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Being Close To Nature Made Me Realise The Reality Of The Corporate World

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By Chandan Mulherkar

“If my body really needed broccoli and red capsicum, they would be growing right here in this soil (in India) already! You think Nature is stupid?”

I remember these words well. Narsanna Koppula – my permaculture guru – was cautioning us about exotic varieties of plants, as I sat listening up on the branch of a Pongam tree.

It was a late afternoon in September 2014, at Bhoomi College where I was attending a month long course on a variety of eco friendly farming practices – the most comprehensive one in a series of courses in my journey of exploration.

I had quit my teaching job in March that year, to go travel and learn about how to create an alternative lifestyle that is truly fulfilling. After working in the industry and in teaching for three years, my only takeaway was some financial savings and bad health. This is one of the unspoken truths in our diseased corporate culture – one that is kept delicately hidden from fresh graduates lest they question it. The only way out is to take a break from it all. That’s what I did.

First Steps

My journey began with a workshop titled “Deep Ecology” hosted by Mark at the Dharmalaya Institute. Unlike the popular shallow environmental outlook where people want to quickly solve problems by ‘conscious consumerism’ and ‘green energy’ without investigating the root causes, Deep Ecology focuses on finding our place in nature first. This was invaluable in helping me develop a wide perspective of the issues of our time – a process I recommend to anyone on a similar journey.

Having witnessed nature building in action at Dharmalaya, I immediately signed up for a course on solar passive design at Student’s Educational and Cultural Movement of Ladakh (SECMOL), taught by Saurabh Phadke, Sonam Wangchuk and Robert Celaire. It was an unforgettable time. Sonam’s pioneering work continues to be a daily inspiration.

Learning to build with the Earth beneath our feet and the sun above our heads at SECMOL, Ladakh.

As my journey went from recalibrating away from conventional city life, where I was raised to understand the larger context of our shared crises, I felt the need to develop skills. The few skills we are taught in formal education help us to somehow survive in the bubble of the made-up human economy with the help of financial assets. This fictitious economy however rests upon the real natural world, which we are never taught how to build and conserve. This search for real life skills is what brought me to Bhoomi.

Building the soil is key to building naturally resilient systems.

I looked through many places to learn such skills, but none had the satisfactorily holistic experience that I needed.

There are many camps in the farming world – organic farming, zero budget farming, etc. and usually courses are designed around only one. The Bhoomi course that my friend Pipson pointed me to was different. From biodynamic farming to applied permaculture, from urban farming to healthy cooking – we discovered all such techniques around the subject of human nutrition from the soil to the plate, and back to the soil (we used compost toilets!).

We visited farms around Bangalore where all of this was being practised and saw for ourselves the effectiveness of the techniques. This was powerful, since a lot of mainstream media propound the myth that we need chemical farming for sufficiency. Meeting the humble heroes in the farming movement such as Kavita Kuruganti, Narayana Reddy, Narsanna sir and others was an unexpected privilege.

Back To The City

The next logical step of course would be practise. But I had no farm, not even a terrace to grow plants on. For many months I struggled with finding an anchoring point, as my finances dwindled – I had promised myself not to take up a conventional job. Family came to the rescue. I stayed at home while looking for opportunities to implement my newfound skills. Much criticism, ridicule and humiliation followed. I experienced firsthand that taking a pause to find your calling is looked upon as pretty much the lowest possible thing that a young middle class man can do in our society. Still I kept at it – volunteering at organic farms, learning how to make a greenhouse and how to design solar power systems.

By early 2015, I was both financially and emotionally bankrupt when I came upon a group of people that seemed to get it. My friend Sneha connected me to this small social enterprise working on sustainability education whose website instantly caught my attention – the Academy for Earth Sustainability. It has been two years since I joined and the adventure continues to this day!

The AES team picture (collage).


Some wise person once said that, “it is better to dig a ditch with friends than to build a skyscraper with a bunch of sociopaths.”

It is the people that make all the difference and I discovered this in a positive light for the first time, at AES. The vibe here was entirely different than my old conventional jobs. It was a for-profit company yet nobody was trying to get rich from it. Holidays, vacations and time off are not impediments in efficiency but essential and welcome parts of life. Motivation comes from a desire to create positive change; and encouragement from the company of passionate lovable people. Sukriti’s dedication, Caitlin’s attention to detail and Amol’s calm response to stress have been great personal and professional learning points, besides so many others.

AES was created in 2014, in response to the need for effective education and skill building around sustainable living, eco-leadership, environmental entrepreneurship and social responsibility. By the time I joined, the team had been working with several orphanages, helping them grow their own food, recycle their trash, and build a sense of confidence in the children. Today, Sukriti and I strive to develop such skills and instil empathy in school students from all walks of life who are otherwise too sheltered and disengaged from our collective impact on the world.

Across schools, we innovate different ways to transform apathy into action – to help communities create their own solutions to the sustainability challenges they face.

We have tried to do this in a variety of ways; and we keep trying and learning. Today, innovation is needed in the communication of ideas more than anywhere else. For instance, it is easy to say that more than 3,000 litres of water go into producing each kilo of sugar. The fact itself sounds vague and unrelatable. But when you play a game where people carry 30 litres of water for even a short distance, the experience is entirely different. In this simple act, a city dweller instantly empathises with their rural counterpart who doesn’t have the privilege of running water. A sense of connection is felt, deeper conversations and reflection is sparked – opening the door to curiosity, questions, knowledge and informed action.

The Way Ahead

AES has taken their initiative to children explaining to them the importance of ecological balance and the efforts that go into maintaining everyday city life.

Truly holistic education in this field of sustainability is rare, and one of the reasons for that is the multidisciplinary and holistic nature of the subject. Fortunately, the wide range of training and experience I went through has given me an excellent foundation to tackle this – something I couldn’t find in any post graduate course out there.

Sustainability education is still in its early stages in India and the world. On one hand we as a species urgently need to move to a lifestyle involving fewer needs. On the other, we are too used to our present lifestyles such that a dialogue on change is not even possible at times.

There is a pressing need to establish and strengthen centres of excellence in the sustainability education and research space, and I am thrilled to be working with some of them. Young people who realize the folly of our flawed systems find it difficult to proceed, since conventional education offers no avenues to pursue the kind of deep questioning we need to be doing right now.

Where should these people look for answers? The cultural erosion of the recent past has left us with few true elders, be they pristine ecosystems or wise old grandmothers. So who do they (we) turn to? As the sense of wonder is systematically snuffed out of our school children and the places of wonder are unapologetically ravaged in the fires of industry; we risk losing our most precious natural resource – our capacity for awe. What we are enthralled by, we can respect; and what we can respect, we can learn from. Hence the need for community, for resilient sources of wonder and knowledge – deep and slow in the making – that may one day restore our critically endangered curiosity.

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  1. Srikant Das

    Wow.. What an article.. Thank you for sharing it @Bhoomi College.. At least it gives the courage to someone who believes in a change.. By either being a part of it.. Or by being the change himself or herself.. I believe very strongly that slowly and steadily.. I am moving into this community of people..maybe I am starting very late.. But it definitely takes time to restore critically endangered curiosity!! 😛

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

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A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

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A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

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A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

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A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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