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How not to kill your houseplants

In the dense urban fabric that most of us live in, at times the only thing we see outside our windows is a concrete jungle. The best thing we can do to maintain our daily contact with nature is to bring nature inside our homes by having houseplants.

Having houseplants has many health benefits for one’s body as well as one’s soul. They are also a great way to decorate your home.

Home decor using houseplants

Plants can add so much life and beauty inside our homes. They can fill a corner, add life to a room and bring colour and texture into a space.

“I love that plants change as well — some change color with the seasons and others can fold in or spill out as they grow.” 

Jade Joyner, co-founder and principal designer of Metal + Petal.

There are numerous ways in which you can incorporate plants in your home design to accentuate your interiors. You can start small, with just one or two plants on side tables in your house, or you can go all out and create your own garden room filled with dozens of different plants. No matter how you decide to do it, decorating with houseplants helps bring the freshness of the outdoors in, and gives you a mini garden you can tend to all year round.

I am an architect and my interest in plants developed while landscaping my projects. Slowly, I started experimenting with them at home and once you start dealing with plants, there is no turning back. My husband and I kept getting more and more involved with our plants as just being around them gave us so much joy. We made many mistakes while nurturing them and we have had our fair share of plants dying. But slowly we are getting better and more sensitive to the kinds of plants that survive in the conditions available in our house.

Here is a quick glimpse of my house.

And a closer look at all the houseplants…

House plant care

Plant growth is affected by light, temperature, humidity, water, nutrition, and soil. To be a successful plant parent, you need to understand how the interior environment affects plant growth and how cultivation differs from growing plants outdoors.

Plants are like people: they’re all different and a little bit strange

John Kehoe

Hence, there is no single formula which works for all plants. You have to tend to them individually based on their characteristics.


Group plants in such a way that they appear casual and organic. When you can, group plants in an odd number. Using an even number can look symmetrical, making the arrangement look more formal

Shape, size and colour

Play around with plants of different widths, heights, shape, colour and foliage. The difference in size gives a more organic look than plants of the same size, which look uniform. Pay attention to the color of the plants you choose. For a cohesive look, put plants together that have leaves of the same color. For more variety, go for plants with foliage of different colors and shapes.

Decorative Pots

Pots can also add a lot of dynamism to your interiors. You can use pots with similar finishes and colors to make the arrangement look like a set. Or you can combine all your favorite pots of different materials and colors for an eclectic finish. The pots can also help in accentuating your interior theme. For example: Jute and cane planters go well if you have rustic and organic interior whereas solid coloured ceramic pots look better if you have a simple contemporary vibe to your place.

Indoor Green wall

Green walls or Living walls or vertical gardens are the ultimate blend of nature and art. They can look artistically stunning when in good health. While designing and composing the plants, consider the size and color of plants at full growth and how different textures, leaf shapes and heights will work together. It’s a game of trial and error, but plants can be replaced if something dies or does not work together aesthetically.

Indoor green wall at Imagine cafe, Mumbai

You can read more about Imagine cafe here.

Plant Parenting

Whenever I think of Plant moms, Rashi Jauhri is the first person I can think of. I have been to her house and the way in which she uses her healthy and beautiful houseplants to decorate her home has been an inspiration for me.

How has your journey been as a plant mom?

When I started buying plants some 6 years ago – my sister used to call me a “serial plant killer” because I killed most of them with over watering! From then to now, I have come a long way. With over 60 houseplants in my Bombay home – mint to monstera – grown from seeds, cuttings and propagated in water, I know what makes each of my plants tick. I’ve been using organic fertilisers, regularly pruning and with just the right amount of sun and water, they are thriving!

If you’re starting out as a plant parent, I suggest starting off with the easy ones like snake plant and pothos. Do your research – what plants are toxic to pets and humans, how much sunlight and water do they need and get them accordingly.

You can check out her Instagram profile for more plant, decor and DIY tips

Our next plant mom is someone with way more experience. Nina Roy has two big interests in her life. Handloom and houseplants. She runs her own handloom business which employs many artisans who hand embroider and bring to life her wonderful designs which we can see showcased in her own home in Parel. Her house has plants spread over all the rooms adding so much life and beauty to her interiors. Some of her houseplants like her adenium, have been with her for more than 18 years.


What advice would you like to give to budding plant parents?

Growing and nurturing plants is a lot of work. I won’t complain because I enjoy personally taking care of my houseplants. Depending on the weather, I put them on the ledge by the window and water them once in 2/3 days. I feel the soil to see when it requires watering. I also spray and shower them once a week. Do not over water because the roots will die.

You have to really love your plants. As they say, ‘If you talk to your plants and show them how much you love them and care for them,they will thrive.’

You can check out her Instagram profile for more houseplants, handloom and decor inspiration.

The houseplant survival manual

Before becoming plant parents, it is important to know some basics and it is best to get these guidelines from someone professional. I have interviewed Sangita Ramesh who is a certified horticulturist with 15 years of work experience in this field. We owe most of our knowledge about plant parenting to her. Even today when our plants are looking a wee bit sad, the first thing we do is to share a picture with her and then blindly follow her instructions.

So let’s get started!

Sangita, Can you let us know about plants that will thrive at home under the following conditions –

1. Balcony

In a bright balcony with a direct sunlight of 6-8 hours, one can grow many plants. Flowering plants like –

  • Roses (Rosa species)
  • Jasmine varieties (Jasminum species)
  • Hibiscus (Hibiscus rosa sinensis)
  • Spider lilies (Hymenocallis littoralis), etc. 

One can also attempt Okra, Tomatoes, Beans.

Even in a balcony with lesser light (3-4 hours),  one can grow flowering plants like

  • Passion flower (Passiflora)
  • Star Clematis (Clematis gouriana),
  • Butterfly pea (Clitoria ternatea)
  • Butterfly ginger lily (Hedychium coronarium)
  • Costus (Costus woodsonii)
  • Alpinia (Alpinia purpurata, Alpinia zerumbet)
  • Heliconia (Heliconia psittacorum, Heliconia rostrata), etc.

Hanging basket plants like –

  • Purple heart (Setcreasea pallida)
  • Zebrina (Zebrina pendula) and other Tradescantia varieties
  • Clover or Shamrock/Butterfly plant (Oxalis triangularis) also do well.

You can also try plants like Croton varieties, Stromanthe, Golden cypress, Syngonium and varieties of Fern.

Plants of Gourd family and Beans would also do well in such light.

North facing balcony in my old house

2. Indoor but near the window

The direction of the window is also important. A South facing window may have more intense light then a window facing East or North. 

Close to a South facing window, one can grow plants like-

  • Pink Aglaonema varieties
  • Calathea varieties
  • Croton varieties
  • Types of Aralia
  • Episcia
  • Anthuriums (avoid exposure to direct sunlight though)
  • Torenia
  • Peace Lily (Spathiphyllum spp.)
  • Most of the Palms
  • Dracaena
  • Cordyline varieties
South facing window in my current house

Example for plants closer to window with less duration of intensive light are-

  • Zamia Palm (Zamioculcas zamiifolia)
  • Philodendron varieties
  • Money Plant (Scindapsus species) varieties
  • Dieffenbachia
  • Rubber plant (Ficus elastica)
  • Shamrock
  • Nerve plant (Fittonia species)
  • Polka dots (Hypoestes phyllostachya)
  • Lucky Bamboo (Dracaena sanderiana)
  • Money Tree (Pachira aquatica)
  • Peperomia varieties.

3. Indirect but bright light

I would say most of the plants mentioned for East facing window works well in this category. Besides few more options to this are Dracaena surculosa varieties and Leea coccinea varieties.

4. Low light

Light is important for plants to thrive. While most plant may just survive in poor light, and eventually call it quits. There are just a few examples for plants that would be okay with less light which are Zamia Palm (Zamioculcas zamiifolia) and Snake plant (Sansevieria species) varieties. A good light will allow the plant to be more compact and bushier, low light makes the plant more elongated and delicate because of the compromised cell wall structure.

Snake plant and ZZ plant
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What does it mean when the tips of houseplants turn brown?

Brown tips usually are indication of poor water quality. My suggestion is usually to use filtered water for indoor plants not RO water necessarily. Thorough and less frequent watering rather than scarce and more frequent watering.

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How often should most houseplants be watered?

Deep watering and less frequent watering is the best method.One could either install moisture indicators or scrape top inch of soil to check before watering. It’s best to water SOS then to do a scheduled watering.

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How do you tell Underwatering vs overwatering?

A plant which is thirsty will have droopy and limp leaves that will perk up when you water it. While an overwatered plant will show signs of yellowing and may also go limp followed by browning of leaves. So, if the leaves are still green and as normal, but limp they need water. 

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How to get rid of bugs on indoor plants?

Houseplants are affected by mealy bugs most of the times. If the infestation is not very heavy, one may manually pick the bugs, but in case the infestation had spread, I usually use soapy solution to clean and spray the plants with. I also suggest drenching the soil with soapy solution to eliminate the pests hiding in the soil. I do not recommend using insecticide for indoor plants for obvious reasons.

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What are the signs that a plant needs to be repotted?

A plant needs a bigger pot when it becomes pot bound. The indications of a pot bound plants are that the leaves start becoming smaller and the plant growth starts looking stunted – as if all of a sudden it has decided to become a Bonsai. 
Having said that there are certain plant types that thrive being snuggly. Calathea varieties, Peace Lilies, Zamia Palms, Dracaena and most of the plants in Palms family thrive in pot bound conditions. They should be repotted only when there is no more space left for new growth to sprout.

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What care should be taken while repotting?

Take care of the following things while repotting your plants:

  • Maintain the collar. Do not plant too deep or too shallow. Don’t Bury the stem more than what was originally in the soil.
  • If the roots had coiled up in the old pot, loosen them up a bit. If you feel the need cut the brown hardened roots, but safeguard the white tender roots.
  • Do not disturb the root ball of the palms, they don’t appreciate it.
  • Pack the soil well to avoid air pockets and water thoroughly. I tell gardeners ‘pet bhar ke pani do’. Soil may settle, and you may have to top up a little bit if you have not compacted the soil while planting, but don’t overdo it (maintain the collar).
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What is a good soil mix for indoor house plants?

A good potting mix needs to have good drainage at the same time have good moisture retention properties. A ratio of 60% soil and 40% well decomposed manure is a good composition. You may want to add a little bit of wood ash or burnt wood coal to add to the filtration.

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What fertilizers or products will you recommend? How often should these be used?

There are many organic seaweed-based bio-fertilizers available in the market and they work well with most of the plants.
Having said that, I have experienced Peace Lily and Calathea do not appreciate fertilizers and plain filtered water works best for them. I have almost killed my most beautiful Calathea, because I got greedy and decided to fertilize them for faster growth – my bad. It took good amount of drenching with plain water to rinse the potting soil. The damage was considerable but they are recuperating, thankfully. As frequent as weekly or once in 10 days should be good enough. 

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What care should be taken while growing succulents?

Succulents are closely related to Cactus. The moment I say cactus, I visualize a sunny and hot desert. And that’s what it takes to keep them happy. Nice sunny location with very little water on a regular basis. The roots of succulents usually are only on the surface, so it’s best to water them scantily and almost daily.

Succulents at Exotica plant nursery, Hadapsar
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When and how do you prune indoor plants?

Pruning may not be a necessity for most cases if you have been regularly re-potting in a larger pot. But when you feel the plant is taking up space more than you can allow it to, you may want to trim for form or structure or make more plants (propagate). While pruning, cut needs to be just above the node not leaving behind a stub. Also use sharp secateur to ensure clean cut. A split or tear can result in damage to the plant. Try to ensure that the plant forms a callus before it comes in contact with water else it may lead to stem rot.

What care should be taken while executing an indoor green wall?

For indoor green walls, selection of plants based on the light available is the most critical part. Avoid using plants with different growing conditions in the small wall. Avoid placing the wall very close to AC draft or a fan breeze. I feel everything applied to plants being grown in containers, apply to growing in greenwall, its the orientation that changes.
Growing method (Pot or Felt) is what will be a decide the longevity or life of the greenwall. In my opinion felt is a better option for longevity as the plants don’t become pot bound.
It is better to grow green walls in soil less media (like coco peat). and hence fertilizer or nutrition is of importance for growth and vigor.

So now what are you guys waiting for? Ready, set, grow!

PS – If you have any questions for Sangita, please ask them in the comment section below and we will get back to you.

4 reasons why in 2020 renting a home is better than buying

Today, in the midst of a global health and economic crisis, there is one thing that I (VD) and R are thankful about every single day – the fact that we do not have the burden of a home loan. Amidst huge pay cuts and running our own cafe, we shudder at the thought of what would have happened if we had bought the flat we are staying in today, instead of renting it.

It is etched in our tradition and possibly in many others to own a property. Generations of Indian jobbers have utilized their hard earned life savings to invest in a house, burying many dreams and desires just to secure a roof over one’s head. But is buying a house really that important? My whole life I have stayed in the same house bought by my family. Therefore, till I started earning I was all in for owning a home. Only after that, when I started looking into buying property and doing some basic calculations, I realised that taking a huge home loan to buy a property in a city like Mumbai is not a good choice at all economically. The millennial generation is now realizing that buying a house may not be as beneficial or important as it is made out to be by the elders.

Why buy, when you can rent the same house for 25% of the cost every month?

Here are the 4 reasons why in 2020 renting a home is better than buying. These will help you to decide wisely on a choice that often has irreversible implications.


Mumbai has a rental yield of 2.0 – 2.5%; your monthly rental comes to ₹ 20,000-25,000 for a property worth ₹ 1 crore, EMI for which will be around ₹ 80,000 – 1,00,000 . In Mumbai, the owner usually takes care of maintenance and structural repair costs. 

This is a summary showing the actual difference between monthly expenditures and wealth gained at the end of 20 years for a 2BHK large flat in Mulund, Mumbai. This flat is in a newly constructed high rise complex with a clubhouse, swimming pool etc.

I am also sharing the excel calculator sheet I used to derive these numbers.

After I had done these calculations, there was no doubt in my mind that in 2020, renting a home is better than buying one.

PS – There are many variables in this sheet and certain assumptions have been made while making this sheet. For eg: The interest rate, property tax costs, maintenance costs, tax breaks, investment growth rates etc. which will differ in different situations. I have taken very conservative assumptions about the investment growth rate. Put in the numbers based on your situation and take a decision accordingly.


One of the biggest benefits of ‘renting vs buying’ is the flexibility and freedom that comes with it. In today’s fast paced global society, we are all seeking change, new and exciting experiences or the ability to take that new job or give up your desk job and follow your passion. But it is hard to be spontaneous when you are tied down to something like a property and a 20 year long EMI. Owning a house forces you to set roots whereas renting makes it easy to relocate in the near future for work, for school/college, for family, or just because.

Also, renters can live virtually anywhere while homeowners are restricted to areas they can afford to buy. A home in the city might be out of reach for most home buyers, but it might be doable for renters. Although rents can be high in areas where home values are also high, renters can more readily find an affordable monthly payment than homebuyers.

In today’s economy, sometimes situations change so drastically that one day you might suddenly lose your high paying job and for a few months might struggle to make ends meet. By renting, you have the option to downgrade into a more affordable living space. But if you’re a homeowner with an EMI, it’s much more difficult to break free of an expensive house because of the fees involved with buying and selling a home.

And I am sure many of you are experiencing this thing right now, as we speak. We are in the middle of a global health and economical crisis. Banks are giving moratoriums but they are not interest free. Roughly with every EMI you miss, 3 of those get added effectively. So, by taking a 6 month moratorium, you have effectively added a year and half to your home loan term. Also, if you, as a homeowner have invested a significant amount of money in renovations, the selling price might not cover these costs.

Better quality of life

Owing to the fact that today even in big cities like Mumbai your monthly rent will be only 25% of your monthly EMI+maintenance + property tax expenditure, if you are renting, every month you will have a lot of extra cash. Of course, you should save and invest this extra cash but it also gives you the freedom to spend a part of it on daily comforts, better education for your kids or other luxuries like travelling and exploring the world.

Room to grow

The house you can afford to buy today won’t suffice you down the line once your family grows. This leads to a compromised lifestyle wherein either kids have to share rooms or they get no room of their own at all. On the other hand, if you are renting, your house can grow with your family, with a very small increase in your monthly expenditure.

What do you invest in, if not property?

So what do you do with all the extra cash with you by not paying an EMI? There are several ways to invest and multiply your money, with different amount of risk and reward associated with it.

But the most important concept to understand is ‘Always keep your savings separate from your investments.’ Confused?

Lock in a part of your money in safe investments like fixed deposits (FD’s), recurring deposits (RD’s), public provident fund (PPF), national pension scheme(NPS), LIC etc. These funds will give you a fixed return(which might not be very high), but no matter what you can be sure of those returns and rely on them, irrespective of the market volatility.

For the rest, have you ever heard of the proverb – ‘Don’t put all your eggs in one basket?”

Meaning, build yourself a diversified portfolio. You could invest in –

  • Stocks – This is a high risk high reward option where in both short term and long term investment options are available
  • Mutual funds – If you are in it for a long term, investing in mutual funds is a good medium risk option which can typically give you returns around 12%-18%.
  • Gold – I personally find physical gold a burden to take care of. But now, you can buy paper gold or gold bonds which get linked with your demat account at a click of a button. It is a good option to have as a part of your portfolio, as many a times when markets are crashing the rates of gold and silver are rising.
  • Rentvest – Rentvesting is when you purchase a property as an investment while living in a rental property yourself. As you’re buying an investment and not a first home, you can buy it in a more affordable location and put it out on rent. The income from the rent can be used to pay a part of the EMI for that property. This asset equity can be used later, as bank security to buy a home in your preferred area, or to purchase another investment. You could also rentvest in a retail or commercial property which has a better rental yield (around 6%) and typically lower maintenance costs.


If you have money lying around you and you are in it for a long haul, go for it!

If you have an existing property which covers at least 60%-70% of the cost of your new property, it might still not be that bad to take a small short term loan commitment and invest in the new house.

But before planning to buy a property mainly on an EMI, chart down your dreams, think logically not emotionally and do your math accurately.

Don’t forget I am an architect by profession who works at a real estate development firm. Designing and building homes is my bread and butter. So even if after reading all this you all still decide to buy a home, good for me!



If you have any queries you can post them in the comments section.

Religious Prejudice: Lies, Damned lies and Statistics

We have all grown reading about the Hindu-Muslim conflicts. But unlike the caste system, I personally never believed that religious discrimination and persecution of minorities had ended. It has been 70 years since Independence, and we haven’t made much progress in abolishing the same. Resentment and prejudice against minorities, particularly Muslims is common in India, but we have simply not acknowledged the sheer existence and scale of prejudice and discrimination. Hence, there has been little public debate or empirical analysis to establish the presence of discrimination and/or identify its sources.

The exclusion and discrimination of Muslims and other religious minorities is not episodic, but in fact, both everyday and institutional. It runs across all sectors and runs so deep that this religious prejudice appears normal to most people who perhaps don’t notice it or are unaware of it. This belief runs so deep that the government and media successfully managed to misreport and link a global health crisis of Covid 19 to  the Muslim community, increasing the social tension between the Hindu and Muslim communities and leading to increased discrimination, harassment and attacks. 

Over the past few months of lockdown, it is hard to tell which is galloping faster: the coronavirus or Islamophobia? From saffron flags on vegetable carts to the widespread use of expressions such as ‘corona jihad’, it has been a free fall and people have forgotten that – ‘A virus has no religion.’ These indirect anti-Muslim feelings have given way to direct hate-mongering. Social boycott has been compounded with economic boycott fostered with fake videos of Muslim vendors deliberately smearing fruits and vegetables with their saliva. The fake stories grab the front-page headlines and occupy centre-stage in raucous filled television shows; the rebuttals and clarifications are always too little, too late and unreported by the mainstream media. The damage has been done and the WhatsApp media industry is in full swing regurgitating misinformation and malice. As a country, we are split wide open.

Today, it has become more important than ever to recognize that religious identity remains an important axis of discrimination in India, and act to change this. The most dangerous and unfortunate part of any system of apartheid is the fatigue of those who are optimistic despite the discrimination. As each optimist begins to lose hope, the discrimination wins and gets rooted a little more firmly.

As Pablo Neruda said in his poem, ‘If you forget me‘:

Well, now,

If little by little you stop loving me
I shall stop loving you, little by little

If suddenly,

you forget me,do not look for me
for I shall already have forgotten you.

Today’s guest writer, Shoeb Khan, is a dear friend who I know for more than 10 years now. He runs his own architectural practice called Amakin. He, like any good friend, is a helpful person who would leave everything to go help a friend in need. I have attended his wedding and have been hosted in his family home with the utmost warmth and love and treated as one of their own. And yes, he is a Muslim.

Everytime someone talks about a particular community with hatred, I wonder, if they have ever tried to personally know anyone from these communities before following this set notion in their minds. There are bad people in this world who do bad shit, and they come from different communities, castes, genders and economic backgrounds. Generalising and pin-pointing certain communities is anything but fair. 

I met him when I was 18 and, believe it or not, he is my first friend from the Muslim community.  Now when I look back, I feel quite shocked that in the first 18 years of my life I rarely ever came in contact with or knew any Muslims, in my school or my neighbourhood or even anyone amongst my parents friends and acquaintances. Yes, that’s how isolated we are – completely unaware of how this community is marginalised and mistreated on religious grounds. When someone you know is wronged, you feel enraged but when you don’t know the person or community being wronged, you just ignore it and move on with your life. Doesn’t it seem really unjust and prejudiced?

So today, we are going to hear from someone who has been a part of the biggest religious minority community in India and faces the harsh realities of the same every single day. 

Shoeb Khan, Architect - Founder of Amakin Studio, India

I am Mohammed Shoeb Khan and I am a Muslim. My great grandfather, a member of the Muslim League, consciously took the decision of staying back in his HOMELAND and called India OUR country. My grandfather and father followed his footsteps. Even though my father went to Saudi Arabia in his youth, he came back and got settled here. I also decided to stay here even when most of my privileged Muslim as well as Hindu friends opted to leave for better opportunities in the West. There has always been a hatred in the minds of people against our community but if I have learnt one thing, especially during the past six years, is that I am really hated for my identity as a Muslim in MY country – India.

March 2020- The Muslim community was accused of spreading the corona virus on purpose, on the basis of misinterpreted data and biased testing sample set.

December 2019- The notorious Citizenship amendment bill was passed with a majority in both houses and made an act. 

November 2019- The controversial judiciary decision pending for almost 3 decades was pronounced by the Supreme court awarding the disputed 2.77 acres of land to one party and ‘GIFTING’ 5 acres of land to the other party anywhere in the country. 

July 2019- The conflicting Triple Talaq bill was passed with a majority in the parliament.

June 2019– Tabrez Ansari was stopped by a mob while riding his motorcycle in Kharsawan, Jharkhand, accused of being a bike thief, forced to chant ‘JAI SHREE RAM’ and beaten up resulting in his death.

April 2017- Pehlu Khan, a resident of Haryana, was stopped by a mob of around 200 people in Alwar, Rajasthan while on his way from a cattle fair in Jaipur Rajasthan and beaten up resulting in is death.

September 2015– Mohammed Akhlaq’s house in Bisara, Dadri, UP, was ambushed by a mob, accused him of having beef in his house, beat him up in front of his family resulting in his instant death.

February 2002- Ehsan Jafri, a former MEMBER OF PARLIAMENT, residing in Ahmedabad, Gujrat, was dragged out of his house along with several others and attacked and killed with swords and bats by a mob.

In all the above listed incidents, there are 3 major similarities, a certain community, a certain leader and a certain political party. A strongly optimistic person would fly them by as mere coincidences. I consider myself in the category of the long list of sarcastic ‘anti-national’ pessimists like Anurag Kashyap, Farhan Akhtar, Javed Akhtar, Javed Jaffery, Rana Ayyub, Ravish Kumar, Swara Bhaskar…

Incidents like these cast a disturbing shadow on my identity. I have seen some of my closest friends and colleagues changing their attitude post 2014. It’s as if there was this huge national shackle on this country’s majority, which our dear ‘KING DAENERYS’ arrived to break. I have seen posts and statuses online from many people and have been disgusted to the point of resignation and loss of all hope of redemption of ‘MY’ countrymen. 

The question then arises, why the hypocrisy for the past 73 years? If I was always unwelcome here, why was I allowed to be a member of this society, a natural citizen of this country in the first place.
Oh! I know, who would ‘THEY’ play ‘HUNGER GAMES’ with, if not for me.


Here are a few personal instances of my life that left me dumbfounded at the bigotry and blind biases of both citizens,government servants and authorities of India.

My architecture college is near the famous Siddhivinayak temple in Mumbai which is a high security area. Anyways, one day out of several bikes, my bike was stopped at a random police check post called ‘Nakabandi’. One of my hostel seniors (not a Muslim) was with me. FYI- both of us had beards. After the routine checking of all official documents, the policeman started asking me strange questions regarding my permanent address, my family background, my father’s business ventures etc. I felt strange and got agitated and asked him why were these questions relevant and addressed to only me from a bunch of people stopped. And he calmly replied because of our appearances and since we had untrimmed beards. (That’s right-the 21st century it is!) I did not know what he meant by that statement but his attitude towards me was highly condescending and unacceptable especially since he was very calm and respectable to my fellow passenger with an untrimmed beard.

Another incident that really boggled my mind was at the airport back when I was barely 18 years old. My parents were returning to Saudi Arabia and their flight was from Mumbai. This was at a time before the new T2 was constructed when the family members of the passengers were allowed into the airport upto a certain point to see off their loved ones. I wanted to give my father a hand with the luggage and family members of other passengers were being allowed inside. But out of the blue, I was stopped without any explanation. It was only later, I realized that this was because of my name and the fact that I was a Muslim.

All of these could be bitter coincidences but after the past 5 years of chaotic and shocking experiences nationally, I have begun to see a pattern in all of this. There are several such events in my personal life as well as lives of my family and close friends, but the idea is not to point fingers at all the government servants in all the government institutes or to gain sympathy but to highlight tyranny at the smallest of levels like my person to the highest of levels like in the case of Advocate Shahid Azmi. Wherever I go, even today, on learning my name, people’s behaviour alters, and suspicious glances are exchanged. Suddenly, it feels like all they can see in me is the fact that I am a Muslim, nothing else. 

In the words of the great MARK TWAIN, ‘I have seen Chinamen abused and
maltreated in all the mean, cowardly ways possible to the invention of a degraded
nature, but I never saw a policeman interfere in the matter and I never saw a
Chinaman righted in a court of justice for wrongs thus done to him.’

After a brief period of heartbreak, depression and anger over the situation, I came to the conclusion that our country has a rich and eternal history of resistance and resilience towards such atrocities and if we do not learn from it and apply it into practice in our lives in such hard times, we might as well resign being its citizens.

The power of organized educated democracy at the social level, the power of education and institutes at the system level, the power of the pen at the intellectual level and the power of words and speeches at the political level can and will bring the change. Maybe, we might not live to see those changes, but we certainly can be the trigger that starts the wheel rolling in the right direction.

I end with a few lines from a beautiful poem by Sahir Ludhianvi that moved me severely. 

P.S. – Pardon the tough Urdu words, I am sure the essence of the overall poem shall sink in everyone’s heart. 

Dharti ki sulagti chhati se bechain sharare puchhte hain
Tum log jinhen apna na sake vo ḳhoon ke dhare puchhte hain
                         Sadkon ki zaban chillati hai sagar ke kinare puchhte hain                           Ye kis ka lahu hai kaun mara ai rahbar-e-mulk-o-qaum bata

Ye jalte hue ghar kis ke hain ye katte hue tan kis ke hain
Taqsim ke andhe tufan me lutte hue gulshan kis ke hain
Bad-baḳht fizaen kis ki hain barbad nasheman kis ke hain
kuchh ham bhi sunen ham ko bhi suna.

Kis kaam ke hain ye din-dharm jo sharm ka daman chaak karen
Kis tarah ke haiñ ye desh-bhagat jo baste gharon ko ḳhaak karen
ye ruhen kaisi ruhen hain jo dharti ko napak karen
ankhen to utha nazren to mila.

Jis raam ke naam pe ḳhuun bahe us raam kī izzat kya hogi
jis dharm ke hathon laaj lute is dharm ki qimat kya hogi
insan ki is zillat se pare shaitan ki zillat kya hogi
ye kis ka lahoo hai kaun mara
ai rahbar-e-mulk-o-qaum bata

Now you might all ask- But what about all the terrorist attacks we have faced in the past? That is real. It is not something made up by the media. Well, to that I, VD, would just like to conclude by saying that – Yes, that is real. But so are the thousand of violence stories against these communities which are happening everyday and going undocumented, without any justice served. A person just doesn’t wake up one day and become a criminal or a terrorist. It is almost always, his past that leads him to chose that path. And we are all responsible for that past. 

We must always remember, the more we traumatise, isolate and persecute the minority communities, the hate crimes against them will keep increasing in turn leading to rise of ‘rebels’ who then try to take justice in their own hands. Also, you just can not hold an entire community accountable for something done by a handful of people. There are many Hindu criminals as well, but that doesn’t make you and me bad people as well, or does it? 

The only way to end terrorism as we know it, is to accept and include these communities in our society. Treat them as equals and fellow citizens. 

Social equality for all is the only way to live peacefully in the future.

P.S. – There have been many shows like ‘The Family man’ and ‘Paatalok’ on Amazon prime recently showing this issue quite well. If you want to do some more serious reading you can check out the book ‘Begunah Qaidi’ by Abdul Wahid Shaikh (available in Hindi and Urdu, will be soon made available in English as well) or his youtube channel. Go watch these, think, reflect and change your thoughts and actions. 

RVD Wedding video

The long wait has finally come to an end! Just two days before I was going to get the final edited videos of my wedding, the whole country went into a lockdown. All offices were shut, including the video editor’s. Finally, today more than 6 months after our wedding celebrations,RVD wedding videos are finally out!

So here I am presenting to you – The RVD wedding highlight!

For those who are interested in seeing the long detailed version (more than an hour long) capturing almost every important moment – this is for you. 

People who think it is too long, just skip! 

You can read about how R and VD went about planning their wedding here.

You can also check out how to go about your wedding shop here.

Photographer and videographer – Jetaime production house. You can check them out on Facebook and Instagram.

Wedding venue – Basho Bougainvillea, Karjat

All Roads Lead to Home

Today, we are living in an unimaginable situation. The whole world has come to a standstill. People are stranded in different countries and cities, away from their loved ones. Many have lost their jobs and dying to come back home. For people stranded outside India it is almost impossible to get a flight back, as only repatriation flights are running. Also, for people stranded in different cities within the country, even though flights are running there is a fear to travel.

Palak Kapadia, 24, Copywriter by profession, storyteller by heart

Palak, our guest writer, spent the last year pursuing her postgraduate studies in New York City. You can check out some of her work at https://www.palakkapadia.com/. Having recently flown back to Mumbai in the midst of the pandemic, on a special request and in a hope that this will help many others, she has noted down her entire experience. If you’re planning to fly to India soon or know someone who is (or you’re just bored in quarantine), here’s the whole play-by-play.

One month before the flight:

I was graduating and my visa was set to expire on June 25th. This had been a major source of anxiety to me for the last few weeks because India was (and continues to be) under complete lockdown, operating only repatriation flights. I didn’t want to risk overstaying my visa.

Like several other Indian students, I came very close to being stranded in the USA with an expired visa. I found out about the Vande Bharat mission repatriation flights and signed up on the Indian embassy’s website to be considered for the same.

At the time, they were evaluating all applications on a case-by-case basis and contacting those eligible to travel personally to book the flight. This would mean that I wouldn’t know until a couple of days before or even the actual date of the flight that I had been chosen. As you can probably imagine, things seemed rather uncertain.

Two weeks before the flight:

On June 8th, Air India announced on Twitter that they were going to open bookings for Vande Bharat flights from their website. The plus side, this meant no more uncertain waiting for the embassy to get in touch. On the downside, I’d be competing with the rest of America in a fastest-fingers-first contest to get a seat on one of only 5 flights to Mumbai.

At 10:30am on the dot, I had 4 friends, my parents and myself trying to log on and make the booking. I’d assigned everyone a specific date from among the 5 available so that we’d have backups. After a good 45 minutes of cursing our way through the archaic Air India website, my roommate finally managed to make it to the payment gateway on the Air India iPhone app. I thus got my tickets from Newark (EWR) to Mumbai (BOM) for June 22nd, 2020. My one way ticket was priced at $1361.40. VERY expensive but honestly, I was just grateful to be going home.

I got two emails from Air India – an e-ticket and an itinerary receipt. The tickets have all the instructions you need to pack and prepare for the flight. I was also asked to fill and sign an Undertaking stating my date of travel, flight no., purpose of travel, etc. However, I see now that it has changed slightly and the new document can be accessed here: https://repat.videshapps.gov.in/user_registrationPg

Two days before the flight:

The baggage allowance was as follow: 2 x 23kg of check-in luggage and 1 x 8kg of carry-on luggage. The website didn’t mention specifically if an extra personal item/laptop bag was allowed, I decided to bring one.

I also read online that having a negative COVID test could help waive off the institutional quarantine so I got myself tested, just in case. However, I was asked to quarantine in a hotel regardless (more on that later).

Web check-in is mandatory for all passengers. The web check-in opened 48 hours before departure and I was able to pick a window seat as I’d have liked to. In order to prepare for the flight, I printed my boarding pass, the 2 emails (e-ticket and itinerary receipt) and the undertaking. The email also mentioned that they may inspect the card used for booking the ticket at the airport. Since my tickets were booked from my roommate’s card, I was asked to carry a photocopy of the front and back of her card with CVV covered, self-attested by her authorizing the use of her card for the purchase of my ticket. I brought this with me but it was never inspected.

On the day of the flight:

I arrived at the Newark airport at 8am (4 hours before the flight) to find a long queue already. The queue snaked through the waiting area and extended outside the terminal. There was barely any social distancing. While waiting in line, we were asked to fill and sign another undertaking stating that we don’t have any symptoms of COVID-19, are traveling at personal risk and consent to institutional quarantine in India at our own cost. Those who hadn’t printed the original undertaking were given a copy to fill at the airport.

Queue outside Newark airport

My temperature was also taken in this queue and was written on the undertaking. When asked, the medical staff told me that the cutoff to fly was 98.6°F. (For context, the average human temperature is 98.3°F, mine was 98.4°F.)

Next up, the embassy staff inspected our passports and collected the undertakings. Onward to the check-in counter.

The check-in counter was the point at which the normalcy of the airport returned. My bags were weighed. They’re quite strict about the weight-limit. One of my suitcases was slightly overweight (26kgs) and I was asked to reduce 3kgs. I panicked a little bit because I was holding up the line and decided to toss out the first heavy thing I could find – my bag of toiletries. (In retrospect, that was a bad idea because it was liquids that I couldn’t move to my cabin luggage.) On remeasuring, it weighed 24.3 kgs and was accepted. So I got out of that mostly unscathed, just a few lotions/face washes short.

My cabin bag was never weighed and personal item wasn’t questioned. But I may just have been lucky in that regard.

This whole process took well over an hour. Newark airport doesn’t have free trolleys but I highly recommend paying for one. I didn’t and I was exhausted by the time my bags were dropped. If the travellers are senior citizens or need wheelchair assistance, family members are allowed to accompany them till the baggage drop to help with the luggage.

After this, the process was as usual – border patrol inspected my passport, visa and tickets. There was the usual security check and I proceeded to my boarding gate.

In a major moment of panic, I realised my passport hadn’t been stamped. But a quick Google search revealed that passports are no longer stamped on exit from the USA, an electronic record of entries and exits is maintained on your form i-94 (https://i94.cbp.dhs.gov/I94/#/home). It takes a couple of days to update, mine has been updated now just over a day later. Phew!

At the boarding gate, thermal testing was done once more and passengers in middle seats were given additional PPE in the form of a full fibre robe. It was finally time to board the plane.

In the flight:

Air India crew welcomed us on board in full PPE. Every seat had a kit containing a mask, face shield and 6 sachets of sanitizer. Meals were kept packaged on all seats as well.

Kits on each seat consisting of food, water, masks etc.

Every time I board a flight and see the middle seat next to me is empty, I do a little prayer that it stays that way. For this one in particular, when they announced boarding was completed and the middle seat was still empty, I was overjoyed.It allowed me quite a bit of social distancing in an otherwise full flight.

I noticed some more empty seats on the flight. In fact the entire row behind mine was empty. I wonder now if they’re doing anything to accommodate emergency cases on these but at that moment, I shamelessly reclined my seat as far back as it would go and settled in for the 15 hours.

Other than mild turbulence, the flight was uneventful. What we think of as flying essentials (think in-flight entertainment, constant snacking, open bars, etc.) was a distant dream.

Contact with the crew is minimum.

Food and water are on your seat already. I found it to be sufficient but I had brought some of my own just to be safe (and also because I wanted my last slice of Artichoke pizza before I said adieu to NYC). The food itself was fine. I had requested a Jain meal, I have no idea if it was honoured or they had a standard meal that could work for everyone. Regardless, this is what it looked like:

Meal 1: A basil-tomato-mozerella sandwich, cheddar cheese and crackers, buttery spread (not butter lol), cookies and cream mousse and no-fat blueberry yoghurt.

Meal 2: Bread roll, buttery spread, blueberry muffin, protein bar, oatmeal and raisin cookies and no-fat blueberry yoghurt.

Snack: Orange juice, Haldiram Aloo Bhujia, fried vegetable straws, butter cookies and Cadbury Dairymilk.

Personally, I thought the food was great. Well, as great as airplane food can get! But if you’re hoping for Air India’s usual piping hot paneer and dal makhani fare, you’re in for disappointment. (For all their flaws, Air India has some of the best airplane food, fight me!)

If you’re a picky eater or for older people who don’t vibe with continental meals, I’d suggest carrying your own food. I would also recommend bringing an empty bottle of water so you can fill it after the security check.

There is no in-flight entertainment to avoid contamination. So download a lot of bingeable Netflix. The seats have a USB charging port for your phone/tablet. No newspapers/magazines are provided, bring your own.

There are no pillows/blankets provided and the flight gets chilly, so bring a light jacket and blanket.

I stayed the hell away from the bathrooms because I had zero desire of contacting anyone’s bodily fluids, pandemic or no pandemic. So I cannot comment on how clean/unclean they were.

I spent the journey drifting in and out of sleep and watching Netflix’s Elite (Spanish Gossip Girl, perfect for mindless bingeing). I also realised how easy quarantine has made sitting in one place for 15 hours straight.

Lastly, we were given a self-declaration to be filled in duplicate with all our details and confirming we don’t have any COVID symptoms.

After landing:

Like clockwork, we landed in Mumbai 15 hours later. Deboarding the plane took longer than usual as they were letting people out in batches.

There are several pitstops at the Mumbai airport. Thermal testing is done once again and you submit the self-declaration filled on the plane to the health ministry officials.

At this point, you must download the Aarogya Setu App and that is checked by the officials to monitor how much of a risk you pose. Having an active Indian SIM card is essential because you need an OTP to sign up.

Even to access the WiFi at the Mumbai airport, you need an OTP.

Those who didn’t have a sim card could purchase one from the Airtel kiosks at the airport. I had mine but it hadn’t been recharged in a year so it wasn’t functional. I had to ask one of my co-passengers for help to connect to the WiFi and recharged my SIM using Google Pay. Don’t make my mistake – recharge your SIM a day in advance 🙂

We then moved on to immigration and baggage claim which was business as usual.

After that we were given a list of hotels we could pick from to quarantine in. The list has the phone numbers of the hotel and you can call to check availability and book. Again, an Indian SIM is a must for this.

I asked if I could quarantine at home as I got a COVID test in the States and the reports were negative. However, I was refused and told home quarantine is only for specific cases such as pregnant women or people coming back for a death in the family.

I chose to quarantine at the Grand Hyatt, Mumbai. The tariff is INR 4000 per day inclusive of all taxes and 3 meals.

I was then directed outside the airport where a fleet of BEST buses waited to drive us to our respective hotels. We had to pay INR 100 for the bus fare. They accept cash and Google Pay. Having some Indian currency on hand helps simplify the process a lot. I was lucky I had enough on me to cover my fare and even help a couple others.

After a long and humid bus ride with several pit stops to drop people off, I arrived at Grand Hyatt in Santacruz. The whole payment (INR 28,000) has to be made upfront. Since, I didn’t have enough cash or an Indian card on me, my parents were allowed to come to the lobby and pay for my stay.

Meeting them after a full year, albeit from 6 feet away with only air hugs and flying kisses, was the highlight of my very long day.

I checked in to the hotel and that’s where I am now. Writing to you from a fancy room that I can’t leave for the next week. There’s a set food menu and my meals are brought to me.

View from the room in Grand Hyatt, Santacruz

Arriving at the hotel and taking a long bath, I felt a ball of anxiety unravel from the pit of my stomach. I realised then how stressful the whole ordeal of traveling during a pandemic had been. Even though my experience was pretty positive, I had been harrowed internally by the idea of being in such close proximity with 300 other people for 15 hours. I realised the magnitude of the fear and stress only as I finally felt it dissipate.

It made me extra thankful for embassy officials, Air India’s crew and BMC officials who put their lives on the line every single day just to bring us home. This may sound preachy but it really is something I need to acknowledge.

Please don’t be the person who is a brat on a repatriation flight. People are taking major personal risks just to do their job. Don’t make it harder than it is.

Can’t sleep on a plane without a glass of wine? Stay awake just this once. The power socket on your seat doesn’t work? Put away your phone. Read a book. Look out of the window.

There is a time and place for criticising the government. And there is a time and place for being cooperative.

Yes, this isn’t ideal. None of this is even normal. But at the end of it, you get to come home. And that, to me, is reason enough to be grateful.

If you have any more questions you can ask them in the comment section below.

Koffee with Kuntal – In dialogue with a Vegan mountaineer

I first met Kuntal two years back, when he visited our new venture Imagine cafe – Mumbai’s first vegan restaurant. And after that first ever conversation with him itself, I had developed an immense respect for him as a human being.

Fast forward to 2 years later, I started writing about veganism with an intent to educate people about the horrors of the livestock industry and benefits of a vegan diet. I asked him if he could give me a quote for one of my articles, he said he was always happy to collaborate and will write back to me with his answers. But I was completely shocked, when, 24 hours later, he wrote back to me in great detail and told me I could use the answers however I saw fit. I could sense his emotions and passion through the mail. That is when I decided that the story in this email conversation has to be out there for people to read, a quote is just not enough!

For those who don’t know him –

Kuntal Joisher, 40, from Mumbai is the man who became the first vegan to climb the Mt. Everest from north and south sides against all odds. He not only did it on a vegan diet but used only vegan gear including a one-piece synthetic suit made completely from animal-free material made by ‘Save the duck’, as well as mittens and gloves constructed devoid of down or leather . Amazing isn’t it?

So here it is!

At what point in your life did you decide to go vegan?What/who was your inspiration?

As a part of my upbringing I was taught and always believed that, ‘Animals are sentient and emotional beings with individual characters, and have as much right to live freely and happily as much as we do’. And so consequently I grew up a vegetarian. Then I moved to the United States in Aug 2001 to pursue my Masters degree. And then sometime in late 2002, my room-mate at the university exposed me to the horrors of the eggs, dairy, and leather industry. After that conversation, I connected the dots that a piece of meat, a cake made with eggs, a glass of milk, a block of cheese, or a leather belt, or the Down jacket I was wearing – are all the same and come from abused animals. 

That is the first time I actually thought about where the milk we consume comes from? Cows are impregnated over and over, their babies stolen from them and slaughtered for meat just so that you can have their milk! Or think about eggs – male chicks are worthless to the egg industry, and so every year, millions of them are suffocated or thrown into high-speed grinders while they are still alive. The birds are crammed so closely together that they are forced to urinate and defecate on one another. Disease runs rampant in the filthy, cramped sheds, and many birds die! What about that leather belt or feather jacket? These are made from the skins of cattle, horses, sheep, lambs, goats, pigs, elephants, snakes, and feathers of chickens, geese etc who are all slaughtered so that you can look good.

Every animal wants to live, just as much as we do. Every animal loves, just as we do and every animal feels the same amount of pain as we do. I learnt the true meaning of words empathy and compassion the day I decided to turn Vegan, some 17 years ago. It was the start of a new journey – like a rebirth. And it was the best decision that I have taken in my entire life.

This was not the end. I learnt more shocking facts. Animals raised for meat, eggs and milk – the livestock industry – generates 14.5% of global greenhouse gas emissions, uses up about 70% of agricultural land, and is one of the leading causes of deforestation, biodiversity loss, and water pollution. After knowing all this, I lost my sleep and peace of mind. I could not reconcile with the fact that as a Vegetarian I continued contributing to immense amounts of animal abuse, cruelty and slaughter, as well as destruction of the planet, and so I had to take a stand. That is the moment when I turned Vegan.

How did people in the mountaineering industry react when they came to know that you are planning to climb the Everest as a vegan?

Sometime in 2009, I realized that climbing Mt. Everest is the biggest dream of my life. I told myself that I am going to climb Everest as a Vegan, or not climb it at all. Most people in the high altitude mountaineering world thought I was crazy, as the recommended diet for extreme climbing expeditions includes salami, spam, cheese, processed meats, eggs, and dairy. I can’t eat any of these high-fat high-protein animal products. However, my diet has never been an issue. I’ve now been part of over 25 serious Himalayan climbing expeditions, and I’ve never had any problems being a vegan, even on this last climb to the top of Mt. Everest from the China side in May 2019! 

What is your diet like while training?

‘Whole foods plant based diet’.  Low fat, High carbohydrates. I love eating fruits, vegetables, beans, lentils, whole grains, dates, nuts / seeds and this diet has done wonders for me. I recover much quicker even when I do some of the most excruciating workouts (example – a 20 hour steep hike in the local mountains). On the other hand, every-time I eat unhealthy food such as deep fried stuff / white refined flour, I’ve realized that my recovery becomes slower. One’s body tells it what it likes. And my body likes a whole foods vegan diet. Some of my favorite foods are fruits such as Banana, Mango, Grapes, and power-packed dried Dates/Raisins/Figs, and I can not forget — the Oatmeal made with either water or soy milk (my favorite breakfast of all!).

Isn’t it hard trying to find vegan food while on an expedition?

My diet while on climbing expeditions is very different. At higher altitude the calorie requirements of a human body are dramatically different compared to while at sea-level. At Base camp, which is at 18,000 feet a climbers calorie requirements could easily be around 4000 calories a day, and this number would easily go upto 8-9000 calories at 25,000 feet, and a climber burns through about 15,000 calories on a typical Everest 20 hour round trip to the summit. While on an expedition, for me as long as the food is Vegan, I don’t care whether it’s healthy. I’ll eat it as I need the calories. For example a small bottle of 250 ml coke = 100 calories (99% simple carbs). A single oreo cookie = 45 calories, and so about 20 of them would be around 900 calories! These are all calories – Vegan calories, and they taste great, and at 23,000 feet where most people can’t eat anything, I would rather eat these and get my calories requirements met.

Regarding my diet while I’m climbing – a lot depends on where I’m climbing. If it’s the Himalaya, then most of the local food tends to be Vegetarian, and easy to Veganize. The food spread typically consists of Vegetable stews / curries, fruits, lentils, beans, soups, wheat bread, rice, potatoes, pasta, noodles etc. So on my climbs in the Himalaya, I stick to eating the local cuisine. At the same time I do carry comfort food from home which tends to be trail mix of dried fruits and nuts, nutrition bars made out of dates and nuts, and a few local snacks even if they are unhealthy (after all on the mountain – calories are calories – you need them!).  Veganizing the climbing expedition food menu isn’t that difficult. I’ve successfully worked with kitchen staff of expedition operators in the high Himalaya in India & Nepal, and even a remote region such as Northern Ice-cap in Chilean Patagonia.

For the Everest/Lhotse climb, at the Base camp (18,000 feet) / Camp two (21,500 feet) – I ate pretty much everything fresh right from beaten rice, to semolina / oat porridge, deep fried Indian bread and curry, Tibetan bread, pancakes, Lentils and rice, pasta, french fries, burgers, and several Indian food items – all Vegan of course. Our awesome cooks Ngima Tamang and Anup Rai even baked us a Vegan cake!  Beyond Camp two, I survived on mainly few things: Electrolyte & Energy powders, Freeze dried meals, Instant Soymilk oatmeal, Oreo cookies, Dried dates/figs, Dried fruit such as Kiwi, Pineapple, Papaya, Nuts – almonds & cashews, and some Indian comfort foods.

Do you think you had an advantage over other climbers or that you were compromising and taking a bigger risk by trying to climb on a vegan diet?

For me, when I shifted to eating a healthy vegan diet, I instantly had performance benefits during my training at sea-level. My recovery time improved, and I could train harder and harder for the big mountain climbs!

Another advantage I have over other climbers and that I have now been noticing for the past few expeditions is that I never catch a stomach infection. Most mountaineers at some point or the other during their expeditions catch a stomach bug that causes intense stomach pain, loose motions and these climbers tend to go weak and some of them never recover and go home. In my opinion most of these stomach issues are caused due to either lactose intolerance, or on the other hand infected meat. As a Vegan, I don’t eat any living beings or drink their by-products, which means that chances of catching infections is almost nonexistent. I have also recommended to my co-climbers to go Vegan when they catch infection and it has worked wonders with most of them!

But one of the biggest benefits and something that is not very obvious or tangible, is the amount of mental peace and focus that I derived after making this lifestyle change. Knowing that no animal or a sentient being died for me to go pursue my dreams gives me full peace of mind to go focus and achieve my dreams. If you are not already sold on the health benefits of this lifestyle, then I say go Vegan for the mental edge that this lifestyle gives you! And having climbed Everest and Lhotse, I know that in the end it’s all about your mental fitness and readiness.

And now, a question that every vegan is always asked- ‘But what about protein?

Protein is an essential nutrient, absolutely critical not just in building and repairing muscle tissue, but in the maintenance of a wide array of important bodily functions. Your body contains thousands of different proteins that serve different functions, all made from amino acids. It’s the arrangement of these amino acids that determines the type and function of a protein. There are 20 different amino acids that combine to form proteins, and although your body requires all of them, you only have the ability to make 11 of them. These are termed non-essential amino acids. The other nine—those you can’t make—are termed essential amino acids, and must be obtained from the diet. But these nine essential amino acids are hardly the exclusive domain of the animal kingdom. In fact, they’re originally synthesized by plants and are found in meat and dairy products only because these animals have eaten plants. Basically all animal protein is essentially recycled plant protein at the end of the day.

While certain foods—like soy, buckwheat etc — contain all nine essential amino acids in roughly equal amounts, other plant proteins have a lower amount of at least one essential amino acid. But that’s not a problem because your body does the work of making complete proteins for you. Your body creates a “pool” of amino acids from the food you eat throughout the day. So, if you eat oats in the morning, a salad at lunch, and legumes for dinner, your body will pool together all the essential amino acids from these foods and use them as needed to make proteins. This means you don’t have to worry about getting all the essential amino acids at any given meal. As long as you are eating an assortment of plant foods over the course of a day, your body will take care of the rest.

A plant based diet is devoid of Vitamin B12 and Vitamin D3? How to deal with that?

Now let’s see how a non Vegan gets these. The animals that are raised for dairy and meat are injected with high doses of Vitamin B12. These animals are then consumed by humans, who thus get Vitamin B12. To me this seems like a highly inefficient and a far more unnatural process. Wouldn’t it be smart to just inject yourself with Vitamin B12 or eat a tablet? Save the animal life, and make the entire process more sustainable? And similarly with Vitamin D3. So no I don’t think Veganism is unnatural or unbalanced, on the contrary it’s the most natural and balanced diet that a human can consume – a mix of vegetables, fruits, legumes, whole grains, nuts and seeds. Good for our health, the animals and the planet. Win win for everyone involved.

Would you like to give some pointer/tips for folks wanting to switch to a vegan lifestyle?

Start out by replacing your dairy and meat by Vegan  alternatives. For example, you can easily replace your milk with a plant based version such as Soy milk, Almond milk, Oat milk which these days is readily available in most grocery stores across India. Several companies such as Sofit, So Good, Soyfit, Good Mylk, Raw Pressery, Urban Platter etc provide plant based milk options. Then you can easily replace your meat with a plant based alternative. There’s Good Dot / Vezlay Vegan meat which is today available across India, or the Nutrella soya chunks that are available at almost every grocery store across India. Several companies offer Vegan versions of cheese, dahi, butter, ghee, sweets. These would be great stop gap arrangements as you transition to a diet filled with more vegetables, fruits, legumes and grains combined with occasional servings of vegan dairy and meat alternatives.

  • Another idea would be to gradually cut down one thing after another. For example, you can take a 21 day challenge of completely cutting out lets say “eating chicken”. Research shows it takes about 21 days to form a habit, and so you can slowly take on these challenges and start cutting out animal products from your life.
  • Also during the journey there is a good chance that you will face cravings to eat animal products. Try and begin by eating vegan alternatives – in today’s world everything from Vegan butter to cheese to ice cream to Shrikhand etc is available. However, if you can’t find it and you go ahead and eat some non vegan stuff, don’t beat up yourself over it. It’s not the end of the world. The key here is to focus and stay committed to the path of transitioning to a Vegan. There’s not many people in the world who have found success without failing. So go easy on yourself.
  • Find other Vegans in your area, in your city, meet with them, attend the potlucks, learn Vegan recipes, discover Vegan and Vegan friendly restaurants, goto Vegan movie screenings, participate in a Vegan outreaches, follow and join various social media groups on Facebook and instagram to learn more about Veganism. Many people try to make the transition into the world of veganism alone, but if you have a group, community, or friends who are vegan, the transition is smoother and easier.
  • Be prepared to read food labels. If you’re serious about being vegan, checking food labels and verifying ingredients is a must. Just because a food product is not glaringly non-vegan doesn’t mean that it’s suitable for a vegan diet. Casein and whey, which come from milk, and honey are present in many cereal bars, breads, and granolas; while gelatin and tallow are derived from meat. Read the labels carefully before consuming.

If you have anymore questions for him, he is a gem of a person who is always happy to help. He reads and responds to every single message in his Facebook / Instagram message box. So, do not hesitate in reaching out to him.

As a Vegan, I have never told anyone of them to become a Vegan, instead my idea is to do spectacular things and inspire them to ask me a question — ‘What do you eat that you can pull off such feats?’.

Kuntal Joisher

You can read more about him and his Everest journey on his website.

Veganism – A compassionate lifestyle

Today, busy in our everyday routine, it can be easy to miss the connection between how we live and how other lives are affected by our lifestyle. In my last two articles, I spoke about how consuming meat and diary is not good for our body and environment. But let me clarify –

Veganism is not a diet, it is a lifestyle.

A lifestyle which seeks to exclude, as far as is possible and practicable, all forms of exploitation of, and cruelty to, animals for food, clothing or any other purpose. And at the heart of it is, compassion, justice and respect for all sentient beings.

A social justice movement

Bonded human labour and Slavery has existed in our society for tens of thousand years now. In the early 19th century, there was a global historic social justice movement known as ‘Abolitionism’ to end slavery. Today, majority of us look down upon slavery, something which was then an extremely common practise, wondering how humans could have been so heartless to trade their fellow beings and treat them in such an inhumane manner. ‘Veganism’ is a similar social justice movement against speciesism that places an animal’s right to be left to his or her own devices as the center of justice.

Alongwith what one chooses to eat or not eat, chooses not to wear, chooses to forego for entertainment and chooses to purchase in terms of cosmetics and household items, advocating for veganism is about fighting against the industries that profit from the use of animals. It’s about fighting against the governments that protect the rights of those industries to use and abuse animals. Ultimately, it is about reaching a public that allows and perpetuates the abuse of animals, and educating them about speciesism.

What is speciesism?

Speciesism is the core belief in the inherent supremacy of humans. It is what justifies  the confinement, torture, and murder of billions of animals for food, clothing, entertainment and research. The idea that human beings are the center of the universe and that animals are a sub-species is unethical.

Let’s look at some numbers.

India has a reputation as a vegetarian nation. But this may not be quite accurate. According to a nationwide survey, by the Office of Registrar General & Census Commissioner in 2014, reveals only 29% Indians are vegetarians. Amount of meat consumed in India is certainly lesser than the global average, but not as less as we might think it to be. Also, the rapid change from an agricultural society to industrial economy and surging population in India is driving the fastest-growing poultry market in the world, as cultural norms change and eating meat becomes a status symbol.

Source – Left: Our world in Data, Right: The Atlantic

Besides this, even though the consumption of meat in India might not be as high as compared to other countries like USA, India is one of the leading players in export of meat, especially beef. Shocked? India is one of the leading countries in production of milk and has less demand of beef within the country due to religious beliefs in certain cultures. As a result, most of the meat is exported, making India, one of the topmost exporters of beef in the world. And this is not going to change, unless we start drinking less milk.

Horrors of animal agriculture

Meat industry – Everyone knows that the meat on their plates is a result of an animal killed and slaughtered. But what most of them don’t know is that it isn’t a clean, quick death but an entire life of sufferings

Animals like cows, pigs, lambs spend most of their miserable lives in tiny gestation and farrowing crates so small that they can’t even turn around. They are impregnated repeatedly until their bodies give out and are then sent to slaughter. They are torn away from their mothers, they are branded with hot irons, dehorned, their teeth are snipped off with pliers and males are castrated – all without painkillers. After spending their short lives in cramped, crowded pens on slabs of filthy concrete, they are transported for slaughter without food and water. Those who don’t die on the way are shot in the head with a captive-bolt gun and hung up by one leg then have their throats cut before finally being dumped into tanks of scalding-hot water, which is intended to remove their hair and soften their skin. They die piece by piece.

It doesn’t even stop there. Once the cows are butchered, they are cleaned and injected with a cocktail of water, salt, preservatives and a chemical solution to enhance flavor, mask any foul ones, prolong the meat’s freshness or make it more tender. Much of this meat is then placed in airtight Modified Atmosphere Packaging (MAP) and inserted with gases to delay the aging process and make it appear fresher/redder for longer during transit and on store shelves. Many meat packagers purposefully leave off the ‘packaged on’ date, because if you saw that you wouldn’t buy it. All these processes are meant to provide more profits for the companies while worsening the health of the consumers.

Dairy industry – The dairy industry is often presented to consumers as wholesome and humane. What actually goes on at dairy farms doesn’t match up with the marketing message, though. There are no happy cows gladly providing their milk for humans to consume, as we are made to believe. Dairy cows lead miserable lives from the moment they are born.

Cows, like humans, have to be pregnant to produce milk. And the milk they produce, again like humans, is for their kids. But the dairy industry can not survive if cows mate whenever they feel like it. Hence, they are raped and artificially impregnated again and again through their whole life span. And it does not stop here. Immediately after birthing, her calf, male and female is immediately taken and dragged away, an unbelievably stressful affair for both, the calf and cow. Animal biologist Daniel Weary has proven that like us humans, cows are emotionally sensitive and when separated they often cry out in search of one another. As if the trauma of separation wasn’t enough, female cows are then hooked up to milking machines which are significantly more uncomfortable than the natural act of suckling their young. And in order to meet the demand of a greedy milk-obsessed nation, these cows are selectively bred and drugged. Due to cramped factory conditions and high-consumer demand, antibiotics and bovine growth hormone are used excessively in dairy farming as a means of fighting infection and increasing milk production. Once drugged, these cows bloat and produce up to ten times the amount of milk than they would naturally. The females are destined to follow in their mother’s footsteps, while the males face early slaughter for the veal industry. When these cows are spent, and cannot produce milk any more, dairy farmers brand these cows useless and send them to slaughterhouses only for their meat to be packaged and sold as hamburgers or pet food.

All the women out there, Imagine being repeatedly dosed with high levels of antibiotics and growth hormones, raped, compelled to give birth, only to have your child instantly removed from your care. Incomprehensible, isn’t it? Don’t you think, being a vegan is also a part of being a feminist?

Egg industry – Many people believe that there is no harm in eating eggs as there is no life in them. The reality, though, is that layer hens are given no more room or mercy than the animals raised for meat. Layer hens are the female chickens who spend their entire lives laying eggs for commercial purposes. Raising chickens for their eggs isn’t as wholesome a practice as the egg industry wants you to believe. In fact, the suffering and mistreatment of layer hens make it one of the cruelest types of farming in the food industry.

Hens are then shoved into tiny wire ‘battery’ cages, about the size of a file drawer with several other hens, unable to lift a single wing. Each hen gets about half a sq. ft of space. The birds are crammed so closely together that although normally clean animals, they are forced to urinate and defecate on one another. These cages are stacked one upon the other, due to which the faeces from the upper cages drip down on the birds in the lower cages. The stench of ammonia and faeces hangs heavy in the air, and disease runs rampant in the filthy, cramped sheds. Many birds die, and survivors are often forced to live with their dead and dying cage mates, who are sometimes left to rot. To prevent the birds from attacking each other, a large portion of their beaks are cut off with a burning-hot blade within hours or days of birth. No painkillers are used. Birds are in pain both during and after the procedure. Chicks, who often have a hard time eating and drinking after their beaks are mutilated, can suffer from hunger and dehydration because their food and water intake is greatly reduced for several weeks after the procedure.

Male chicks are worthless to the egg industry, so every year, millions of them are suffocated or thrown into high-speed grinders, called ‘macerators,’ while they are still alive.

After about two years in these conditions, the hens’ bodies are exhausted, and their egg production drops. These ‘spent’ hens are shipped to slaughterhouses. By the time they are sent to slaughter, roughly 30 percent of them are suffering from broken bones resulting from neglect, osteoporosis, and rough treatment. Their emaciated bodies are so damaged that their flesh can generally be used only for companion animal food. Their entire lives are like being under the ‘Cruciatus curse’ from the Harry Potters wizarding world. Being tortured till death.

Chicken industry – Chickens raised for their flesh are called ‘broiler’ chickens. They are typically confined to massive, windowless sheds that hold tens of thousands of birds each, where intense crowding and confinement lead to outbreaks of disease. Not only are they the most-killed animals for the purposes of feeding humans, but more chickens are killed for food every year than all other land animals put together. They’re bred and drugged to grow so large so quickly that their legs and organs can’t keep up, making heart attacks, organ failure, and crippling leg deformities common. Many become crippled under their own weight and eventually die because they can’t reach the water nozzles. When they are only 6 or 7 weeks old, they’re crammed into cages and trucked to slaughter.

Workers rush through the sheds, grabbing multiple birds by their legs and slinging them into crates for transport. Every year, tens of millions suffer broken wings and legs from the rough handling, and some hemorrhage to death. The journey to the slaughterhouse may be hundreds of miles long, but chickens are given no food or water. After this nightmarish journey, the bewildered chickens are dumped out of the crates, and workers violently grab them and force their legs into shackles so that they are hanging upside-down, breaking many birds’ legs in the process. Once in the shackles, the upside-down birds are dragged through an electrified water bath meant to paralyze them, not render them unconscious. This means that chickens are still completely conscious when their throats are cut, and many are literally scalded to death in the feather removal tanks after missing the throat cutter.

Isn’t it horrible? Do you have goosebumps on your hands? I am sure you do because compassion is one of our core belief system and we love animals, at least some if not all.

And the industry knows that people love animals, and so they make every effort to keep us from finding out what goes in those windowless factory farms. Instead they bombard us with lies in the form of happy cow and chicken ads and visuals of cows grazing in a huge field with her calf on her side.

Many people think that animals are slaughtered after living their full lives. But that’s not true. They are slaughtered as soon as their meat is good enough to be sold or their bodies are spent and can not produce anymore milk or eggs.

Source: plantbasednews.org

The meat paradox

Have you ever thought why do we eat a pig, wear a cow and love a dog? Why do we feel sick at the thought of eating a dog, but hungry at the thought of eating a pig or cow or chicken? Or how we can feel so outraged about whaling while continuing to enjoy fish and chips? Why do some animals appear to deserve our concern and consideration and others so much less so when anatomically as well as emotionally they are all the same?

“There is an invisible and dominant belief system that conditions us to eat certain animals and love others. A belief system that is against our core values of compassion and justice. And the primary tool of this system is ‘psychic numbing’ which is a psychological process by which we disconnect, mentally and emotionally, from our experience; we numb ourselves. In and of itself, it is not evil. It is adaptive or beneficial when it helps us to cope with violence. But it becomes maladaptive or destructive when it is used to enable violence, even if that violence is as far away as the factories in which animals are turned into meat. The mechanisms of psychic numbing include denial, avoidance, routinization, justification, objectification, deindividualization, rationalization and dissociation.”

Melanie Joy, author, An introduction to Carnism

Another important mechanism I personally feel is ‘Convenience’, ‘greed’ and ‘culture’. We first discarded all wildlife or animals who could potentially harm humans when they are tried to be domesticated in huge numbers. The rest we categorized them into categories like – pests, pets and meat. Now which animal is classified in which category stems from our cultural and religious influences whereas convenience and greed get factored in along the way. The same animal can be classified in different categories in different parts of the world based on socio-economic factors.

Let’s take an example of a rabbit. You may see wild rabbits running around, or you may have friends who keep rabbits as pets. Some people eat rabbits. And in still other situations rabbits are used for scientific or cosmetic research. What’s right and wrong in the way we treat animals?

“One thing that enables us to negotiate these sort of difficult questions is that we have category systems in our head so we can put a rabbit in the pet category. We can put it in the meat category. We can put it in the pest category. And then we treat them completely, completely differently,”

Hal Herzog, author of Some We Love, Some We Hate, Some We Eat: Why It’s So Hard to Think Straight About Animals.

Another example is that of dogs. Dogs in India and America are classified as pets, but around 25 million dogs are slaughtered for food every year in South east Asia. Similarly, cow meat or beef is what an American eats at least once or maybe twice a day but it is illegal in India to do so.

Also some other factors influencing the classification might have been how dogs and cats are smaller and more manageable to keep at home whereas animals like cows and pigs are big, hence much more difficult for everyone to be kept at home and much more useful commercially as they can be milked and reared for meat. A cruel and unjust definition of balance of these human emotions of greed and convenience (for the consumers as well as for the sellers) influenced by culture and religion has led to segregation ofanimals as we know today in our respective parts of the world. And somehow through the years systematically with lot of players involved, we have managed to rationalize this and ingrain it deep into ourselves forgetting that all animals have something incredibly important in common. They are all sentient beings with emotions, who can feel pain, just like us.

Today, we have not only managed to disassociate but very conveniently also differentiate between them just like we have managed to differentiate between our own kind based on race, caste, money,sex etc.

Human victims of Factory Farming

Slaughterhouses are sinister places. Making a living from killing helpless animals must surely take its toll on anyone with an ounce of compassion. There have been many undercover investigations into factory farming over the years, many of which expose the inhumane conditions in which animals are forced to live on these farms. But the animals aren’t the only ones subjected to cruelty. The people working there are also severely impacted physically and mentally by industrial animal agriculture. 

This industry employs the most vulnerable people in the society, as who else would be willing to spend their entire days amidst animal blood and carcass? Factory farms depend on these vulnerable types of employees because they are thankful for the work and, as a result, unlikely to unionize, will endure horrible working conditions, long hours (sometimes 10-hour days or more) and be satisfied with very little pay. 

The longer the employees work at factory farms, the more likely they are to be injured. An employee who works at a factory farm for five years has a 50%  chance of being injured at the workplace. This could range from contracting diseases from handling the animal carcasses to severe injuries from using the line equipment.

During an average workday, employees inhale anything from ammonia to hydrogen sulfide, plus a number of other airborne bacteria. The air quality is so bad in these farms that 70% of farm workers experience some sort of respiratory issue. There are also long-term injuries to the employees’ hands, arms, shoulders and backs due to the physical and repetitive nature of the work. You would think that an occupation with such a high injury and illness rate would offer adequate healthcare to their employees. Unfortunately, many of these workers go without healthcare or cannot find proper transportation or time off to get them to a doctor. Most workers are afraid of reporting these conditions because they want to keep their jobs. Labor laws are also not taken too seriously in the factory farming industry. While no employees under 18 years old are ‘officially’ hired, investigations have shown workers as young as 15-years-old employed by these farms.

Many stories of slaughterhouse workers are emerging which gives us an insight into how their minds and bodies are affected by their everyday work.

Unsurprisingly, many workers develop addictions, drinking problems and anxiety issues related to their work. One worker explained that the key to getting through the role was ‘disassociation’ and to become ‘numb to death and suffering’. But this disassociation psychology at work was also making many of them violent outside work. In fact, researchers have found a connection between numerous after work fights instigated by slaughterhouse workers and the killing and dismembering of animals all day at work. They are increasingly feeling the weight of killing helpless, emotional beings.

You can and must read the detailed article on ‘Confessions of a slaughterhouse worker’ by BBC


Do animals feel pain?

Mammals share the same nervous system, neurochemicals, perceptions, and emotions, all of which are integrated into the experience of pain, says Marc Bekoff, evolutionary biologist and author. Many of us have pets, and we all know they feel pain, they express it in their own ways which we understand. Then why do you think cows, pigs, turkeys,fish and chicken are any different? They not only feel pain but all other emotions as well. They form relationships. Cows and pigs are as smart as dogs if not more.

Don’t plants feel pain?

No. Plants respond to stimuli, for example by turning towards the light or closing over a fly but they have no brain or central nervous system, which means they can’t feel anything. Regardless, going vegan is by far our best bet. We have to eat, it’s a matter of survival. And eating plants directly, rather than feeding them to animals and then killing those animals for their flesh requires far fewer plants and doesn’t hurt animals, who, we already can see feel pain. So if you worry about plants welfare, going vegan is your best option.

What about organic, free range meat and ethical / humane slaughter?

Animals on organic and ‘free-range’ farms endure the same cruel mutilations such as debeaking, dehorning, and castration without painkillers. Also, they, too, are artificially impregnated every year, and their calves are taken from them soon after birth. Cows on organic farms often aren’t given antibiotics even when they’re sick or when their udders become infected, something that happens often because medicated animals lose their “organic” status.

There is no such thing as humane/ethical slaughter. The words humane/ethical and slaughter are completely contradictory and can’t coexist in the same sentence. However quick the process is, cutting short the life a living being by killing it can never be humane! It is like giving a person a luxurious life for half a year and then killing him, because he has had enough freedom and enjoyment. Isn’t it extremely messed up?

What has been happening since human beings began to breed, raise, and kill animals has been a continual genocide. This genocide has been going on for thousands of years without a pause. In fact, it is increasing with human population growth and industrialization.

But it needs to stop now, and you can be a big part of this social justice movement with us against using animals for our own selfish needs, which our future generations are going to look back down upon, just like we look down upon slavery, sati system etc. And every small step matters in this long fight. So do not hesitate to take your first step, how much ever small and insignificant it might feel in the moment.

Despite there being plenty of sound ethical arguments in favour of veganism, people’s moral compasses vary enormously, and while some people are unaware of many of the facts about how meat is produced, and how animals are treated, others are well aware but choose to turn a blind eye. This is something people do with many potentially troubling issues in the world, from the destruction of the environment to poverty to racism, sexism and patriarchy. Why? Because as long as something directly does not affect us ‘Ignorance is bliss’. But as veganism grows in popularity around the world, there is the distinct possibility that the compassion vegan ethics promotes in relation to animals might produce benefits for humanity and the planet as a whole. We live in hope.

Lastly, if you found this series of articles about veganism eye-opening, please share it with a friend. And have that friend share it, too. The more people who know the truth behind the meat industry, the more lives are changed by the power of knowledge, choice and informed action. We can change the cycle by starving it. Don’t give this industry any more money; they are poisoning animals, us, and our world! Feel free to contact me on my mail vidhi228@gmail.com or instagram for any queries. Thank you!














Veganism and health

Today, we are in the middle of a global crisis caused by the COVID 19 pandemic. All over the world millions of people have been infected and are dying everyday. But indirectly, each and every person has been affected as all the economies have shut down in an attempt to curb the spread of the virus. Most businesses are having a hard time surviving and millions of people have lost their jobs and are unable to meet their basic needs of paying rents or EMI’s and providing for their families. The whole world is crippled and come to a halt.

But what is the root cause for all this?

Raising and killing animals for human consumption breeds disease and is the root cause behind this global pandemic. Despite the obvious need to close live-animal markets and slaughterhouses, these places are still open for business. And this is not the only health crisis caused by consumption of animals and animal products. Let me start with clarifying that,

Meat and dairy are not good for your body.


I know there are thousands of questions popping in your head and I will try to answer all of them, one by one.

What’s wrong with milk?

You can read more about – How an advertisement campaign got us duped into believing milk is necessary for healthy bones here.

What’s wrong with meat?

What’s wrong with fish?

So what is the solution you might ask?

Ditch animal products.

We are anatomically herbivorous and during most of our evolutionary history, we were largely vegetarian. Our body is not designed to eat meat, unlike carnivores.

  • Humans have short, soft fingernails and small “canine” teeth. In contrast, carnivores all have sharp claws and large canine teeth that are capable of tearing flesh.
  • Carnivorous animals swallow their food whole, relying on extremely acidic stomach juices to break down flesh and kill the dangerous bacteria in it, which would otherwise sicken or kill them. Our stomach acids are much weaker in comparison, because strong acids aren’t needed to digest prechewed fruits and vegetables.
  • Animals who hunt have short intestinal tracts and colons that allow meat to pass through their bodies relatively quickly, before it can rot and cause illness. Humans’ intestinal tracts are much longer than those of carnivores of comparable size. Longer intestines allow the body more time to break down fiber and absorb the nutrients from plant-based foods, but they make it dangerous for humans to eat meat. The bacteria in meat have extra time to multiply during the long trip through the digestive system, increasing the risk of food poisoning. Meat actually begins to rot while it makes its way through human intestines, which increases the risk of developing colon cancer.
  • Carnivores’ jaws move only up and down, requiring them to tear chunks of flesh from their prey and swallow them whole. Humans and other herbivores can move their jaws up and down and from side to side, allowing them to grind up fruit and vegetables with their back teeth. Like other herbivores’ teeth, humans’ back molars are flat for grinding fibrous plant foods.

A 100% plant based diet also known as a vegan diet is what is best for our personal health as well as for our environment.

I am sure the next big question that would have come in your minds would be – ‘But is an only plant based diet healthy?

A plant based diet or vegan diet is not only healthy, it is healthier compared to a non vegetarian diet.

A whole food plant based diet is the only diet that has been proved successful in reversing lifestyle diseases.

But what about our calcium and protein?

Only 18% of global calorie and 37% of global protein comes from animals.

This shows that we are anyways getting majority of our nutrients from plants. In fact, all the nutrients we get from animals, including proteins, is originally synthesized by plants and are found in meat and dairy products only because these animals have eaten plants. Basically, all animal protein is essentially recycled plant protein at the end of the day. But when you eat it through animals, they come with lot of other burden like high levels of cholesterol, animal hormones, etc.

So why not eat it directly through plants, like its meant to be?

You can get all essential nutrients like protiens, calcium, minerals and vitamins through plants itself. Lets compare few of the basic nutrients we get from certain animal and plant foods. Also, while studying this table it is important to keep in mind that it is not only about the numbers but also how the human body reacts to these nutrients.

I know, you will find it difficult to believe everything I said. So, I interviewed a Mumbai based doctor, Dr. Rashmi Menon to clarify our doubts.

Dr. Rashmi Menon, is a Holistic Medical Doctor and psychotherapist who specializes in reversing lifestyle diseases and homeopathy. She has been helping patients become medicine free and lead a healthy life since two decades.

VD – Is it true that milk actually depletes calcium from bones?

RM – The bone-thinning condition called osteoporosis can lead to small and not-so-small fractures. Although many people think of calcium from milk in the diet as good protection for their bones, this is not at all the whole story. In fact, in a 12-year Harvard study of 78,000 women, those who drank milk three times a day actually broke more bones than women who rarely drank milk. Similarly, a 1994 study of elderly men and women in Sydney, Australia, showed that higher dairy product consumption was associated with increased fracture risk. Those with the highest dairy product consumption had approximately double the risk of hip fracture compared to those with the lowest consumption.

Yes, milk has calcium as seen in the lab studies, but only 30 percent of this is actually absorbed in the bones. To protect your bones you do need calcium in your diet, but you also need to keep calcium in your bones.  This can be easily covered by a whole food plant based diet with inclusion of greens, sesame seeds, legumes, etc, along with exercises which help the bones to absorb calcium as well as vitamin D either directly from the sun or supplementation.

VD – What are the benefits of having a plant based diet? What all diseases can it reduce the risk for and by how much? Is a vegan diet actually helpful in reversing lifestyle diseases?

RM – Since food is a major part of our lifestyle, it is also a major cause when it comes to lifestyle diseases. The animal products in our diet increase acidity, have low fiber, are high in fat and cholesterol, antibiotics, steroids and hormones, all of which hinder the normal functioning of the body.  Over time this malfunctioning manifests in the form of lifestyle diseases. A plant based diet along with a moderate exercise routine can reduce the risk of lifestyle diseases and cancer by about 40%. A few lifestyle diseases that have scope of reversal are heart disease, diabetes type 2, PCOD, PCOS, asthma, obesity, fatty liver, renal disease, migraines, IBS, acidity. Refined, processed food and foods filled with chemicals in the form of pesticides, fertilizers, preservatives and colorants can also have a similar effect on the body, which is why vegans who eat an unhealthy diet can also suffer from lifestyle diseases.

VD – Can you share some real life stories of your patients and how a vegan diet has helped people reverse lifestyle diseases.

RM – A vegan diet can definitely help people feel lighter and more healthier. Eating wholesome real food meant for the human body otherwise called a whole food plant based diet with high raw, has helped hundreds of my patients reverse their disease. It eliminates everything that physically triggers the body to dysfunction.  Sharing just a few here:

A 60-year-old lady with 10 plus years of diabetes was able to get off her medicines in a month by following the wfpb plan, stress reduction methods as well as a moderate exercise plan.

A 40-year old lady, diagnosed with stage 3 breast cancer and was able to see re-absorption of some of her breast lumps as well as calcification of the rest in a one year time period.  This was possible partially due to the inculcation of a strict high raw wfpb regimen.

A 45 year old professional suffering from high blood pressure and diabetes for 8 years saw a reduction in his blood sugar and blood pressure readings within a month of starting the plan, and was gradually able to get off medicines within the span of 6 months.  Here too, the wfpb diet played a majpr role.

A 30-year-old saw the PCOD cysts disappear in two months follow up sonography.  She was able to follow vegan diet 100% and the wholesome part around 50%. 

VD – If this is true, then why do many dietitians and doctors still suggest milk, eggs and meat to be included in a healthy diet?

RM – Over time we have formed the habit of disintegrating food and depending on lab tests to find out how much of the identifiable nutrients are there in the food and to segregate them and apply them in our diet.  This does not take into consideration the fact that the human body as well as the food found in nature have so many components and nutrients in them which we are still in the process of identifying. Since we believe only what the lab says, if we were to take a drop of milk to the lab and test, it will show a certain amount of calcium, protein, etc.  What it will not show is, how much of the same is absorbed into the body and what are the other effects of the same on the body.

The dairy, poultry and meat industry has grown into a big organisation providing employment to many people. Since it is important to keep the demand on, most studies on the merits of these products are also funded by the same industry. But the best study is the one which we experience ourselves.  One of the best things to do is to just drop these animal products from our diet for just one month, and keep notes on the changes observed in the body—physically and mentally.  This is the only study which cannot be manipulated.

VD – What about vitamin D and B12? Is taking supplements for these vitamins safe?

RM – Whether vegan or not If we live in an urban setting chances are we will need to take B12 and Vitamin D supplements.  Vitamin D is a hormone created under the skin on exposure to sunrays and then stored in the liver.  Due to the pollution particles in the air in the cities the the sunrays that reach the skin are low quality.  Add to it our indoor lifestyle and use of sunscreens, the city dwellers then to suffer from Vitamin D deficiency.  

Vitamin B12 is created by the bacteria present in the mud.  In the urban space our exposure to mud is extremely limited.  This mud also is high in pollutants and chemicals, which in turn kill the bacteria. If one is eating meat or dairy, the animals are fed these supplement and it is the second hand supplement that our body gets. Still, 90% of non-vegans from cities have severe B12 and D deficiencies. It goes undetected because unless you tell the doctor you are a vegan, you are not asked to get a B12 or Vitamin D test done. If one were to  live in a village and live a life without modern trappings, living close to nature and natural mud one may not need first hand or second hand  B12 supplements, whether vegan or not.

Yes, in an ideal world, supplements should be avoided.  Alas, we do not live in an ideal world.  So we can do the second best.  That would be to take check for these deficiencies via blood tests and supplement accordingly.  Over supplementation can be as harmful as a deficiency.

VD – Anything else you would like to share 

RM – People have been living a healthy life for years without having any animal products in their diet.  That itself proves that it is possible for a human to live without animal products.  Then to add to the exploitation and abuse of these innocent animals becomes a choice.  A choice which we can all choose to avoid without ANY harm to ourselves. Like every other diet or lifestyle, a balance in eating and making wise choices are important. 

If you have more questions about a whole food plant based diet and wish to consult with her, please drop a comment below or email me on vidhi228@gmail.com and I will share her contact details with you.

Sports is going vegan

Slowly, as people are becoming more and more aware and finally accepting the science that meat and dairy are bad for ones health, more and more athletes are turning vegan. Traditionally, athletes believed that the only way to meet their daily protein requirement was via meat consumption, but with increased awareness around nutrition, this has changed. They have realized that many plant-based foods are actually richer in protein than meat. Plant based diet gives endurance athletes an edge as a vegan diet can enhance athletic performance due to enhanced cardiovascular health, reduced blood pressure and cholesterol and weight loss.Also, plant based diets are more conducive to recovery.

Meat-free athletes from tennis champions Venus and Serena Williams and Novak Djokavic to Formula 1’s Lewis Hamilton to NFL’s Derrick Morgan and Davod Carter to the current Indian cricket captain Virat Kohli have all adopted vegan lifestyles and proved the performance-boosting power of a plant-based diet.

I interviewed Kuntal Joisher, who is a vegan mountaineer and the first but not last vegan to climb the Mt. Everest. Many climbers have started following his example now.

Kuntal Joisher, 40, from Mumbai, the man who became the first vegan to Climb the Mt. Everest from north and south sides against all odds.

I have been a Vegan for the last 18 years, but I have never had issues building lean muscle mass on a vegan diet. When I shifted to eating a healthy vegan diet, I instantly had performance benefits during my training at sea-level. My recovery time improved, and I could train harder and harder for the big mountain climbs! Another advantage I have over other climbers and that I have now been noticing for the past few expeditions is that I never catch a stomach infection. Most mountaineers at some point or the other during their expeditions catch a stomach bug that causes intense stomach pain, loose motions and these climbers tend to go weak and some of them never recover and go home. In my opinion most of these stomach issues are caused due to either lactose intolerance, or on the other hand infected meat. As a vegan, I don’t eat any living beings or drink their by-products, which means that chances of catching infections is almost nonexistent. I have also recommended to my co-climbers to go Vegan when they catch infection and it has worked wonders with most of them!

But one of the biggest benefits and something that is not very obvious or tangible, is the amount of mental peace and focus that I derived after making this lifestyle change. Knowing that no animal or a sentient being died for me to go pursue my dreams gives me full peace of mind to go focus and achieve my dreams. If you are not already sold on the health benefits of this lifestyle, then I say go vegan for the mental edge that this lifestyle gives you! And having climbed Everest and Lhotse, I know that in the end it’s all about your mental fitness and readiness.

To me Veganism is about animal liberation and saving animal lives. That’s the first and foremost. Animals are here sharing the planet with us, they are not here to be used by us. Hence, I not only climbed Everest on a vegan diet but all of my mountaineering gear was also vegan, made completely from animal-free material. I used a one-piece synthetic suit, as well as mittens and gloves constructed devoid of down or leather.

Kuntal Joisher

Beauty of veganism – Substitute not sacrifice

The beauty of vegan food is that you do not have to give up on the taste of your favorite animal based foods like meat or dairy as there are amazing substitutes available for all animal products from milk for your tea, to curd, ice creams, cheese and even meats and sausages!

Dairy milk can be replaced using plant based milks like cashew milk, soy milk, almond milk, oat milk, rice milk, pistachio milk, coconut milk, hemp milk etc. There is so much choice available and the best part is that you can decide your preference based on the texture and flavor you like and also other factors like cost, local availability etc. Also, these milks can be very easily made at home ensuring they are pure and preservative free.

Cheese, mayonnaise, curd and ice-creams are also possible from these plant based milks. There are many retail products available in USA and Europe for the same. In India, we have small vegan businesses catering to all these needs who are slowly expanding to reach bigger markets. You can check out few of them here.

Meat can be replaced by mock meat options made from soy, peas, seitan etc. Recently, around the world the products of mock meat brands like the Impossible burger and Beyond meat have taken everyone by surprise as they replicate the taste, look and texture of meat perfectly. Innovative companies like GardeinNew Wave FoodsOcean Hugger FoodsGood Catch, and others are creating fool-your-friends vegan versions of fish filletscrab cakescoconut shrimptunascallops, and even caviar. Even in India there are mock meat brands like Gooddot, Vezlay and Nutrela.

Also, more and more vegan restaurants are cropping up all over the world. You can check out a list of Indian vegan restaurants here. For people in Mumbai – Imagine Cafe, is Mumbai’s first vegan restaurant. You can read more about them here or visit their Instagram page.

Is veganism expensive?

Like any other diet and lifestyle, veganism can be as cheap or expensive as you make it.

Veganism is expensive, is a myth. In fact, vegans survive mainly on beans, rice, grains, fruits, and vegetables which are way cheaper than meat and fish. Replacing meat burgers with a veggie burger patty will be the cheapest option ever but if you opt for processed specialty mock meat patties it might sometimes be more expensive, especially since most of them are still imported to India. However, it should be remembered that these meat-alternative products are not the only way to follow a vegan diet. Cheaper foodstuffs like tofu, mushrooms, aubergine, chickpeas and jack fruits can be used at home to make delicious meals mimicking meat products.

When it comes to milk and milk products, it is important to know that globally all the governments heavily subsidize milk. And in spite of that making most of the plant milks at home turns out to be much cheaper. And what could be better than making your own milk, fresh at home whenever you need it, ensuring what your are drinking is of the best quality and preservative free? Retail prices of plant milks are still high comparatively as they are not subsidized by the government and the demand is comparatively quite low. Once the demand starts increasing, the prices of even these store bought milks will go down.

We as consumers have the power to change the world. What we demand is going to be produced. If we demand more animal free products that’s the direction the business world will take.

Kuntal Joisher, vegan mountaineer
Cost comparison of animal milk vs various plant milks
Cost comparison of animal milk products vs plant milk products

And that day is not far. Already in the US, the dairy milk consumption is declining and demand for plant milks is rising.

Source: USDA

Also, in the grand scheme of things, the vegan diet is the most inexpensive diet on this planet as once animal products have been eliminated from the menu, chances of getting diseases has been comparatively reduced by a lot. Our health is priceless. Add the cost of health care and insurance, prescription medicines, over-the-counter drugs, vitamins, doctor visits and hospital stays, and you can easily see how meat, dairy and egg-eating is the most expensive lifestyle around!

Downside of the health movement

Health is a complex issue and has two parts to it – physical health and mental health. It is also a privilege. Those with economic privilege have better access to high quality healthcare and are much more able to engage in health-promoting behaviors, such as regular exercise, access to better quality food and time and resources to have proper home cooked meals. By positioning health at the level of the individual, it sometimes neglects the socio-economic and genetic determinants of health. Nobody has complete control over their health, regardless of the lifestyle that they lead. We can try and do our best, but there is no guarantee. Another major problem is that today, more than being strong and disease free, weight is conflated with healthiness, and being thin is assumed to be symptomatic of being healthy. Conversely, fatness is assumed to indicate a lack of healthiness. The weight stigma experienced by people in larger bodies, even from healthcare professionals and their own families, does not help improve their lives or lead to health but affects their mental health even more. The emotional costs are incalculable.  Hence, it is important to ensure that we don’t overemphasize physical health and overlook mental health.

For me, Veganism is not about health, it is about ethics, and health is just an ancillary benefit.

What you eat and how it affects your body is a personal choice as long as it only affects you. So you might chose to indulge in unhealthy foods like oil, sugar and processed junk foods even after knowing it is not that good for your body just like you might indulge in alcohol or smoking. Its an informed decision, that you are making.

But, it stops being a personal choice the moment what you are eating affects millions of other lives.

I would like to conclude by saying that, meat and dairy are not only bad for the environment and our personal health but over and above an extremely unethical and cruel food choice made to selfishly satisfy human taste buds by exploiting, torturing and killing millions of lives every single day.

I will speak more in detail in my next article about the most important reason and the essence behind adopting a vegan lifestyle – Compassion.


Milk is unhealthy







Meat is unhealthy







Fish is unhealthy



Other references:






Veganism is Environmentalism

Today our environment is in serious trouble. We are in the midst of terrible ecological devastation and mass extinction.

In a landmark UN report, 2018, the world’s leading scientists warned that there are just twelve years to keep global warming under 1.5 celsius or we significantly worsen the risks of drought, floods, and other extreme temperature changes.

Twelve. Years. Two of which are already gone.

That timeline is shocking. Generally speaking, conversations about climate change usually end up including fossil fuels. Mentioned far less are the ways that animal agriculture contributes to the changing climate. Confused?

Ten thousand years ago, 99% of biomass (i.e. zoo mass) was wild animals. Today, humans and the animals that we raise as food make up 98% of the zoo mass. Raising animals for food is the single greatest human-caused source of destruction to our environment.

Land and Rain forests

Animal agriculture is very land intensive. Of all the roles trees play in climate change, their role as carbon sinks might be the most important. A carbon sink is anything in nature that holds or stores more carbon that it releases, like trees. They manage this by acting like a sponge and soaking up carbon and other greenhouse gases that would otherwise be free and wrecking havoc on climate patterns. But animal agriculture is the biggest industry leading to deforestation.

Greenhouse gases




The fishing industry affects a number of marine conservation issues, including: fish populations, water pollution, and habitat degradation.

The fishing industry needs to be significantly decreased in order to maintain healthy marine environments around the world. Oceans of the world may be fish-less by 2048, and irresponsible fishing practices are being held as one of the major culprits behind this potential disaster.

One of the most detrimental techniques is bottom trawling, in which fishermen drag a net along the bottom of the ocean floor. It disturbs the bottom of the seabed, stirring up significant amounts of sediment and damaging the coral species which is a vital component of healthy ocean ecosystems as it provides shelter to a number of deep sea-dwelling species. The sediment that is brought up from the bottom of the ocean floor can be carried along by currents, reaching areas of the ocean located miles away. An overabundance of sediment creates murky waters, blocking sunlight from reaching underwater plants and creating dead zones of oxygen deficiency. Additionally, many of the organic pollutants that have settled into the sediment are stirred back up and reintroduced to the food chain, beginning with plankton and moving up to humans. The UN has estimated that up to 95% of global ocean damage is a direct result of bottom trawling. Blast fishing and cyanide fishing are two other practices that are detrimental to marine habitats. In blast fishing, fisherman use explosives to kill large quantities of fish. The explosives do more than kill the fish, however, and also cause destruction to underlying habitats such as coral reefs. Cyanide fishing is a similar practice, but uses cyanide to kill large quantities of fish. Fishermen spray this poison throughout coral reefs, Then collect the stunt fish and place them in freshwater for roughly two weeks. The fresh water is believed to cleanse the fish of any remaining cyanide. In many places, these practices are illegal, yet continue to be used.


What if everyone starts eating only plants? That will also lead to increase in the agricultural land requirement and lead to deforestation etc.

No, it wont. Raising animals is very resource intensive as opposed to cultivating crop for direct human consumption. Animal based diet is 16 times more resource intensive than a vegan diet, whereas a vegetarian diet is 3 times more intensive. Hence, if everyone in the world ate a plant based diet even after factoring the increase in demand of land for human crops we will be able to return almost 80% of the total land today under agriculture to the forests. (Assuming, the level of global calorie intake stays the same)

How much would changing my diet actually help? I am just one person! Can I really make a difference all by myself?

Source: Aleksandrowicz et al, PLoS One

As you can see, it would definitely make a big difference if the world’s heaviest meat eaters scaled back even moderately, helping to free up land to feed everyone else. If many people collectively made changes to their diets, it will add up.

Why is animal agriculture resource intensive?

Instead of directly eating plants and getting our nutrients from there, human as usual tend to do it through animals who themselves get their nutrients from plants. Animals eat large quantities of grain, soybeans, oats and corn; however, they only produce a comparatively small amount of meat, dairy products, or eggs in return. An animal’s efficiency to turn its food into body mass known as feed conversion ratios (FCR) (i.e. feed: meat). The range of FCRs is  according to Dr. Robert Lawrence of Johns Hopkins University, the ratios are approximately 7:1 for beef, 5:1 for pork and 2.5:1 for poultry. The larger the animal, the larger the percentage of that animal’s body mass is inedible material like bone, skin and tissue. The second reason for meat production’s great resource intensity is due to its immense scale. Globally, there is a projected “food animal” population of over 20 billion, almost thrice that of the current seven billion humans the planet carries, with the animal count expected to rise along with human population growth. It all adds up.

What about grass fed beef and free farms?

Most cattle spend their first year on pastures eating grass, after which they are typically moved to a feedlot, where they are fattened up with grain. By contrast, “grass-fed” cattle keep grazing on grass until they are slaughtered. But, on the flip side, grass-finished cattle which are not given antibiotics etc. also take longer to reach slaughter weight, which means they spend more time burping up methane into the atmosphere. Because of this, some studies have suggested that grass-fed beef can actually be worse for the climate over all.

Is organic produce better than conventionally grown produce?

Organic produce is grown without synthetic fertilizers or pesticides, which is definitely good for your health. But that doesn’t mean it’s necessarily better from a climate perspective. In some cases, it can be a bit worse as organic farms often require more land than conventional farms.

Should I worry about whether my produce is local and seasonal?

Transportation accounts for only about 6 percent of food’s total climate footprint. Anything that’s in season where you live, whether you buy it at a local farmers’ market or at a supermarket, is usually a good choice. Things get trickier when it comes to out-of-season produce. Some fruits and vegetables that are shipped by plane can have a surprisingly hefty carbon footprint. In some cases, though, there can be an advantage to food that’s shipped in from elsewhere grown in its natural environment than to buy a local variety that was grown in an energy-intensive heated greenhouse.

Also, many believe that air-freight is more common than it actually is. Very little food is air-freighted; it accounts for only 0.16% of total transportation involved in the food supply chain, as most foods are transported by ships. Many of the foods people assume to come by air are actually transported by ships – avocados and almonds are prime examples and crops even when shipped at great distances, its emissions are much less than locally-produced animal products.

Even almonds are very water intensive. Is’nt that bad for the environment?What is the environmental impact of different types of milk?

Yes, almonds are more water intensive as compared to other nuts and grains. But even they use 50% of water per litre as compared to milk from cows.

This graph is a good representation of the environmental impact of different types of milk, per liter.

Source: Poore and Nemecek, Science

Why aren’t governments speaking more openly about how harmful animal agriculture is for the environment? How come we have never heard of this before?

Reducing your carbon footprint by eating less meat and dairy rarely gets attention. This strategy has been recommended by the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization and a host of other highly-regarded researchers and organisations.

Industry and lobby groups have traditionally had much economic and political power. They push heavy consumption and meat marketing campaigns which target our insecurities, attempting to convince us our brain development is linked to hearty meat intake. Governments under the pressure of these lobbyists and capitalists aren’t acknowledging this openly or making policies that could aid in this shift.

Religious and cultural associations are definitely there as well. It is a difficult shift to make mentally and it appears we don’t want to be put off our food by acknowledging the implications of our diet. And hence, as we say, ‘Ignorance is bliss!’

I would like to conclude this answer by quoting a speech given by Greta Thunberg a climate activist who is only 17 years old –

We are about to sacrifice our civilization for the opportunity of a very small number of people to continue to make enormous amounts of money. You only talk about moving forward with the same bad ideas that got us into this mess. Even when the only sensible thing to do is pull the emergency brake. You say you love your children above everything else. And yet you are stealing their future. Until you start focusing on what needs to be done rather than what is politically possible, there is no hope. We cannot solve a crisis without treating it as a crisis. You are not mature enough to tell it like it is. But I do not care about being popular, I care about climate justice and the living planet.

To all of you who have never treated this crisis as a crisis. To all the political parties that pretend to take the climate question seriusly. To all of you who chose to look the other way every day because you seem more frightened of the changes that can prevent catastrophic climate change than the catastrophic climate change it self. Your silence is almost worst of all.

We are running out of time. We are standing at a crossroads in history. We are failing but we have not yet failed. We can still fix this. It is up to us. The real power belongs to the people.



  • Modern agriculture inevitably contributes to climate change, but some foods have a bigger impact than others.
  • It is definitely good to buy stuff locally as far as possible and eat organic as it is better for ones health but what you eat matters a lot more than whether it’s local or organic, or what kind of bag you use to carry it home from the store.
  • Beef, lamb and cheese tend to do the most climate damage. Pork, chicken and eggs are in the middle. Plants of all kinds typically have the lowest impact. Hence, a vegan diet is being considered as the most environmental friendly.

A plant based diet or vegan diet is not only good for the environment but also ethical, cruelty free and good for your personal health.

I will talk more about the same in my next few articles. Follow my blog for regular updates.

References and sources:

All the data has been taken from reliable sources. I have listed down all the major websites and articles I have referred to for the data. Most of the statistics are global averages, but some of them might be more specific to USA/Europe as many of the studies are carried out there.







Article from The New York Times



Book – No one is too small to make a difference – Greta Thunberg

Caste discrimination in India – An ugly truth

I first learnt about the Indian caste system while studying history in school. The caste system was formalized in a legal treatise called Manusmriti, dating from about 1,000 B.C. Manusmriti is a code of conduct put together by Brahmins, mainly for themselves, and some other “upper” caste communities. The text defined karma (actions) and dharma (duty) for Hindus, who today represent the majority of India’s population. In it, society was divided into four strictly hierarchical groups known as ‘varnas’ as shown below.

Pyramid showing social hierarchy

Over time, as social segregation and caste prejudice deepened, another layer of Shudras emerged at the base of the pyramid: Dalits, meaning “divided, split, broken, scattered” in classical Sanskrit. They got their other name — “untouchables” — because their mere touch could supposedly defile. I will refer to them as Bahujans (literally means “people in majority”), referring to Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes, and Other Backward Castes (OBC), along with religious minorities.

But in school, I also learnt about the fight against caste discrimination by great leaders like Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar, Jyotirao Phule and Savitribai Phule. And how after a long and difficult journey finally on 26th January 1950, India came under liberal forces as a sovereign, democratic and republic. And for the longest time, I was under the misconception, that this was the end of the age old caste system in India.

Recently, I read a couple of graphic novels depicting the stories of Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar (Bhimayana – Experience of untouchability) and The Phules (A gardener in the wasteland). Reading the story of Ambedkar, gave me goosebumps. Even as a child, the kind of discrimination he had to face for basic needs like water was heart wrenching. And he was, what I would call, privileged among the Bahujans as his father worked for the then King of Baroda, resulting in him always having proper clothes to wear and access to education. He got the opportunity to go and study at the Columbia University in America and the London school of Economics which was otherwise extremely rare among their caste.

“In Columbia University, I experienced social equality for the first time.” – Ambedkar in Columbia Alumni News, Dec 1930

In spite of being so highly educated, when he returned back to the city of Baroda in 1917 to serve the state and repay his debt to the Maharaja by working as a probationer in the Accountant Generals office, he could not find any motel that would let him stay. The government offices were also prolonging allocating him official quarters without any rhyme or reason. Even his friends did not welcome him to their house. He had to give up on his obligation to the Maha

raja and run back to Mumbai, just because he was an untouchable.

These books opened my eyes to today’s harsh reality and I started probing around and reading more on prevalence of caste discrimination in the 21st century.

The Ugly truth

Caste is an unfortunate and ugly truth in Indian society. For generations of Indians, the ancient code of social stratification known as the caste system has defined how people earn a living and whom they marry.

Most of us feel that caste is no longer an issue. But that’s not true. Even today in 2020, caste is very much real. 70 years after the caste system was abolished by the constitution, India still practices untouchability. Despite reform efforts, deep-rooted bias and entitlement hold firm among higher castes, while those on the lowest rungs still face marginalization, discrimination and violence. 

Here are some of the very few selected recent examples to look at :

This article was published in ‘The New York Times’ in 2017.
You can check out the full article here

And all this violence was just a result of a Dalit like Mr. Sardar speaking out and demanding what is rightfully his. He was beaten up and scalped for insisting on being paid the wages (about 5200Rs ) the higher caste landlord owed his son for working at his rice paddy.

In September 2006, an upper caste mob, according to eyewitnesses, paraded a mother and her 17 year old daughter naked,raped and killed them. Their brothers aged 19 and 21 too were murdered. Their bodies were dumped in a canal. This gruesome incident occurred in Khairlanji, Bhandardara, only 780kms away from Mumbai but too far it appears to muster national outrage.

In June 2017, a groom was threatened for riding a horse to his wedding – because doing so is considered an upper caste privilege. And this is not the first time a Dalit riding a horse to his wedding has been threatened. A similar incident occurred in 2015 when  villagers hurled stones at a Dalit groom in the central state of Madhya Pradesh.

In June 2018, three Dalit boys were stripped, beaten and paraded naked by villagers in the western state of Maharashtra last week for swimming in a well that belonged to an upper-caste family, police said.

In October 2011, six Dalit women were gang-raped in a village of the Bhojpur district which has a long history of violence against Bahujans. But the worst part is things are not getting better with time. Even today on 6 April 2020, amid the national lock down, five people belonging to the Dalit community have been injured in Bhojpur district of Bihar after they were fired upon by members of dominant caste groups on Sunday night.

And if you think that untouchability exists only in the villages , that is not true. Not only does caste resist changes by time, it also manages to transcend the rural-urban divide.

Recently in Delhi, three students training for their civil service exams were beaten up and evicted after they were discovered to be Dalit.

This article was published in The Telegraph in 2008.
You can read the full article here.

A similar incident happened with the sister of my friend from architecture college in Mumbai itself. It took her a long time to be able to rent a room. And after a long search when she finally found a place, it was on the condition that she would never go near the temple in their house.

“Dalits are not allowed to drink from the same wells, attend the same temples, wear shoes in the presence of an upper caste, or drink from the same cups in tea stalls,” said Smita Narula, a senior researcher with Human Rights Watch, and author of Broken People: Caste Violence Against India’s “Untouchables.”

The data collected by the India Human Development Survey conducted by the National Council of Applied Economic Research says-

  • More than 160 million people in India are considered ‘Untouchable’
  • About 27 percent of the Indian households still practice untouchability
  • Since, Brahmins come on the top of the caste chart, 52 percent of them still practice untouchability
  • Only 5.34 percent of Indian marriages are inter-caste
  • It is most widespread in Madhya Pradesh with 53 percent practicing untouchability. Madhya Pradesh is followed by Himachal Pradesh with 50 per cent. Chhattisgarh comes on the 3rd position with 48 percent, Rajasthan and Bihar with 47 percent, Uttar Pradesh with 43 percent, and Uttarakhand with 40 percent
  • The survey also shows that almost every third Hindu practises untouchability (33-35%)
  • Every hour two Bahujans are assaulted; every day two Bahujans are murdered, and two Dalit homes are torched.
  • Nearly 90 percent of all the poor Indians and 95 percent of all the illiterate Indians are Bahujans, according to figures presented at the International Dalit Conference that took place May 2003 in Vancouver, Canada.

Caste and reservations

For thousands of years, education was denied to the majority of the population of our country on the basis of one’s birth. Seven decades ago, the founders of postcolonial India outlawed caste discrimination in the constitution. Yet caste remains a significant factor in deciding everything from family ties and cultural traditions to educational and economic opportunities, especially in small towns and villages, where more than 70% of Indians live. Nearly a third of Bahujans make less than Rs. 100 a day, and many don’t have access to education or running water. Untouchables perform jobs that are traditionally considered “unclean” or exceedingly menial, and for very little pay. One million Bahujans of a specific sub caste work as manual scavengers, cleaning latrines and sewers by hand and clearing away dead animals. It is estimated that over 600 sewer workers die every year. That is more than 10 times the Indian soldiers killed by terrorists. Millions more are agricultural workers trapped in an inescapable cycle of extreme poverty, illiteracy, and oppression. Very few of them hold office jobs. 

“Reservation” is a tool to give education and jobs to the oppressed on the basis of their caste – that very caste on the basis of which they were earlier denied education and jobs.

For many Bahujans education is the only way out of poverty, but that isn’t easy. Many upper caste and privileged people think that these reservations are not fair. They feel that it robs people with merit of opportunities. Even I used to be one of them till few months back when I realized we are so self absorbed that we cannot see the big picture beyond our own selfish needs.

Reservations are not meant to fix caste inequality , but to prevent caste supremacists from outright denying the less privileged their right to learn altogether.

Some people feel that reservations discredit quality and talent. That is a myth. Even the reserved seats ate allotted based on merit. For example:

2012 Cut-Off Marks in Medical Colleges of Chennai

This table clearly shows there is hardly any difference between the cut off marks between the open category and the reserved seats. It is true that this difference might vary from course to course and college to college but the underlying fact that reservations are like charity and not merit based is false. Also the idea that low caste people are inactive and not interested in education is an upper caste myth where the lower castes are so objectified as unworthy, that the idea that they too study to create careers simply does not occur to the thoughtless flock of upper caste privileged people taught to resent their very presence. If anything these people have to work ten times harder to even try and reach the same stage, overcoming obstacles at every level. Many of them leave their education mid way at an early age itself as they are unable to bear the teasing in the classroom not only by their fellow classmates but many a times also by teachers.

Some people believe reservations should address economic vulnerability and not caste. – Vidyut, who has a keen interest in mass psychology and uses it as a lens to understand contemporary politics, social inequality and other dynamics of power within the country gives a very logical reply to that –

“It is like saying, we will fight one kind of inequality but not another. Removing protections to one kind of vulnerable group in order to assist another is not a better method, it is fundamental inhumanity that refuses to take responsibility for the whole range of assistance needed. Replacing caste based reservations with those that are economic capacity based will have an extremely predictable result of filling seats with high caste poor people and disenfranchising the lower castes while pretending that this is a more just system. Poverty, on the other hand, does not necessarily need reservations, but assistance. Lack of economic resources can be fixed with free tuition and funds to enable study.”

It is true that a few rich lower caste people are benefited by these reservations. But isn’t that true with everyone and everything in this society? All educational institutes have management seats for privileged people who get in just by giving huge donations. Also don’t Bahujans deserve some concession for the generations of their ancestors being ill treated. “Also, in order to try and control this phenomenon, a logical move would be to put a rule that goes “people richer than XYZ must seek admissions through the general quota” and not occupy seats meant to protect the deprived. But that will not happen, because the last thing they want is for more competition in their “merit”. They’d rather point out to the privileged few and use it as an excuse to deny all. – she adds.

To conclude, whether we like it or not, it is a fact that our society is divided into groups based on castes. Reservations were introduced to end the dominance of certain groups and give the neglected and oppressed groups a push so that they could become equal to the other groups and hold a respectable place in the society. In an Utopian India, where caste discrimination has been truly abolished in all its forms, there will be no need of reservations. But not before that.

Caste and political representation

Enforcement of laws related to caste discrimination would be stringent if more people of this background are a part of our governance system. To allow for proportional representation in certain state and federal institutions, the constitution reserves 22.5 percent of federal government jobs, seats in state legislatures, the lower house of parliament, and educational institutions for scheduled castes and scheduled tribes. The reservation policy, however, has not been fully implemented. The National Commission for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes’ (1996-1997 and 1997-1998) report indicates that of the total scheduled caste reservation quota in the Central Government, 54 percent remains unfilled. More than 88 percent of posts reserved in the public sector remain unfilled as do 45 percent in state banks. A closer examination of the caste composition of government services, institutions of education and other services, however, reveals that even though Brahmin’s represented only 5 percent of the population in 1989, they comprised 70 percent of the Class I officers in governmental services. At universities, upper-castes occupy 90 percent of the teaching posts in the social sciences and 94 percent in the sciences, while Dalit representation is only 1.2 and 0.5 percent, respectively.

During elections, already under the thumb of local landlords and police officials,

Dalit villagers who do not comply to voting for certain candidates have been harassed, beaten, and murdered. Bahujans who have contested political office in village councils and municipalities through seats that have been constitutionally “reserved” for them have been threatened with physical abuse and even death in order to get them to withdraw from the campaign. In the village of Melavalavu, in Tamil Nadu’s Madurai district, following the election of a Dalit to the village council presidency, members of a higher-caste group murdered six Bhaujans in June 1997, including the elected council president, whom they beheaded.

Caste and marriage

Marriages within the caste is the norm of the Indian society. To think of marriages between castes is a difficult and socially unacceptable proposition. Even today, the custom of marrying only within the caste, known as endogamy, has not changed and inter caste marriages are frowned upon. In 2011, the rate of inter-caste marriages in India was as low as 5.8%. 

The condemnation can be quite severe, ranging from social ostracism to punitive violence. On August 6, 2001, in the north Indian state of Uttar Pradesh, an upper-caste Brahmin boy and a lower-caste Jat girl were dragged to the roof of a house and publicly hanged by members of their own families as hundreds of spectators looked on as a punishment for refusing to end an inter-caste relationship.

Shockingly, urban households do not have a higher probability of inter-caste marriage than rural households. Ironically, metropolitan cities have the lowest rate among urban areas. Based on NFHS 2006-07, caste endogamy is also unaffected by how developed or industrialized a particular state is, even though Indian states differ widely in this aspect. Tamil Nadu, while relatively industrialized, has a caste endogamy rate of 97% while underdeveloped Odisha’s is 88%.

Resistance and progress

India needs to break the shackles of prejudice, discrimination and violence that keep more than one-quarter of India’s population at the bottom of socio-economic hierarchy and targets of hate crimes if it one day aims at becoming a global superpower. Today, grassroots efforts to change are emerging, despite retaliation and intimidation by local officials and upper-caste people. There is a growing movement of activists, trade unions, and other NGOs that are organizing to democratically and peacefully demand their rights, higher wages, and more equitable land distribution. In the wake of the COVID 19 pandemic, its the first time there is an active recognition of the people who are doing the work that society’s hygiene rests on. A group of concerned citizens – academics, rights activists and others – have written an open letter to all minister in the Central and state governments, as well as society at large, to highlight the plight of sanitation workers and list measures that can be taken for their welfare which includes ensuring they are classified as health workers and paid a minimum wage of at least Rs 20,000 per month along with a proper health insurance and allowance covered under the description of ‘hazardous works’.

Caste discrimination is like a disease in our society. And like any other disease we need to eradicate it from the country. We need to monitor the cases of caste violence and treat them with justice and social reform. When we reach a point where humanity has won and caste discrimination has ended we can remove the reservations which are like “vaccines”. You wouldn’t stop vaccinating the population before a dangerous disease is eradicated, right?

Vidyut added

Remember, each one of us play an important role in keeping this discrimination alive in our country. If all of us start changing our own thoughts and behavior, educate others and bring this grave issue to a limelight, we could slowly bring this inhumane discrimination to an end.







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