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Sunday Special » People

Posted at: May 22, 2016, 1:23 AM; last updated: May 22, 2016, 1:23 AM (IST)

The way to greener pastures

Life is a study in contrasts. Away from hyphenated existences, here are a few individuals who began as professionals, but chose to follow something close to their heart. And they found that success and fame are only relative. Vandana Shukla spoke to some of them

Making sense of food

When he lived off Rs 32 a day for 100 days to make a point that the government-stipulated poverty line was not enough to keep a healthy citizen, the biggest challenge before Tushar Vashisht faced was how to have a comprehensive calorie check on what he was eating. For Indian cuisine, no database was available to inform him that if he ate two idlis, how much his body needed to get the desired calories. Tushar graduated from Pennsylvania University in computers and was working in investment banking in the US. Today, Tushar is behind India’s first and largest mobile-based health/fitness company that combines technology with real human services to deliver measurable impact on people’s health, for what they eat. 

His experience of living on Rs 32 has a resonance in HealthifyMe, the free app, used by 5 lakh Indians to keep a tab on what they eat and how it impacts their health. In 2011, Tushar left investment banking in USA. He offered his services to the ID card project Adhar. He realized how hard it is to live like an ordinary Indian. It was then that along with his friend, he decided to live on Rs 32, and conduct a lifestyle experiment. He created a database on 700 kinds of food items and their nutrients.

It took him four years to crystallize the idea of HealthifyMe, co-founded with other like-minded friends. It is the first Indian nutrition and calorie tracker. The free app has a database of one lakh different food items consumed by Indians, developed with the help of National Institute of Nutrition and other experts. “We want this data to be used by the government in improving the quality of food people eat.”

HealthifyMe is a free App. “There was no easy business model available. The diversity in Indian food made our task even more challenging,” says Tushar. To make his venture financially viable, he included subscription services for nutritionists, yoga and fitness trainers. It works out cheap, almost at one-tenth of what one would pay by physically visiting a gym or a nutritionist. For a month’s service a subscriber pays anything between Rs 700 and Rs 1,300. When doctors started recommending the app for lifestyle-related diseases, the next step was to have a tie-up with hospitals. 

Beauty of life in books

Everybody we knew thought we were mad! Some still do,” says Akshaya Rautaray from Koraput, Odisha. He along with Satabdi Mishra drove across the country in a mini truck to promote the habit of reading, leaving behind their jobs and ‘security’; most of us seek by paying EMIs through our nose and lives.  Satabdi Mishra was a PG in journalism and a full-time mother. Akshaya did many jobs; his last was in sales and marketing in the publishing industry.

It was a trip to a tribal village of Koraput in 2013 that brought the business partners of a book shack in Bhubaneshwar closer to a reality. They were carrying a few books in their hands. Tribal kids came running to them; they had never seen a book and were trying to get a feel of what the two were carrying. It shocked the two bibliophiles. They decided to do something. 

They filled their backpacks with books and trekked and travelled by auto to places where no bookshop existed. Books were displayed on footpaths, under the trees or outside a local tea shop to attract readers. 

Odisha taught them that even in towns books meant only textbooks. With the help of friends, Satabdi and Akshaya bought a second-hand Maruti Omni to start the incredible ‘Read More India’ travels — a tour of 10,000 km across 20 states in 90 days, starting from Odisha. 

They learnt a lot: people got in touch with them, hosted them in their homes and helped them in arranging public book displays in schools, colleges and universities. They stayed in one location/city/town for at least a day before moving on. The travel was funded by selling books, three publishers partly supported the tour (in terms of books for the free library) Harper Collins India, Parragon Books India and Pan Macmillan India.

There are now collaborating with publishers for activities  promoting reading. Penguin Books India has partnered with them for a year. Their mobile bookstore ‘Penguin on Wheels’ is doing the rounds of public spaces, schools and universities. The books are in English, Hindi, Odia and comprise classics, translations, fiction, nonfiction, children’s books, poetry, books on cinema and popular science. “Children are most excited to see books. We had many interesting picture books for children, which everybody could connect without actually being able to read or write,” says Satabdi. 

Impact adventure

In 2012, Paras Loomba, an engineer by profession, went for the Antarctic expedition. He returned a changed man: He set up Global Himalayan Expedition (GHE), an adventure group of global citizens committed to social responsibility and environmental sustainability. He calls it an initiative of impact adventure. This has enabled the GHE to electrify several remote villages and monasteries in Ladakh, and has created facilities for better education in areas where students lack access to science and technology.

Encouraged by Sir Robert Swan; the only man who has led expeditions to both North and South Poles and has set up E-bases (education bases) there, he set up the third E-base, powered entirely by renewable energy to collect data on environmental changes in Ladakh. His adventure initiative selects 20 individuals of high accomplishments committed to environmental conservation and social responsibility. The process begins with applications invited on the website of GHE. The selected then acclimatize themselves for work on high altitudes of Ladakh. Every year the team selects a remote ‘powerless’ village. The team carries with it solar panels, batteries, LED lights and wires along the track on mules.  

Last year Shingo village had a magical moment: they saw their village lit up for the first time. It was the Independence Day, August 15. “We couldn’t have offered a better gift to those who can now offer home-stays to trekkers heading to Zanskar or Markha valleys,” says Paras. Last year their team consisted of members from the US, an Olympiad from Denmark, Peru, Oman, Singapore, India, Germany and Kenya. They reached Umlung, a small village in the Markha Valley, to set up three solar-based Pico grids with the help of materials they carried to the village after a 3-day trek. 

Education of the local communities is another part of the GHE initiative. After setting up the E-base at Mahabodhi Residential School, Choglamsar, Leh, the team set up a futuristic Robotics lab for the students who come from the remotest region of Ladakh. 

GHE plans to electrify villages of Lugnak block of Zanskar division with the support of  Kargil Renewable Energy Development Agency. The model of impact tourism creates tangible force to improve the quality of life. For 2500 year old Phugtal monestery's electrification, 20 participants from 14 countries have arrived.

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