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Life as a new grandmother in USA in the times of Covid-19

Corona was an unknown name when my husband and I arrived in Rhode Island from Bangalore; our suitcases loaded with homemade laddoos, sweets and savories for the pregnant daughter. Basking in the déjà vu moment of me becoming a first- time mother, I now the proud grandmother held the bundle of joy in my arms with only fair idea of what the role would demand. While welcoming home the new mom and her baby, however, a bit of dread too clouded over, due partly to the often heard tug of war of ideas in baby care between the two generations, especially in a foreign land.

Considering the forthcoming sleepless nights that the new parents had to face and the possibility of me pitching in, the infant and her mom were stationed in the ground-floor family room till things settled down. The very next day my eighty-two-year old mother made a WhatsApp video call from Bangalore, “Did you give her milk with Haldi? Hope you are not missing giving her the Shunti you took from here. Give her soft cooked vegetables, start the meal with deep fried garlic, alternate it with methi powder. It is important for a new mother’s lactation.” I lowered my tone and said, “Amma, I know you were an excellent grandmother, did everything as per traditions but that was nineteen eighties, India. This is 2019 going on 2020, USA where both your granddaughter and her husband are doctors. Do you think they will listen to everything I say or want to do?”

Anyhow, somewhat peacefully food for the new mom could be executed as per plan but the question of feeding her baby, whether to depend on the breast milk which was not yet in adequate supply , or to give the formula milk still hovered around. A visiting lactation consultant gave rather a frightening picture after measuring the baby’s weight and brought tears in her mom’s eyes. I the mother and the grandmother could not stand it all and in a panicky state texted my neighbour in Bangalore, a young mom asking her expert comments on this after which Formula milk did not appear so bad. “No, I am part of a support group for doctors and they advocate only breast milk, mummy, please. No formula milk for my baby. It tastes bad too.” “But dear, that’s how I fed you when I went back to work at 12th week of your birth.” In your times you could not pump your milk and store it for later use. We have it now, why shouldn’t I do?” “Ok, you do what is best for your baby. I agree we couldn’t pump breast milk in our days.” I reconciled.

A couple of weeks hence, realizing the need to sing English lullabies to my tiny granddaughter, and watching a few on YouTube, I broke into a poem while changing the baby’s diaper to which my younger daughter from Singapore commented, “Mummy, that sounds a bit funny- like a rap.” “Yes, I never knew the joy of becoming a grandmother would awaken the poet in me.” I defended myself. However, soon I went back to singing the Hindi song that I knew and sang years ago to both my daughters as infants. As she hesitatingly took the baby in her arms, I conveyed with my glance, “see, now you understand how we have raised you and Akka (elder sister) from such tiny babies?” 

As the baby-care’s teething problems settled and I could revel in pride of having overcome it, around mid- Jan I went along with my daughter to her close friend Sairah’s baby shower. In a gathering of gorgeous women from Pakistani community, with blue lights signifying the unborn male child, I enjoyed the smorgasbord of cakes and mom-to-be related games, trying in earnest to make up for what I missed of my own daughter’s baby shower. The expectant mother’s mom from Texas and her sister and I sat next to each other and broke into a conversation in Hindi. Later while lining up for snacks when I told her I got mostly all correct in the game about mom to be’s likes and interests, she asked, “Apne cheating to nahi ki”.(Hope you didn’t do cheating)” Nahi to, aap to itni paas nahi baithi thi na.” (No, I could not since you were sitting not so close) I said amidst roars of laughter. Later when we sat with a special mango cake brought by her sister in New York, she was keen to know of my experiences as a grandmother. We were pleasantly surprised to know we both as young mothers used to sing the old  Hindi number, “Dhire Dhire nindiya aja re aja dhire dhire …” to put our daughters to sleep.I told her I was singing the same now to my granddaughter, and on my persistent request she sang it in her beautiful voice. We looked forward to meeting again in April when she would be here for her daughter’s delivery.

Fast forward to April, Corona virus had made its entry in almost every part of the world including the USA with highest number of cases. Lockdowns, social distancing and use of masks became the norms. Domestic and international flights were cancelled and borders between states were sealed and internal travels made impossible. The hospitals in New York city having overwhelming numbers of Covid-19 cases., with permission of state governments, young expectant mothers chose to drive down two hours and deliver in Rhode Island with relatively less Covid-19 cases.

Sairah delivered in strict isolation with none by her side except her husband Farhan. Her mom – my new friend apparently is doing e- baby care through video calls. My daughter and son-in law helped the couple in little ways such as grocery shopping. They left a card and home-baked oatmeal cookies with home cooked food at their door to welcome home the newborn.

Our flights for May 4th cancelled, our stay has got extended with hope of taking repatriation flight to travel back home. NDTV gives live updates on Covid happenings in India. By video calls everyday with parents we know about their welfare. Social media and WhatsApp groups buzz with Covid news of home and around the world. There are cancelled, postponed, or virtual weddings and virtual funerals due to travel restrictions or cancelled flights. Universities shut after lockdown and students who flew back to home countries are taking online classes with looming uncertainty about resuming normal classes. My younger daughter in Singapore, now facing lockdown, must defer by a year to enter her Master studies in the US.

The global pandemic continues to wreak havoc, causing a dread like never seen before. I for now feel happy that Corona is at least allowing me to take short walks in the neighbourhood and occasional short drives around the beautiful state of Rhode Island. Every moment feels worth cherishing as I continue to sing to my now 5- month old cutie pie. Every day as I hold her in my arms, I remind both her young parents to go whatever length they can to keep themselves safe in their respective hospitals.

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My first article this year published in TerraGreen magazine after my return to India. I am glad to have written about the amazing rural women leaders who are the forefront of fight against the pandemic.

Rural Women leaders at the forefront of fight against the Pandemic

Rural grassroot women across the districts of Latur, Solapur, Osmanabad in Maharashtra, were exemplary in their fight against Covid pandemic Consequent to the announcement of lockdown in Aril 2020, these women designated as Sakhis joined hands with state health authorities and local administration as Sakhi Task Force team for the program initiated in July 2020 by their organisation Swayam Shikshan Prayog (SSP). The covid prevention work spread rapidly impacting rural areas of Bihar, Odisha, Gujarat, and Kerala, with 2500 of these dynamic grassroots women joining in and leading the fight.

The program for rapid recovery from the health crisis which was supported by UNICEF in collaboration with Block administrators and Gram Panchayats had its impact hailed as praiseworthy and a role model action for the entire nation to draw lessons from.

Under their supervision 1 lakh masks and 15,000 sanitary napkins were distributed in rural communities, 3 lakh soaps were distributed to frontline workers; food, ration, and hygiene kits to 18,320 needy families and PDS made to reach 30,000. They assisted 2,30,517 families through education and practices and as a community contributed Rs. 35.64 lakhs and mobilized groceries, vegetables & dairy products.

As the last mile support in optimizing Primary health care services, the Sakhis took up the task of spreading awareness for social distancing, handwash demonstration, surveillance of travellers and their screening at village entry points with temperature check-ups and oxygen measurement, logistics coordination in transfers to covid care centres for quarantine, contact tracing and checking for comorbidities.

Communicating the problems to the district administration while making decisions about building shelters, jobs, and food security for migrant workers, the STF helped at least 4000 returning migrant workers find jobs with MNREGA and 2,250 families grew their own vegetable gardens.

The taskforce team worked briskly during the second wave to spread awareness for quick testing and providing PPE kits to health care workers along with sanitizers and masks to the public. They are also helping people with registering for vaccinations on COWIN sites on their mobile phones. 

Empowered women farmers of the disaster- prone regions

The quickness with which the rural women took up positions as leaders and decision makers during the crisis is not surprising given that they are grassroot women leaders in climate resilient farming and agro-entrepreneurs of their communities.

Swayam Shikshan Prayog

Not in the distant past, however, the grassroot leaders were considered marginal women of the society. The journey of their transformation from meek and muted household labourers in their family owned- lands to landowners and decision makers was due thanks to the years of grooming and training by the Swayam Shiksan Prayog under the leadership of its founder Ms. Prema Gopalan in collaboration with the local administration and the Department of Agriculture.

Women led Climate Resilient farming (WCRF)

The regions of Marathwada are mostly rain fed and men grow mostly cash crop like sugarcane and soyabean. During drought years having no crop output from their lands they suffer loss in savings, and in chemicals and other expensive inputs. SSP’s WCRF model of farming was a life changing intervention for the farmers of such drought prone regions.

WCRF model on one acre land works on the precept that women are the best people to know and understand their families’ nutritional requirements, who go the extra mile in bringing the necessary elements to grow their crops whether in terms of input seeds, bio fertilizers or pesticides.

In four stages of four seasons, the women are onboarded, adopted, trained and hand- held till they join the village farmer federation to market their produce. In the first season, depending on village maturity level, community resources like demonstration farms and farm ponds are created and farmers trained till they begin farming in half acre land. By the third and fourth seasons they are ready to expand their farming to one acre land and become part of the village collective by sharing of resources and labour, eventually becoming a social capital to be scaled up by Government intervention.

As a first step in implementing the program, a community facilitator is recruited with a stringent screening test. She is trained and groomed through classroom and demonstration of all farming stages till she becomes an important resource for the Government and a mentor for the village community farmers. Three groups with twenty farmers in each and one farmer as the group leader, are tied to one community facilitator.

Community resilience funding

Through a community owned fund sourced by low interest bank loan, adopted marginal and small farmers are helped to buy animal fodder, hydroponics, seeds and most importantly get access to government schemes and subsidies to buy sprinklers, drip irrigation sets, and create village pond.

Technology for Enhanced value chain

Women also lead in technology partnerships for enhanced value chain. Block level Committees are set up to develop value chains for the farmer groups federated to improve the quality of vegetables and dairy milk, keeping them fresh and providing logistics to deliver to the markets otherwise not easy to access. With technology and innovation linked partners, farmers are ensured a good price for their products viz. veggies stored in craters of vegetable coolers are kept cool and fresh with minimum wastage. The committee maintains farmer wise records and money is disbursed off immediately after the sale. Machines installed through the rural enterprise SURE for milk collection in milk centres run by trained women dairy farmers have ensured drastic improvement in milk quality and price. Further intervention like quality of cattle feed and availability of veterinary doctor has doubled the farmers’ earnings.

Benefits of WCRF

By leveraging the innate wisdom of women and linking the adopter farmers to government schemes the model has achieved food security, water security, livelihood security, and women empowerment. Farmers own water related assets while growing less water intensive crops with increase in crop productivity and less input costs. Convincing their husbands for transferring of the land rights is crucial to the women’s success and impressed husbands follow them in doing chemical free farming. Growing as many as 17 types of diverse crops results in good health and nutrition for their families with improved immunity for cough and cold problems, while the produce ensures savings on market bought food and enhanced agri-businesses.

Making the farming model effective and impacting has proved win- win for both SSP and its key eco-system partners who otherwise find it hard to reach out to the women farmers. The key partners are Government Agriculture department for water conservation and harvesting, ATMA for bio inputs for chemical less farming, the training partner Krishi Vigyan Kendra, and partners for market linkages, knowledge, and strategies.

SSP’s programs which has its outreach across five states provide the much-needed anchor to the government’s investments and schemes towards attracting more women into mainstream agriculture and climate resilient farming.

Bihar’s Rural women Entrepreneurs in clean energy

In a state where 25% of women had maximum 10 years of schooling and 40% are illiterate, SSP has made strides to bring the women from margins to mainstream by leveraging on its expertise of building ecosystems of women led rural enterprise. SSP has empowered and transformed lives of marginalized rural women across Nalanda and Gaya districts of Bihar as economic engagers and entrepreneurs for clean energy products.

Women’s ability to network and to know the best consumer product for their family and create awareness through their networks positions them as the best people to do microbusiness. Women excel as last mile agents in marketing of consumer products since in-between their household chores they do not mind sparing 4-5 hours to travel to nearby villages to earn money.

In recent years, the rural energy landscape has changed, and electricity is made available through most part. Hence the need is to introduce other village consumer products for health, hygiene, and climate adaptive solutions so that Sakhi business continues and flourishes.

Sakhi selection and network

A successful Sakhi businesswoman can generate net income of Rs. 4000/. Factors vary from their ability to invest initial capital money, owning of a smartphone and training on app for ordering, ability to diversify their Sakhi basket with socially responsible products and ability to network with potential consumers of those products. Generally, Sakhis are scouted among the women networks at Block level, ASHA, SHG networks, Aanganwadi centers, and local administrative units. Women with some level of literacy and having support from their families to travel to adjacent villages and owning their Kirana shops with a customer base built on a previous business are preferred as they are likely to succeed with marketing, and sales of the Sakhi products.

The Sakhis who can network, sell, and get more women Sakhis under them become Super Sakhis. 3 Super Sakhis are managed by one Block coordinator. The Super Sakhis extend hand holding to Sakhis to buy the products by credit, initially market, distribute and sell till they get confident of marketing their products.

Covid lockdown a Boon

Many lessons were learnt during covid lockdown. The Sakhis engaged in covid relief work received social recognition when they worked hand in hand with frontline workers. Use of digital technology as an effective means to save time and effort to travel was recognized and the digital app Gaavkhoj was launched. Meetings and trainings were held online through smartphone. Using the app, the Sakhis could continue their business while identifying the needs of village folk. Those Sakhis who own smartphones could order products, with further handholding could market, distribute and sell on the online platform. Using Gaavkhoj, some 10,000 unique products as diverse as solar lamp to tarpolain, were distributed to 6,188 consumers and an income of Rs.2,00000 generated during the Covid crisis.

Impact

As an impact of the microbusiness, Sakhis now have an additional income and digital inclusion to expand their business. For the business partners and collaborators of SSP, creating awareness and making the product reach out to rural consumers in far- flung places are the major impacts. A door-to-door marketing by the Sakhis with a range of products in their baskets means everyone in the family is happy to get something of utility at their doorstep without having to travel, with the product’s service, maintenance, and warranty.

Demand mapping across sectors like health, nutrition, WASH, agriculture, education, and getting the right private sector partners to collaborate with the possibility of taking up government loan schemes to set up a shop for them can further scale up the SSP program and bring more women under the Sakhi business.

***

 I am returning to my blog site after a long time. My last post was seven months earlier when it was early days of lockdown in the US and other countries. It has been a status quo; the situation continued at pretty much the same pace except that now we see hope of welcoming the new year with a smile and a sense of victory over corona with the discovery of vaccines. This being the last day of the year 2020, it is only fitting that I write a closing post of this year.
This year is marked as a Covid 19 year. There is perhaps none in the world who would call it anything other than that. In the fight against corona the world was united like no other time. Covid 19 touched and impacted almost everyone’s life in every different way. We all will have our own stories to tell in the coming years as to how and in what all ways this year changed our lives.
This year forced us to look at life with a fresh perspective. It allowed us to self-reflect, rediscover, and reinvent ourselves, to appreciate small pleasures of life, cherish the time spent with friends and kin. There was a silver lining to many as they learnt new ways of living and working. Working from home people learnt to accommodate their time and space with their family members. Many even recorded how their habits of shopping changed for the better or worse or how they learnt to cut down their festival expenses.
For many people around the world, it was a year of loss, loss of jobs and earning, loss of lives of near and dear ones. As much the way simple pleasures of life became precious, meaning of death too changed. In the pandemic deaths being recorded every day, their loss for near and dear ones was just another number added to the overall count. There were also cases of unclaimed bodies lying in the hospitals’ corners. Those dying dignified non-corona deaths could also not get a proper send off with rituals and ceremonies owing to social distancing and other restrictions.
Covid 19 changed things for me too in some very unexpected ways. I can mark 2020 as the year I discovered my talent in new genres of writing. Most importantly I finished the fiction novel, a medical thriller that I had been writing since many years. But what made it more special was I finished writing on the same desk I had begun it years ago in my home in Singapore. This is how Covid 19 change the course of our journey back home to India.
Three years after relocating to India from Singapore we found ourselves back in the city and our residence which was our home for twenty long years. The year demonstrated to us what it means to be citizens or permanent residents of a country, especially so when the world is hit by a pandemic. It showed what it is like to have a choice of having a home, with all the features of safety and security, in a country which is not necessarily of your birth. It made us rediscover and reinforce the fact that a passport or a PR stamp mean much more than just papers in situations like this. Well, the whole matter deserves a separate post.
For now, Bye 2020 and Welcome the New Year 2021

Book Review of The Indian Clerk

My tribute to the great mathematician S. Ramanujan on his birthday, 22 Dec, National Mathematics day in India .
The Indian clerk by David Levitt is a novel (published in 2008), based on life of S.Ramanujan the renowned Indian mathematician. The tome is a highly engrossing narrative of lyrical prose that alternates between frames of imaginative lectures by GH Hardy, himself a brilliant English mathematician of the last century, and a third person fictional drama based on true events in England in the backdrop of World War-1.

The novel begins with an innocuous letter from an uneducated Indian clerk that Hardy received in early 1913.  His first reaction was to ignore and possibly let it burn in a fire this one in many such letters that came his way but had a change of heart on closer examination of the scribblings on stained pages of the letter.  The originality of the mathematical works on the pages that appeared to hold promise of solving some of the most unsolved mathematical problems of all times, set him on a path that led to coaxing the English authorities to bring the Indian to Cambridge,  become his close associate, mentor and collaborator of the most brilliant mathematical works of the time.

Once, as an answer to the question, as to what he would consider his best contribution to the field of Mathematics, GH Hardy famously quoted Ramanujan’s discovery as his best work.

The remarkable research that spans four years of Ramanujan’s stay in London at Trinity College Cambridge also dwells on lives of people around Hardy in Trinity College Campus, their gay relationships, Hardy’s own private life and his sister’s, and that of his close work associate -Littlewood, and working of a secret society that they all belonged to during the War. Also featured in the book are other famous personalities of the time including Bertrand Russell and D.H.Lawrence. As a first- time reader of Ramanujan’s life story, eager to know more about life details of the math genius, his inspiration and perspiration for math, I felt little disappointed with the narrative often veering off from the main subject of the book. However, I do see now, the author’s objective in bringing out these details. For a reader the explicit detail helps to put in perspective the life of the young Indian, belonging to an orthodox Hindu family, married and vegetarian in a foreign land.  

While trying to get his ideas through and a recognition for himself in the English territory where racial discrimination wasn’t an unknown word, there was an undercurrent of softer, human side of the society which helped Ramanujan overcome his adjustment problems be it food, etiquette or weather. Other than Indian community comprising of students and professionals, there was an astonishing amount of affection for him displayed by Alice Neville wife of Eric Neville, and other English colleagues and womenfolk who went to the extent of even learning south Indian vegetarian cooking to make him comfortable.  

The two years though were tough living away from his young wife in India, but it was time well spent in Cambridge under Hardy who drilled in him the importance of having proofs for any hypothesis; it resulted in publication of papers, in collaboration, in leading mathematics journals. The highly composite numbers, partition formulae, mock theta functions and many others were his ground-breaking work which continues to baffle and inspire mathematicians for further work even today.

Life took an unexpected turn when Ramanujan developed a chronic dull pain in his stomach which was first diagnosed as cancer and later rejected and understood as TB which made him leave Cambridge and  spend nearly a year in Sanatorium and a private hospital and his work on Reimann hypothesis remains unfinished.

Reading the book my heart filled with pride for this brilliant mathematician who brought so many laurels for himself and for his country and has evinced interest among the western writers to research on his life story but  finished the book in tears as the life of a rare genius was cut short, at the the very young age of 32, by cruel game of destiny. 

I highly recommend the book to know about the legendary math genius. One must also watch  ‘The man who knew infinity’ to know his life story,

Vegan Dairy Entrepreneurship in India

After becoming hugely popular in the west, Veganism has caught up in India and steadily growing by day. Thanks to the vegan movement and the entrepreneurs who are staunch believers in Veganism Vegan products have made big entry into the Indian consumer market. Vegan businesses now deal with non-leather, non-silk and every other product which was not derived from animals directly or indirectly.

Among the vegan entrepreneurs that have set up shops in the Indian consumer space and are slated to make impact are those dealing primarily with dairy products. Driven by the response to vegan movement and discovering a huge market potential for vegan dairy products, young entrepreneurs have ventured into plant based dairy products in a big way. 22 year old Abhay Rangan is one such entrepreneur from Bangalore city who along with his mother started out Veganarke, a home- based venture to supply plant-based Milk, Curd, Butter to their neighbours and friends and which has now turned into a start-up Goodmylk with distribution centres in four major cities across India.

What is Veganism

Unlike in the western countries where consumer’s diet largely comprises of meat and other products from animals and sea creatures other than dairy products, a majority Indian population since times immemorial has been dependent upon milk for its nutritional needs of calcium, vitamins and proteins. Cow and cow’s milk have been quintessential part of our culture. Who would hesitate a reverential bow to the name Kamdhenu a perennial milk giver, or deny having heard stories of Lord Krishna as a child stealing butter from clay-pots?  Cow’s milk has been considered essential for growing children, to strengthen their bones, and build their stamina for future. Remember the movie Bhag Milka Bhag where the need for milk to strengthen the ace -runner’s stamina was so well portrayed? 

Here is the crux of the matter- a question to ponder about. Why now the need to go for plant- based milk and its derivatives to replace something that was so much part of Indian Culture and dietary requirement.

Among many reasons, apparently the primary reason is the scepticism about the quality of bovine’s milk attributed to the growing awareness of the cruelty and exploitation of milk yielding animals and the increasing number of activists fighting to stop the cruelty. Milk industry related environmental concerns is also a major factor for many to advocate alternative dairy products.

Bovine Milk production in India

Since independence in 1947, Indian milk production has grown from producing 17 million tons of milk in 1951 to producing 176.4 million tonnes in 2017- 18 recording a growth of 6.65 %. India ranks first among the world’s milk producing nations since 1998 and has the largest bovine population in the World. This transformation is attributed to the advent of dairy cooperatives in the 70s also known as White Revolution.

The per capita availability of milk in the country which was 130 gram per day during 1950-51 has increased to 374 gram per day in 2017-18 as against the world estimated average consumption of 294 grams per day in that year.

Dairying – an important source of rural income

For millions of rural families, dairying has provided employment and income generating opportunities particularly for marginal, landless labours and women farmers. For more than one-fifth of agricultural households with very small parcels of land (less than 0.01 hectare) and an average farm size of between 1-3 cows per farm, the milk production is on an average about 1,000 Kg/cow/year.

Of the total milk production in the country, about 48% milk is either consumed at the producer level or sold to non-producers in the rural area. The balance 52 % of the milk is marketable surplus available for sale to consumers in urban areas, 40% of which is estimated as handled by the organized sector (i.e. 20% each by C-operative & Private Dairies) and the remaining 60 % by the unorganized sector.

Up to March 2018, National Dairy Development, government of India brought about 16.6 million farmers under the ambit of about 1,85,903 village level Dairy Cooperative Societies (DCS), with procurement of daily average of milk about 475.6 Lakh Kg per day (LKgPD) during 2017-18 and the sale of the liquid milk  to 349.6 Lakh Liter per day (LLPD).

FIGURE 1: INDIAN MILK SUPPLY CHAIN

Source: DeLaval India (Milkproduction.Com/Library/Editorial-articles/Milk quality in India

TABLE 2: CONSUMPTION PATTERN

Source: DeLaval India (Milkproduction.Com/Library/Editorial-articles/Milk quality in India

 Risks and Challenges

The milk industry has thus proved an important driver of rural economy, economically empowering women farmers and encouraging them to assume leadership roles through the cooperatives. Transformation of the country to self-sufficiency and sustained growth in the availability of milk and milk products and its nutritional values to the growing population has been due to concerted efforts of government and the private sector with encouragement for use of high yielding cross breeds and optimal use of technology for processing of milk products.

Low pricing: Despite being the one of the largest milk- producing countries in the world, however, India accounts for a negligible share in the worldwide dairy trade. Since the pricing of milk is based on the fat content, buffalo milk offers higher profit margins as compared to cow milk as it contains higher fat.

NUMBER 3: GLOBAL MILK PRICE (FARM GATE) NOVEMBER 2013 – IN EURO

Source: DeLaval India (Milkproduction.Com/Library/Editorial-articles/Milk quality in India

Driven by the desire for better returns and due to lack of proper education and training and despite government measures in place, unfortunately, a section of cow farmers have been resorting to unethical practices for higher milk yields. Indiscriminate injection of Oxytocin in the bovine’s blood to enhance its milk yield, antibiotics injections as treatment for Metastasis a common problem in cow udders due to poor sanitary conditions of the cow sheds, and the fear and scepticism about these undesirable chemicals getting into consumers’ blood through the cow’s milk stream are the major reason for the activists to raise voice against it. Besides, every male calf of cross breed, after being born and considered worthless, ending up in a slaughterhouse are the reasons for their revolt.

Poor maintenance of records:  A recent Livestock census reveals that records of some 88 million In-Milk animals showing important information of those in breeding stage, their productivity, treatment and vaccination are unavailable on an annual basis attributed to lack of system for recording, with no proper animal identification and traceability with their sanitary and phyto- sanitary conditions.

Environmental challenges: Deforestation; soil erosion; overgrazing; desertification; air pollution from industrial effluents and vehicle emissions; water pollution from raw sewage and runoff of agricultural pesticides; the tap water not being potable throughout the country and the ever-growing population is overstraining natural resources.

***

Notwithstanding the challenges, the changing lifestyles due to rapid urbanization accompanied by changing milk consumption pattern are putting further pressure on the need for milk and milk- based value-added products. Hence, the need of providing ample feed to the bovine in the past too has shifted, in recent years, to providing optimal nutrients to promote reproductive health matching to genetic profile of the bovine.

Action Plan:  It is heartening that the recent national dairy development policy has encompassed vast areas of action, under which the focus is on increasing the number of few select indigenous breeds of the 43 indigenous cattle breeds and 13 Buffalo breeds which are known to be of better adaptability, disease-resistance and feed efficiency ratio. By enhancing the average productivity of milk of select breeds like Gir, with use of cutting- edge technologies as below it is hoped to bring long- term sustainable solutions.

  • Making easy availability of exotic germplasms for high-yielding cross breed, along with its identification and traceability, connecting breeders, State agencies and stake holders, through the e-market portal “E- PashuHaat”.
  • Setting up of Artificial insemination centres at different levels of rural areas and help with tools and techniques made easily available to farmers. 
Text Box: 1.What was the inspiration to start Goodmylk?
I was a born vegetarian, became a vegan at 13. My parents and sister are vegans. I was an activist and as a teenager I was fighting against cruelty towards animals along with society for animal protection.
2. How does veganism help environment?
To give one litre of cow milk, about 1200 litres of water is used, forests are denuded to make way for grazing land and providing fodder. By way of veganism we are using much less resources. That said there can be no business where you don’t leave carbon footprint.
3. what is your view about latest practices in dairy industry? Isn’t the new breed of dairy entrepreneurs taking care of cows and its exploitation?
Extracting milk in any form or method from cows is like going against nature and harming a living being. It is against our values and I have subscribed to the value of ahimsa(non-violence).
4. Do you think plant based vegan milk can be a hundred percent substitute to cow’s milk in terms of its nutritional value? How do you ensure quality of raw materials for Goodmylk?
Our Plant based Goodmylk is highly nutritious with all important proteins required for sustenance and growth. There are many supplements available or other foods for any missing nutrition. I wish I could vet every batch of raw materials, but I do ensure control over the quality of the ingredients.
5. Please tell about your journey as an entrepreneur?
Doing business and setting up a successful business is never easy. I had my ups and downs in the field where there are already many players. The main challenge was to navigate the entire spectrum of technology, vendor management, warehouse management, logistics, getting cool investors who believed in me and my vision. It was how I retrofitted my vision into the vegan space by finding the right market with the right products and the right partners who already had the manufacturing know how.
6.  Any expansion plans? Where do you see yourself in the next 2-3 years? 
I want to expand the distribution of Goodmylk as widely as possible and sell Goodmylk dairy products in every part of India. It should be seen and sold from every shop, from every shelf, from where the dairy milk is being sold. If I’m making our world little more loving and human, I’m happy.
  • Development and standardization of technologies like sexing of semen, for indigenous breeds like Sahiwal, Hariana, Red Sindhi, Rathi and Gir to produce greater number of high genetic merit females keeping in mind profitability of dairy farming.

1.What was the inspiration to start Goodmylk?

I was a born vegetarian, became a vegan at 13. My parents and sister are vegans. I was an activist and as a teenager I was fighting against cruelty towards animals along with society for animal protection.

2. How does veganism help environment?

To give one litre of cow milk, about 1200 litres of water is used, forests are denuded to make way for grazing land and providing fodder. By way of veganism we are using much less resources. That said there can be no business where you don’t leave carbon footprint.

3. what is your view about latest practices in dairy industry? Isn’t the new breed of dairy entrepreneurs taking care of cows and its exploitation?

Extracting milk in any form or method from cows is like going against nature and harming a living being. It is against our values and I have subscribed to the value of ahimsa(non-violence).

4. Do you think plant based vegan milk can be a hundred percent substitute to cow’s milk in terms of its nutritional value? How do you ensure quality of raw materials for Goodmylk?

Our Plant based Goodmylk is highly nutritious with all important proteins required for sustenance and growth. There are many supplements available or other foods for any missing nutrition. I wish I could vet every batch of raw materials, but I do ensure control over the quality of the ingredients.

5. Please tell about your journey as an entrepreneur?

Doing business and setting up a successful business is never easy. I had my ups and downs in the field where there are already many players. The main challenge was to navigate the entire spectrum of technology, vendor management, warehouse management, logistics, getting cool investors who believed in me and my vision. It was how I retrofitted my vision into the vegan space by finding the right market with the right products and the right partners who already had the manufacturing know how.

6.  Any expansion plans? Where do you see yourself in the next 2-3 years?

I want to expand the distribution of Goodmylk as widely as possible and sell Goodmylk dairy products in every part of India. It should be seen and sold from every shop, from every shelf, from where the dairy milk is being sold. If I’m making our world little more loving and human, I’m happy.

       Interview with Abhay Rangan

Acknowledgements

1. Inputs from Dr. JS Ashwath kumar, Chief Veterinary officer, Department of Animal husbandry and Veterinary Sciences, Government of Karnataka

2. National Action Plan for Dairy Development-vision2022, Ministry of Agriculture and Farmers welfare, Government of India, January 2018

Recipe: Pineapple gojju Pasta delight

I am happy to share this fusion recipe which won me a commendation prize by Master Chef India 2015 winner Nikita Gandhi in a cookery contest 2016 in Singapore

Pineapple Gojju Pasta delight

Ingredients

For the pineapple gojju                                                         For the pasta

Pineapple …….500gms (cut into pieces)                             200gms Penne pasta

For gojju powder

Mustard(rai) seeds……  1 tspn                                               4 lemon grass stalks

Fenugreek(methi) seeds……. 1 tspn                                      4 tblspn coconut milk

Cumin(jeera) seeds………….   1 tspn                                       4 spring onions

Sesame (til) seeds…………….. 1  tspn                                      few curry leaves

Urad lentil ………………………….. 3 tsps                                     olive oil  2 tspn

Chana lentil ………………………….1 ½ tspns                              salt to taste

Dried red chillies…………………..2

Turmeric………………………………. 1tspn

Tamarind …………………………….. 1 lemon sized lump

Coconut grated ………………….. ¼ coconut

Coconut milk ………………………. 2 tblspn

Jaggery           ……………………….. one cube

Groundnut Oil ………………….…. 2 tblspn

Curry leaves ………………………….10

Side ingredients for garnishing and as accompaniments for serving

  1.  Deep fried peanuts, 2. Spring onion leafy stalks finely cut 3. Pineapple pieces

Method of preparation

Pineapple gojju

Roast all the ingredients for gojju in medium heat till red. Mix tamarind and grated coconut and grind all these in a mixer into a fine powder.

Chop the washed pineapple pieces into small fine pieces. Heat the oil in a thick bottom pan, add ½ tspn of mustard seeds and let them crackle. Add pineapple pieces and sauté for two minutes. Add curry leaves and salt. Add 2 cups of water. Let it cook in medium heat till pineapple pieces become soft. Mix the ground masala to the cooked pineapple. Add salt and crushed jaggery cube. Let the gojju cook in medium flame.  Add coconut milk and give it one or two more boils before switching off the flame.

Pasta

Keep two litres of water to boil. Add salt and oil. Crush the lemon grass stalks and add to the boiling water. Add pasta. Let it boil till pasta softens. Discard the lemon grass and rinse the pasta in cold water. Now heat oil in a skillet and add chopped spring onions. Add dried chilly flakes and curry leaves. Add pasta and coconut milk. Cover the pan for two minutes.

 Serve the pasta with pineapple gojju , deep fried peanuts and chopped green spring onions.

My experiences of being an author

Republished from authorlata@instagram published on 6th June 19.

The journey to becoming an author starts with becoming first a reader, then a writer and finally an author. When I decided to take up writing as a second career, becoming an author appeared a distant dream. I had always been an avid reader but honing the craft of creative writing entailed skills such as good grasp over English language through vocabulary, expression, voice, writing process, writers’ block and other related terms that I was totally unfamiliar with. Coming from science and engineering research background I would often be plagued with self-doubts about my competence level in the new career that I was stepping into. My research attribute held me in good stead and the writers’ school I enrolled into introduced me to the world of writing and trained me slowly and steadily in improving my craft.

My first success came when my travel article was published in a Singapore magazine for Indians. I couldn’t believe my eyes when next I saw my readers’ letter published in a Newsweek magazine. My discipline and perseverance were paying off and my articles were being accepted and published by the Singapore magazine. I had become a published writer and my confidence level was soaring; however, having set my goal to achieve something bigger and having already started work on a non-fiction book and another on fictional stories, I wanted to focus on completing them and getting them published. 
Writing books was altogether a different ballgame. The journey was indeed trodden with few highs and many lows with their respective pleasures and pains. Writing a book itself was a big challenge and finding a publisher a much bigger one. The yearly Singapore’s writers’ festivals and frequent meet the author sessions gave the opportunity to listen to some of the world’s best including celebrated Indian authors, and their writing journeys. It was though an assurance that I wasn’t alone in the treacherous path, “I am not there yet” was a mantra that seemed I had to adapt for life.

There is no gain without pain. Going on the rough road, nevertheless, today I feel happy to see my books on online bookstores like Amazon, Goodreads, and read some excellent reviews by readers. Writing is a profession that is not limited by time, space or geographical location but only by our mind’s imagination and of course will power. While in my home or on a move, in a hotel room, or an airport, anywhere in the world, on an urge I have felt free to open my PC and write even if a few sentences. It was a surreal moment when an excerpt from my book ‘Autumn Showers”, a story revolving around my ancestral village in South India I read was heard in rapt attention by writers gathered in northern tip of Iceland for a writers’ retreat. That my ideas and message could resonate with people across the world could only be the magic of writing.

I know I am not there yet, still awaiting the day of being widely recognized as an author. At the same time, we writers and authors would agree that there is never an end to our journey. There is no day when I wouldn’t be thinking of a new idea or a writing process or on something that I am stuck in what I am currently writing. In this crazy human world, a writer’s mind is sure to buzz with ideas and build a world of her own. The ability to put in perspective of the things I see and understand with a heart and mind to empathize with those around me, is for me my precious gift from becoming a writer. In other words, continuous learning and rediscovering myself, a work that I could be doing till my last breath.

Good bye to an internet powered simple life

It is the last week of our stay in Hyderabad and marks the end of nearly twelve months of our minimalistic, easy camp sort of life in the city. As I go around the house to finger count the number of items to be packed including a few kitchen utensils, books and couple of foldable things that made our only possessions here, I tend to neglect the small unassuming Bose Revolve SoundLink Speaker and the Echo Dot with Alexa sitting in an obscured corner. Taking a step back and reflecting on the days spent here, I realize my blunder. I was overlooking the fact that these lightweight, small size devices were the ones that had brought significant change to our prosaic life in a house of mostly empty spaces and near-zero assets.

Fifteen months ago, when we were packing and winding up in Singapore, my heart cringed the most at the sight of my beloved Sony DVD Home Theatre System getting dismantled and Sony Smart TV being disassembled to be packed and shipped to India. The idea of temporary dysconnectivity to the digital world of entertainment was painful.  After relocation to the city of Bengaluru and reassembling of the devices, our lives were, though, restored to normal where Airtel company gave us Broadband connectivity to run our Smart TV, computers, mobile and landline phones, very soon, life took a turn towards dysconnectivity yet again, by a move to the city of Hyderabad. We found ourselves temporarily thrown again into a lifestyle of previous century with minimum possessions and no fancy gadgets for our daily entertainment. To live in a rental villa with minimum furniture and large open spaces was indeed a frightening thought.

So, the only hope of connectivity to the digital world of music and TV being the Internet, we lost no time in subscribing to ACT Fibernet with 50Mbps Internet speed. Bit by bit our digital world of entertainment returned to us with live streaming of our favourite internet radio stations on our Smartphone, and TV serials and news channels on our humble Personal computer, enhanced considerably, very soon, by equally humble looking devices.

Indeed, it is a marvel how the internet and the Smart devices that seamlessly connect to internet and to each other can change our lives and our lifestyles. Internet connected to Echo Dot with Alexa voice recognition service gives an unlimited range of music and a Le-Bose revolve sound-link speaker that seamlessly connects through Bluetooth and Wi-Fi, gives an enhanced Surround quality sound from voices playing on PC or Mobile phones. The best part is the ease of carrying these light weight handheld devices to any place or space of our desire. We can enjoy movies on Netflix in our first-floor room where sitting in front of our PC screen, we can control the room’s ambient light – the colour and amount of lighting of Wipro Smart LED, right from the soft touch button of our mobile. Echo Dot Alexa is a delightful companion during our tea/coffee, book reading or short- nap sessions on holidays, which at the smallest instruction plays our choice of music, makes calls to any place we desire, tells us the weather conditions, traffic and any useful information that we want to know.

The ease and flexibility that these lightweight digital devices have given, to enliven our empty living spaces is a big gain over the small compromise on picture resolution and sound quality and occasional dropping of internet streaming, as compared to that on robust large fixed devices.  I eagerly look forward to going back to a 4K, high- quality picture on a 55’ screen and Dolby sound quality music in my Bengaluru home, however, I am also pretty sure I will miss the digital entertainment world that the small devices created and brightened the otherwise open and banal vacant spaces of our Hyderabad home.

 

Rock climbing in Bhongir fort

 

I came to know of the Society to Save Rocks in the Hyderabad literature festival held last month. Natural geological formations like rocks have always fascinated me and I immediately signed up for the society’s membership. My purpose in this respect was dual: grab the opportunity to get up and close with rocks and to know more about the society’s contribution in saving the deccan rocks and to explore how and in what ways I could pitch in for the noble cause.

Bhongir rock climbing came as the first opportunity in this regard when me and my husband joined the enthusiastic group of rock walkers to climb the Bhongir’s fort in the town of Bhuvangiri on 17th Feb 19 at about 50kms from Hyderabad city. It was not the first climb of its kind, having seen several forts but to be going as part of save rock society made all the difference. Undoubtedly, each fort or monument in India is unique with respect to its history and structure.

The Bhongir fort made on a huge egg-shaped monolithic rock makes it indeed a spectacular sight. As you climb up, you go on a climb of history, first the million years of history of rock formation and then the human history when the fort was built and later faced ravages of time. Inscriptions reveal that Bhongir fort was built by ruler of Chalukya dynasty in the 10th century AD, who were a few centuries later overpowered by Kakatiya dynasty. In the 15th century the fort came under the siege of Bahamani Sultans and Qutab shahi dynasty.

Today what remains of fort is the ruins and remnants of history, and a testimony of the display of human intelligence to use natural resource to its best in the times when none of the technologies of today was existent or known in the world. Probably earth or the creator of earth has been very kind in sprinkling across its surface such rocks, valleys and greens for humans to survive and sustain their race. The rulers used the high and mighty rock formations to build forts and protect their kingdoms from invaders.

Climbing the rock, we can witness history in all its glory. For us it helped that we had a photographer member Ashok kumar who has been photographing unique rock formations and displaying them in different galleries across India. One cannot help feeling awestruck by the lintels and arches among the fort’s ruins that run along the natural curvature of rock. Ashok pointed us to something that in normal circumstances we would ignore. One can spot trees dotted across the surface or crevices of rocks, and on top of a lintel. These trees too seem to have withstood the ravages of weather over years and decades, drawing water and nutrients sparingly from the rocks, in such heights and spaces, evident by their stunted growth. Their stems and branches have acquired a unique silver colour with almost no leaves, looking as beautiful and ornamental as Bonsai style crafted plants. Most of all they offer an important lesson of survival and adaptation for us humans to emulate.

At the midway of the climb, the rock gets flatter and the sudden appearance of flat stone walls and an ornate cubicle shelter gives a big relief for the chance to relax the tired muscles. Looking closer, the egg-shaped rock looks also like a long dolphin. We can see from further climb that these walls belong to an open storage brick box which I guess could have been used for storing military armaments. At a far distance on a jutting rock we can spot a lone canon resting along with scattered greenery.

Further climb takes us to the peak of the rock at more than a height of 500 ft. On the peak the ruins with a marvellous fortress architecture speaks volumes of the glory of the military capabilities of a bygone era. One gets mesmerised with the arches, the door traps, the basement of secret passages with continuous arches and the staircases to the top with crenulations on the walls. Another artillery canon sits very close on a separate rock space in front. Equally breath-taking from the top is the view of the Bhuvangiri town below.

All of us had emptied many water bottles by now and to dispose the plastic bottles someone had found a dustbin- what must have been an open carved bath tub of the royal people. I was intrigued how plastic now a bane to our environment and earth has found its way to the top layer of the history.  After many group photographs of the exhilarating moments, we went down the same route and all along I couldn’t take my eyes off the trail of plastics that the visitors to the imposing fort had left.

I only hope and pray that these plastics find a proper disposal place and removed from the precincts of the fort sooner than later so that they don’t become part of the history of erosion or chemical changes of the beautiful Bhongir rock and the little trees that are finding their life among the rocks don’t become extinct.