This article was first published in the Mint newspaper on May 4, 2016.
Twenty-two-year-old Malhar Indulkar lives on the banks of Vashishti in Maharashtra’s coastal Konkan region. When he realized that industrial waste and pollutants were affecting the river’s fauna, he put his energies into conserving otters which eat up sick fish, thereby restricting the spread of infections.
A man in his early 30s, Brijendra Prajapati, is trying to revive the dying art of pottery in Palwal, his village in Haryana. He proved wrong naysayers who saw no profit in pottery. Not only is he living a sustainable life, but also travelling the world exhibiting his exquisite craft.
Dinesh Gurjar, 67, who was once a Mumbai-based arms and narcotics dealer, has found meaning in life elsewhere. Today, he is an organic farmer.
There are several such people following their calling and protecting the planet simultaneously. Few people know about them, but a young man is dedicated to discovering 52 such people, spending a week with each of them, documenting their stories through digital tools and sharing their lives with the world over the Internet.
Rahul Karanpuriya, 28, is a business school dropout who runs 52parindey.in, a project dedicated to identifying and documenting the lives of 52 innovators making a conscious living through alternative careers in Indian towns. I first met him at a meet in Noida last year, focused on alternative education.
While talking about his ideas, he told me that he wanted the world to know about the professions that are almost dead, or earth-friendly vocations that are not popular because they are not seen as fashionable. He wanted to share the efforts and practices of people who are involved in these occupations and are committed to preserving the environment, conserving water, avoiding wastage of food, and conserving culture and heritage.
Karanpuriya had spent two years at Swaraj University as akhoji (or a person in search of something, that’s what a student at the university is called). The university neither believes in degrees nor does it award any, or in formal education, and focuses on giving opportunities to people to explore themselves, understand what they truly want in life and figure out how they can contribute to the world.
Located between Udaipur and Mount Abu on a lush seven-acre campus, Swaraj University is also a place where people discover their entrepreneurial abilities.
A few days after I met Rahul, he came to us at the Digital Empowerment Foundation with a proposal. He wanted to travel the length and breadth of India for 52 weeks in search of 52 individuals living a sustainable life while following eco-careers. Karanpuriya wanted support for his project with digital tools, a website and a minimum allowance. We provided him a scholarship of Rs.10,000 per month and a few gadgets so that he could share these unique stories.
Equipped with a laptop, a digital camera, a video recorder, a mobile phone, a data card and some clothes, Karanpuriya has travelled more than 7,320 km on foot and by public transport, documenting the stories of 22 innovators so far.
In his journey, he’s met some very inspiring people—Khameesh Khan, from Jaisalmer in Rajasthan, who went to Tanzania to study permaculture, a branch of science that is based on a holistic approach towards traditional agricultural practices that advocate designing human systems based on natural ecosystems, and returned to open the Greening Jaisalmer Society to fight global warming; Muzaffar Ansari aka Kalle Bhai, a self-taught historian and tourist guide in Chanderi, Madhya Pradesh, who has authored several books; Shweta Bhattad, an accomplished Nagpur-based artiste who raises awareness about climate change, organic farming and farmer rights through performance art in villages across Maharashtra; Amit Arora from Vadodara who quit his corporate job to work on solid waste management; Rajesh Pandit in Nashik who mobilized thousands of people to care for the rivers around them, among others.
With their determination to protect the planet for future generations, these individuals’ stories—now available on the 52parindey website, Facebook page and YouTube channel—show how experiential learning is equally, if not more, important as formal education.
They tell the youth of today that there are thousands of career opportunities—away from the mainstream but much more fulfilling—waiting for them once they get out of the formal education system. It is time for youngsters to find their true calling.
The journey of each of these individuals must be celebrated and shared widely.
Osama Manzar is founder-director of Digital Empowerment Foundation and chair of Manthan and mBillionth awards. He is member, advisory board, at Alliance for Affordable Internet and has co-authored NetCh@kra–15 Years of Internet in India and Internet Economy of India.