What unifies an organisation that is devoted to rescuing and repatriating stolen artifacts back to India, with a freelance Yoga practioner who, after successfully fighting a humble upbringing, carves out a niche for himself amongst the elite inhabiting a tony precinct in Gurugram? What is common between a man who moves mountains to produce the first Sanskrit animation movie in India, and a serial entrepreneur whose avowed mission is to provide an eager populace with edibles that are traditional in content, nutritious in value and delicious in taste? Is there a singular thread that weaves together a company that sources products that are all but lost to the current world due to a contrivance of circumstance and practicality, with an author who has built up a reputation by not caring much for mainstream genres, which her contemporaries are more than just eager to purvey?
In an engrossing and enlivening book, “The Indic Quotient”, best-selling author Kaninika Mishra, in seven soul stirring chapters chronicles the efforts of a bunch of myriad but intrepid characters who have taken it upon themselves to showcase India’s teeming amalgam of traditional richness and heritage, which is all but lost to a world characterized by the relentless pursuit of modernism. The protagonists of Ms. Mishra’s work are as diverse as the country which they inhabit and their vigorous endeavours range from the admirable to the astounding.
The India Pride Project (IPP), a brainchild of Vijay Kumar and Anuraag Saxena shows extraordinary obstinance and resoluteness in identifying stolen religious artefacts from Indian temples and securing their return. The crowning glory of IPP, thus far, has been the successful repatriation of Virudhagireeswarar temple’s exquisite androgynous ‘Murti’ of Ardhanareeshwara. This artefact was smuggled out of India before surfacing at the AGNSW in Australia.
The science of Ayurveda has a tradition which is as rich and resplendent as any branch of Medicine. Pioneered by the Ashta Vaidyas, the masters of the eight branches of Ayurveda mentioned in classical texts, Ayurveda has captured global imagination. No one understands the value of Ayurveda better than Dr. Pratap Chauhan. Jiva Ayurveda, Dr. Chauhan’s company, encompasses a telecentre staffed with 150 doctors. Running clinics across North India aided by a medicine manufacturing plant in Haryana, Dr. Chauhan does topical research in the field of Ayurveda and telemedicine. In the year 2006, Chauhan bagged a United Nations World Summit Award for providing ‘low cost, highly effective and broadly applicable networking solutions.
Ms. Mishra traverses the length and breadth of India from the southern State of Kerala to the Northeastern State of Assam in tracking down the likes of Saxena and Chauhan. One such journey takes her to Maheshwar, in Madhya Pradesh, the abode of the magnificent hand woven ‘Maheswari’ brand of sarees. Visiting a small saree production unit run by Mulchand Shravnekar, a fourth-generation weaver, Ms. Mishra informs her readers about the yeoman service rendered by GoCoop. GoCoop is a boon for the Indian weavers. Incorporated in 2014, GoCoop creates a sustainable livelihood for the individual weavers by facilitating direct access to their customers. As Ms. Mishra elucidates, “GoCoop processes more than 3,000 online orders a month. It gets a small commission on each sale and a listing fee from the weavers and cooperatives featured on its website. GoCoop recorded a 100 per cent year-on-year sales growth in the 2015–16 financial year.” Till date, GoCoop has partnered with more than 4,000 handloom weaving cooperatives, individual weavers, craft-based social enterprises and NGOs across the country.
What GoCoop does to weavers, CropConnect, does to farmers. A Delhi-based start-up, CropConnect sources traditional Indian agricultural produce such as grains, and millets of the nature of jowar (sorghum), ragi (finger millet), bajra (pearl millet), etc., and herbs, directly from farmers before marketing the same to urban consumers. The founders of CropConnect, boast a pedigree that is exemplary. Development economists, Ishira Mehta and Puneet Jhajharia quit plum jobs to found CropConnect with an aspiration to provide some much-needed support to the farmers. Ms. Mehta is a political science graduate from the London School of Economics with a Masters in Public Administration in International Development from Harvard. CropConnect markets its products under the label ‘Original Indian Table’. The efforts of CropConnect are also linear to the shifting tastes and predilections of a younger generation that is health and diet conscious. “Supermarket chains Big Bazaar, HyperCity and Easyday Club have reported 66 per cent growth for wheat substitutes, which includes millets such as ragi (finger millet) and bajra (pearl millet), between September 2017 and August 2018. Meanwhile, flour as a product group grew only by 14 per cent.” As Ms. Mishra details, celebrity chef Anahita Dhondy of the popular Parsi restaurant chain SodaBottleOpenerWala has taken to advocating millets. As a part of The Chef’s Manifesto, a worldwide movement of socially conscious chefs, she has been promoting forgotten Indian grains and millets at various forums.
The book abounds with inspirational stories such as the ones outlined above. It would be doing an avoidable disservice to the author if a review was to encapsulate every success story that permeates the pages. Lest one be lulled into any sense of misinterpretation post reading the title, the book advocates neither ideology nor professes to be a vehicle for purveying the precepts and tenets of any religion. Ms. Mishra, weaves together in a marvelously cohesive manner, an unforgettable tapestry of ingenious vison and innovative excellence. At the edifice of the forays of every person and organisation featured by Mishra, lies a raging and indivisible sense of belonging. A belonging that considers as immutable and invincible the indelible socio-economic practices that have constituted the bedrock of Indian civilization. Every effort instituted by these indomitable men and women represent a bulwark that preserves and protects such practices. Whether it be serial entrepreneur Prasoon Gupta’s resolve to bring a sense of conscious and healthy consumption of food and drink amongst the population, that resulted in the birth of his company Sattviko, or a curiosity on the part of Karan Vir Arora to understand the enigmatic character of the mythological tragic hero, Karna, after whom he was named, that led to the creation of the extremely popular Vimanika comics, Ms. Mishra’s book has lots to offer by way of both delight and respect.
“The Indic Quotient” – an invigorating and insightful read.