Saturday, February 28, 2015

Incredible India - At the Grassroots!

Good morning from snowy VA Aalayam!!

I have been in a brief hibernation - juggling demanding deadlines at work, going through some transformational angst...I just have not been able to get my blogging mojo to flow.

Thank you Deepa for holding down the fort, in style, when I was distracted. But now, I am happy to be back. 

And here I am presenting to you, a poignant story about a topic that has come to mean quite a lot to me!

Smiling faces of our future, from Odisha, India. Pic courtesy, Sunayana Chatrapathy

My kids have more books than they can read, more clothes than they need and so many toys that I have to give some away every year just so we have room for more stuff. We (fortunately or unfortunately), live in a society of excesses, where the value of a book, of school supplies, of a new comic or of a new dress is not appreciated as much as it should. Let's hold that thought for a minute.

I have always wanted to do something meaningful with my time, with children especially, so I can make a difference in someone's life. Not just go through the motions of making money, educating my own children, meeting the expectations of my family etc...Let's hold that thought too.

With this as the premise, imagine my fascination when my cousin from Bangalore, - Sunayana Chatrapathy, moved away from her family and her cushy life to start a fellowship in Odisha (formerly known as Orissa, in Eastern India), to predominantly work with tribal children and teach them English and Math!!

I read hungrily, all about Sunayana's adventures in her blog, trials and tribulations in learning a new language, getting a new perspective, integrating in a rural village set up, unlearning and relearning concepts we've mostly grown arrogant about - and just getting joy out of doing something basic - like making a difference at the grassroots level. 

How I wish I could do something like that.

Sunayana's blog about her Gram Vikas experiences (
All I can do at this time is contribute - that's the least I can do. 

I can help Sunayana out as she is raising money to get these children books, or school supplies. 

I can help her spread the word about this fellowship, about Gram Vikas, the Non Governmental Organization Sunayana is working with in Odisha. 

I can help myself by doing something meaningful, spreading the world about the multilateral textures of India - that is so much more than just high saturation color and culture. 

Here's a video introduction to Gram Vikas. Check it out!

I think guiltily of all the times we have so many crayons that we cut them up to do craft with them. Imagine if a kid did not even have crayons to express himself with. 

I think of all the times we have so many books, and a lush library full of titles we adore, and we still complain we don't have that favorite book we are coveting. We then go and buy innumerable titles with crisp hard covers, and printed on high gloss paper. Imagine a kid cannot practice his reading because there are not enough books in his school, or in his village or even in the neighboring village!

So the least I can do to scratch that itch is to contribute with the awareness, and with the fund raising.

Mohuda kids revel outside their local school - Pic courtesy, Sunayana Chatrapathy

Without getting too pedantic, let me jump right over to Sunayana's first person narrative. Over gushing WhatsApp messages and Facebook pings, I was able to get Sunayana to give me a blurb about her experiences in Odisha.

So here goes!

Having worked as an HR professional for close to five years, there was one thing missing in my work life – the ever elusive sense of gratification. I somehow wasn’t sure of why I was doing what I was doing. So, I decided to take a step back and re-think about what I really wanted to do. I decided that it didn’t matter that I had MBA  and Engineering degrees under my belt; my options should not be limited by them. They have been immense learning experiences and I wouldn’t trade that for anything in the world.

I decided that I just wanted to do something that I liked doing every single day. There were many options playing in my mind. I was drawn to the education sector in India – particularly elementary education. It was when I was in this frame of mind that I came across the SBI Youth for India rural development fellowship programme. This fellowship offers one the opportunity to work for a year in a village in India, in the focus area of your choice, under the guidance of experienced NGOs. It seemed like the perfect opportunity for me to explore something new.

As Sunayana travels to Mohuda, she sees breathtaking landscape. Pic courtesy, Sunayana Chatrapathy

Although I had no clue about living conditions in villages, save from the occasional visits to a cousin’s farm, I was confident about my decision to take this up. Luckily for me , my husband and family were supportive too. With a thumbs-up from everyone, I applied and got selected for the fellowship with 70 others from across India, each of them from a different background. While there were 21-year-olds who were just out of college, there were PhDs too!

The November cohort for the SBI Youth for India Fellowship

Now, as part of the fellowship, I am working with the non-governmental organization-Gram Vikas (which translates to ‘Development of a village’). I live in Mohuda, a small village in Odisha - one of the least developed states in India. Since I chose the education sector, I am working with a residential school run by Gram Vikas. It caters to tribal children from far-flung villages of Odisha.

Program funding contrasts in Odisha - pic courtesy, Sunayana Chatrapathy

When I first visited the school, I expected shy kids, who would likely run away from me. On the contrary, they ran towards me, with ear-to-ear grins. I couldn’t have expected a warmer welcome. From that point until now, every minute I have spent here has been worth it. I have never loved my job more. Finally, that ever elusive sense of gratification has been achieved.

Children are ready to style and smile!! Pic courtesy, Sunayana Chatrapathy

These children amaze me every day. It seems like there is nothing they cannot do! They sing, dance, play, draw, paint, win medals in sports, set up grand puja pandals, give trendy haircuts to each other, repair, do carpentry work, make clay idols, organize and manage events, grow vegetables, share, take care of each other, teach each other, ask questions , show unconditional love and of course, love to learn. And this is not exaggeration.

Team work that actually means something - Children work together to create a stage for puja. Pic courtesy, Sunayana Chatrapathy

I started teaching spoken English after I saw that the kids could read and write English (thanks to rote learning, where children learn by repetition and memorization), but could not understand or speak anything they were writing. So every day, I look for new, interactive ways to teach them to speak English. I make use of fun activities, games, Genki English songs and also in the process introducing bi-lingual story books in Odia and English.

Sunayana practices her Odia script. Walking the talk, or writing it, now has gotten real!

Currently, I am also working on introducing attractive ways to teach Math using Math manipulatives - A Math manipulative is an object which is designed so that a learner can perceive a mathematical concept by using it.

As I work with these children on a daily basis, I have had one strong realization – that every child has equal potential, but they just need something to hone that potential. It is the platform and opportunities that make a difference. If these children can be given the right opportunity, they are pretty much invincible.

Children gear up for Sports Day. Pic courtesy, Sunayana Chatrapathy

Another area that I noticed requires improvement is hygiene in government-run schools. I am working on creating a module that can be used by government-run school teachers. It includes activities, games and education material that can be used not just to create awareness but instill practices of hygiene in their daily lives. Right now, the condition is so bad that they do not even have a functional toilet in school.

The classroom has a surprise visitor! Pic courtesy, Sunayana Chatrapathy

Most people seem to think I have given up the comfort of urban living and that I’m leading a tough life here, in Odisha. But come to think of it, never before have I felt so at peace. I have found joy here that I had never experienced. The simple reason - the people. I cannot believe such simple people even exist -people who work selflessly, people who love unconditionally, people who have few wants and people who haven’t forgotten how to enjoy simple pleasures of life. 

The beauty and tranquility of home, away from home. Pic courtesy, Sunayana Chatrapathy

These are people at the NGO, people in the villages, teachers at school and most of all – the kids. What pleasure it is to just listen to the kids, watch them, teach them, and learn from them. I don’t know if I am making any difference to them, but surely, they are making the biggest difference to my life.

Sunayana ponders the road that lies ahead....

Thank you Sunayana, for your candor, honesty, and humility. Aalayam readers and I join you in wishing you, and your kids at Odisha, the best.


In case you want to contribute funds to allow Sunayana to buy books, school and lab supplies for the kids, Sunayana can be contacted at 

Sunayana is also looking for creative ideas to teach Math and English to these kids. So if you are a teacher, or have worked with kids in any capacity, contribute your IDEAS!!!

Follow Sunayana's Odisha adventures at

Saturday, February 14, 2015

The romance of Paris - Aalayam goes to France (Part - 2)

Imaged sourced from here
And on this day, when the whole world celebrates love – I want to take you on a photo tour of the most romantic city of the world.

The city of lights - a view from the Arc de Triomphe!

If you have not been here, then my goal is to inspire you to make that trip  - soon! And if you have already visited this city- then I hope you can relive your time there through my travelogue. I am sure your stay was as magical and memorable as ours!

Place de la concorde - the dark clouds reminding us of the sombre day when Mary Antoinette was guillotined!

Taking in the sights of the city while holding hands atop the Eiffel tower, stealing a kiss on a windy night while cruising the Seine, smiling at each other over a decadent macaroon at Laduree – we could not have chosen a more romantic city to celebrate 15 years of togetherness!

Decadence and opulence -thy name is Laduree!

A clichéd lover's stop? – Perhaps! But so totally worth it! The allurement of Paris stays with me even 5 months after our vacation. 

French chic!

I had promised to bring you more from our trip to France and here is part 2 – the romance of Paris! Remember my travelogue on Provence? In case you missed it – you can find it here!

 A sweeping view from atop the Eiffel tower capturing the many layers of the city - a happy marriage of the old and the new 

What can I say about Paris and the French that has not already been said before? They have mastered the art of persuasion and romance! 

Musee Rodin - and this is where our museum voyage began! Wrought iron love!

The larger-than –life monuments, intricate architecture, world class dining, chic boutiques, haute couture fashion, street side artists, vintage book stores, cobbled stone alleys  - everything in France is about embracing and romancing life and you feel it the minute you step out of the airport!

The magnificent notre dame! I coudl not peel my eyes off the architectural details!

Now, there are plenty of travel planning resources on the Internet that you can use to get your bearings in place before you make the trip.  


Plan, plan, plan – that is the only way you can get the most out of your trip especially if you a re a first time visitor. Understand the geography and the lay of the land, get to the know the train routes (metro and RER), tailor your list of must-see attractions  (or else it can be daunting!!), try to get a feel for a variety of things that Paris has to offer  (do not miss the cabaret!), explore some lesser known neighborhoods (create your own custom experience and amble through the quieter and non -touristy streets – the locals call it La flaneur), go for late night strolls  (this is a great way to get night time shots of the city minus the tourists) and the true way to discover “La romance de Paris”

The mighty Louvre, Paris' top draw captured on a quiet night. Somewhere in there, the most parodied work of art in the world hangs quietly.

and do not forget to experience Paris gastronomie (creperies, brasseries, cafes, bistros, boulangeries – explore’em all)  - indulge to your heart’s content ! The French pastries are to die for and you can always walk it off along the Seine!

Whatever your reasons to visit Paris maybe – be assured that you will be blown away by the seminal architecture, the hip café culture, the gourmet food and the travel through history. Every corner offers something for its tourists and you will not be disappointed! Just make sure to stop and appreciate the intimacy of the city as you walk down its winding streets and open markets! Allow yourself to feel the love!

And if you have not been to Paris yet – I am so excited for you! Go make your own picture  perfect romantic memories  on the Pont Neuf or at the Tulleries or inside the Louvre or on top of the  Notre Dame or along the Seine or  in front of the Eiffel Tower or down the Champs Elysses  or in a quaint little bistro or an antique bookshop!


Until I see you again....

Hope you've enjoyed our virtual tour of Paris brought to you  lovingly this Valentine's Day!


p.s: All images in this post are from our personal albums and taken by my husband. Please do not use without permission.

Saturday, January 31, 2015

Dvibhumi - A Jewelry label and a home tour (an artist's abode)

Here is the final post of our trifecta for the month -the story of a jewelry designer and a self –made entrepreneur. We also get a peek into her beautiful home and we could not be happier to bring you this feature! Meet Vyshanvi -Founder-Designer of Dvibhumi (dvi-bhoo-mee), a Singapore-based jewelry label with a contemporary design philosophy rooted in Asian heritage. Today’s post is yet again, the story of hard work and dedication to a passion aka creative entrepreneurship. It is a tribute to an artist  who chose a novel medium (jewelry) to explore her love for music, culture and architecture and without hesitation took a creative plunge to follow her dreams

Aalayam fashionistas take note – you are in for a treat! I am honored to introduce you to a jewelry label that is urban and sophisticated with hints of tradition and history. So, if you are looking for a brand that allows you to express yourself fiercely no matter what your personality is then your search ends here! And yes, I get to bring you a tour of her  vibrant artistic Singapore abode as well and you are going to love it. So, read on….

Here is the fascinating story of Dvibhumi, the label in Vyshnavi’s own words …

Tirta - tusk earrings. Make a statement with a Dvibhumi piece!

“I launched Dvibhumi in 2014, translating my preoccupation with creative concepts, Asian cultures and the arts into contemporary wearable design that tells a story. Dvibhumi represents a stream of ideas flowing from two worlds: India, where I grew up, and South East Asia, where I live, work and travel. My work is off-trend and less concerned with the material nature of jewellery. Dvibhumi is made of intangible stories, memories and experiences that are intensely personal to me and to the wearers who connect with the same stories in some way.

I am also deeply motivated by a need to transcend exotic labels such as “ethnic”, “boho”, “traditional”, “antique” and “tribal” that constrain Asian jewelry design. With Dvibhumi, my effort has been to bring into sharp focus the inherent and often ignored modernity of Asian aesthetic, fully embracing its forms, details, textures and craftsmanship. Today all the excitement is around gold and there are very few designers doing something exciting with silver. The Silver Enthusiast isn’t catered to well enough and often settles for tired, recycled and mass-produced designs. Dvibhumi wants to reach out to a discerning, independent thinking Silver Enthusiast looking for good design stories in a metal that she adores.
Hindolam - a dvibhumi offering!
I started Dvibhumi with three collections, or stories, as I would like to call them: Kutcheri, Vibhuti and Ayu. Kutcheri is a term applied across South India to Carnatic Music Concerts. Kutcheri is a modern day ode to the iconic ornamentation style of great Carnatic divas such as MS Subbulakshmi. The series is a lighter take on the classic seven stone diamond stud that was MS’s signature style. Vibhuti is the Sanskrit word for holy ash, which describes the austere appearance of this collection. I’ve used an Indian jewellery staple – the jhumka – to tell a story inspired by the domes and fretwork of Islamic and Renaissance architecture. The result is a clean jhumka that brings into sharp focus the form and detail with no unnecessary embellishment – very different from regular jhumkas where the individual design elements are less distinct.

Atri - jhumkas with a difference!

Ayu means beautiful in Bahasa Indonesia. This collection uses traditional Indonesian silver-smithing techniques to capture the form and detail of Balinese shadow puppet theatre and worship. The series re-conceptualizes typical silhouettes such as the headdress, the tree of life, and the wings of the mythical Garuda, and the overwhelming textures of Bali’s sculptures and woodwork.

How to purchase
Dvibhumi’s E-Shop is always open, and ships worldwide. Just hop over to, and pay securely through your credit card or PayPal. If you’re not comfortable with that, Dvibhumi also accepts payments via online bank transfers. Just write to with the link to the design you are keen on, and Vyshnavi will write back to you with the bank details.

And now on to what seems to be a favorite with Aalayam readers – a home tour! We were invited to Vyshnavi and Karthik’s vibrant, playful and inviting home and I was blown away by how stylish this space was. I am going to let Vyshnavi explain how this beautiful home came to be but do me a favor and pay attention to all the details will you? Art that makes a statement, colors that pop, fabrics that add interest – I clapped my hands in glee when I saw this cozy little gem of a home (I know I am a hard core home décor enthusiast!).  This home is also her art studio and this beautiful and clutter free backdrop is truly an artist’s inspiration. In her own words, “the home has evolved slowly and organically, which makes everything a bit less predictable” and I love that! This home is not dictated by trends but rather by passion and that is the kind of home that Aalayam loves to feature.

Here is the excerpt from our tete-a tete...

1) What makes your home "your home"? 
It is young, carefully considered, practical and constantly evolving. It’s just a very personal space filled with colors; textures and sounds that make us feel good.

2) Does the decor in your home fit the bill for any one particular style - if so, what drove you to that style?
We haven’t aspired to any prescribed home décor style and it isn’t something that came alive overnight. In fact, decorating a home hasn’t been the starting point at all. We started with what we’re interested in, and finding a place for it at home. The home has evolved slowly and organically, which makes everything a bit less predictable. I love indigenous arts and crafts, and the house has something of a folksy vibe going on. I was once looking up Tlingit art online, and somehow meandered my way to Mexican alebrije.

 I loved the blinding color, patterns, and subjects, and that’s how a Oaxacan coyote alebrije landed up in our living room. I found painted wooden door stoppers at a discount sale one day and bought several of them to create a wall mural using Blu-Tack. The Japanese woodblock print is by the legendary Ukiyo-e master Kuniyoshi. It’s something I researched extensively before we purchased it on our visit to Kyoto. We picked up a Turkish calligraphy piece from a friend who is also an art dealer when we were travelling in Istanbul, and it just fell into place right next to the Tanjore paintings of Ganesha and Subramanya which we had received as wedding gifts.

3) Who calls the design shots in your home?   
 My husband and I are both involved in putting the house together – it is a shared space after all!

4) How does your personal decor style influence your work professionally or the other way around?  

The home is also where I work, so quite naturally, both evolve from a very personal and inward looking approach to design and aesthetics. Both are grounded in stories, images and sounds that we grew up with in India and have a fondness for things that we come in contact with all over Asia, through our travels and our surroundings. There is a fascination for Asia, the respect for craftsmanship, a penchant for detailing and textures.

5) What are your favorite places to shop for your home? Are you budget savvy or would you rather own pieces that truly strike a chord with you even if they are expensive?

We gravitate more towards a laidback casual style, so there’s nothing lavish in our house. Our favourite places to shop are Ubud in Bali and Kyoto. But I love the internet even more! Ebay and Etsy are great for collectibles, and a Google search will show you a whole host of tiny standalone shops selling eccentricities. That’s how I found the Oaxacan Coyote. I’ve found some exciting art from emerging artists on Saatchi Online and I’ve picked up some excellent quality prints from 1000 Museums. Fuji Arts auctions Ukiyo-e prints, and I got a Chikanbou triptych reproduction from there. I also find myself frequently on online marketplaces like Novica. Good Earth is an eternal favourite for household linen. I also find Playclan’s work very interesting – I have an embroidered cushion from there. And although I haven’t bought anything from them, I love browsing One King’s Lane and Phantom Hands.

6) Where do you draw your online inspirations from - any favorite resources that you can share?
I don’t read too many home décor blogs. But I like Apartment Therapy for ideas on how to use space and shopping resources, and An Indian Summer and Once Upon a Tea Time for places to shop as well. They talk to people who like to mash things up a bit and styling a home with collectibles, and not indulge inwater tight themes. Oh, and Airbnb has some very creative spaces!

7) Home decorating is an arduous process – one that takes patience and a keen eye. What advice would you like to impart to our readers that want to create a cohesive, magazine like look without professional help? 

Our house is less about creative decoration and utilization of spaces and more about finding space for things we love. With that disclaimer out of the way, I have a few things to share. One, starting with ourselves instead of a magazine has helped us create a home that weathers changing trends and repeated expenses. Two, knowing our purchase interests at an intimate level has helped us evaluate our buys better. We buy fewer things; these are things we know we will value in the years to come. Three, things have taken time. We’ve learned to resist the urge to buy cute junk on impulse to fill spaces in a hurry. And finally, I believe creating an ambience with a part of oneself is always more fulfilling than mindless buying. If you have such leanings, go ahead and create repurpose, recycle, act out your artistic inclinations in the form of a mural. Commemorate a large collection of books, a movie fetish, or a wedding saree. Once you find what you are interested in, use available resources – magazines, home décor blogs and Pinterest – to bring it alive in the best possible manner.

8) What’s next for your beautiful home (studio)?
There isn’t much space left for things, so perhaps some new music and scents will be nice. Oh and we definitely need to make more space for Dvibhumi which is now taking up a lot of space at home with its inventory, paperwork and drawings. I also want to do something with a large Japanese parasol but I’m not sure what or when!

9) What's next for Dvibhumi?
I’ve just started, and although the response so far has been extremely encouraging, not many people really know of Dvibhumi. I really want to reach out to more people who will appreciate the ethos of Dvibhumi, not just in India, but also everywhere in the world. I also want to evolve the three streams (Kutcheri, Vibhuti and Ayu) to include other accessories such as necklaces!

There you go- the tres chic home of Vyshnavi and Karthik! A simple yet eye-catching space that seems to hit all the right notes to create a warm and inviting palette. I love taking note of what inspires people and drives their aesthetic sensibilities. There is always a lesson to be learnt if we care to pay attention and keep an open mind. Now for Dvibhumi, I am impressed – with the brand, the style, the artist’s vision, her inspiration, her philosophy and her goals for the brand and I see a very bright and successful future for Dvibhumi and it was indeed a privilege to introduce this brand to Aalayam readers. Thank you Vyshnavi and karthik for allowing us to stroll through your gorgeous home!

A special mention also to my dear friend Pooja for introducing me to Vyshnavi and making yet another home tour possible!


P.S: All images belong to the homeowner (and Dvibhumi). Please do not use without permission