Happy International Women’s Day!

Happy International Women’s Day!

It’s been over 10 years since World Moms Network published its first post. We’re still all here in the trenches. Planning new things for 2021. Watch this space over the next few months. We are reorganizing and getting our site touched up!

In the meantime, I’d like to share a photo of me and one of my favorite women that I met from World Moms Network (when we were just World Moms Blog!), Purnima Ramakrishnan in India for International Women’s Day. What a ride we have had over the years, and the future is bright! That’s us at the BlogHer conference in Chicago in 2015 when Purnima was there advocating for global vaccines for children in the developing world. I look forward to doing more good with you and the rest of my most favorite women to make the world a better place, here, in this space!

Jennifer Burden

Jennifer Burden is the Founder and CEO of World Moms Network, an award winning website on global motherhood, culture, human rights and social good. World Moms Network writes from over 30 countries, has over 70 contributors and was listed by Forbes as one of the “Best 100 Websites for Women”, named a “must read” by The New York Times, and was recommended by The Times of India. She was also invited to Uganda to view UNICEF’s family health programs with Shot@Life and was previously named a “Global Influencer Fellow” and “Social Media Fellow” by the UN Foundation. Jennifer was invited to the White House twice, including as a nominated "Changemaker" for the State of the World Women Summit. She also participated in the One Campaign’s first AYA Summit on the topic of women and girl empowerment and organized and spoke on an international panel at the World Bank in Washington, DC on the importance of a universal education for all girls. Her writing has been featured by Baby Center, Huffington Post, ONE.org, the UN Foundation’s Shot@Life, and The Gates Foundation’s “Impatient Optimists.” She is currently a candidate in Columbia University's School of International and Public Affairs in the Executive Masters of Public Affairs program, where she hopes to further her study of global policies affecting women and girls. Jennifer can be found on Twitter @JenniferBurden.

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Lockdown Reflections: Musings From a COVID-19 Warrior’s Wife (Part 2)

Lockdown Reflections: Musings From a COVID-19 Warrior’s Wife (Part 2)

We hope you had the chance to read Part -1 of our WorldMom Purnima’s family’s experience of the COVID-19 pandemic. Below is Part 2.

My husband’s COVID-19 experience has awakened many feelings that seem to be coming to my conscious mind in layers, in time. I had probably shut out everything when while undergoing the experience. With each memory, new wisdom emerges. A new level of consciousness opens up. Each reminiscence ushers in an opportunity for transformation.

Here I will try to put a few of those into words!

My husband, nor his friends and colleagues, allowed any wasted time in sympathy. They had a job to do. Their duty came first, and I am proud of the COVID-19 warriors worldwide who pledge their lives to do what they think is the right thing to do. Work is worship, for them, and may the world be more blessed by such giving souls. 

They go to work every day, not thinking that it is the end of the world. For them, it is just routine. These physicians have been active healthcare workers during the bird flu, the swine flu, and many other pandemics. They feel humanity will endure and come out stronger and better. At least that is what they perennially convey to all of us – eternal hope, and loving-kindness.

If today you have an opportunity to show kindness to one soul – please do it. You may be doing much more than helping out with grocery shopping, or baking a cake, or running an errand for your friend or a stranger.

You may be touching the soul of a person in an irrevocably good way for eternity by a very simple act, and sometimes that could make all the difference between life and death.

Compassion, affection, and empathy – are the fuel that runs the world. While you are wrapped in kindness outpouring from all quarters, you can endure anything. I received only gentleness from all quarters, and perhaps that was the most important factor to ensure my sound mental health, lack of stress, and lack of worry. Not one patronizing word. No condescension. No holier than thou talk, or wise-talk, no nothing. Just pure love, care, and concern from all who knew of our situation. We also did not face a single social stigma; of course, we had the personal discipline to socially isolate as per standard health guidelines.

In the midst of everyday challenges and the pouring of wisdom from within my heart, I realized that as humans, our collective compassionate consciousness was being elevated.

Wisdom is perhaps already inherently present inside every one of us if we listen. Wisdom is what probably enables us with creativity, and intelligence, when we decide to look deeper than what our immediate current perception show us. My wish for all of us is to go beyond that tangible thought or feeling and wait, like we do, as a family, both physically and emotionally.

Let wisdom decide to enthrall us, and in that one moment of revelation, you can feel the Universe’s love, and if you continue to stay there for one extra moment, perhaps that would allow us to perceive the kindness and compassion in our immediate surrounding, from the Universe.

As humanity, we endure with some hope, some gratitude. We are always offered a choice at that one moment when we are faced with life-altering adversity – we can choose hope and gratitude and be transformed by our choices. And this perception can make all the difference in lighting the path – for ourselves and for people around us. 

I remember this excerpt from Carl Sagan, inspired by an image taken by Voyager 1 on February 14, 1990. Voyager 1 was about 6.4 billion kilometers (4 billion miles) away, and approximately 32 degrees above the ecliptic plane, when it captured this portrait of our world. Caught in the center of scattered light rays (a result of taking the picture so close to the Sun), Earth appears as a tiny point of light, a crescent only 0.12 pixel in size. 

The Pale Blue Dot – Our Home, Planet Earth
Image Credit: NASA

Look again at that dot. That’s here. That’s home. That’s us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor, and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every “superstar,” every “supreme leader,” every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there–on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.

The Earth is a very small stage in a vast cosmic arena. Think of the rivers of blood spilled by all those generals and emperors so that, in glory and triumph, they could become the momentary masters of a fraction of a dot. Think of the endless cruelties visited by the inhabitants of one corner of this pixel on the scarcely distinguishable inhabitants of some other corner, how frequent their misunderstandings, how eager they are to kill one another, how fervent their hatreds.

Our posturings, our imagined self-importance, the delusion that we have some privileged position in the Universe, are challenged by this point of pale light. Our planet is a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark. In our obscurity, in all this vastness, there is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves.

The Earth is the only world known so far to harbor life. There is nowhere else, at least in the near future, to which our species could migrate. Visit, yes. Settle, not yet. Like it or not, for the moment the Earth is where we make our stand.

It has been said that astronomy is a humbling and character-building experience. There is perhaps no better demonstration of the folly of human conceits than this distant image of our tiny world. To me, it underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly with one another and to preserve and cherish the pale blue dot, the only home we’ve ever known.

― Carl Sagan, Pale Blue Dot: A Vision of the Human Future in Space

To be continued …

Purnima Ramakrishnan

Purnima Ramakrishnan is an UNCA award winning journalist and the recipient of the fellowship in Journalism by International Reporting Project, John Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies. Her International reports from Brazil are found here . She is also the recipient of the BlogHer '13 International Activist Scholarship Award . She is a Senior Editor at World Moms Blog who writes passionately about social and other causes in India. Her parental journey is documented both here at World Moms Blog and also at her personal Blog, The Alchemist's Blog. She can be reached through this page . She also contributes to Huffington Post . Purnima was once a tech-savvy gal who lived in the corporate world of sleek vehicles and their electronics. She has a Master's degree in Electronics Engineering, but after working for 6 years as a Design Engineer, she decided to quit it all to become a Stay-At-Home-Mom to be with her son!   This smart mom was born and raised in India, and she has moved to live in coastal India with her husband, who is a physician, and her son who is in primary grade school.   She is a practitioner and trainer of Heartfulness Meditation.

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Lockdown Reflections: Musings From a COVID-19 Warrior’s Wife (Part1)

Lockdown Reflections: Musings From a COVID-19 Warrior’s Wife (Part1)

Jennifer Burden, the founder of World Moms Network, asked me to share my family’s COVID-19 story from India. I have been reluctant because our hearts go out to so many I know, who have lost family and friends near and dear to them in India and across the world, from COVID-19. I hope our story can help paint the picture of how the virus is affecting the daily life of families of health workers, around the world, to our global readers. So, with that intention, I tell my story…

My husband and I are so different, we come from different cultures and languages within India, however, one of the few things that bind us together is our love for travel. We had planned to spend our 15th wedding anniversary somewhere trekking up a mountain or looking at art pieces in a museum. Thankfully, we have similar tastes in the type of travel we do, and so that is one thing less to quarrel about in our lives! 

Instead of celebrating our anniversary in some far off exotic location, we knew that we would celebrate our love and togetherness from the quarantined confines of our home, as times were now difficult and different. And that was okay too. 

BUT – Today I dreaded waking up to our wedding anniversary. 

The author’s husband who is a physician.

You see, my husband is a frontline healthcare worker, a pulmonologist, and is involved in the treatment of patients in the COVID-19 ward in the hospital where he serves. He is in contact with hundreds of COVID-19 positive patients every single day. Several days before our anniversary he was down with a high-grade fever. Slowly this took a worrisome enough turn, for him to call up the technician to come home to test him. Thus, the whole day of our 15th wedding anniversary was spent waiting in prayerful anticipation. Well, to cut the long story of the day short, he turned out to be positive for COVID-19. This was definitely not the anniversary we were expecting, and we were now worried. 

Most healthcare workers have been facing enormous challenges – physically, mentally, and emotionally. They see in the eyes and hearts of patients, so much loneliness, pain, and fear, that, that in itself drains them out completely. It can be very overwhelming and many times the doctors and nurses die hundreds of deaths inside, as they let a life go.

As his wife, I seek to understand, yet, sometimes I do not. At times, I can sympathize. Other times I get frustrated, caught up in my own other problems or worries. 

We have missed him at times when he used to come home very late, long after my son and I had fallen asleep. At other times, I have learned to stay indifferent. I remember, once when we were on our honeymoon, he received a call from one of his patients. I don’t always have him to myself. Being married to a healthcare worker has been a very enlightening journey, living with him and his profession for the past 15 years.

The author’s family.

At times, he indicates that he understands and explains patiently how he cannot make more time for us. At other times, he is full of his own joys or sorrows of work.

In the midst of such a life, where I did not know when he would be back home for the day, things had only worsened in the past 8 months. Being part of the first responders in the fight against the coronavirus, I cheer for him. 

Every night our family wait, patiently. I say, ‘patiently’, because, the hardest part of this COVID-19 pandemic was always to constantly wonder when my husband was going to contract it. I never doubted that he wouldn’t contract it. After all, his whole day, more than 12 hours, was spent with people who had contracted it. I just prayed and hoped that at least he would be asymptomatic or he would recover very quickly.

Now, that worry was gone. He was COVID-19 positive, and I knew how the next fortnight was going to be. All of the regular COVID-19-words now stared at my face – quarantine – social distancing – uncertainty – grocery shopping for the next 15 days, etc.

I decided to take one hour at a time and gave my attention to only the most important tasks of the immediate hour. The most important thing to do, of course, was to take care of my husband.

The next thing I decided was to get off my phone, unless absolutely necessary, such as the phone calls from my parents or from my husband’s colleagues. I uninstalled all the Apps from my phone temporarily, and that is probably the best decision I have ever made in this current digitalized year.

One thing that helped me stay positive and resilient is an everyday meditation regime, and the online group meditation sessions every Sunday morning with our Heartfulness community.

I suddenly realized how close my husband was, with his colleagues, friends, seniors, juniors, students, and the Dean in his workplace. I entered his workplace that I wasn’t as aware of, prior to his sickness in our busy lives. There was an outpouring of love, concern, affection. Most days he was on his phone, when he had the energy, talking to his students, or discussing regimes and protocols with his colleagues. He never gave me the impression that he was sick. But he gave me a lot of reasons to worry too, as he was still symptomatic with fever, respiratory infection. However before I knew it, he was back on his feet and on his job (from home, as we had to be in quarantine for few more days).

One hour at a time, one day at a time, we let time pass at her own pace. The hours were long, but the days were short, as they say.

Fifteen days, after our 15th wedding anniversary, we tested again, and the results were negative. He is back to work now, and treating patients, in one of India’s hotbeds of COVID-19 – Chennai.

The author and her husband.

Our wedding anniversary will have to wait until another day, another year, but I am proud of him for being a part of India’s fight against the pandemic. He makes me proud. 

To be continued …

Read Part – 2 here.

Purnima Ramakrishnan

Purnima Ramakrishnan is an UNCA award winning journalist and the recipient of the fellowship in Journalism by International Reporting Project, John Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies. Her International reports from Brazil are found here . She is also the recipient of the BlogHer '13 International Activist Scholarship Award . She is a Senior Editor at World Moms Blog who writes passionately about social and other causes in India. Her parental journey is documented both here at World Moms Blog and also at her personal Blog, The Alchemist's Blog. She can be reached through this page . She also contributes to Huffington Post . Purnima was once a tech-savvy gal who lived in the corporate world of sleek vehicles and their electronics. She has a Master's degree in Electronics Engineering, but after working for 6 years as a Design Engineer, she decided to quit it all to become a Stay-At-Home-Mom to be with her son!   This smart mom was born and raised in India, and she has moved to live in coastal India with her husband, who is a physician, and her son who is in primary grade school.   She is a practitioner and trainer of Heartfulness Meditation.

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India: Voices of High School Students: Altruism from Youth #YouthDay #OmegaIntlSchool

India: Voices of High School Students: Altruism from Youth #YouthDay #OmegaIntlSchool

On the International Day of Youth, World Moms Network – Senior Editor, Purnima from India, met with a few young high school students. Read on to find their take on the state of affairs of the world, their life ahead in times of this pandemic, their passion, their ways of achieving their dreams and goals, and generally trying to have a positive perspective towards the world and their life.

Purnima asked 3 questions!

  1. What is your passion? What makes you most excited about? What does your heart live for? Take some time and think about the questions mentioned below. Answer the questions to the best of your ability. This is about your beliefs, hopes, and dreams.
  2. What is that one thing you would like to see changed in this world? (Examples: Climate Change, Education policy, Global unity, etc…)
  3. Tell me about that one step you would like to take to achieve question #2?

Harini Ramanan says:

My passion is writing. I am excited about creating a whole new world that can fit into a reader’s head. I am passionate about global unity. I want to promote diversity among religion, race, and more. 

Ritesh says:

I love data science, especially the field of artificial intelligence. I would love to implement this into business, as I’m also interested in becoming an entrepreneur. Despite the challenges that may come, I am determined and will work my way through.

Ritesh

One thing I would definitely like to see changed in this world is parents no longer making their children’s major decisions. Especially in India, many parents put a lot of pressure on their children to, (for example), take up a certain subject to study in the future, impeding the child from doing what he/she is really passionate about, just because the parent thinks it’s ‘not going to work out’. 

I totally agree, that parents know what is right and what is wrong and that their children should respect that, however, sometimes there is no ‘right or wrong’ decision when it comes to a child’s major decisions, after all, it’s impossible to see what the future will bring. Nevertheless, I believe that it’s not up to a parent to decide where their child’s success lies, but for the child to prove that their success is where they want it to be.

What I am about to say might sound ridiculous, but just like we children go to school, I believe that parents also need some form of education to become better parents and respect their children’s opinions and passions. Parenting is already a hard task in itself, especially when the child grows up and starts to become rebellious and doesn’t want to do what the parent wants them to do. But through education, parents could, maybe, be able to understand what their child is really interested in, and rather than pulling them away from it, help them to achieve their goals.

Selvambiga says:

I love art. When I come up with new ideas and implement it, I feel satisfied after looking at my output on how creative, hard-working, and concentrated I was toward my artwork. Sometimes when my artwork looks very similar to the one I had in my mind, I’m on cloud 9. I would say that my heart lives to achieve my goals, ambition, and also my cravings toward my likings like chocolates, desserts, and also ice creams.

I also want to change the healthcare policy to a better one providing adequate and necessary treatment to all who arrive at any hospital, be it rich or poor. I want to do this because not everyone in this world is getting proper medical treatment because it is expensive.

Mabel David says:

My passion is to share love by indirectly helping others in need especially. Spending time with people I love and who love me back gives me joy and peace. My heart lives for the new experiences I experience every day.

Nishit Joseph says:

I want to be a lead guitarist. I love playing and feeling guitar against my body. I am very excited about changing the string in my guitar. My heart lives to bring music to every corner of the world.

Adil Sukumar says:

Everyone should have a voice. I want to see everyone happy smiling. My heart lives for doing what I love.

Poojasri

Poojasri M says:

I want to see all people treated equally, no matter whether they are rich or poor, all people in the world must be treated equally.

Tania Mascarenhas says:

I want to eliminate discrimination and hate from this world. It’s very taxing to even think about this.

I’m currently working on collecting suggestions on an app called Tumblr which is a microblogging platform. Once I have collected enough ideas, I hope to start a Kindness Challenge; where each day we can represent ideas or do something as simple as baking a cake, giving a compliment or speaking to an old friend.

Vanaja Karthik says:

I would like for abusing to stop. I am going to strive for the Heartfulness movement to spread throughout the world and prioritize spirituality, love, kindness and togetherness.

These kids have started with a thought, put words into their ideas, are leading engagement in their community. They encourage action among adults, and lead transformation.

Special shoutout and gratitude to Mrs. Ushma Sriraman, who leads the Value-Based Education department of the Lalaji Memorial Omega International School, for her cooperation, coordination, and for her virtual hugs!

Purnima Ramakrishnan

Purnima Ramakrishnan is an UNCA award winning journalist and the recipient of the fellowship in Journalism by International Reporting Project, John Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies. Her International reports from Brazil are found here . She is also the recipient of the BlogHer '13 International Activist Scholarship Award . She is a Senior Editor at World Moms Blog who writes passionately about social and other causes in India. Her parental journey is documented both here at World Moms Blog and also at her personal Blog, The Alchemist's Blog. She can be reached through this page . She also contributes to Huffington Post . Purnima was once a tech-savvy gal who lived in the corporate world of sleek vehicles and their electronics. She has a Master's degree in Electronics Engineering, but after working for 6 years as a Design Engineer, she decided to quit it all to become a Stay-At-Home-Mom to be with her son!   This smart mom was born and raised in India, and she has moved to live in coastal India with her husband, who is a physician, and her son who is in primary grade school.   She is a practitioner and trainer of Heartfulness Meditation.

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ASIA: Colorful Roses From South India Spread Fragrance Around the Globe

ASIA: Colorful Roses From South India Spread Fragrance Around the Globe

Next time you present a bouquet to your loved one or while welcoming a guest, thank the people of few villages in Krishnagiri district in south Tamil Nadu in India. Millions of these petite and fresh flowers spread fragrance in UK, Germany, Australia, Singapore  and Middle East. They bloom in plenty in Krishnagiri district in towns like Thally, Kelamangalam, Denkanikottai, Shoolagiri and Hosur. Though these places are just an obscure speck on the map of India they are some of the important floriculture address of the country. How do these colorful flowers bloom here? Does the hot and humid climatic condition of the country suit them? The response is a little dicey.  The way the flowers are grown in the gardens, situated at an altitude of 1000 feet above mean sea level is the answer to the questions.

Untouched by pollution and tourists these rose gardens are tucked away in small villages spread all over the Western Ghats on the border of the two states of Tamil Nadu and Karnataka.     

All along the well-laid roads that meander on these not too tall hills dot rose gardens where men, women and children, with a covering on their head, tend to rose saplings. A few feet away, in what seems like a plastic house and net structures, stand long rows of flowering plants. Inquiries reveal that these ubiquitous plastic shields are polyhouses.

Flowers in full bloom inside a polyhouse

Though they look like simple gardens, they are large farms where the flowers were grown using modern technology. The polyhouse is a structure made of translucent material like glass or polyethylene which help the plants grow and develop under controlled climatic conditions.    

Narrow paths from these polyhouses lead you to hi-tech floriculture companies. It is here these flowers are plucked at the right time, cut to size with the right machines and preserved in huge cold storage rooms before being packed off to the local market and local airport, to be flown abroad.

Those who manage them are not local farmers but engineers, IT and management professionals.

Bright roses, rich marigolds and huge carnations is the capital that drives them to invest more and more in this industry. One such businessmen who turns over crores annually is Jitendra Kumar Bajoria, who hails from Bagalpur in Bihar State.

Author’s daughter in a polyhouse growing marigolds

Attracted by the nip in the air and the lush green landscape, this entrepreneur developed a rose garden on an acre two decades ago. Enthused by the results he decided to go commercial and took a big business plunge. He set up huge flower farms on 65 acres, – Maa Floritech _  at Agalkottai in Denkanikottai taluk in Krishnagiri district in 2006. 

As time flew by, the farms became hi-tech but shrunk to 45 acres.  “We boosted production by modernizing the farm and using Israeli farming technology, said Kush Chokhani, manager of Maa Floritech, Agalkottai village.”   Using  Israeli technology, cultivation of roses and carnations grew in leaps and bounds on these farms.  They did not just increase in numbers but in varieties too. “Today we have 82 varieties of chrysanthemums and 25 varieties of roses on our farms,” said Mr. Kush. 

Growing the saplings

How are saplings actually grown and tended?  “The specialty of Agalkottai are the following. Altitude (1000 m above mean sea level, red soil (ideal for roses), temperatures always hover around 23 – 30 degrees centigrade (good for chrysanthemums, marigold and roses),” said Mr. Kush.  

The cuttings are planted in straight rows inside the polyhouses. Apart from air, water and soil the flowers need nutrients too. “We give them at the right moment when they get depleted in the soil. Thanks to Israeli technology nutrients such as calcium, magnesium, sulfur and potassium are sent through pipes embedded in the soil. Similarly whenever there is an increase or decrease in temperatures inside the polyhouses, the technology helps to control it. For instance, there are tiny fogging machines (fully automated drip and fogger system) which sprinkle water over the plants when it becomes hot,” said Mr Kush as he turned on the fogging switch.

It is a sight to watch these tiny robots swirl around and sprinkle water on the plants. For a minute, you are transported to a rainy setting.  “Also when it is cold outside, the temperature is survival- friendly for the plants as the polyhouses stop the greenhouse gases from leaving,” explained Mr. Kush.

Though there are less pests and insects inside a polyhouse, Mr. Kush opines that there is a need for regular consultation regarding the right kind of fertilizers and fungicides for the plants. “We are always on the look out for a a breakout of pests such as thrips, mites and aphids. The plants are susceptible to Powdery mildew ( a disease) when there is less humidity.”   

Horticulture officials in the district are of the view that these enclosures also ensure disease control, fertigation and other agronomical practices.  Thus the farmers of the region are assured of harvesting flowers such as carnation, gerbera, marigold, orchid and roses throughout the year without  worrying about crop loss or damage.

Controlled cultivation

Micro irrigation system ensures right amount of water for the roots (cuts water use by 80 per cent). Mainly the poly houses boost starch production as the carbon-dioxide emitted by the plants at night is retained inside the enclosure.

These polyhouses offer other sophistication too like the photo-synthetically active radiation (PAR) lighting. Plants grow tall under these lighting. But when they reach a specified height, lights are switched off and flowering commences.  Thus the Israeli technology helps control photosynthesis, humidity, good aeration, temperature and other conditions.

Rose buds capped with synthetic mesh

Once flowering commences, care is taken to cap each and every rose bud with a synthetic mesh to control its size. Rose stems ready for harvest during sunny days have to be pre-cooled. Soil and water need to be tested regularly. According to Mr. Kush, one cannot succeed in hi-tech farming without personal attention.

Once the flowers are in full bloom, they are harvested, precooled for 12-16 hours at 8-10 degrees in a cold room. The stems are then de-leafed using machines 25 % from the bottom. The stems are then graded for length. They are then bunched based on the length. “A bunch consists of 20 roses. They are wrapped after cutting and packed in a preservative for storing in cold rooms. They are taken out based on the orders,” explained Mr. Kush.      

Profitable farming

“We keep updating ourselves with new techniques and news about market conditions,” said Mr. Kush. There is regular knowledge-transfer to workers about upkeep of plants, weeding, transplanting, cultivation methods, irrigation, nursery development de-leafing and cutting. The workforce are not only from Tamil Nadu state but also from Northern states like Uttar Pradesh, Jharkand and West Bengal.

While men prepare the flower beds, carry buckets of water and remove weeds, women are involved in harvesting, de-shooting and other light jobs.

Roses being packaged for export

Based on their skill they earn approximately $ 4 to $ 5 every day. With a growing demand for these flowers, it will definitely attract more entrepreneurs . Indian chrysanthemums, roses and marigolds are sure to find a place in many a bouquets in every part of the globe soon.

Lalithasai

Lalithasai , a journalist par excellence, with an experience of over 25 years, has penned innumerable articles for the betterment of the society. For over two decades at The Hindu (India’s National Newspaper), she had written with sensitivity and understanding about marginalized women and children. She has also covered public education, communities, urban affairs and development in Tamil Nadu (India). She was actively involved in reporting extensively about the affected families in the fishing hamlets in India, when the tsunami struck in 2004. She has interviewed senior editors and liased with major media organisations to understand the situations and plight of women. Lalithasai who has many feathers in hat, has had her humble beginnings in a middle class South Indian family, but has risen to be an inspiration and tall leader for her own sisters and mothers in the world. she is a mother of two grown up children. Her son is an environmentalist and holds a position of repute in Henkel in Germany. Her daughter is a doctor,who is planning to pursue the subject in mental health. To know more about LalithaSai, please visit - http://www.lalithasai.com/

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INDIA: Robots, Go the Food Way

INDIA: Robots, Go the Food Way

India, basically an agrarian economy has made great strides in various fields and especially in the field of robotics. The robots have gradually entered into sectors such as defence services, agriculture, manufacturing industries and so on.

The petite man-like machines have therefore created career opportunities for many entrepreneurs in the food industry too. Do we need any extra talents to make a mark in this field?

“Not exactly, if you have the expertise and the interest to excel in your business and attract customers, success is yours,” say the duo Karthik Kannan and Venkatesh Rajendran, who took Chennai by storm with their robot-theme based restaurant, a few months back.

Launched early this year, this restaurant located on the Old Mahabalipuram Road is a crowd puller. Despite a spacious waiting lounge, on the ground floor, one can see serpentine queues to grab a table in the restaurant.

What is attractive about this theme? Robots, of course, says Karthik. People are curious about how they work here. he says as he leads us to the dining space on the first floor. Soon as you step out of the lift, you are caught unaware by a robot extending its tray to you. Unable to hold back a guffaw, Karthik points out that it is just a selfie corner and there is more suspense waiting for you inside.

Heading straight to the glass door before you, he takes you inside a dimly-lit restaurant. As your eyes get used to the darkness, the scene that unfolds looks straight out of a science fiction – a line of tall robots, with bright red eyes, turning around on their wheels.
Of the four robot waiters or servers, two are clad in a saree to suit the Indian style. Children vie with adults to reach out to the food on trays carried by the robots named Gia, Sana, Alice and Atika.

So, how do the robots locate the tables? Founders Venkatesh and Karthik have introduced a unique order system with phone tabs. The tablets display all categories of food available – Thai, Chinese et al. Once the order is placed by the customers, it is sent directly to the kitchen. When the ordered dishes are ready, restaurant staff arrange it on a tray carried by a battery-operated robot which promptly delivers it to the respective table.

Venkatesh Rajendran and Karthik Kannan

Venkatesh Rajendran and Karthik Kannan

On reaching the table, it alerts the guests to take the food from the tray and tap its hand after they are done with the task. It then proceeds to the kitchen on a fixed track around the tables.

If children, out of curiosity, go near the robots carrying the orders and block its way, alerted by sensors fixed inside them, they stop immediately. As one can get a seat only through booking, there is no jostling inside the hall to walk alongside or touch the moving machines.

In addition to the robots, the restaurant has also employed waiters to enable customers to adapt themselves to the new concept.
Why this concept? “The concept of ‘Theme-restaurant’ is taking Chennai by storm now. I am an architect (specializes in interiors) and my friend Venkatesh, a former IT employee, is currently in the food industry. Both of us wanted to combine our expertise and introduce a new concept in the city. Also, during my visits to China, I noticed that robots were a big hit in restaurants. Thus was born this concept,” explained Karthik.

How did it begin?

Karthik who imports building materials from China has his office there. Two years ago, when the concept of theme restaurants was catching up in Chennai, he took up the task of doing interiors for 747 Flight Theme restaurant. Here, he designed the dining space similar to the interior of an aircraft to give aeronautic experience to the guests. It was then Karthik met Venkatesh and they conceptualized theme Robot. It was a leap of faith for both of them and they plunged into business. While Karthik handled the interiors, imports and robot repairs, Venkatesh handled the business operations.

But the effort was fraught with challenges. The duo had to study the working of the robots (each costing Rs. 4 lakhs), obtain training in installing and servicing them. Off, they flew to China to understand all these concepts and avoid being bogged down by emergencies.
“I took up a 15-day training to solve any issue related to the running of the machines. Actually, it is easier to handle them. They are like any other electrical gadgets. You just have to charge them once in 24 hours and take care of their wheels if needed. They will not throw up an emergency and if there is one, I can handle it,” says Karthik confidently.

But, what really shook them was routing the robots to India. Little did they realize that they will face a hurdle with the customs department. “As this concept was new to India, the Customs Department did not have a unique code assigned to the product (assembled robots). We, therefore, had to pump in a lot of details about parts of the bots, convince them and use special permission. The entire operations took us 2-3 months as officials of many central departments had to be approached,” explained Karthik.

We are glad, we did it, despite odds. Today, the concept is a success and they cater to customers from down south and far from north India too. Some of the dishes their guests come looking for is ‘Wow Paneer’ and dumplings (vegetarian) and Mayonnaise chicken (non-vegetarian). But both look forward to their and myriad varieties of home-made kulfis.

What are their plans for the future? Two months ago, Karthik and Venkatesh launched the themed Robot restaurant in Coimbatore (another major city in south India). They have plans of introducing the concept in all the states in the country. “We will source the bots from China and sell it across the country. Anybody with normal intelligence and sound knowledge of handling electrical goods will be able to manage the robots and do not need any special training session,” said the duo.

They further explain that they are willing to share the expertise with interested cafeterias, pizza outlets and in the hospital sector. They are open for franchises as well. Currently, they are authorized sole distributors of these robots for the Indian Market.

The robots are only an additional attraction and have not replaced the restaurant staff. But will they eventually do away with the human resource? What do you think?

Photo Credits: The Author

Lalithasai

Lalithasai , a journalist par excellence, with an experience of over 25 years, has penned innumerable articles for the betterment of the society. For over two decades at The Hindu (India’s National Newspaper), she had written with sensitivity and understanding about marginalized women and children. She has also covered public education, communities, urban affairs and development in Tamil Nadu (India). She was actively involved in reporting extensively about the affected families in the fishing hamlets in India, when the tsunami struck in 2004.
She has interviewed senior editors and liased with major media organisations to understand the situations and plight of women. Lalithasai who has many feathers in hat, has had her humble beginnings in a middle class South Indian family, but has risen to be an inspiration and tall leader for her own sisters and mothers in the world.
she is a mother of two grown up children. Her son is an environmentalist and holds a position of repute in Henkel in Germany. Her daughter is a doctor,who is planning to pursue the subject in mental health.
To know more about LalithaSai, please visit - http://www.lalithasai.com/

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