Meenakshi Umesh

Sustainable Living for the Win!

Meenakshi Umesh believes that the route to knowing oneself is through hands on work. And the hands on work of her choice? Designing, constructing and further manually working towards a more sustainable and organic way of life.

When we learn about ourselves, we learn about the universe. And the opportunity of learning about ourselves presents itself through manual work, in cooperation with others in the natural environment. When a child creates objects of use in daily life there is a sense of accomplishment and it feels happy and content. Further, a content mind houses a gentle soul and a kind heart. Which in turn, knows empathy and forgiveness. And ultimately, this leads to peace with oneself and the universe!

My name is Meenakshi Umesh and my choice of work is in the field of Sustainable Architecture. Trained as an architect at Sir J.J. College of Architecture, Mumbai, I subsequently finished my Masters in Applied Psychology.

After my graduation in '89, I went to Auroville, near Pondicherry to work with Mr. Poppo, a renowned architect who specialises in cost-effective technology. Alongside the designing bit, I also did some hands-on work on a building, working with masons, workers, and carpenters.

From there I went on to Bangalore to work for a Delhi based NGO called Development Alternatives. Here I got a chance to work with mud as a building material. Thence I moved to Gudalur, to an organisation called Accord that wanted to build mud houses for the tribals of the Nilgiri district. I designed and constructed the building using a team from Auroville.

In April 1992, my husband and I bought a piece of land in Dharmapuri district. It is a backward, drought prone region and the land we bought was a hill slope, totally degraded except for a few shrubs. In the last ten years we have planted a variety of trees, done a lot of water harvesting and soil conservation work. This has led to the land slowly recovering and regenerating itself.

The first three years we did a lot of dry land farming, growing and eating local millet and pulses. But the rains were steadily getting more and more erratic and in October 1997 we bought some land with a good water source so that we could be self-sufficient in terms of food.

By 1999, we had finally established ourselves in the area. We had been doing organic farming for about six years on our land, growing paddy, wheat, green gram, toor, black gram, turmeric, coriander, bananas, etc. Our neighbours were getting convinced that chemicals can be done away with. We then decided to start work with the local people and help them shift to organic methods.

We felt that long-lasting change could be brought about only by introducing the children to these methods. Through their experience, we thought the kids would slowly convince their parents to see things more holistically.

So in the year 2000, I started a learning centre. In our learning centre we are very focused on farming. Most of the kids that come to our school are kids of marginal farmers. And in 2004, we started the Surabhi Niwas Hostel where we house children of migrant labourers and educate them.

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