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Stories of India, celebrates both, the lesser known and the incredible tales of a travellers’ India. These are stories of men and women of substance and their pursuits which in their own quiet way make our India more discoverable, adding to her library of tales and inspiring the Gullivers of the world!
Kareem's Forest Park is the only man-made forest in Kerala. Almost 40 years ago, Abdul Kareem bought sparsely inhabited barren land, and started planting saplings. He nursed the plants by carrying water in cans from outside sources on his two-wheeler. Despite many failed attempts, birds soon began to arrive and spread all sorts of seeds. The land is now like a water sponge that attracts several species: wild boars, jackals, snakes, butterflies, various insects, and numerous birds, including peacocks. He also supplies drinking water to the 100-odd families from the two wells and four ponds in his forest which is also a destination for ecotourism. The cost of Abdul Kareem's 32 acres of forest land must run into several crores of rupees now. Yet, the man is happy not earning any money from the forest, living in his simple home.
1 truck. 2 friends. 20 states. 4000 books. 10,000 km. Thousands of stories. Akshaya Ravtarey and Satabdi Mishra traversed the Indian states, spreading the joy and importance of reading across regions. “Reading books opens your mind and allows you to appreciate different thoughts", says Mr Ravtaray.”. However, books have become expensive and inaccessible for many. The duo’s books-on-wheels venture allows the less privileged to gain access to the books. It acts as a store and as a library. People can come and just sit there for hours, reading a book without buying one. Akshaya and Satabdi clearly want to help spread knowledge. After all, knowledge is power - and the duo has managed to give this power to those in the remotest parts of India.
In 2011 when Anant Pai passed away, he left behind an institution called Amar Chitra Katha which had enriched the lives of millions of Indians with stories from India's history, culture and folk literature. He had single handedly taken the onus of preserving and teaching India's rich literary and mythological heritage to children and adult alike. Even today his Indian comics sell millions of copies. Uncle Pai as he was popularly known, will remain the most loved custodian of Indian tales and stories for eons.
Author of more than 200 Kannada novels, pioneer of the first Kannada daily in Hassan in 1952 and the inventor of the Kannada typewriter in 1933, Anantha Subbaraya has a number of achievements under his belt. Tha last is the most notable. Back in the day, people were of the opinion that to build a typewriter for Kannada writing, the letters of the language would have to be changed as the English typewriter was the only one doing the rounds. An innovator at heart, Subbaraya proved everyone wrong.
This 17-year-old teenager collected Rs 10 lakh to build 19 libraries in Ladakh for underprivileged kids. It started when Ananya’s school introduced a community service module where students had to teach underprivileged kids. She decided to carry on with her cause, even after her school program ended. Visiting these schools left her wanting to do something more than a once a year volunteering program. During her summer travels she came to know about 17,000 ft, an NGO run by Sujata Sahu. She approached them & landed an opportunity to help the marginalised people in the inaccessible villages of Ladakh. That’s when she decided to take to crowdfunding to help ‘her children.’ Her summer visits to Leh, Ladakh, are an integral part of her life. She visited villages like Liktsey, Turtuk and Tialing in 2015, to teach kids.
IIM-Ahmedabad professor and Padma Shri awardee, Anil Gupta believes that people’s economic conditions may be poor, but their mind is a wealth of ideas. He reaches out to and invites grassroot inventors to join hands and gets their inventions off the ground, while protecting their Intellectual Property Rights. His initiative – the Honey Bee Network – takes its inspiration from honeybees, who take nectar from flowers. In his words, the flower “does not feel short-changed”. This is because the bee is also helping in pollination. Similarly, he believes that there is immense knowledge at the grassroot level that can help the whole country. But for this, these oft-ignored inventors must be recognised. As they say, you can steal ideas, but you can never steal the mind that comes up with them. It is better to work with these people and share knowledge than to be selfish.
Arunachalam set out to ease the life of his wife by creating cheaper, effective sanitary pads. He fashioned a uterus for himself with a football bladder and goat’s blood to understand the flow of blood better. Unfortunately, his surveys and experiments lost him his wife, his home, and his village. Finally, he created a low-cost machine to manufacture pads. It was simple in structure and proved to be a means of employment for many. For his efforts, Arunachalam was given an award by the then President of India. His machine caught on like wildfire, succeeding in providing sanitary pads and employment to several women in India. He says, "My aim was to create one million jobs for poor women - but why not 10 million jobs worldwide?" He is expanding his business to 106 countries across the globe, including Kenya, Nigeria, Mauritius, the Philippines, and Bangladesh.
Bal Pandian’s extraordinary work has made him a legend. He has been regularly monitoring bird activity and nesting behaviour at Koonthamkulam for the last 30 to 40 years. Mr. Pandian and the late Mrs. Vallythai Bal Pandian are part of this ancient legacy of ethical conservation in peninsular India. He maintains the Koonthakulam Bird Sanctuary, the largest reserve for breeding water birds in South India, which serves as the main breeding ground for visiting birds. Over the years, Pandian has maintained a diary of species, numbers, nesting, and other key features that he has observed, and updates it daily. His checklist currently has 203 species. Bal Pandian is still dedicating each moment of his life towards conservation and the protection of birds and their habitat here.
Basudeb Sarkar established a Health, Education, & Employment (HEE) centre at Itahar, in West Bengal's Uttar Dinajpur district, with the help of FAIDA (Food & Agriculture Integrated Development Action), which aims to make farmers independent. It promotes adulteration-free production practice & provides fertilizer that restores soil health, improves food quality & ends dependence on external inputs. It raises awareness about Smart Villages, where employment, education, & health are propelled by the establishment of HEE centres. Basudeb has got together a low-cost coaching centre & is now working on a medical centre. He plans to employ the less fortunate like socially disadvantaged women & tribal women and is clear about what he wants, saying, "I came back to my village because I wanted to do something positive here."
Heritage buildings are great tourist attractions and a mark of our history – until they lie forgotten or vandalized. Birwa Qureshi has championed the efforts to make the people of Ahmedabad and Gujarat aware of the heritage monuments around them and instil a sense of pride. She has hosted stellar music festivals at the Bhadra Fort, Sarkhej Roza and the Water Festival at the mystical Adalaj ni Vav and Rani ki Vav. By bringing some of the most noted artists from all over the country, she has over the years strived hard to restore public pride, attention and community ownership for these precious sites.
From the lush hills of Coorg comes an author and historian, C. P. Belliappa. He writes for newspapers, magazines, and websites and has written astonishing books about Coorg. One of his most famous books is ‘Victoria Gowramma’ , which talks about the series of events occurring in Princess Victoria’s journey to England and all the difficulties she faced. It’s more than just a biography of a princess; it gives us a glance into the political scenario of the time. Another one of his famous works is ‘Nuggets of Coorg’. It incorporates the history of Kodagu in twenty beautiful stories. Through his words, the author makes the exotic scenery and lush greenery of this place come to life, making it a must-visit for travellers.
Step into Ladakh and your senses are hit with fresh air and a limited, but incredibly pleasant, number of hues. You welcome the dryness, the cold, the silence. However, for most Ladakhis, this is an everyday affair and the dry weather can make life very difficult for them. Chewang Norphel, a former civil engineer, responded to this problem with an onslaught of beautiful artificial glaciers (which are now also taking the form of ‘ice stupas’). These build up over the winter, freezing all the available water in one place, and melt around spring to provide fresh water to nearby fields and people. These artificial glaciers are a functional marvel and incredibly majestic to look at. They are fast becoming a tourist must-see, purely for the science, aesthetics and goodwill involved.
Chugge Khan is an internationally acclaimed Rajasthani folk musician, singer, composer, and teacher, belonging to the Manganiyar community of musical connoisseurs. Chugge is very skilled with instruments like morchang, khartal and bhappang, and also writes Sufi songs. He has performed at international events in France, Spain, Italy, Japan, Thailand, U.S.A., U.K., Australia, South Africa, U.A.E., Germany, and has collaborated with renowned artists like A. R. Rahman and Sivamani. In 2009, he formed a group of folk musicians called Rajasthan Josh, which has become very popular for its inspiring concerts that touch the soul with songs of love, life, and God. The group’s music is mainly devoted to all gods and comprises Sufi Qawwali, Hindu Bhajans, Sindhi Qalam, Punjabi melodies, Rajasthani Folk, and contemporary fusion. They truly encompass the sounds of India.
Dashrath Manjhi, also known as Mountain Man, was a poor labourer in Gehlaur village who carved a path 110 m long, 9.1 m wide and 7.6 m deep through a mountain using just a hammer and chisel, for the betterment of the people in his village. After his wife died due to the huge mountain, as it prevented them from reaching a doctor on time. Manjhi decided to carve a path through the Gehlour hills so that his village could have easier access to medical attention. He would start early in the morning, chip the mountain for a few hours, then work on the fields, and come back to work on the mountain again. He eventually quit his wage job, and started spending as much time as he could, breaking the mountain. It took him 22 years but he did not lose heart and finally broke the mountain to make a way for a road.
A couple from Hawaii, Dr. A.K. Malhotra and Pamela Malhotra, turned a stretch of Karnataka's Kodagu forest into a one-of-a-kind flora and fauna reserve. They wanted to return it to its former self - a bio-diverse rainforest for elephants, tigers, leopards, deer, snakes, birds and hundreds of other creatures. The couple bought 55 acres of unused land, 23 years ago. The same land is now a 300-acre forest called Save Animals Initiative (SAI) Sanctuary. It is home to animals such as the Bengal Tiger, the Sambhar and the Asian Elephant. Due to all the efforts put in by the couple and the people around, the water table in the area has increased and the river running through the sanctuary flows perennially.
Dr. Arvind Bhateja seems to help people no matter what he does – be it is doing brain surgeries for free, or raising funds through his passion for cycling. One of the best neurosurgeons in the country, Dr. Bhateja cycles to fund treatment for back injuries so that patients can get the medical care they need for free. Today, he runs a 70-bed hospital named after his mother, Dr. Sita Bhateja. The hospital believes in helping people and making their lives better.
Dr. Bhakti Yadav is the first female MBBS in Indore who has dedicated her entire life to treat and save patients, for free. While studying in medical college, she was the only girl in her batch. After graduating she turned down government jobs and decided to work in a cloth mill. It’s been 69 years since she has been practicing her career as a gynaecologist. She has travelled far and wide to places such as Gujarat, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, etc. to treat her patients for free. Dr Yadav is now 91 and very weak, but she still continues to serve the poor. Even after falling off and incurring fractures, her spirit has not phased off. Hats Off to Doctor Dadi for the selfless acts that she has been carrying out
Retired IAS Officer, Dr. C. K. Gariyali, is an arts and culture enthusiast. In addition to holding multiple key positions of power and numerous degrees from international colleges, Dr. Gariyali works passionately towards social causes, women empowerment, writing and more. She has authored many books and spearheads the activities at multiple trusts. As an adviser to the Saraswathi Educational Cultural and Charitable Trust, she has played a great part in bringing temple dancing back to the temples. The Vasant Utsav festival at Kapaleeswarar Temple, a unique celebration of dance, in Mylapore, Chennai is the result of her artistic inclination and interest in cultural activities which celebrates dance as a tribute to the deities.
Today, we love using the metro because it’s fast and convenient. We have one man to thank for that - Mr. Sreedharan. He engineered India’s first metro plan. He built the Konkan Railway, the Kolkata Metro, and the Delhi Metro. He finished the Delhi Metro project within budget and on time, in the face of severe constraints. One would assume that Sreedharan -- a man so dedicated to his cause and service -- must have had a tough family life, but surprisingly, the "Metro Man" maintained an enviable balance between his work and family. Sreedharan values family life and is involved in every small decision that is taken, paying attention to even the smallest needs of his grandchildren. The government has honoured him with many awards for his dedication. He retired from service in December 2011, but continues to advise the government on its metro and rail projects.
Faizul Hasan Qadri, a retired postmaster from Bulandshahr in western Uttar Pradesh, married Tajamulli in 1953. Today, the 80-year old is creating a mini-Taj Mahal dedicated to his late wife, on his agricultural land. However, he spent all his finances on creating the mausoleum and there is nothing left for the marbling. Says Faizul, “The structure is built on my own land and I have also tried to plant some trees around it and have a small water body at the back side of the building. However, work has mostly been held up due to finances as marble costs are high. A number of people have offered me money that I have refused to accept so far.” He may not have completed the mini-mahal, but tourists are already flocking to see it!
We seldom look at traffic cops, much less think about them, but Ganesh Pardeshi, a 46-year-old electronic supervisor is the Mumbai Traffic Police's guardian angel. He provides them with a mask and a camouflage cap to help them fight Mumbai's heat wave. Till date, he has given out around 2,000 masks. He feels good about helping these cops and even the police are thankful. Says a Dadar constable, "people seldom think of us as humans manning traffic for them. I have a headache every day when I go back home, but now, hopefully, with this cap and this mask it will be better."
Think enchanting ceilings and walls, think Pikscape. Gaurav Khanna and wife Shradha Khurana started the creative fresco art service to add more colour to people's lives. They blend modern and traditional fresco techniques to create phenomenal imagery in any household or on any building. Their western style blends in seamlessly with their Indian inspiration and makes for international quality work.
Ishita started surfing in 2007, when the sport was still relatively new in India. Today, it has taken the subcontinent by storm. When a lot of teaching queries started pouring in for her, she set up The Shaka Surf Club in an abandoned bar by the sea in Udupi's Kodi Bengere Village in Karnataka. Ishita sees this as a way to empower women as well. She says that there is a lot of social pressure on women to look and dress in a certain way. For her, surfing seems like a release and tastes like freedom. She feels it will do the same for other women. One of her oldest students is a 65-year-old lady from a nearby village. She has also associated her Surf Club with Australian Life Saving Society, Rashtriya Life Saving Society, and local government schools for 'The Nippers Programme', which trains children to become junior life guards.
Explore the lively streets of Delhi with ‘Delhi By Cycle’. Set up by Jack Leenaars and Noreen, Delhi By Cycle offers you guided cycle tours, in English, for groups of people, with the option of over 5 tours, ranging from Old Delhi to New Delhi. It hits all hotspots and tourist sites that are a must-visit. It started with a couple of participants on the first expeditions, but now the cycling tours have become a full hit on Delhi’s streets. Jack also works as a consultant to set up cycle projects like DBC in other cities. Since New Delhi and Old Delhi are nearby, one gets to experience the modern life alongside the historic one. DBC was also mentioned by the Lonely Planet as one of the 7 highlights of Delhi.
It all started when a teenage Jadav Peyang saw dead snakes on sandbars near his village. They had been washed ashore during floods and died without tree-cover. Filled with grief, Jadav decided to start planting trees. Says Payeng, "I covered a distance of a kilometre in five years, and in stages it got covered with dense vegetation dominated by trees." He is called 'Molai', meaning forest, by localites and his forest is known as 'Molai Forest'. Today, the man-made forest has five Royal Bengal tigers, wild boar, vultures, deer, several species of birds, three or four greater one-horned rhinoceroses, and, of course, snakes. Even a herd of 115 elephants march through the forests for around 3 months. In 35 years, Payeng has lost 85 cows, 95 buffaloes and 10 pigs to the Royal Bengal tigers. He understands the wild and says, "They (the tigers) do not know farming, you see."
Jyotsna Sitling joined hands with the local community, which had thus far been at loggerheads with forest officials, and started a campaign to clean The Valley of Flowers National Park, home to the rarest of flora and fauna. It also has a 19km trail that leads to the highest Gurudwara in the world. Once the clean-up was done, Jyotsna commenced the task of reducing the number of shops in the park. She achieved this by giving equal priority to the people’s livelihood and conservation of the Valley of Flowers. With the aid of the shopowners themselves, she managed to reduce the number of shops from 400 to 76, without adversely affecting the inhabitants’ lives! Because of her, the National Park was declared a world Heritage Site by UNESCO in 2005. She had also mobilized 11000 people to plant over 4 lakh trees in the erosion-prone zone of the Shiwaliks!
Kailash Satyarthi is an Indian children's rights activist and founded Bachpan Bachao Andolan, the first organisation in India that puts forward the issue of child labour and works towards rescuing the children who are forcibly made to work in different industries. He was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his campaign for the rights of children and young people. Mr. Satyarthi says his mission is to "wipe away the blot of human slavery". He is often involved in dangerous and daring dawn raids on factories that employ children. Due to his work, he has also received death threats and two of his colleagues were murdered. He played an important role in the movement for the Right to Education for children and recently, he launched operations to rescue girls sold into abusive forced marriages.
Kehaan J Saraiya & Tanvi J Saraiya formed Ziveli, a social enterprise to showcase the crafts of Manipur. What started as Kehaan’s final-year business design project has now about 150 Manipuri artisans onboard, weaving kauna, from a reed that grows in water which tripled their monthly income. They studied the Manipuri artisans’ livelihoods, process, social behaviour & the crafts in neighbouring clusters. Through this process, they gathered enough information to set up their own enterprise. Ziveli has gotten this far with absolutely no funding from any external sources & the founders incurring all costs, their aim is to associate with more Indian arts & crafts entities & bring the artisans to the fore through environmentally-conscious, fair-trade lifestyle products.
Owner of what some call "the best chai cafe in India", Krishna has a warm smile for all his guests. His cafe walls at Bundi are full of graffiti and colour, mixed with messages from his customers. He is a master chai wala. His secret, he says, is that he chooses and procures the ingredients himself, using the masalas then and there so that there is none left over. There are apparently only 6 types of tea on his menu, but each of them is worth a try. The incredible aroma, the artful creativity, and the magnificent taste make Krishna’s cafe's teas a must-drink!
Hundreds of women lost their homes when the Ranthambore Tiger Sanctuary was established. Laila, an artist and designer by experience and at heart, decided to form Dastkar, an organisation which helped them with their livelihoods in the arts and crafts sector. Since the women had trouble getting their products to the masses, Dastkar helps them get their creations to the market, ensuring a large audience, encouraging women to work, and promoting the crafts industry. If you find yourself in Ranthambore, do check out the unique local craftwork!
An acid attack survivor, an Indian campaigner with Stop Acid Attacks, and a TV host, Laxmi Agarwal has campaigned against the unregulated sale of acids and for the rights of acid attack victims. She managed to garner 27,000 signatures on her petition to curb acid sales. This encouraged and led the Supreme Court to make some changes. Central and state governments were ordered to regulate acid sales and the Parliament was directed to make acid attack prosecutions "easier to pursue". Director of the Chhanv Foundation, an NGO dedicated to help survivors, Laxmi has received several accolades, including an International Women of Courage award by US First Lady Michelle Obama in 2014. She was also NDTV's Indian of the Year. She is currently encouraging girls to focus on their inner beauty rather than their outer appearance.
Mitticool is a clay refrigerator that runs without electricity and keeps your perishables cool for five to seven days. It keeps water cool and fruits, vegetables and milk fresh for days. Its creator, Mansukhbhai Prajapati, is a famous rural innovator in India and known for his earthen clay such as Mitticool, Non-Stick Clay Tawa, Low cost water filter, and more. He holds patents for all these eco-friendly products. He started working on the fridge in 2001 itself, though it took him four years and a debt of nineteen lakh rupees to make the final product. Scientists and journalists from across the world have visited his unit to see how he makes these products at such a low cost. His next goal is to create Mitti Cool House, a home that will cool itself without any external help.
Marimuthu Yoganathan, a bus conductor and environmentalist, has single-handedly planted over a lakh trees all across Tamil Nadu over 25 years. He uses 40% of his monthly salary to buy saplings and to educate children about the importance of planting trees. In his free time, he roams with a projector and slides he's collected over the years, and travels around the state visiting almost 3743 educational institutes and industries to raise environmental awareness. He also received the Eco Warrior Award conferred by the Indian Government. Despite earning a modest bus conductor's salary, Yoganathan has consistently worked towards this larger cause.
Chungneijang Mery Kom Hmangte, better known as Mary Kom, is an Olympic Indian boxer who was the only woman boxer to have won a medal in each one of the six world championships. It wasn’t easy for her to take up the sport as it was considered a sport that was dominated by men. Therefore, when she was young, she faced a lot of objections when she decided to choose boxing as a career. She was only 18 when she made her first international debut. She not only trained for boxing but also handled domestic responsibility. Today, she also teaches boxing to the underprivileged for free and runs an academy to teach people the art of self-defence.
Meet Meenakshi Gurukkal, 74 years of age, she is a martial arts player and martial arts teacher. She has been training in as well as teaching this art of self-defence called Kalaripayattu for around 68 years. Meenakshi, also known as Amma, runs a school called Kadathanadan Kalari Sangam, where she teaches Kalaripayattu to about 150 students, aged six to twenty-six. She runs the school on a “no fee” policy. One can learn the art, free of cost. She also does a lot of shows, averaging to 60 a year and believes that every individual must learn Kalari, regardless of their age or gender as she says that Kalari is like a medicine for health. If this sword-wielding granny doesn’t inspire you to stay active, no one can.
In village areas, talent is never the problem, opportunity is. As Mukund and Raghav soon realised, if the villagers got to study in good schools or used the right technology, they would get a level playing field. So, Mukund and Raghav co-founded Renew IT, which refurbishes discarded computers and makes them affordable for the poor in rural India. These are then given to registered NGOs and educational institutions at a subsidised price. It also helps them set up training institutes and BPOs in rural areas and computer labs in government schools. The duo aid NGOs in setting up computers in Delhi, Kolkata, Mumbai, Chennai, Pune, Mysore, Dharwad and Hubli and have around eight authorised service partners across the country now. They have supplied close to 20,000 refurbished computers in the last 7 years, 70 per cent of them as part of their social entrepreneurship.
Twitter is about carefully chosen words and short sentences on digital. One man started this practice offline around half a century ago when he started expressing citizens’ sentiments on a banner. A Mumbai Sheriff, Nana Chudasama would talk about the city’s problems and give solutions. Politicians were his favourite subjects. “All Indian politicians work for me to write,” he says. Mukesh Ambani believes Twitter should give Nana royalty, while Shobhaa De said that his was a secular voice in a city divided on several issues. You can see Chudasama’s banner above the Pizzeria on The Queen’s Necklace, but if you can’t travel there, just grab his book – History on a banner.
Nanammal could possibly be the oldest Yoga practitioner in India. She was introduced to yoga by her father when she was eight. According to a report, she tried to get her name in the Guinness Book of World Records by teaching 20,000 people in Coimbatore. Currently, she is focused on creating awareness about yoga, its technique, and its role in solving health issues, particularly among girls. Around 600 students of hers are yoga instructors, spread around the world and 36 members of her family are dedicated to yoga full-time.
Narayanan Krishnan is a man who gave up his high-paying job as a chef in Taj and dedicated his entire life to feeding the homeless. After witnessing a homeless man eat his waste, he started a Trust called Akshaya Trust. The trust helps feed the homeless, the mentally disabled, and elderly people abandoned by their families, in Madurai. He serves breakfast, lunch, and dinner to approximately 400 people a day. His day starts at 4am, when his and his team cover nearly 125 miles in a van to seek out the homeless from every possible nook and cranny. The hot meals he delivers are simple, tasty vegetarian fare he personally prepares, packs and often hand-feeds to nearly 400 clients each day. He founded this organisation in 2003 and has served more than 1.2 million meals.
India continues to be a patriarchal country, but there are many who are working towards making it a more equal society in terms of gender. Neelam, the sarpanch of a Haryana village, is one such revolutionary. Standing against her in-laws and most of the village, she did away with the veil or ghoongat that the women were forced to wear. It was an uncomfortable and unnecessary accessory. During her trials, she realized something very important – that it is essential for women to stand with other women for the progress of a country. Today, she is thinking of other ways to help her village move forward.
Prakash & Mandakini Apte and 3 generations of social reformers, run a heart-warming animal orphanage in a remote village called Hemalkasa, in Maharastra. This is a sanctuary for young wild animals, rendered orphans often by hunting forages of the tribal community that depends on the forest for sustenance. It is a happy home for several animals including leopards, hyenas, bears, monkeys and snakes. The project Lok Biradari Prakalp, seeks to improve the health & education for the tribal people while sustaining wildlife. Starting as a single hut in 1973, it is now an expanding complex with a hospital that caters to nearly 40,000 patients annually, a residential school, and an orphanage. The prestigious Magsasay award duly returned to the family in 2008, having graced Prakash’s father, the legendary Baba Amte earlier.
If one happens to pass Saket in Delhi, one may chance upon a lady, 62 years old, feeding and nursing dogs, maybe even surrounded by a hundred of them. "I look after over 400 dogs – about 200 around my home. Others are scattered in the courtyard of the PVR complex up to J-block. My dogs never bite. They have been sterilised and vaccinated by the MCD" says Pratima, a rag-picker in Delhi, who lives in a tin house. Her son has asked her to return to the village but she prefers the company of her canine friends, spending everything she earns on them.
Raj Singh is a scientist at the Ahmedabad’s Plasma Research Centre. He is also someone who has taken the onus of filling potholes on the Ahmedabad roads whenever he encounters one, probably saving countless injuries and accidents for motorists. He carries enough plastic bags and scrap in his car. This is his way of contributing to the nation’s cleanliness drive and lending a helping hand to the corporation. In turn he receives a helping hand sometimes when people see him at work. While making life safer and easier for motorists, he also plays an active role in tree planting and care.
Shopkeeper by profession, good Samaritan by choice, Rajesh Kumar Sharma educates underprivileged children under the bridge of a metro. He starts with the basics with around 140 students and then trains them so that they can get into government schools. He is very proud of his students, with around 70 now studying at government schools. These students still come to him and he tries to make sure that they are ahead of the school syllabus. In fact, one of his students even corrected a teacher at school when he solved a sum wrong! The students also talk with pride when it comes to their teacher. Says a young Abhishek, "Our teacher has told us that when poverty strikes, you should open your mind, and that can be done only through education.”
Rajesh Naik transformed 120 acres of barren land at Oddoor farms, near Mangalore into self-sufficient organic farm land. He created a lake that “gradually filled with water” and now provides 40,000 litres of water. Once full, the lake initiated the growth of plants and trees, and springs have already started coming up around it. Today, Oddoor farm is one of the largest organic farms in the area. As per TBI, “The peculiarity of the farm is its self sufficiency in every aspect including manure production as well as electricity generated for the farm.” Rajesh Naik believes that this model can be implemented across the country and would help address the problem of water shortage while maintaining a glorious cover of greenery. Today, the land has a dairy farm with 200 cows, 10 acres of areca nut plantations, and grows coconut, mangoes, haldi, pepper, bananas, cashew nuts, fruits, and vegetables.
Ballari-based Lakka had always dreamt of becoming a swimmer and she achieved this at the age of 46. She took part in and won medals at national and international swimming competitions. Soon after, she decided she wanted to share the joy of swimming with others. She turned to coaching and started to help children surpass their disabilities through swimming. “Most of the parents of these kids are poor. I wanted to boost their morale and make the children happy like others,” says Lakka. She has Level 1, 2, and 3 coaching certificates from the American Swimming Coaches Association, and a certificate from the Canadian Red Cross Course. Right now, she is teaching around 12 students, one of whom is Gopichand, a boy without legs. She trained him in just two months and he has now mastered the 200m freestyle and 200m backstroke.
Rehana Adeeb has been a victim of child marriage and domestic abuse. Unfortunately, there weren't too many people or organisations that could help her then. When she came across the local NGO Disha, she saw her opening. She started working with them and after learning all that she could, she founded Astitva in 2005. Today, Astitva fights for women’s rights, focusing on education and protection of women from domestic abuse. Khap Panchayats prove to be a hurdle for her because they are made up of people who are wealthy and may have political connections. In her attempts to keep women safe, Rehana has been arrested and been the victim of several lathi charges. Yet, she persists.
Amidst the greenery & the backwaters of Kerala lies another treasure – Renjini & the Art of Nokkuvidhya Pavakalli. This puppet theatre originated in Kerala & has been practised for centuries by her family, who are its sole practitioners. The puppeteer’s moves are keenly choreographed by her grandmother, Pankajakshi. Cinema may have attempted to capture the magic of the Indian epics, but seeing Ramayana & Mahabharata being played out on strings, controlled not by hands but by the little space between the lips & nose is phenomenal. Says Pankajakshi, "Our family’s tradition was very famous in those days. We were invited to perform at every festival." Every puppet has been crafted by her late husband. When he passed away, he took his skills with him but now the tradition of the performance lives on with her granddaughter.
When Reshma Qureshi blazed the stage of New York Fashion Week, she mesmerised the audience with courage and highlighted the diversity of beauty. "I want to tell the world -- do not see us in a weak light and see that even we can go out and do things," the teenager told AFP." She went on to become the face of 'Make Love Not Scars' campaign that sought to end acid sale in India. 2015 brought with it more headlines as a video of hers went viral – it portrayed the easy availability of acid and likened it to that of a lipstick. Interestingly enough, on the day she took the stage at New York, an Indian court sentenced a man to death for throwing acid on someone.
Rohini, like the other girls and women in the village, was used to defecating in the open. That changed when she started menstruating. She approached her grandfather, the sarpanch, and asked him to build a toilet not only in their house but to convince the other villagers to do the same for their own houses. This also helped others understand the problems rural girls and women faced. The Karale family has a toilet today, thanks to Habitat for Humanity India, and Rohini managed to convince others to get one as well! She hopes to soon make her village open defecation-free. After all, she is working towards a cleaner village and a cleaner India.
Founded in the Banda District of Uttar Pradesh in 2006, the Gulaabi Gang started out as a group that would punish male offenders – those who were guilty of domestic violence, molestation and/or rape. They made waves with their approach, wherein they would first implore the men to see reason; if they did not get through, they would shame the offenders publicly and even resort to lathi charges if the men resorted to violence first. Today, these women in pink stand for the cause of socio-economic equality for women and are making India much safer for their gender.
The youngest spy 16 years old, Saraswathi smuggled secrets for the Indian National Army’s intelligence wing. Her team would relay the information back to INA HQ. They usually worked as house-helps in the camps occupied by the British military & had a good ear on all their activities. They were given explicit instructions to shoot themselves in the event that they were captured. One girl was caught alive before she could shoot herself. Rajamani decided to rescue her, donning a disguise & infiltrating the camp. Today, even in her old age, she visits tailor shops & collects cloth scraps as well as rejected fabrics from them to make clothes that she then donates to orphanages & old age homes. During the devastating tsunami of 2006, she donated her meagre monthly pension as a freedom fighter to the relief fund.
India's first woman commando trainer, Seema Rao, has been training the special forces for 20 years. She is also a 7th-degree black belt holder in military martial arts, a combat shooting instructor, a firefighter, a scuba diver, an HMI medalist in rock climbing, and a Mrs. India World pageant finalist. She has always been so dedicated to her work that she even missed her father’s funeral and gave up motherhood in order to continue training. Talk about dedication!
Cricket has always been worshipped by Indians. We know names like Yuvraj Singh, M.S. Dhoni or Virat Kohli, but very few know about the blind Indian cricket team. Meet Shekhar Naik, a blind Indian cricketer, and former captain of the Karnataka’s Blind cricket team. He was born blind, but later had 60% of his vision restored. The blind cricket team has been recognised by many nations such as England, Australia, etc., but is still not recognised by BCCI, even though they have won many tournaments. After being the first blind cricketer to be awarded with the Padma Shri, he hoped BCCI would affiliate with them too. However, even now, Shekhar remains quite motivated and believes that no matter who you are, if you work towards your dreams, you can achieve it.
Eastern Vidarbha, Maharashtra boasts of Malguzari water tanks that are over 2 centuries old. Unfortunately, they were not being maintained by the government or the people. Enter Shirish Apte, Executive Engineer of Bhandara’s Minor Irrigation division. Enamoured by water conservation, he decided to revive the neglected tanks. For this, he received financial support from the government. In 2008, Janbhora Malguzari tank was the first one to be rejuvenated, and it was a community effort – from de-silting the tank to strengthening the boundary wall. As a result, groundwater levels rose, agricultural output and fish production increased, and it provided employment for many. Today, there are many more such restored traditional water treasures in Maharashtra, contributing to water conservation and employment.
Sharma started Afforestt, a service-provider for creating natural, native and maintenance-free forests in a year. He goes out of his way to make people realise how important forests are. He designs and lays out the plan of how the saplings will be planted and grown. However, since it is a unique model, finding new clients is an issue. But, if Afforest continues expanding, every backyard in our country will have abundant greenery.
Shyam Kumar, an auto-driver from Palakkad, Kerala, once read somewhere that "a solitary tree can have any kind of effect to 10 kids at once." He started planting trees at home, alone at first and was then joined by his wife, his child, and, eventually, others, upping the tree count to 23,000. His auto’s rear says, 'Spare Water-Save Trees' in both English and Malayalam. He carries jars of water in the auto to refill the water bottles attached to trees he passes. His work has impacted lives and has been recognised by many, with him receiving the 'Vrikshamitra', 'Vanamitra', 'Prakrati Mitra' and the 'Harita Vyakti Award'. His expert counsel is now also sought by people in Lakshadweep and Salem.
Fondly known as ‘Mai’, Sindhutai Sapkal has spent her entire life being devoted to orphans. Coming from a poor family, she struggles for a daily meal but has still managed to nurture over 1050 children. Many children whom she had adopted went on to become doctors and engineers and some have started their own orphanages too. She has received numerous awards for her hard work and dedication towards orphans. She used this money to buy land and make an orphanage. 42 years and 750 awards later, she still travels far and wide to spread her story, in order to collect some alms or donations for her orphanage.
Sonam Wangchuk, an engineer and education reformist, founded the Students' Educational and Cultural Movement of Ladakh (SECMOL) in 1988. The school campus is eco-friendly using solar power extensively – from cooking food to electricity. SECMOL attracts volunteers from around the world, who stay on-campus often for even half a year! A few kilometers away, you have the Ice Stupa Project, an initiative started in January 2014. Its main aim was to find a solution to the water crisis the farmers of Ladakh faced in the planting months. The idea was to use these Ice stupas as preserves of water. He was bestowed with the Rolex Award for Enterprise, which will seed fund his dream project – the Himalayan Institute of Alternatives where issues related to culture and education will be resolved.
Sudarshan Pattnaik is a sand artist who makes a difference through his art on the Puri beaches and gives speeches across the world. He started sculpting images on sand at the age of seven and has designed hundreds of pieces of sand art. He is the founder of "The Golden Sand Art Institute", which is first of its kind institute in India. His first international break came in 1998 when his art was exhibited at London’s Earls Court during a world trade fair. Sudarshan has represented India in 50 international Sand Sculpture championship and festivals all around the world, winning 27 championship prizes for the country. Recently, he created the world's tallest sand castle (48 feet and 8 inch) on Puri beach in Odisha which earned him a place in the Guinness World Records.
Sukri Bomma Gowda, also known as Sukri Ajji, is one of the last of the singing Halakkis. The Padma Shri award holder, along with her tribe, sings songs about everything, from meeting new people to marriages, from protests to their fantasies. This is how they cover long distance journeys into the woods. She is not only a singer or a poet, she also uses these songs to protest against the oppressive laws that prevail against them. She had first started singing with her mother, but as time passed she polished her singing skills and can now sing over 1,000 songs of her own. She has also campaigned for a lot of causes, such as educating the girl child, banning of the consumption of alcohol, etc. However, the Halakkis tribe is disappearing fast as the new generations do not carry out the traditions followed by them.
Supraja’s efforts bring together all stakeholders. Her approach appeals to government ministries as well as local fisher folk. She suggested and implemented the idea of making changes in the fishing nets and raised awareness of the importance of turtles in sea life amongst the fisher folk; she mobilised the youth to identify turtle nests, protect the eggs in safe enclosures for 48 days and then set them free in the sea. Monetarily, she gets some funds from the government and the WWF has been supporting her since 2009. For her efforts, she has been endowed with the Whitley Associate Award for 2009-2010, the Disney Worldwide Conservation Award, Sea World and Bush Garden Conservation Award, and the Peoples’ Trust for Endangered Species Award. Today, the world and the Olive Ridley turtles are thankful for her contribution.
Kids in rural Maharashtra face a lot of hurdles while studying, especially when it comes to travelling to school. Sometimes, they have to cover long distances to reach the school. To help ease the problem, Tasneem Kakal launched The Campus Bicycle Project. The project aims at collecting and repairing bikes from all around and supplying them to children who need it for their daily transportation. Tasneem wants to reduce the dropout rates caused by children who could not make it to school everyday. They give out the bicycles on the basis of distance and attendance, and children are made to promise they will attend school regularly. She has also co-founded Jal Jyoti that aimed at providing carbon-free lighting solutions to urban slums. However, she has been struggling with receiving enough funds for the project.
She represents the face of a cleaner conscience. Having completed her masters in human rights, she started the Sakaar Sewa Samiti with her friends, in Kataria, Varanasi. A brave daughter of Nagaland, and a resident of Mokokchung, she has made it her mission to clean up Varanasi and its Ghats, a place located 2000 kilometres away, and making it worthy of the holy Ganges. Disturbed at seeing the condition of the Ghats, sullied by open defecation and garbage, they got down to work in March 2013, quietly without any noise on social media. “I still do not know how we cleaned it. It was so disgusting that we could not eat food for days! But the satisfaction of seeing the clean Ghat compensated for all this” Their efforts have been lauded by the Prime Minister. Now that is Swacch Bharat in action!
Named after Mother Teresa, Tessy Thomas, is one of the transformers for a male-dominated society like ours. Also known as India’s Missile Woman, and the Agni Putri, she is the first woman scientist to lead a missile project in the country. Tessy is one of the main brains behind the new missile, whose success propelled India into the elite group of five countries, all of which have the capability to launch a nuclear ballistic missile from a long range of over 5000 km. Appreciating Tessy, Dr. Manmohan Singh said that she is a “woman making her mark in a traditionally male bastion and decisively breaking the glass ceiling.” Tessy Thomas is a role model and an inspiration for women all around the world.
It is close to impossible to clear the snow when you don’t even know where the road is. However, Tulla Khan is a man with an x-ray vision of sorts. Deaf and dumb, he clears the pass of Zoila, without any high-tech gadgets. He knows the road alignments so well that he can trace the road easily, with no major issues. Tulla and his team of 8 work at sub-zero temperatures with high wind velocity where there are increased chances of avalanches. They usually take upto 2 months to clear the path. They receive a remuneration of just Rs. 6,500/ month, but still work hard every winter for the people residing there. Tulla works with Border Roads Organisation (BRO) to make sure that no one faces any hindrance while commuting from the pass. He has been clearing snow for the past 25 years now. People like him are a blessing!
Valmik Thapar is a tiger conservationist, is known as an author, and has produced a range of programmes, including documentaries for television channels like BBC, Animal Planet, Discovery and National Geographic. Today, he is one of India's most well-known wildlife experts and conservationists. He has played an important role in tiger conservation and his writings have analysed the perceived failure of Project Tiger. His famous relationship with 'Macchli', a female tigress, is documented in some of his chronicles. “I would observe, and then sit and write. My old books on the secret life of tigers are hewed out of my visits to Ranthambore. On all my visits, a diary and pen and a camera were my constant, often only companions” says Valmik. So, if you’re keen on seeing tigers and you actually manage to spot one, don’t forget to thank Valmik Thapar.
Vijaynath Shenoy created Hasta Shilpa in Manipal. A house built using relics of demolished old houses collected since the 70’s. The trust founded soon after created the heritage village, restoring 26 houses including a 400 year old Bunt Gutu House and a 500 year old Kamal Mahal with help from Finnish and Norwegian embassies. Promoting conservation of India’s heritage it draws thousands of visitors. Shenoy had intended the house to be his personal residence but due to the deluge of interest, made it into a museum. Shenoy believed that “Architecture is the most visible symbol of our cultural heritage. These homes represented the conceptualisation of our ethos, the imagination of our ancestors, the ingenious indigenous technology, the skill of native craftsmen. They provide cultural continuity.” Shenoy passed away earlier this year at the age of 83.
Few are aware that Delhi, the Capital of India has more than 1300 monuments and this is why Vikramjit Singh Rooprai started www.monumentsofdelhi.com It is a site to raise awareness about the hundreds of monuments that have been neglected over the years. So far, Vikramjit has mapped 500 monuments. Today, he also conducts photo-walks as part of his 'Delhi Heritage Photography Club'.
Started by Viraat Kasliwal, Raconteur Walks lets you explore the history and culture of Mumbai beyond the travel guides. It was established with the aim of promoting theme-based walking tours in Mumbai city. Many times, the owners themselves become the tour guides and extensively customise the tours based on the client’s needs. If a client wants to spend time at a particular place for taking photographs or tasting the food, they are never hurried. The walks are a fusion of history, stories and buildings. If you really want to rediscover Mumbai, Raconteur Walks will make sure you do.