What can we do to live a more sustainable life? How can we be kinder to the world around us? And to do that, we started speaking to some people we know who have embraced a gentler life—or at least it appeared that way to us.
Then we heard S Sivakumar, Group Head - Agri & IT Business, at ITC, speak. He said we can do all of that. And feel younger. Get to be more energetic. And be more in tune with the world. He calls it Reverse Ageing. Just how to do it is a narrative he shared with us.
In this issue
- Reverse Ageing
- Advanced Algorithms
By Charles Assisi
My first encounter with S Sivakumar was when he was on the road. He was at work to build e-choupal, an internet-based intervention system for ITC’s Agro Business Division. Even to a young journalist, like I was back then, it was evident he was on top of things and it would be a matter of time before things would take off. That it did take off and is now a textbook case study for how things can be implemented in rural India has been written about.
What did not get spoken about by either those who knew Sivakumar then or me were our first impressions about him back then. He was clearly obese, putting in an obscene number of hours at work, and for all the calm demeanour he attempted to project, he appeared to be a man in a hurry. How long can he sustain this pace was a question that crossed my mind. Perhaps, this is how people in high-pressure jobs work, a naive voice in my head argued. Over the years, we stayed in touch, but infrequently.
When we connected recently, I thought I could hear the voice of an altogether different person. The image staring at me was not that of a bloated man either. He sounded calm, looked lean, and at peace. Something had changed. Curiosity compelled me to ask what had shifted for him. I’m glad I asked. Turns out, he had thought much about it and his answer started with a rhetorical question.
“If we think it is important to follow the triple bottom line philosophy for the corporates we lead, why don’t we embrace that as individuals as well?” Not attempting to embrace it personally, he went on to explain, is hypocrisy. The catalyst to think along these lines was a shooting pain in the knee that he feared would leave him debilitated for the rest of his life. It compelled him to ask hard questions of himself.
- As an individual, am I consuming more than what I need?
- How do we treat those around us? Do we haggle a bit much with people such as street vendors whom we buy our produce from? How do we treat the help at home? Because they are part of the society around us.
- What choices am I making now that will impact the future? Am I in sync with the current generation?
His attempt to answer these questions led him to make changes along many fronts. He started by adopting a healthier diet, incorporating exercise, and packing in more sleep. He has documented much of this transition on unhurry.in. Consider the changes in his diet (and he has urged me to try it out as well).
- Vegetables must fill 50% of your plate. Proteins should be 25%. And reduce carbs to 25%, but do not eliminate it altogether. Those who suggest it be eliminated are offering rubbish advice.
- Between meals, have seasonal fruits. He keeps himself satiated with apples, papayas, and pomegranates; nuts such as pistachios and almonds, and green tea. But he ensures a gap of 90 to 120 minutes between meals.
- One glass of water every 90 minutes ensures consistent hydration for nutrients to reach various parts of the body through the circulatory system and toxins to get released.
- ‘Walk to earn your meals’ is a mantra he swears by. So, 10 minutes before breakfast, 10 minutes before lunch and 10 minutes before dinner. He now rounds off each day with a 15-minute walk two hours after dinner.
Even as he was embracing this diet, it occurred that while vegetables and fruits are needed, most people never ask what goes into bringing it to the table. Since this is a business he understands well, he figured not all produce may be fresh. That’s when it occurred, he can grow it. He had the space as well because he stays on the outskirts of Hyderabad. “I started to grow some of the fruits and vegetables at home,” Sivakumar says.
“The papayas, guavas, mangoes, all of it is grown at home. It has a zero carbon footprint. But when I started, I hadn’t thought about the carbon footprint. It was all about how to live healthy. [Relating it to] carbon footprint occured only much later.”
Even as that thought started creeping into his mind, he could look around and see the local fruit and vegetable vendors. He now makes it a point to buy from them and doesn’t haggle. “The local ecosystem around us must be supported,” he says.
He has an eye for detail and could catch changes in the social fabric as well. “When we were kids, climate change, unseasonal rains and floods were abstract ideas. For kids growing up now, it is not. They are witnesses to it. That is why, when you look around, many of them are asking, ‘how can I contribute’?”
But these are complex choices to make, he points out. How do you choose whether you should run an air conditioner for two hours when the heat is killing and take a bus that will take two hours to get to your destination when you are in a hurry? And how do you compute what is more sustainable? The math to compute all of this makes things fuzzy for most people. “But things have come to a point where we must make choices.”
So how does he choose, I asked him.
“You and I belong to that generation of Indians to whom frugality was second nature. Somewhere down the line, we lost that frugality as we chased our careers. I was young and never imagined two years ago that a debilitating knee pain could get to me. You have seen me in the past. I was prioritizing everything and everyone else except me. Then, I figured, eventually, I will suffer.
“My work at ITC insists I ask how can I irrigate more land with 20 million liters of water? We take on stiffer targets. When I take this personally, it was a two-way rub off. It contributes to my personal lifestyle and contributes to the world as well.”
His point is that all he had to do was go back to what was second nature. Be frugal. And implement the lessons learnt at work in his personal life. After two years of living this way, he says, he has lost 35 kilos, looks much younger, feels unhurried, and much better. He calls it reverse ageing.
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