Friday, March 28, 2014

Ananth Narayanan

29-year old Ananth Narayanan was introduced to me through his piece of art: a zero-carbon-footprint notebook of handmade paper made of dry leaves, printed with soy-based ink. “It took me two years to do the R&D for this.” Ananth said talking about this excellent mill-quality brown paper carefully developed in a way that ink does not blot on it. 

I was at the Ekta Parishad Theatre Festival and Workshop in Madurai, where he had done all the designing and decoration at the venue. Very creative coconut-shell masks hanging from the tree, lanterns hanging over the amphitheatre, ethnic design of the brochure and more. He was also the official photographer (photo-documenter) of the event, walking around with his camera and occasionally catching a conversation with someone. “Since you are into homeschooling, you might find Ananth's film ‘The Black Board Syndrome’ interesting” someone told me. “It’s about how schooling damages our children today” added Ananth. You can watch it here.

S: First tell me about your own schooling.

A: I went to the most posh school in Madurai but spent a lot of time reading in my school library. In one of my 8th final exams, I had enough time to answer only one 10-mark question the entire time. They failed me and I had to repeat my 8th standard final exams, I had std.

S: You mean you answered one question for the entire duration of the examination? They failed you for attempting to write a thesis in your 8th std!

A: Something like that. That was when I decided that I’ll give my school just what they wanted, never worked too hard and learnt the art of “just getting by with the least effort”. I realised that that was all that my school deserved. So, I was always an average or below-average student. I scored 703/1200 in my 12th std final exam.    

S: So you stayed on in school but actually walked out of the system in your 8th std. That must have taken a lot of clarity of purpose and courage! What about college then?

A: I really enjoyed my undergraduation (B.Sc Comp. Science). I did my final year project for three whole years. I bunked most of my classes and spent all of my time attending various inter-collegiate competitions and projects. The deal I struck with my department HoD was that with every trophy I got for my college / department, I would be given so much attendance. What was very attractive for me in my college was the library. I decided to stay on in college just to be able to access that.

S: That’s a very creative way of walking out of the system and still retaining access to resources that you valued for your own learning and growth. In a way, you managed to not let schooling really damage you from early on. Bravo! I didn’t have that clarity at that age. In spite of finding my text books and lessons boring, I used to study very hard in order to score high marks to please my teachers and parents, which I did. I now wonder what I’d have done with my time and energy had I had your clarity and courage! Did you study further?

A: Yes. I studied product & industrial design at NID, Ahmedabad. And Mass Communication in Amrita University. I worked in CNN-IBN and NDTV for about a year and got to see closely, how news was “manufactured” by these news agencies. I could not stay on in these jobs for long.

S: I heard you are also into organic farming. How did you get into that?

A: I am an avid trekker. In one of my trekking routes in Madurai, I saw a village that had been completely abandoned by the inhabitants. I investigated and learnt the real story. A sugar mill in the village had polluted the ground water and rendered the land and the ground water useless. This forced the people to abandon farming and move out of the village. I got interested in restoring agriculture without the use of harmful chemicals. I went to Vaanagam and stayed and learned with Nammalwar Iyya, even until one week before he passed away. Now, I am collaborating with a friend to farm on her land.

S: Could you tell me about the handmade paper you make?

A: This paper is made entirely from dried brown leaves from an adivasi village forest. I am working on ten different industrial product designs through this company. I believe in my technologies being ‘Open Source’ and being freely accessible to everyone.

S: Your paper must be in great demand now!

A: Yes, it is. But I also don’t want to blindly expand capacity. On the very day the project was written, I put it down on paper, how much leaf matter could be taken from the forest in a year. This is to protect the forest resources from being over-exploited.

S: So, what is the name of the organization you do all this under?

A: I run a private limited company which now has 3 companies under its group. 
1. Mellow design – a design studio that is into brand communication, signage and print design. 
2. Green mill – a self-sustained organisation that undertakes in-operative farmlands and perform organic farming. Greenmill is also committed to environmental activities like tree plantation, wildlife conservation, establishment of organic seed banks, etc., 
3. Chiselkraft - a Product and Industrial design studio – Innovates and prototypes breakthrough products for consumers and industrial assemblies, focuses on self-sustainable models.

S: Sounds hi-tech! Can you tell me about one of your successful prototypes?

A: Yeah sure. Though I personally don’t promote the use of either the car or the cell-
phone, I have been developing some applications for them! For example, we have successfully prototyped and developed a car intelligence system that interfaces directly to any engine (mfd. 1994 or later). The device comes with two units - one fits inside the bonnet, the other stays on the dashboard with a 7- 9" touch screen. It also has an optional event recorder. It allows you control the entire car using the touch interface/gestures. It can connect with any handheld device and improve the driving experience with safety monitoring and navigation system. If your car breaks down the system will identify and tell you what exactly went wrong, and possibly locate and call the nearest available troubleshooting facility. In case of accidents, it can automatically call and communicate to the car company, hospital, police and insurance company. The system has a lot of other features. Some car companies have shown interest in buying this product.

S: Is there something different you do in the running of your company?

A: We have a collaborative learning pool in the company where anyone can contribute and get involved in any of the projects that interests them. Generally, I offer mentoring to a group of students throughout the year on various subjects. And they get paid above the professionals pay scale. A few of my professors work in the same way that my students do, mostly getting involved in the ideation process, prototyping and planning.

S: What do you mean by "my students"? You teach somewhere?

A: I am a visiting professor at the DJ academy of Design in Coimbatore. I initially went to teach advanced photorealism in digital 3D modeling systems. Now, I do more subjects related to art - colour theory, liberal arts, digital arts.

S: I'd like to talk to you sometime about your understanding of and views about art, and how it is approached and practised today! But that can be for later. So what do your parents feel about your journey so far?

A: Difficult question! They’ve always wanted me to be like everyone else – scoring high marks in examinations, getting a well-paid job in the industry, etc. They don’t exactly understand what I’m trying to do with my life.

S: Thank you for the interview Ananth. It is very inspiring and energising to see young people like yourself follow your hearts and not be limited by the standards set by the family and society. I hope your story inspires many more to walk out 'creatively' and walk on. 

Ananth can be contacted at 


chetuk3 said...

Inspiring and so refreshing to read stories about such young and accomplished entrepreneurs! When you doing what you truly love, there is nothing stopping you.

Sreejith said...

Wonderful to hear about Ananth and his works. We need more such passionate entrepreneurs who ride roads less traveled and their stories should come out more. And you yourself are one of them Sangeetha!

thamothar kannan said...

Really awesone. Kudos to Ananth. Keep rocking. :)

ranga said...

This was wonderful to read. Such clarity indeed. Waiting for more such stories.....

Girikumar S said...

Here i see a person who has varied interests and having courage to follow what his heart desires.

Congrats Ananth

Nisha Srinivasan said...

Good to know! Just today we were talking about DJ Academy and the unique people it attracts.

Geethanjali Jeysen said...

Very inspiring ananth. Eventhough i know u for a long time, i really admired that you had done this much. Really proud to be your friend. Keep going. I will support u always.