What’s in a ‘last’ name?

“So if you are so much against all kinds of discrimination and claim to be a feminist, how come you have adopted your husband’s last name?” – It’s a question I have been asked numerous times! Those who asked me this didn’t know me before marriage. Hence, they didn’t know that I have always been Sejal ‘Parikh’! It was a co-incidence that my and Pulkit’s last names were the same. Around the time I got married, I was even told by some that I got lucky, as I wouldn’t have to change my last name! The fact is that well before I decided to tie the knot with Pulkit. I had made up my mind not to let marriage alter my name. In fact, I have spent many days wishing that Pulkit’s and my last names were different, because, then, people around me wouldn’t have been led to the misconception about me being a hypocritical feminist who doesn’t walk the talk!

During the time I was in Gurgaon, my eyes opened to the many ways through which men in our society oppress, exploit or discriminate against women. One of those ways is the name changing post marriage. One’s name is an important part of her identity. That’s what everyone around has all along recognized her through. Yet, when she’s married, she is supposed to change her middle name (or last name in some cultures) to her husband’s name, and his surname as her last name, as if she is an object, whose identity is immaterial to the society and her property rights are transferred from the father to the husband.  (I had a friend from Rajasthan, who was asked to change even her first name!).

I think 21st century women have woken up to this issue to some extent, hence we see the flourishing a new trend – hyphenating two surnames (usually only for informal settings like social networks – nothing changes legally though). It is an attempt to save her original identity, but sadly, she is still unwilling/unable to get rid of the hubby-stamp completely. Why can’t she just be what she was before marriage?

It’s unfortunate that due to decades of patriarchal conditioning, many women also have internalized the notion that they are second-class members of their families and the society. So, many think that it’s their duty to assume their husband’s last names, and they would be doing something wrong if they didn’t adhere to the “societal norm”. This attitude needs to change. Women have to start demanding to retain their identity and rights to do anything we wish, not only with our names but also with our lives, just like men do! Of course, the struggle becomes easier if husbands too stand by their wives against the pressure of society. In my case, since changing last name wasn’t needed, I was asked to change my middle name. Needless to say, that never happened. And, strong support from Pulkit made things go smooth.

Hypothetically, if the situation was to reverse, as in if our society was to turn matriarchal, would men be okay with changing their last names (or even first in some cases)?

My vegan pregnancy and natural birth experience

I have often been asked to share the experience of my natural and vegan pregnancy. I had been vegan over 2 years before pregnancy, so, without a doubt, my pregnancy was going to be vegan too. And, I am very glad to be yet another person to have shattered many nutritional myths created by vested interests about veganism during this period.

Here’s how awesome being vegan has been for my pregnancy and my baby’s health:

  • ImageI gained 18 kg of weight during 9 months of pregnancy.
  • My son, Shaurya, was born with 3.75 kg of weight (considered extremely healthy).
  • My calcium and protein levels were excellent throughout the pregnancy, without any supplements (except for 15-20 days), as detailed below.
  • I had a completely natural delivery with no external induction, no cut or stitches, no pain management through epidural!
  • To top it all, my postdelivery recovery was super-smooth! Since my pregnancy diet was devoid of any animal (i.e. unhealthy) fat, I could shed as much as 16kg within first 3 months itself without any kind of exercises whatsoever! Hence, I never needed to buy a new pair of jeans or any other clothes :).
  • Within a week, I was able to work my way around the house. After the first 3 months, my health had improved so much that without much help from anyone except Pulkit, I was able to do all multi-tasking in the house, start my work from home, write articles, feed Shaurya and rock him to sleep – all this without any body pain at all!
  • I have been able to breastfeed Shaurya exclusively for 6.5 months (and along with solids thereafter).
  • Other than minor cold, my 9 month old little monster hasn’t had a single health problem, and has needed absolutely no medicine.

Calcium and protein myths!

Women are in general advised to have more unsaturated fat and very less saturated fat during pregnancy, and quite rightly so. Yet, when it comes to calcium and protein, everything is forgotten. These two components somehow manage to freak out almost everyone so much that they are ready to stuff themselves with animal foods containing saturated fats, cholesterol, artificial/natural hormones and what not! Even then, they are unable to get rid of their fear of calcium, so they also load themselves with calcium supplements for 7 months of pregnancy! One would think that now the calcium crisis should be over, but nah, I have come across many women who suffered low calcium issues even after following all the above! Almost all women get episiotomy stitches (low protein levels are primarily responsible for perineal tearing.)

There are multiple reasons why taking animal milk (for calcium and in general) is a bad idea. Besides the huge amounts of saturated fat and cholesterol, animal foods are entirely fiber-less. Protein in the animal food, when absorbed as amino acids, results in an acidic reaction in the body. In order to keep body pH alkaline, minerals such as calcium and magnesium are leached out of our body! Moreover, there are plenty of plant based calcium rich foods. The picture below lists 20 of them.

calcium

If one consumes enough calories, one is bound to get enough protein, for protein is one of the basic building blocks of any food. And women are supposed to consume higher calories during pregnancy. In fact, the only protein rich food that I included in my daily routine was a bowl of sprouts or chana (cheakpea). It is said that low protein results in weak pelvic muscles, which in turn lead to vaginal tearing (during delivery) that requires stitches. Guess what – I had virtually no vaginal tearing and did not require any stitches at all, which is according to doctors is rare! So, I must have done something right! :)

My pregnancy diet plan

Let me now come to the question I have been asked the most: My diet chart during 9 months of pregnancy!

I followed a healthy vegan diet overall (with some lapses on sugar), avoiding all the refined foods (such as white sugar, white rice, white flour etc), consuming mostly home-cooked food with minimal or no oil. I avoided supplements (with small exceptions). Due to loss of appetite in the 3rd and 4th month, I could hardly eat much food, and supplement myself nutritionally. Hence, I took vegan multi-vitamin supplements for 15-20 days. I also took iron supplements during last 2 months and vegan calcium supplements during the last 15 days. Although in general I am not against supplements if they come from plant based sources, I have always believed that healthy food should be the primary source for any nutritional needs. Of course, if one is not able to eat healthy food due to some reasons, supplements are the only alternatives sometimes. Here’s the detailed diet chart that I followed. In order to have anything and everything vegan, here are some excellent practical tips to follow.

My natural birth experience

DSC_0291I was also fortunate enough to find the best care provider in Healthy Mother Natural Birthing Center. Dr. Vijaya Krishan, an excellent mid-wife, provided all the support needed for the kind of natural birth that I was looking for. She was also extremely supportive of my being vegan. Her skills and commitment to natural birthing played an important role in my delivery. In the last month Shaurya decided to shift into posterior position with his skull pressing on my spine, which was the reason I ended up with 2 days of pre-labour, 2 days of active labour, one day of hard back labour and 4 hours of pushing! Had it not been for loving hubby Pulkit and Vijaya, I might have had to go with the dreaded C-section! Instead, I had a completely natural delivery without any pain induction, epidural or episiotomy! It was just the way I wanted it to be! Read more here about my natural birthing experience.

Some useful resources to explore further on veganism:

Here’s what’s up with my life!

Life’s changed a lot since I last updated this blog! So this post will be all about the new happenings :).

I’m now mommy to a 7 months old son. We named him Shaurya (means Courage)! He has sort of assumed a center-stage in our lives now :). Being vegan for nearly 3 years now, my pregnancy was obviously vegan. I have often been asked to share my experience with vegan and natural birth. So a post about that is next in the queue! :)

I took up two certifications during pregnancy. One on Plant based nutrition from Cornell (of course distant learning) and the another in Technical writing (full time). Hence instead of working full time with IT sector, now I earn my bread by taking technical documentation contracts from home. If anyone’s interested, do checkout my Odesk profile! I also started writing as a freelancer regarding issues relating to veganism, health, environment, etc. Some of my articles are listed here. I also contribute my time to promoting veganism whenever possible.

Being a work-from-home-mom is difficult, but thanks to understanding and loving hubby and forever cheerful Shaurya, everything’s moving smoothly :).

Organic food in Hyderabad

Six months ago, suggesting my friends and acquiescence to buy organic food (grown without any toxic chemical based pesticides or fertilizers) was an uphill struggle, but I see a huge turn around today, thanks to Satyamev Jayate. Now, I get approached by the very same people for help with finding organic food in Hyderabad!

This post intends to guide people of Hyderabad in finding organic foods near their areas of residence.

It’s pretty easy to find organically grown dry groceries in Hyderabad, but getting regular supply of vegetables and fruits is still tricky. Hopefully next few years will show more options, with the efforts put in by some of my friends, for making organic food readily accessible in the city.

Center for Sustainable Agriculture (CSA), started by Dr. Ramanjaneyulu GV (fondly known as Dr. Ramoo, a participant and beneficiary of SMJ’s episode on toxic foods), has done some pioneering work training many farmers in AP in sustainable agricultural techniques. I truly admire the dedication of the CSA team in making organic possible in Hyderabad.

Today, with the help of CSA and some other organizations, there are many outlets for organic foods in the city.  The conception that organic food costs a hefty amount is no longer true. Most of the organic produce I buy cost as much as their non-organic counterparts. Two major reasons behind a little higher cost of several organic products are : 1.) Land that’s used to chemicals take a few years to rejuvenate after beginning with sustainable farming methods. 2.) Organic food supply chain is not that evolved as of now. Most groups have to set up their separate supply chain, collecting produce separately from farms that are geographically scattered.

However, the branded products that are usually found on the supermarket shelves may be pretty costly. Hence I stay away from them.

Below is the list of many reliable and cost-effective places for buying organic groceries, vegetables and a lot more:

  • Sahaja Aaharam: In its office premises, CSA runs this small store, one of the very first organic stores in the city. The store is located in Tarnaka. One should call them first and check out the availability of certain products before visiting. Sahaja Aaharam is also a good place to buy good quality organic seeds.
  • Good Seeds : The venture was started by four organic food enthusiasts as a for-profit venture with the intention of helping organizations like Sahaja Aaharam and others in marketing their products and to make consumers aware about benefits of organic food. Good Seeds runs a monthly organic bazaar at Saptaparini, Banjara Hills. One can find everything from dry groceries to vegetables, natural washing powders and even natural cosmetics there. YouSee, a group working towards better waste management has a dry waste collection booth in these bazaars, which they later give for proper recycling. Good Seeds has also started five pick up points in Secundarabad, Banjara Hills, Jubilee Hills and Gachibowli. They can be contacted at orders@goodseeds.in for more information.
  • Jiva Organics: Launched a few months back, by Shyam Penubolu, Jiva Organic carries a wide variety of products which can be browsed at their website with respective prices. They have recently started home delivery for vegetables/fruits(around selected areas) and an organic catering service too.
  • Hyderabad goes green: Their store in Banjara Hills stocks a number of eco-friendly products, including some organic food products and daily dump’s home-composting pots. They have just recently begun Saturday bazaars for organic vegetables and fruits.
  • Sristi Naturals: I have had good quality organic grapes from Sristi Naturals during the season. More information about their products can be found on the website. Mr. Satya also does home-delivery for organic fruits and vegetables in certain areas near kukatpally.
  • Prakruthi Natural & Organic Store: They do not have online presence as per my knowledge, but they can be contacted at: Sri Mukh Complex, Shop No. 2, Upper Ground Floor, Himayathnagar Main Road, Himayatnagar. Phone number: 8341120702 (Raj)
  • Daaram: Their store is located at:
    1-10-3/1, Boorugu Vihar, Lane next to Andhra Bank, Near Prakash Nagar, Opp. Old Airport Lane, Behind Bottles & Chimneys.  http://daaram.blogspot.com
  • Other than this, there are outlets such as Nature’s basket and fab-india. Many super market also stock organic products now. You can spot them under brand names such as ProNature, Down to Earth, 24 Letter Mantra, Organic India etc. Most of these tend to be a little pricey.

Go Organic! Go Healthy!

Wedding woes

She calls herself a 21st century girl, perhaps rightly. Having been given a good quality education, she has been able to bag a high paying job in a multinational company and attain financial independence. She considers her equal to men in all areas, be it at education or work. She wants her right to go out late at night and wear any cloths of her choosing. However, all this independence and equality goes right out of the window when it comes to the super-hyped mega event – the wedding. No, a big fat Indian wedding. She wants flashy dresses and heavy jewelry, a grand bash, even if it costs her parents a fortune. Many of the rituals/practices during and after the wedding are deeply patriarchal, yet this advocate of gender equality has no trouble embracing them. Yes, she is a 21st century girl, but far from an ideal one.

Pardon me if I came out a bit too harsh in the above paragraph, but this has exactly been observation so far (with few exceptions). Being a girl, I wrote this with a female focal point. But, that doesn’t at all mean that girls are not the only guilty party. Many girls don’t have the support of the would-be-husband, even if they want to keep things simple. I was shocked to find many of my male colleague openly sharing expectations of a hefty dowry plus a working wife! The blame, though, doesn’t fall on the bride and groom completely. The parental pressure too is immense. The parents, in turn, succumb to societal pressure. And come to think of it, who forms this society? You, me, our parents and people around us!

Ever since I gained this perspective, I had decided not to fall into this trap and was determined to a simple wedding for myself. Fortunately my soul-mate too had similar ideas and we clicked immediately. And today, after almost 5 years, I still think of it as one of the most significant decisions made by us. I thank a dear friend for coaxing me to write this post and capture how we got married.

Our initial plan was to have a registered marriage but later we agreed for a simple wedding in Arya Samaj Mandir in presence of immediate family members numbering around 30-35 and a small lunch in a nearby restaurant. We did not want any relatives to make their own assumptions for not inviting them to the wedding. Hence we came up with a concept of a ‘wedding intimation card‘ which explained in detail our reasons for the simple wedding. As for the parents, they took some time to make peace with our beliefs, but they did come around later.

I was recently asked if I have ever regretted this decision. Forget any regret; I am proud of it! I am proud that I was not a financial burden to my parents, that I broke many male chauvinistic stereotypes of conventional marriages. If I hadn’t done it, I would always have felt the guilt of not walking the talk of independence and equality.

Marriages should be thought of as a coming together of two souls. Today, we emphasize more on the coming together of caterers, bands/DJs, decorators, jewelers and dress designers. Is it the right way forward for the society?

Why vegan? – a personal account

[Note: I also wrote an article for The Alternative magazines about my reasons of being vegan: 8 reasons why I choose to be a vegan. ]

Why did I turn Vegan? A question I face every time I refuse a cup of milk-tea. It has been a year now since I turned vegan completely, so I find it is a good time to publish this long pending post.

What is Veganism?

Essentially, a vegan is a set of choices stemming from a simple logic: Any being that feels pain should not be put to pain. Thus, a vegan avoids all animal products: Milk & its products, meat, eggs, honey (substituting them with their plant-based versions for taste, if desired), wool, leather, fur, pearl, silk, etc. In my view veganism is an extension of progressive movements like those against slavery, racism and gender inequity. The enslavement and exploitation of a class of sentient beings – on the morally irrelevant basis that they do not belong to our species – must end.

Milk and Cruelty

It was only during breast-feeding related discussions of community health fellowship I came to know that breast milk is not an endless resource and stops after a few years of pregnancy! (Believe me, I know a lot many techie friends who still don’t know this!). Somehow it din’t occur to me to apply same logic to the cows too. Adithya, a friend (also a medical doctor) introduced me to the concept of veganism and later I started reading and understanding more about it. And that was the starting of a year long step-by-step journey towards compassionate changes.

I never imagined that a cow would be forced into pregnancy repeatedly throughout her lifespan (either through artificial insemination or by a common bull) and injected with strong bovine growth hormones that give her painful stomach cramps. When she yearns to feed her baby, the milk, that’s actually made for the calf, is stolen by us, humans. As if that’s not enough, male calves are directly sent to slaughter house and females are kept alive for milk. How can we justify all this torture just because we humans have acquired an addiction to ‘milk’? We are not satisfied with our share of our mother’s milk and still want more, so we steal from someone else’s mother, which happens to be a cow here, even when we grow up, and can supplement our bodies with all kinds of other foods. (A must watch video). No mammalian specie, in nature, drinks milk of another specie, nor does any animal specie drink milk after the age of weaning!

Environment and Hunger

Non-vegetarians often have this misconception that they are saving food for vegetarians by eating animals! Now, did you know that for getting 1kg of beef it takes almost 10-12 kgs of grains? (3-4 kg for chicken). Almost 50% of maize in india and 80% of soy, maize in US goes to cattle feed. The whole process of feeding grain to cattle and than eating meat, seems too inefficient taking huge amount of land, water, fertilizer and other resources. Even international agencies like UN produced a report in 2010 urging people to move towards meat and dairy free diet.  [Video] In 2006, UN-FAO had also brought out a 400 pages of report detailing the impact of livestock on environment and stated that it’s responsible for a substantial part of total GHG emissions. [Full report here]. Raising cows and buffaloes for milk also takes enormous amounts of grains and water. Milk today is consumed more in the form of cheese, paneer, ghee, butter etc.

Personal transitioning

I have always been enslaved to my sweet tooth, and have enjoyed all kinds of milk based sweets, ice creams, pastries etc.  Hence when I found out the brutality behind milk and recognized the fact that milk itself is so needless for my body, I tried to come up with many possible arguments to refute  these claims. I reckon this initial reaction only came out of my own insecurities about losing those delicacies that had become an integral part of my diet. It took me a while to digest the facts and internalize them. While traveling further in many rural place, I found out that all the cruelty related aspects recorded by others are not some isolated incidents. Meanwhile Pulkit too was exploring the idea of turning vegan. Both of us still believed that cow’s milk is good for us health wise. With regular pain-killer intake, Pulkit felt (factually incorrectly in hind sight) that he should continue 1 glass of milk, but he stopped all things he consumed merely for taste (sweets, paneer, ice creams etc). I never had a habit of drinking raw milk, so I started cutting down other things one by one, beginning with cheese and paneer dishes.  It took us 2-3 months to become complete vegans (Pulkit also stopped raw milk later). The first 2 months seemed difficult, but later on we never realized when it became just a way of life!

It only took me a month to learn a few tricks of vegan living and thereafter it was pretty easy to find vegan alternatives of all my favourite stuff everywhere. There’s no reason to miss sweets, ice-creams, cakes, cookies, curd, cheese etc., as everything today can be made or bought in vegan version. all tips for transitioning to vegan diet. can be found here. I have also written many article containing numerous simple and healthy recipes. Here is a complete list of my such articles.

Please read this neatly compiled common questions in case you are planning to go Vegan. Sharan has a very helpful health booklet for the beginners (free download). For hostel students, Arun, an IISc student has devised some excellent guidelines.

Vitamin B12 and D Vegans or non-vegans, deficiency in Vitamin B12 and Vitamin D is very common today, due to our clean diet and increasing pollution (that’s blocking UV-B rays of the sun). Read all about Vitamin B12 and Vitamin D (the links also have supplement information). People deficient in Vitamin D should start the supplement and vitamin B12 is something that everyone would need to have as supplement. 

Speciesism  (discrimination based on the type of species)

The animals of the world exist for their own reasons. They were not made for humans any more than black people were made for whites or women for men.
-Alice Walker

I recently read about human slavery in Rome and other countries in the past. It was disgusting how they treated fellow humans , but I see very little progress in the attitude today. We have simply replaced humans with animals, the rest remains the same! Some argue that it’s natural for humans to feel more for their own species. That’s perfectly fine as long as we don’t derive our happiness at the expense of another innocent species. We may be more powerful than the other species, but then Brahmins are also more powerful than Dalits in most of rural India, yet we don’t believe that Brahmins have a right to dominate Dalits, do we? If a powerful specie is entitled to exploit a weaker species, by that logic a powerful gender should also be justified to dominate a weaker one. But then, why do we, educated and civilized people, stand up proudly for gender equality?

Human civilization has been going through a long process of evolution. We started off with many things right but some wrong. Sexism, racism, human slavery, hunting animals for fun, patriarchy are some of them. In time, we have recognized some of these mistakes and corrected them, yet there are many more to correct. Veganism, in my view, is just one of those pending corrections.

Vegan for good health!

It was during the time of exploration, when we were searching for nutritional replacements for Pulkit, we met Parag, a Plant based Nutritionist in Bangalore who gave me two books ‘The China Study‘ and ‘The Food Revolution‘. These books along with Sharan‘s Peas Vs Pills workshop broke so many nutrition related myths.  I was fully convinced that milk is not only needless for human consumption but can also be harmful for human health!

Ingredients of the cocktail called ‘Milk’!

Milk – by dictionary definition means “A white liquid produced by mammary glands of female mammals for feeding their young”. Right, all mammals produce milk for their babies (not for humans! We humans seem to think everything is made for us!) Hence milk is tailor-made for that particular specie.  For e.g., growth rate of a calf is 4 times higher than that of human baby, hence nutrients such as protein, calcium etc are also 4 times higher. These high-levels of protein and calcium are not suitable for humans. Besides, all the sources of animal protein are coupled with high amount of saturated fat that’s linked to rise in cholesterol level and results in various lifestyle diseases. And in fact doctors like Nandita Shah, Neal Bernard, Caldwell Esselstyn and John Mcdougall have been reversing diebetes, heart diseases etc just by healthy vegan diet! (More resources are in the end of the post). Besides, isn’t the animal protein based food (milk, meat, egg) the only source, that can raise LDL (bad cholesterol) levels in its raw form?

What about Calcium?

This is the most frequent question I get. It’s actually a myth that milk is the best source of calcium, something that came out of advertisements by dairy industries and white revolution in the country. Almost anyone with basic nutrition training knows that protein inhibits calcium absorption, and milk is nothing but full of protein (casein which is also mucus forming). In fact below snapshot of calcium comparison between plant based foods and milk would tell you how much misled are we by the industry funded research and advt. campaigns. I sustained entire 9 months of my vegan pregnancy on vegan food without any calcium supplements and I never had calcium deficiency related problems!

calcium

Our anatomy and meat-eating

When I talk to some friends about eco-friendly lifestyle they rhetorically ask “so do you want us to live like caveman?” (as if avoiding plastic and cycling etc. resembles to life of a caveman!). Ironically, when I talked to same people about veganism they asked “But humans have always been eating meat since caveman’s time!” – But we are not Caveman anymore! We are far more evolved  and civilized and have discarded loads of things that cavemen were naive enough to adopt.

I have not found a single person who’s able to hunt and kill even a rabbit without tools and then tear it apart, and eat with all the blood without cooking! What would a 2 years old hungry child pick up when offered raw carrot, and live chicken? Our basic human instincts match mostly of that of herbivores.  But we forcefully train ourselves to change those instincts when we grow out of the innocence of a child. (read Comparative Anatomy of Eating by by Milton R. Mills, M.D.)

If slaughter-houses had glass walls, everyone would be vegetarian – Sir Paul McCartney (detailed video)

It also makes me wonder why we love one some animals as pets and kill others to eat! After all, both have same feelings and desire to live!

Plant and pain

“So you eat plants, don’t they too feel pain?” – A question primarily non-vegetarians ask (more often than not, merely to win the argument). As per dominant scientific opinions while certain plants certainly respond to stimuli, none can feel pain due to a virtually non-existent nervous system. Contrast that to animals who even feel psychological pain (e.g., dairy cows let out cries of anguish for days every time her calf is forcibly taken away and deprived of its righteous milk). Secondly, even if we hypothetically assume plants to be capable of perceiving pain, non-vegans still would kill/hurt more as farm animals don’t drop from heavens, they are bred/farmed using a massive amount of plant based food and natural resources. Besides life of a plant is drastically different than that of humans or animals. For e.g, when you pluck a leave, it grows back (doesn’t happen with any animal body part). Most plant parts are needed to be eaten or used so that they can propagate by means of pollination.

No deprivation what-so-ever!

Becoming vegan has never been easier. From sweets, chocolates, cakes & ice-creams to curd, paneer, cheese, pizza and tea/coffee, almost every taste you are used to can now be enjoyed without animal ingredients. Find all the where-to-find, how-to-make pointers and other practical tips on Dairy alternatives, Vegan products, Eat-out options, Recipes & more.

Vegan-cake, made by me!

Cooking vegan dishes is my new-found hobby! Find many of my recipes in articles here. Here are some of my favorite vegan culinary websites:

Good communities on the web that help with transitioning:

More resources on vegan nutrition:

Back, with a Hyderabadi bang!

Updating this space seems to have become a yearly affair now :-). A lot of changes happened in life personally and otherwise in the last year, so here’s  a  quick look at some of the recent happenings.

Beginning with the last thing first, we (I and Pulkit) just shifted our location (again!) to Hyderabad. Hopefully we will sustain our stay here for next few years :-). Since the time I left my house in Ahmedabad, this is going to be the 6th city I am going to live in and I’m pretty excited about it! We just rented a house in Kondapur and are still in process of settling. Pulkit has joined Microsoft and is undergoing a promising Ayurvedic treatment for Ankylosing Spondylites (a chronic dicease that he has been suffering since teenage). This treatment was one of the key reasons for the shift to Hyderabad, apart from the better lifestyle (compared to Noida) and fun of having Ruchi (Pulkit’s sister) living with us! As for me, I am still considering several options in front of me. But nevertheless, I will always continue volunteering for various causes related to urban environmental conservation, like I have done so far.  For the regular followers of this blog, I am back to the Dailydump home-composter. With the help of  Sahaja Aharam, we are also planning to buy more organic than ever before.

I and Pulkit just entered into the 5th year of our wedlock! In the last 4 wonderful years, we have witnessed each other growing together and have stood by one another through all the ups and downs. I truly relish all the unforgettable moments that we have shared so far, and look forward to many more of them!

Last year has turned many things around, including the way I look at some of the matters concerning social change-making. Embracing Veganism may have played a major role in this. I have always disliked cooking, but after turning vegan, cooking has been added to my list of hobbies. It has become a challenging task, which makes it fascinating for me. I am gonna leave the detailed reasoning behind my Veganism for the next post. Until then, ciao!

After a long hibernation

It’s time to end the year long blogging hibernation! Life has been entirely different and underwent a lot of shifts since I bid farewell to the IT jobs.  Since February last year I spent the bulk of my time traveling and rest in Noida/Delhi. In retrospect, this blog should’ve been buzzing with frequent posts, but the circumstances made me spend more time  in reflecting than  writing.

Traveling through rural and tribal parts of MP, Bihar and Gujarat was quite an eventful time, giving me several firsts in life. The experiences of staying in the huts of people in rural and tribal regions gave me some insights of  rural and tribal lifestyles. It was, of course, strenuous for me, having been a city dweller all my life. Walking long distances and climbing hills to reach one village to another, cycling more than 30 kms on bumpy and flooded road (with an ordinary bicycle), walking barefoot through flooded fields, sleeping in a hut and getting soaked in the middle of the night due to leaking roof, learning to de-weed the fields– each of these episodes took me through an uncharted territory. I traveled to many places in this phase, from Gujarat to Rajasthan to MP to Orissa to Bihar to Karnataka, all of them by  non-AC trains/buses. I’m glad to have been able to avoid buying bottled water (disposables) in all the journeys till date! Looking back, I also find it striking that I ended up using almost all modes of sustainable transportation – trains(non-AC), buses, trucks, tractor, bicycle etc. (avoiding the fuel guzzling flights).

My attempts to understand problems from various viewpoints,  have helped me connect many previously scattered dots.  Quite a lot reasoning with myself and others, made me decide Environmental conservation as my area of focus.  As for concrete plans, there are none for now. Hopefully I shall be able to throw more light on this in sometime.

Btw, we’ve shifted to a new place, and while continuing the other  eco-friendly practices, I’m also experimenting with a new method of composting (suggested by Divya). Friends are most welcome for a good homemade vegan meal.  :-)

Servent of God or victim of lust?

“She is given to the temple by her parents just when she reaches her puberty. Scared she is, about the outcome of that event, as she is dressed by her mother. The poor girl, hardly understands the meaning of  marriage, let alone marriage with God!” bemoans Mokshamma, a dalit women working with Navjeevana Mahila Okkuta (NJMO), an organization working in North Karnataka (based at Raichur).

It’s estimated that every year more than 1000 young girls in Karnataka are sacrificed in the name of tradition. These girls come from Dalit families, primarily  belonging to the lowest strata of the society.  The girls are given away often for money, at times to save the cost of dowry and marriage. Often parents seek boy child and when a girl is born instead, she’s sacrificed. The disabled or deceased girls  too end up being the victims. On a few occasions, the Gowdas (upper caste) of the village, on suspecting an evil force active in the village, urges (forces) a lower caste family to sacrifice their daughter in service of GOD. Such a girl is known as a ‘Devadasi’, a servant of God.

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A defining career switch

After spending past 6 years in the field of Telecom engineering, I have taken a break to get into into full time engagement with community development. This ‘paradigm shift’ has begun with a fellowship that will run for about a year. After the first 1.5 months in Bangalore (where I have been since March 1), I will travel to various places in (mostly rural) India.

There have been plenty of questions from friends and relatives upon breaking this news, but I wonder if I have been and will be able to satisfy anyone’s curiosity to the fullest! There were also typical patriarchal reactions such as “Oh so you are quitting to become a housewife?” “cool, good thing to pass time, keep yourself busy” … Not that I undermine the role of a home-maker, but it saddens me to see that the value of married woman in the society is (largely) thought to be reduced to a house-wife if she is not doing any income-generating work! Many also had concerns about the finances, when they figured that Pulkit too might take similar plunge soon. But, we have done adequate calculations and pondering on that aspect. Also, this brings me to what Gandhi once rightly said: “There’s everything for one’s need and not for one’s greed”. We had decided to do away with many of our greeds long time back; that has helped us save good amount for our sustenance for next few years :-).

For a long time, even before I came to know of the concept of volunteer work, I knew that I had slightly differing views than many in my surroundings. Be it my atheist and feminist ideas or being a bit  compassionate towards someone’s pain. But all said, I had never imagined myself being where I’m today. Like any other stereotypical Indian student, I too after my schooling had dreamt of getting a good job, having a respectful position both in society and work place.

Going through the past, I now figure that my year on year job-hopping(sometimes without much good reason or pay) was partly also because I was finding my work increasingly futile for the society. Sure, money could also bring about (i.e. fund) a great deal of change, but in my case, I believe my full time involvement would make a bigger impact. As my involvement with AID and other  groups drifted my interests to different issues, the job was becoming an obstacle for contributing to what I felt was more worthy of my time. Can’t say I found my true passion, but I am convinced of this being the best way to go.

I am currently clueless about my final destination after a year, but I will try to keep things posted on this space.

Bangalore, memories galore!

RWUBY4BZ9X5J Leaving the (erstwhile) garden city was a mixed feeling: On the one hand, I was enthused about being reunited with Pulkit after a three-month separation,  and on the other, saddened by the sudden realization of what all I am leaving behind. Here goes a quick rewind to perhaps the most influential 2 years of my life:

I relocated from Pune to Bangalore with Pulkit after tying the knot, one of the best events that have ever happened  to my life. Pulkit has brought a unique flavor to my world, one that I adore (despite our fair share of squabbles)! I wish I could say the same about the truck load of weird nick names he has coined for me :-).

The highlight of the stay was undoubtedly my involvement in activities at AID, which introduced me to several other like-minded groups and individuals across India. Quite a few of them inspired me towards a more eco-friendly lifestyle and are responsible for my improved depth of thought. I must admit my ignorance about some issues pertaining to the injustice that prevails in my surroundings. The more aware I became, the more agitated I grew. Fair amount of debates, discussions and reading have altered my views to such a degree, that I’m now not surprised at seeing many of my closed ones being unable to relate to me at times. But deep down, I still feel the same Sejal,  cheerful around the near and dear, proudly feminist, (increasingly) compassionate and (decreasingly) lazy.

I also had a bunch of ‘firsts’ in Bangalore. I took Pulkit’s suggestion of cycling to work, a decision which I will never regret. I am proud to have paddled 20-25 kms at a stretch! I also had a successful stint at growing a  tiny balcony garden and home-composting! Our first door-to-door relief collection (for Bihar floods) still brings a smile to my face, wherein we had unique experiences of catching people drinking in the middle of the afternoon and seeing the door being shut on us because we were mistaken for sales people :). The visits to villages such as Unnainhalli or Potnal were also the first of their kind. It was also my first time at a course such as the one conducted by PHM on ’Health and Equity’, giving me enhanced  clarity for possible future directions. With the participation of roughly 70 people  from across the globe, I was not only exposed to some enlightening discussions, those 10 days’ stay at NTI campus also gave me a much-needed boost amidst the otherwise boring routine of mine. I took back some fun memories as well, like the non-Indian gurls enthusiastically trying Saris, and seeing them, a guy from Kenya wanting to buy himself a “men’s sari” :-). Besides, it had been long since I enjoyed the company of female roomies!

Another significant development was my hunt for passion, something that stimulates me to go on.  Hopping jobs year on year for work satisfaction doesn’t seem to work for me. I find my interests venturing into many non-IT avenues, most directed to social change. The exploration is ongoing, and I hope to post more concrete plans in this space, in a few months from now.

For now, I have begun trying to find some ways to engage myself in various activities of AID NCR.  Hoping to get through the difficult (as in transition) first few pages of this latest chapter of life as quickly as possible!

PS: After carefully thinking over several factors including concentration of friends, work hours/flexibility, cost of living (esp. rent) & presence of one person (Pulkit) at home for the cook, for now, we have rented a 1 BHK in Noida (over South Delhi).

Slow Death – Not so slow now!

This is my second summer in Bangalore, the (ex-)garden city. I recall that during the last summer I never felt the need of a  fan in the house, whereas this year I sweat even when the fan is on! Just within a year of my stay in the city, I can see a clear difference in the weather-pattern. This reminds me of the frog example in the Al Gore movie ‘The inconvenient Truth’. The frog,  when it falls into a jar of boiling water, senses the problem and instantly jumps out, but when the same frog sits in a jar of luck warm water and the water is heated slowly, it can’t sense the gradual temperature rise and remains inside well past the point of physical damage. Our collective nervous system is quite similar to that of this frog – short-sighted, unable to detect any trouble (read climate change) that appears to grow slowly, even though it’s actually speeding in. [Do not miss to watch the 1 minute video of the frog example!]

When it comes to financial security, we all think long-term, we save money for our kids’ future, get their insurance done and what not. But on the other hand, we go on adding heedlessly to our carbon footprints, which will only lead to a disastrous life for our kids. Why don’t we ever think that if we have witnessed the temperatures rising till 45 degree, earth quacks, Katrinas, Tsunamis and a number of floods in last 25 years (my age), it’s more than likely that our kids shall see even worse?! They may not even have access to enough water, let alone fuel. At this rate, there will certainly come a time when no  amount of money would be able to rescue us.

There are people who complain about congestion (best illustrated by this witty cartoon), from sitting inside their SUVs. There are others that crib endlessly about what we have done to Mother Earth, despite being among the prominent culprits.  “It’s become too hot”, “Bangalore isn’t the same green city now”, “there’s just too much of pollution”, “traffic congestion has become a big nuisance”, “fuel prices have gone sky high” … the list just doesn’t end! We do acknowledge the existence of  the problems, we do voice our complaints, often quite aloud, but then just sit tight and retreat to our mundane tasks and momentary comforts, rather than channeling the fire to action.

But thankfully, not everyone thinks or acts the same way! Each time I meet a new chap who walks the green talk or hear about an organization  plunging to alternate energy, I feel hopeful. For last few years I have been able to find myself a lot of like-minded fellows who ardently attempt to keep their carbon footprints down: be it BCW [Bus/Cycle/Walk], cutting the usage of plastic, water conservation and so on. Even here, the list is endless :-)

A discussion with my cook when I was telling him why I do home composting or cycle to work ended with “Madam, aapke akele karne se kya hoga, baki sab to vaise ke vaise hi hai”. True, I alone can’t do it, but imagine out of 20 people I talk to, 2 of them start cycling to work, and they talk to another 20 and the chain-reaction continues. Some day soon, it could reach 100 such people who try to make 2000 (20*100) more people aware,  and the numbers may keep multiplying like this! This is not just possible, but also probable.

Whatever you do will be insignificant, but it is very important that you do it. – M K Gandhi

Small steps like using cloth bags, getting tap-leaks fixed at once, shutting down the computer, switching off appliances – if practiced collectively – can go a long way towards restoring the balance. And, once you jump into this ocean of change, you will subconsciously make sure that the chain continues. For example whenever I refuse plastic bags, I try make my reasons clear to the shop-keepers too :-). Here is a complete list of such tiny steps that can make a substantial change.

If only each one of us would  take a step forward, without worrying about others, I think we can conquer any challenge.

As Margaret Mead rightly said: Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.

Haybox Cooker

Recently I tried the Haybox that I had bought during AID India conference from Srikakulam volunteers. And I must say it works magically well!

(Left)Rice before transferring to Haybox, (Right)Rice after Haybox cooking

(Left)Rice before transferring to Haybox, (Right)Rice after Haybox cooking

These Hayboxes were basically designed to help the villagers of Srikakulam   cook rice efficiently and save on fuel as well as time. It also serves a means to support their livelihoods.  ‘Hay’ being an insulator is able to  preserve the heat for sufficiently long time, hence when rice is transferred to Haybox after having been brought to the boiling point, it cooks on its own. I also tried this at home with the Haybox that I bought (Demonstrated in the photograph). It took around 25 minutes to cook 1 cup of rice for me. There was no access water left and it was also possible to keep it hot till lunch time.

The detailed report from AID Srikakulam can be found here.

Haybox in Srikakulam, is primarily used to cook rice, but it can be used for most of the cooking for which we use pressure cooker such as making Khichadi, boiling vegetables etc.

Here’s a video that shows a Haybox demo given by Ravi Kuchimanchi to the villagers of  Srikakulam.

Jagrutha Mahila Sangathan

JMS Hut in Potnal

I came to know about the existence of JMS during the AID-India Conference, where Savitri displayed terracotta jeweleries. Later Sudha mentioned to me about the help required for terracotta unit, and that’s how I ended up visiting them.

Jagrutha Mahila Sangathan (JMS), a collective of dalit women and agricultural labourers struggling for their rights, was started by Premdas (who’s now working with CHC) and his friends in Potnal in 1999. It has found its office in a hut kind of an arrangement in Potnal, a village in Manavi Taluka, Raichur district. JMS now has grown in to 50 Sanghas (covering villages in Manavi and Sindhnur talukas) that mobilizes women agricultural laborers.

Weekly meeting with Women's SHGs

I reached there on 7th Feb around 11am. I was taken around the place by Savitri, a young JMS worker who’s from Potnal itself. She briefed me about JMS activities in general till the Karyakarta meeting started. It is a monthly meeting, where in 2 women from all the 50 Sanghas come as representatives. There are 7 full time Sanchalikas who manage these Sanghas. The meeting begun with kannada songs that discussed issues with PDS, Devdasi system, etc. Savitry tried her best to give me a running commentary about the songs in English! Later the women came up with various issues regarding NREGA, NRHM, untouchability, etc. that prevail in their villages. For instance, there was a complaint from a woman that she hasn’t been getting full pay for her work under NREGA; later we discovered that she had handed over all her account books to Gram Panchayat people and relied on them for her money!

Thadakkal village has a new PHC sub-center coming up, for which a gowda has been handling the contract. Even though the government has issued a grant of 2 lakh, he is planning to build the center in a relatively small place (it’s not that there is not enough land available), so that he can put the rest of the amount in his pocket. Just when the women were discussing this issue, someone informed about a Taluka level public hearing in progress at Potnal PHC. Everyone headed towards PHC to share this concern. Savitri and other JMS workers helped the women to frame their complaints.  Finally,  the officer agreed to set up a visit to the village next week.

After coming back to the JMS hut, Ratna (JMS worker and Taluka level coordinator for JAA-K) and Snehalata (JAA-K resource person) gave information about some of the new NRHM schemes to all the women. When they discussed JSY, there was a mention about nurses taking money for the delivery, let alone JSY benefits. The women were scared that if they refuse,  the delivery of the next child in their family may be affected!

Women Making Terracotta stuff

Post lunch, I spent some time with the Terracotta Unit. Koshi, another founder of JMS had trained around 150 women several years back, out of which only 14 consists the SHG at present, each drawing 50/- per day as salary from the income.  There are other women wanting to get involved , but due to high inventory and slow sales, they are suffering from a huge backlog of payments as of now, hence can’t expand. Though Dastkar has been able to provide some help in arranging ~4 exhibitions a year, it has not been enough. None of the women knows Hindi or English to communicate effectively in big cities. I and Savitri exchanged several ideas, one of which was to create a brochure and web presence. Hopefully, I shall be able to help them with that.

Chilipili kids

Later in the evening Chilipili kids positioned themselves in a circle outside JMS hutf or tuition. Chilipili is a residential school (running inside the JMS hut) started  a year back to help ex-child laborers, funded by SSA and NCLP.  They have around 40-50 kids (mostly drop-outs) and 3 teachers. However, the funding per child and teacher’s salary that they received from government is quite insufficient, hence the rest of the requirements are supported by JMS funds. Kids started the session by singing songs on child labour. I tried to talk to some kids having Savitri as interpreter. I thought I’d make them talk to me in Hindi, but kids turned out to be smarter,  forcing me to learn to converse in Kannada :-).

Next day early morning, I was awakened by the morning prayer and Yoga sessions of Chilipili kids. Sunday is the cleaning day for the kids. Since it’s not possible to afford any full-time maid for the premises, kids are taught to be self-sufficient. They clean their rooms, wash vessels and clothes, plaster the compound outside with cow dung, maintain vegetable garden, etc. very efficiently. At 11 o’ clock, kids packed their clothes and headed for a bath at Tungabadra river. Some of the photographs in my album show their  innocent  exuberance. They just loved being photographed.

My noon time was spent with one of the workers in Herbal medicine group. Over 15 women constructed this group and a few of them have been trained in Herbal medicine at several places. Their herbal clinic on Thursday witnesses a big crowd from surrounding villages giving them a fair sale. Neem fertilizer group is another income generating group,  totally managed by 20 women and produces 50 tonnes of unadulterated need fertilizer that is supplied to various groups practicing organic farming. The unit begged ‘the Citigroup/UNDP 2005 Micro Entrepreneur Award’ for South India. Unfortunately time did not permit me to know more about them or talk to them. All the three income generation group fall under one brand coined as ‘Chirugu Enterprise’.

-)

In the evening, I talked to Chilipili kids about lifestyle in Gujarat. When Savitri suggested this to me, I was blank about how to begin. Somehow I ended up telling them about Gandhi/Sardar Patel and food/festivals later.  I understood the reason behind Savitri’s suggestion as soon as I heard the questions from kids. I truly wished I could spend a day more with kids when I found them asking – “do they have monkeys/buffaloes in Gujarat?”, “Do you find grapes, apples there?”. Kids then asked me for a photography session, after which I started back for Bangalore.

On the way to Bus-stop, I along with Savitri, Snehalata and Padma (a chilipili teacher) visited Potnal PHC. Though the board outside said the center functions 24*7, Sundays are treated as holidays by doctors. However,  Snehalata mentioned that PHC has improved a lot after NRHM in terms of facilities.

In all, the weekend at JMS proved to be eventful as well as educational, and I didn’t miss having Pulkit around at all  :-).

PS: In case anyone is interested in helping the Terracotta group, please contact me to discuss more about the possibilities.

A post on Compost!

home-composting bins at my home

home-composting bins at my place

Waste segregation is something I’ve been practicing over a year now. Though I was never sure if that remained segregated after having been collected by BBMP, I feel the chances of the source segregated waste getting mixed with normal waste are lesser and it may even make segregation at destination easier. I’ve read and heard about some initiatives by BBMP for solid waste management, but I still have some doubts about it’s efficiency when I see piles of jumbled up garbage lying on the street sides. Finding more about this schemes and implementation level details is another action item pending in my list. But till that time, I thought of solving at least my in-house waste problem, by getting a home-composting kit from DailyDump. After getting them, the dustbin for ‘wet garbage’ has become almost obsolete in my kitchen. I never knew composting can be so neat and easy. The final compost that comes out of the waste, indeed gives a typical fresh earthen smell. I wonder if I’ll ever be able to understand such complexity of the nature, that grows food out of the soil and has a way to finally get them back to the same form!

I’ve also put together a mini garden outside my kitchen, to utilize this compost. This, in a way, has become my new-found hobby :-)

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