Changing Lives

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Photograph: Mithun TM

Archana’s house is tucked away at the very end of a row of quiet houses. It’s betel nut (also areca nut) season in Sirsi, and everyone in Mashi Gadde (Archana’s enchanting village) is busy soaking and drying the betel nuts. They dry it on the rooftops, and the view from the roof is something else. There are hundreds of betel nuts on roofs all around, basking in the sun. In fact from up here you can almost see the stream Rakshita crosses everyday to get to school.

Photograph: Mithun TM

Rakshita, Archana’s daughter is nine years old, and a motormouth. She loves school, and the stream, in equal measure. She spends a fair amount of time splashing around in the cool, fresh water before clambering up the bank to make it in time for her first class of the day.

Archana’s childhood, however, was vastly different. She had to walk 5 km each way, to reach school, and walk back again for lunch, and then back to school till mid-afternoon. Teachers were irregular and there was no one to check up on assignments or even what the students were learning, if indeed they were learning anything. English lessons, that were to be introduced in 5th grade, didn’t happen till high school. And that is our sprightly entrepreneur’s big regret. That she had no access to English lessons.

To ensure that her daughter’s childhood would be different, Archana started a business, and decided to become an entrepreneur. Archana makes plates and bowls from the sturdy leaves of the betel nut tree. Archana’s enterprise has created jobs for 85 women, not just where she lives, but across several zip codes. These women were otherwise unemployed, and her production of 10,000 bowls very month replace that many plastic bowls. Since Archana’s products are made of leaves, they make for great compost when you’re done using them.

 

What moved Archana to take a step to change the way things are? While she wanted to ensure a better childhood for Rakshita, and contribute to household expenses, there was a deeper reason. Her sister Gowri, started working for her brother-in-law’s catering business after her marriage. A much younger Archana saw what it was to have an independent income. Archana also, even as she grew up, couldn’t buy a pair of bangles at the village fair, because she had no money to call her own. It was the dream of financial independence that kept the fire alive.

Now, Archana is confident of her plans for the future; of expanding the business, but says she wasn’t always this way. When she started, she was terrified of doing anything—coming to Bangalore, making decisions, standing up errant clients… the fear of something going wrong always held her back.

Now that Archana’s seen failure and overcome several challenges, she’s far more confident. While it took her choosing to become an entrepreneur to learn these lessons, she’s happy that Rakshita’s school teaching her daughter how to believe in herself. “She has more confidence, she doesn’t have any stage fright. She has no fear of anyone or anything. She’ll talk to anyone,” Archana tells me, beaming. And there’s proof too! Rakshita is the proud recipient of several certificates, attesting to her singing skills. She’s always in the top three. Singing and art are her current favourite things to do.

Rakshita says when she grows up she wants to be an entrepreneur like her mother, because entrepreneurs make the world around them a better place for everyone.

A Village Called ‘Tiger Cradle’, Where Neelankantesh’s Bees Rule

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By: Kruthika Subramanyam

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Neelakantesh, our honey-entrepreneur lives in a village, 30 km outside of Chitradurga, called Hulithotlu. In Kannada that translates to ‘tiger-cradle’. Intrigued, I asked him if there was a story behind the name. “Way back when, weary travelers would break their journey and rest at the temple porch,” he said, beginning the story after a lot of prompting. “One day, a woman with a tiny baby came upon the village. Deciding to leave the baby in the safe embrace of the temple, she made a cradle out of cloth and tied the two ends to two pillars, and settled the baby within. She then left to make arrangements for food and such, from the village. When she returned, a short while later, she saw the cradle swaying gently… A tiger, with its paw on the cradle, was rocking the baby, now awake, softly back and forth.”

Neelankantesh was very reluctant to tell me the story, keen to dismiss it as a silly fable intended for children, but that’s the thing about stories, they’re meant to be magical and unbelievable. It’s what makes a story, a story.

He took us around his village, and introduced us to his family, both immediate and extended, who were such warm and gracious hosts; intent on feeding us at all times. Cha (chai in these parts of Karnataka) and thindi (snacks) were always at hand. He showed us his bees; told us how he finds and captures bees in the wild, and proudly demonstrated how he looks after them, how he extracts the honey; explained the filtration process, everything. It’s easy to see that he’s passionate about what he does. He doesn’t even think of it as work, he enjoys it so much.

“Patience, and tolerance is key,” he tells me. “I have to wait hours for bees in the wild to make their way to the bee box, there’s no question of giving up because you’re bored, or impatient.
“While handling the frame my attention is focussed completely on the bees. If an ant were to bite me, I wouldn’t react.”

He then took us to meet his friend, he considers Srinivas his role model, and holds him in very high regard. Neelakantesh keeps some of his bee boxes in Srinavas’s thota (plantation), to ensure honey production during summer. Srinivas is full of great ideas himself about expanding the bee and honey business. He too intends to buy several bee boxes, inspired by Neelankantesh’s success, and together they have big plans for ensuring the continued growth of what is currently a very small business.

I’m quite excited to see where Neelakantesh is going to be five years from now.

PS. We managed to squeeze some time to go explore the Chitradurga Fort, a magnificent structure that incorporates massive natural rock formations, rendering the fort unassailable.

Can you spot the tiny baby monkey?

Can you spot the tiny baby monkey?

Neelankantesh’s Wild Honey is for sale in Pindi Fruit Store, Defence Colony Market, so all of our friends in the capital surrounded by a concrete jungle, can taste the sweetness of Neelankantesh’s natural, wild honey.