause and become an investor (after being a customer with us for a while), helped me take my vision to the next level. I was very sure from the beginning that if I do partner or decide to share my business with someone, we must both agree on many levels, the most important ones being the values, mission and the cause. Pragya is super passionate about sustainability, is a conscious consumer herself and has been a strong pillar of support since she discovered our platform.

I have found not just an investor and partner but a sounding board, a great friend in her. I think getting her on the board for Brown Living has been a very crucial step in our journey.

  1. What does the next one year look like for Brown Living?

We’d like to improve our footprint in India, become a household name in sustainable living, a discovery and shopping platform for people who want to make a change or an impact, a platform to show you the way to lead a sustainable life in so many different ways, remind you of the values we as Indians have practised of living zero waste for generations (before the decades where we got swayed away from supporting and consuming local and sustainable).

  1. If there is one message you would like to give our readers, what would that be! How could each one of us do a little bit for the planet?

Owing to “convenience” and “urban-living”, the key marketing tactic for most FMCG brands has been to promoted “packaged goods”. From fruits and vegetables to steel containers, everything you buy comes wrapped in a plastic that is impossible to recycle it all. All we can do is delay the process of that piece of plastic going into a landfill – find a new role for it, upcycle it, recycle it responsibly, and ensure it doesn’t end up in a landfill or pollute our oceans.

Becoming Sustainable is a journey and we all need to be mindful of all the things we consume. So the next thing you buy, ask them for plastic-free packaging; carry your own bag to the grocery store, carry a spoon and straw when you street food; read the labels when you buy your produce; segregate your waste; understand the recycling symbols; and if you need to shop, SHOP ONLY SUSTAINABLE.