Art of Living Experiences, Art of Living Projects, Art of Living Stories, Sri Sri Ravi Shankar.

Breathes there the man with soul so dead

Who never to himself hath said

This is my own, my native land!

-Sir Walter Scott

In the era of ‘Brain Drain’ where youngsters flock to foreign land in search of greener pastures, it is refreshing to spot youngsters like Varun Prabhakar who realize in time that the grass is greener in our own native land after all!  As a true patriot; Varun has taken responsibility to work towards a more prosperous, healthy, happy and peaceful India. He is back to roots.

I would like to introduce Varun Prabhakar and his journey towards natural farming. I hope his transition inspires many more youngsters to find their foothold in their own native land, identify their area of passion that could become their profession and serve humanity.

 Tete a tete …Read on

Varun, I know that you grew up in Dubai. Can you tell us in brief about your hard core beliefs while growing up there?

Yes! I was in Dubai between the ages of 6 and 17. Dubai certainly helped shape parts of who I am today. The high standard of living and success that I grew up around helped me envision the life that I want to be able to provide for my family. The way the city had transformed during the years I lived there showed me first hand that the impossible can be made possible. My parents provided me with a strong spiritual background from a very young age and it is truly one of the things I am most grateful for. It has instilled strong values in me as well as given me a more grounded perspective on life. I think that as a whole, growing up in Dubai gave me the motivation to do something big yet meaningful with my life.


Later on, you moved to the United States of America for higher studies.  Can you please share your experience of living in the U.S. and the learning?

I moved to the US to study mechanical engineering at the University of Wisconsin – Madison which is a very good engineering school and ironically, has one of the top 5 agriculture programs in the US. At that phase in my life, I had absolutely no interest in agriculture and was focused on working in the automotive industry. I gradated in 2010, at the peak of recession. Jobs for non US citizens were tougher to get. Fortunately, I succeeded in getting an entry level engineering job at a tech start-up in New Jersey and over the 5 years that I worked there, I was involved in almost every aspect of the business from engineering, recruitment, sales and client relationship management to operations, project management and product development. At the end of my career there, in 2014, I was in charge of all day to day operations for the North American office. It was one of the most amazing and challenging experiences of my life. More than anything else, it gave me the experience of building a company from the ground up and I loved it! I had been bitten by the entrepreneurial bug!

 

One of the things that I feel I should mention is that, spending 10 years in Dubai, a very cosmopolitan city and then 10 years in the US through my youth gave me the opportunity to learn from and interact with people from countless ethnic backgrounds, political leanings, religious beliefs and socioeconomic groups. Along with spirituality, it taught me that there is always some way you can build a connection with someone.

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 How did you make the decision to move back to India?

Throughout my life I have always trusted my gut and in early 2015, out of the blue, I had a feeling that I needed to be in India. I can’t really explain it considering I’ve never really lived in India (born in Bangalore but left when I was 4) but it made a lot of sense to me at the time. My mother says it is India calling her children back!

Here are some of the thoughts that helped me to make the decision to return to my motherland, India:

 

Why should I be working for the US economy, which is not my own, when I can be working to make my country better?

I am very optimistic that in the next 10-15 years, India will progress by leaps and bounds and being Indian, why am I not a part of it? The entrepreneurial spirit is taking India by storm and is supported by major players in the private and public sector. It’s a great place to start a company!

I have the love and support of my family in India, which helps considerably when starting a company.

The pros seemingly outweighed the cons, so I planned to move here and launch a tech start up in the cyber security space.

During this phase in my life I had become more aware of healthy eating and the adverse effects of chemical farming but I still had no interest in agriculture professionally. 


Now that you are back in India, can you recollect that decisive moment and process that led you to take up organic farming in your native land?

I took a few months off after I moved back and got involved in my family’s farm. My father had avidly studied agriculture in his youth and as a ‘passion project’ set up an experimental farm. He had spent the last 5 years collecting open pollinated seeds from all over the world and testing them to grow in Bangalore’s climate. At this point in time, he had identified 150 hyper exotic varieties including blue corn, purple capsicums, red bindhi and purple beans to name a few. We started selling our exotic seeds and curating educational farm experiences. I was struck by a fascination for agriculture! There is truly nothing like planting your own seed and eating the fruit from that plant. It gave me a connection to nature and the earth unlike anything I had experienced before.

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As I started to explore India’s agricultural industry, the more concerned I became for the farmers and end consumers. With most of our produce, which is chemically farmed, consumers get highly contaminated food and it is barely worth the financial risk for a farmer to produce it, not forgetting the negative environmental impact the chemicals have on our water supply and soil. There is just so much that is fundamentally wrong with the way we are growing and selling our fresh produce today. I also noticed that the Indian farmer is losing out on most of the amazing agtech innovation happening in the US, Israel and Europe since the solutions have no place in the Indian paradigm.

My past experiences had made me realise that stress is going to be a part of life no matter what you do, so you might as well be doing something meaningful with it. 

 So I gave up on my cyber security start-up idea and dove into agriculture, feeling I could really make difference in so many peoples lives with something as important as food!

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How do think we can address the problems facing Indian agriculture today?

For a rural farmer, it all comes down to economics. If we can prove that switching to chemical free farming will give you the same or higher revenues then it’s a no brainer! We need to be able to provide viable business models that eliminate the dependency on chemical inputs, reduce overall input costs, reduce dependency on the big seed companies and connect producers more directly with consumers. We also need home grown tech solutions that address the unique needs of the Indian farmer.

On the consumer side, we need transparency. I believe that consumers will make the right choices with their food if they are exposed to how it is grown. Apart from being a way to connect with nature and gain an appreciation for what we eat, it is an absolutely fascinating industry that we are all losing touch with.

Today, there are some amazing things happening at all levels of the public and private sector to support our agricultural industry. From restructured government funded crop insurance schemes and mobile solutions to connect farmers with daily market pricing to startups focused on natural pest management or predictive agri-weather forecasts. The way I see it is that the problems in agriculture are too big and complex for one entity to solve, we need as much innovation as possible from every source we can get our hands on. It is an exciting time to be in India and be a part of an initiative this meaningful and important to our future.

 

How has Sri Sri Ravi Shankar’s vision for organic farming in India inspired you?

Sri Sri Ravi Shankar’s vision is exactly the way that I feel that we should farm. I love it because it puts the farmers back in control by removing dependency on third parties. Gurudev wants the farmers to only have to go to the market to sell their produce and not buy anything required to farm.

He stresses the importance of the desi cow and how by using desi cow dung and cow urine a farmer can eliminate the need for chemical inputs from large multinationals. The science behind this goes back to our vedas and was the way we used to farm 100’s and even 1000’s of years ago. We need to get back to that methodology… we don’t have a choice for the sake our our health as well as the health of our lands.

Gurudev also wants to promote non hybrid and non GMO seeds. The fundamental problem with growing hybrid or GMO varieties is that the farmer needs to buy new seeds from large seed companies every season since the seeds that are created from a hybrid parent plant will not guarantee the same child plant. If you really think about it… it’s a pretty messed up concept

Lastly, Gurudev wants to make farming profitable again. This is easier said than done and involves all levels of the agricultural supply chain.

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My foray into agriculture is my way to support Gurudev’s vision. I only use inputs from Desi cows and am using non hybrid/non GMO seeds hoping to prove out a scalable business model for other farmers to produce these hyper exotic vegetables. I am currently selling my exotic lettuces for up to Rs. 500/kg, my exotic tomatoes for Rs. 300/kg and my exotic capsicums for Rs. 400/kg wholesale. The consumers are willing to pay these high prices because of the uniqueness of the vegetables and the knowledge that they are 100% chemical free. These prices are unheard of for a farmer in India. I am beginning to see glimpses of a road to success. It is going to take at least a full year of production before I can expand to other farmers because I want to be confident that it will work when an average farmer adopts it.

Natural, honest and open minded conversation with Varun has left me with a feeling of contentment. As though I just got soaked in rain after suffering drought!  Was it a divine plan his parents named him Varun, the God of water?!!! Let’s wish him all success in his endeavour

 

Leela Ramesh

 

 

About Art of Living, Sri Sri Ravi Shankar.

Kashmir has been in the news for wrong reasons since the last four months. Ever since then it been on the boil for past sometime. Violent protests, arson, looting and other forms of outbursts have rocked the very cradle of Jammu and Kashmir that once people called as `Paradise`.

I have never visited that place, but my parents told me that our ancestors belonged to Kashmir, living and thriving along the banks of the once mighty river Saraswati. We therefore came to be called as `Saraswats’, the people of the river Saraswati.

At that time, Kashmir Shaivism gave India the powerful spiritual wisdom of peaceful co-existence. The invaders from the West, forced us to migrate down south and some to the east of India, while imposing and promoting a totally non-Kashmiri philosophy.

In those days, one of the most inspiring core principles of Kashmir Shaivism that made Kashmir a true Paradise was thus – `That bondage, suffering and misery happens when one clings to a very strong sense of identity on the basis of race, region, religion, caste, creed and language`. That’s how the people of Kashmir survived the millennia, bonded together.

Has this sense of bondage come to haunt the people of Kashmiri once again?

That little bit of `Kashmir – in – me’, prompted me to write this piece on why I love Sri Sri Ravi Shankar’s refreshingly new and profound initiative to restore Kashmir – Back to Paradise.

This is exactly the theme of the conference which he is scheduled to address on November 23rd in Jammu.

I have my own deep reasons to underline just some of his rare qualities which I believe, recognise him as a pioneer to `break-the-ice` in Kashmir today where human values, mutual trust, dialogue and understanding stand frozen.

 

Reason 1: A peacemaker who does not want to win!

 

Shocking it may sound. Someone who puts absolutely everything at stake for the larger good of people, takes risks and makes efforts to make others progress and win. A genuine conflict-resolution expert will never let anyone go back as a loser.

Sri Sri Ravi Shankar has offered to rebuild 27 schools in Kashmir burnt down by miscreants. With this offer, he has committed to the progress of Kashmir`s young and future. This I reckon is one of the true signs of a peacemaker.

 

Reason 2: Himalayan patience!

 

He is known to be a keen listener and brilliant observer. This is a virtue of someone who has a deep understanding of Meditation and also who is a successful Mediator. Sri Sri Ravi Shankar in his initiatives towards conflict -resolution, brings immense objectivity and impartiality to a situation. He has a Himalayan patience and the people of Kashmiri now want to be heard on their uphill situation as soon as possible.

 

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The attendees of the upcoming Jammu conference are :

The stone- pelters and their leaders who engaged in violence in Kashmir, Gujjar Bakarwals, teachers and professors of colleges, trade unions, ex-militants, Sufi representatives, the representatives of communities like Sikhs, Buddhists, etc., NGO s from the State, support groups of Army, writers and poets, Youth leaders, media persons, leaders from women organisations, leaders of Kashmiri Pandit community, representatives from Kashmir Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Travel Agent Association of Kashmir, representatives from J&K Hoteliers Club etc.

Reason 3: Season for Change

 

As this season changes, bringing a shift in attitudes and perspectives becomes imperative. His skill, creativity and wisdom for transformation has been record – breaking, if not magical. The need of the hour is to bridge the gap of mistrust, suspicion, doubt and complete breakdown of dialogue. Sri Sri Ravi Shankar`s vision and mission are both critical now for Kashmir. That`s why we look up to men of wisdom. This raises hope for that much-needed shift.

 

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Should I say `A Paradigm Shift for a Paradise`.

Art of Living Wisdom, Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, Yoga and Meditation.

Duality in life 

 

I have always been a person who enjoys worldly life to the hilt, be it travel, food, beautiful objects that please the eye, hobbies that excite or movies and plays that make me laugh, cry or think. I love life in its many splendour and at the same time acutely aware of a spiritual bent of mind that thirsts for answers about higher purpose of life. If there is one person who has confused me to the core, it is myself! How can I be a thoroughly worldly person and yet effortlessly dissolve in the inner world?! Is something wrong with me? Well, in the fourth decade of my life, my Master decided to shower grace on me by His living presence. The process of unravelling the duality in mind, layer by layer, began and continuing…

 

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Walking on the path that Gurudev Sri Sri Ravi Shankar has shown and looking up to Him with total faith has put my mind at rest to a great extent. Duality exists! Accepting and dealing with it playfully yet with profound wisdom is the art of living.

 

Spirituality is our nature !

 

Learning the true meaning of dispassion (Vairagya) relieves one of duality. People on the spiritual path are often regarded by others as some special species who shun tasty food, good life and worldly enjoyment, not knowing that spirituality is not averse to enjoying life. In fact, those who are not following any Master or a Path, are also spiritual. We are first spiritual beings and then human beings. Spirituality is our very nature. Spirituality is nothing but being natural and living all the virtues that we are endowed with by the Divine. If we see opposite of this in society or in ourselves at times, it is because of the company, environment and food habits that affect our state of mind. To combat this, we can just attend to these aspects and make our practice more regular and strong. Within a couple of days, we can surprise ourselves with the positive change!

During Navaratri satsang, Gurudev Sri Sri Ravi Shankar mentioned about the effect of company. There is a lone horse called Raja. He lives in Goshala among cows. Someone brought two mares as gift to relieve the loneliness of Raja. Raja got so flustered at the sight of the mares that he began to run away from them! Raja has forgotten that he is different from cows and believes he is one among the cows. This is the effect of sangha if we lose sight of our unique identity. It is very easy to get pulled in opposite direction, specially as a beginner on the path. The whole thing becomes a snake and ladder game.

 

Strategy ! 

 

As Gurudev Sri Sri Ravi Shankar says so simply and beautifully, the strategy to move up as a Seeker is to set short term goals, then increase the span gradually as we get more and more strength and will power. Not to feel guilty if we slip occasionally. In fact, our resolve should become stronger each time we slip.

When we play in the world with total awareness, not losing sight of the goal of the Being even for an instant, dealing with duality becomes a cake-walk. Krishna philosophy is having one foot firmly rooted in the ground and play all the roles one is required to play as a human being. The other foot is off the ground, totally untouched by the worldly affairs. That is who we are at the core.

 

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Balancing both worlds with equanimity, playfulness and joy will awaken the Krishna consciousness in us. Thus we make our life a celebration enjoying every aspect of life, within and without. Where is duality to deal with?

Without my Master, I would still be groping in the dark, as reading any amount of scriptures would not give me the experience that the living Master provides. A Master, as a friend and guide helps us integrate and live the knowledge of Krishna philosophy. He creates situations to help us grow and glow.