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Do you want to know who an Upcycling Artist is?

Upcycling or Zero waste concept

Looking at Instagram, I see so many small shops doing unique things.The other day I bought a gift for a friend’s baby. A cute and colourful mobile, the sun with her clouds. I was really happy with the purchase. It immediately made me associate with the sunny disposition of my friend. But the best part was the gift is sustainable! The mobile was made by a group of disadvantaged women from upcycled cloth. 

The brainchild behind these products is Meenakshi Sharma the founder of ‘Upcycling Artist’. Meenakshi creates things like streamers, dreamcatchers, rugs and coasters from pieces of leftover cloth. The products are colorful, fun and functional

Upcycling is not to be confused with recycling. Recycling is taking the product and using it again as is. With upcycling, you actually make a prettier functional product, such as a fun bag from pieces of cloth that would be thrown away. In this way Meenakshi upcycles 200kgs of waste per month. This would otherwise be discarded or added to the ever growing rubbish in landfills.

I got curious and asked the brain behind this store Meenakshi Sharma a bit more about it.

Meenakshi and her team of girls behind 'Upcycling Artist' that bring to you may green products
Meenakshi and her team!

What motivated you to start this store?

Ever since I was a child, I aspired be an upcycling junkie and took every opportunity to work on scraps. There is a strange kind of happiness that I derive out of working on discards, creating something with nothing. And working with my hands is what I love!

Use Me Works was founded in 2011 with a belief of “Nothing should go to waste”. It started as my dissertation project in the final year of the Fashion merchandising & production course at Pearl Academy of Fashion

I never thought too much about the business aspect, when I chose to start the store. It feels great to touch people’s lives and make a difference through our work to help mother nature. 

I have always been a crafter and that has been my approach, having a business mind is challenging. Another challenge we face, is to fit into the market, since there are very few people that are aware about sustainability & follow ethical practices.

Beautiful and colourful rugs made of cloth waste and many more green upcycled products bought to you by Upcycling Artist
Beautiful rugs made of waste cloth scrap from Upcycling Artist

How do you create these zero waste products? 

We collect scraps from factories, boutiques & homes and then turn them into products like bags, accessories, rugs, packaging and home décor, which if sometimes bought for Rs. 10- 50 per kg and lot of times for free. 

Our products are made with fabric/garment scrap. From a length of meter to a size of a nail, we consume every bit. Zero Waste Décor, is another concept that Use Me actively works on. 

We encourage people to opt for eco-friendly and reusable décor for their events, work spaces and homes. We have made old jeans into a bag, a saree that was to be thrown away into a rug, and used a broken window and made it into an interesting wood sign. Repainting or repurposing old furniture, cupboards, or guitar into something new by giving them a cool twist is just some of the things we do. 

Upcycling Artist selling colourful zero waste decor
Upcycling Artist selling colourful zero waste decor

How has this impacted the women that you work with?

The women are local residents of the area where my workshop is, they all live outside the workshop. Most of the women have zero work experience and exposure. Earlier no one agreed to come to work and preferred to work from home. But eventually the families-built trust and some of them were okay to send their women for a full day of work.  

A lot of them have not even traveled out of the area alone. Now that they are working they are gaining a vision and sense of empowerment. I first understand their skill and accordingly give them work and gradually I have built up a team. They save, support their families, have opened bank accounts, learned to shop online, buy phones, etc.

They are all very hard working & enthusiastic but need a mentor in life. Giving them basic training and helping them enhance their skills was what I brought to the table. But they are super quick to learn. 

Colourful decor products and many more from upcycling artist that keeps the earth cleaner and greener
Some more of her colourful products, Zero Waste Decor

What advice would you give young people who aspire to unconventional careers?

When I started upcycling, my focus was to recycle and create products out of waste. My work gave me an opportunity to connect with people who were working towards a sustainable environment. It expanded my outlook towards nature and society. I started becoming more aware about everything I was doing in life. From zero waste products to zero waste living, my life has completely changed. I can definitely say for myself that I am far more ecologically aware and conscious.

So, my advice would be trust the process and you will be rewarded in ways you cannot even imagine.

Thank you Meenakshi for those wise words! A woman run and owned sustainable shop is exciting! We are called to be more aware of our impact on the world. Wherever we are on our journey, hope that people like Meenakshi can inspire us to make a difference. For more information on Upcycling Artist: Follow on Instagram: @upcycling.artist & https://www.usemeworks.com

If you want to read about an interesting mission, do read : https://www.ideapromoters.net/underwater-diving-adventure/

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Say Hello to the man with a mission

Read about this underwater Diving Adventure

Bhushan is a social media expert now based in Singapore. Growing up in Mumbai he loved swimming & the beach. He was always keen to try out diving. Bhushan had his first diving experience underwater at the Great Barrier Reef in Australia back in 2014 and loved it. He also went for trip in 2017 where he decided to live on a live aboard (a yatch that stays in the sea for 2 nights & has rooms like a hotel) the agenda was scuba diving morning, evening and night. 

My experience underwater

On the other hand I find diving daring, going so many feet underwater to a world that you have never seen before, uncovering the depths so to speak. On my recent trip to Bali I went snorkeling for the first time. Even from the surface of the water it was so lovely to see the fish and coral in their natural habitat. However, I am yet to find the time and courage to go diving.

Imagine my surprise when I found out that my friend Bhushan has decided to embark on a scuba diving mission. He will complete 12 dives in 12 months across the Asia Pacific. Here he is telling us about it.

Bhushan at his recent dive at Jeju Island

1)  What has prompted you to go on this mission?

Living in Singapore – travelling across the Asia Pacific regions is easy and cost friendly. I wanted to travel around but not just do touristy things. I got my scuba diving license in Singapore. That’s when I decided to make Scuba Diving my main mission while I travel – I have never looked back!

2) Where have you gone to till date?

I have been able to dive in 7 countries out of the 12 that’s my target this year. They include 1 dive site each in Singapore, Malaysia, Philippines, Australia, Indonesia, Thailand & Korea

3) What’s your message to aspiring divers?

Try it out once in life, don’t be scared, enjoy it.  

4) What would you want to know when you started diving?

The costs involved and the different types of certifications you can get. Do you know even people with Asthma can dive!

Swimming with the Manta Rays at Manta Point
Swimming with the Manta Rays at Manta Point in Bali

5) Any unique experience/ favorite animals to see  

Every time I dive – the feeling is relaxing but the views are so different. No 2 dives feel the same. I don’t dive just to see some underwater species – I find scuba like jogging. However – some of my best experiences underwater include seeing & following a turtle, manta rays & a school of yellow fin tuna (around 500 fish together)

Spotting a 120 year old sea turtle in Phuket 

We need to protect our beautiful ocean

While Bhushan started out on this mission more for his love for the ocean. He is inevitably bringing awareness on global warming and how it is affecting our oceans. He says diving has a twofold benefit, one is obviously personal satisfaction. But the more we undertake offbeat trips like this, the more the tourism and environment agencies across the world have funding to ensure that they can invest in protecting the corals.

Some important statistics

  • It is now believed that there are 5.25 trillion pieces of plastic debris in the ocean. 
  • 100,000 marine creatures a year die from plastic entanglement and these are the ones found. 
  • Approximately 1 million sea birds also die from plastic.

Remember this the next time you travel or are at the beach. Marine life is a treasure for the next generation and worth protecting.

We wish Bhushan all the luck on his journey. If you want to follow him you can do so here https://www.instagram.com/yourappa/

 It’s an inspiration to see a young Indian man follow such a unique dream. We hope to catch him at the end of his under water diving adventure as well. So stay tuned !

If you want to read about Must have drinks in portugal Click here

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Must have Portuguese drinks

Portugal’s best kept secret

By far Lisbon is one of my favourite cities. I cannot wait to visit again. One of the quaint features of Lisbon, is the tiny little bars at every street corner. Like our Indian ‘Tapris’ however, instead of Chai (tea), they serve alcohol! What a concept right? With this article I will highlight some of the must have Portuguese drinks, when you visit the country. Before my trip, everyone recommended the port wine. However, two other portuguese drinks were the highlight for me.

Enjoying Ginjinha liquor, bought from Lisbon, back in Mumbai. This should be a must have when you are exploring Portuguese drinks.
Opening my bottle of Ginjinha in Mumbai

Ginjinha– The Ninja of Cherry liqueurs

Nobody tells you about this very special alcohol –Ginjinha!  The ‘unofficial’ official drink of Lisbon. Maybe you have had cherry liqueur before, but I can guarantee that you have not had anything till you have the Portuguese one! This Portuguese drink is made by infusing Ginja berries in alcohol and adding sugar and other ingredients to it. Served in little plastic cups, on the streets, it is full of flavour.  Have the one with real cherries at the bottom, it will give you a good kick! Locals have this drink throughout the day. We had it on a windy, cold day in the city and it set us in the right mood for the rest of the evening 

Pro Tip: Look for the places that serve the Ginjinha in a chocolate cup, the two together will get you swooning!

Check out Moscatel

Moscatel is another drink you should be looking for. Unlike Ginjinha, it is had throughout Portugal and is the real winner. At first I thought Portuguese drinks consisted only of Port, but the Moscatel I tasted here, took it up a notch. Moscatel has a lighter more citrus flavour. It makes for a great drink after a meal. Hence I bought back 2 bottles for my ‘mae’ and she is still raving about it!

View of Quinta da Bomfim winery from the river different
View of Quinta da Bomfim winery and vineyards beyond, from the river

Porto – the wine producing region of Portugal

These days the Portuguese don’t want to focus on their Port wine. They would prefer you taste their world class wines. Also it’s good to note that the wines in Portugal, come from the north, given the hilly region as compared to the beaches in the south. Porto, in the North, is the second largest city after Lisbon. Port wine is named after Porto, given all the wine producing regions here.

Wine tasting at Quinta da Bomfim in the Douro valley,Portuguese drinks namely their wine are truly world class
Wine tasting at Quinta Da Bomfim

Must Visit- Douro valley & Quinta Da Bomfin

I went for a local wine tasting tour from Porto. We visited the Douro valley, which should not be missed. There are a lot of Vineyards in the Douro valley and‘Quinta da Bomfim’ is one of the oldest, going back to the 17thcentury. Thus, it is one with the largest land holding in the region. We tasted a LOT of wine on the tour. Considering the amount of wine I tasted I have no specific recommendation. However I can tell you, enjoying well-made wine in the beautiful hills of Douro is definitely worth it! 

If you want to read my post on eating like the locals in Portugal: Click here             

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Eat like the locals in Portugal!

Slow travel through the country of red roofs

In 2015, I took a holiday to Portugal. It will always stay with me as I quite simply enjoyed a slice of Portuguese life. I didn’t travel around ticking off things on a check list but took it slow and explored the food, culture, history and music like the locals would. To put my whole two weeks of food in Portugal, into one blog post, may not be doing it justice. With this piece I want to get you to eat like the locals in Portugal!

Always on a food trail

While travelling, the food of the country is integral to the experience for me.Hence, important for me to eat like the locals! Portugal is a meat lover’s paradise, the smells and tastes all much lighter and juicier than India. In Portugal it is more about the cuts of meat or fish than the spice. It is about the taste sneaking up on you rather than something you cannot miss- in one word ‘understated’ a trait that I think is wholly European.

My Portuguese welcome!

I was lucky to have a friend who was based in Lisbon, who I could travel a with. Mark is born and raised Indian, however, I feel he is someone who is versatile. Not because he knows the history and facts of the place better than most of us, which is true, but because he has a heart that connects. After travelling with him to different countries, I realise he has a genuine ability to fit in rather than stand out. This makes people more open and brings to your table new experiences. When locals know you are there to soak it in and not to analyse or compare they become your friend.

If you miss The Pastel de Nata, what did you eat in Portugal. The Portuguese love their sweets and this is their most important one.
The Pastel de Nata

But coming back to the food. As soon as I landed Mark gave me the Portuguese welcome. I started my culinary adventure with ‘Pastel De Nata’ the most important sweet of Portugal. And the Portuguese love their sweets! They start off their day with different cakes and strong coffee. The ‘Pastel De Nata’ is a Portuguese egg tart pastry. Having a sweet tooth, it didn’t take too much to convince me, to try this and the other Portuguese sweets for breakfast.

Agape in Portugal!

As I started my journey, I travelled with a group that was from around the world. We had Mark’s flatmates who were originally from different islands near Portugal, and two German girls who were backpackers. All of them students on various forms of break, meant my travel was quite budget. And therefore we were definitely watching what the locals were eating. 

The best place for local cuisine in Lisbon, are places called ‘Tashka’s, equivalent to our local Udupi joints. Found on every corner, Tashka’s are basic places with affordable, authentic, food. You can even stand at the counter top and have a meal for half the price of being served at the table! Also beware about eating the accompaniments like bread and butter that come to your table. They are charged for and the waiter will not tell you. You may start missing the Indian service after this.

The Beef Bitoque  is eaten on a daily basis by the locals in Portugal
Beef Bitoque: The rice hides a bed of beef

For my first dinner in Portugal I tried ‘Beef Bitoque’. The dish consists of rice, veggies and potatoes with a nice beef steak at the bottom, commonly eaten by the locals. The Portuguese eat veggies and potatoes with everything. As we went through our culinary journey we had ‘Bacalhau’ or the salty codfish which is the national fish of Portugal, an acquired taste (I didn’t acquire it!). I tasted the Alheira which is a type of Portuguese sausage, made with meats other than pork usually vealduckchickenquail or rabbit and bread.

More local dishes to try

I also tried the Fibras do porco or Pork fillet again accompanied with rice, veggies and potatoes. Not to forget the beef burger buns to eat on the go. They were so good and as cheap as two Euros. An equivalent back home, would be Frankie’s but of course sans the masala. These burgers are smaller and the bread is like our local ‘pav’. The cool part I discovered, you will find guys selling them late at night, in the party district, once the pubs close down and people are heading back home. It definitely makes a perfect midnight snack!

Some special Portuguese dishes!

Carne de Porco a Alentejana is pork with clams Alentejo style. The sublime combination works making it a meal highlight.
Carne de Porco a Alentejana

One day when the students were exploring on their own and we were feeling quite rich, we tried the most delicious Carne de Porco à Alentejana. We ate this at a beautiful outdoor café in downtown Lisbon that had views of the city. Literally translated the dish is Pork with Clams Alentejo Style (this means coming from the Alentejo region). I could never think of that combination. But it certainly does work! Lightly flavoured but succulent pork, with fresh clams that seemed to be just picked, this was definitely a meal highlight.

 Portugal's famous Chorizo Assado a pork dish , with a smokey and peppery flavour.This dish should not be missed.
Chorizo Assado

And of course you cannot leave without tasting the Chorizo Assado, not to be missed, when in Portugal! The Pork sausage is cooked with spirit, and comes to your table with the flames rising up. This gives it a smokey effect, definitely improving the flavour. Peppery and flavoursome, we ate it at an outdoor garden area, at the LX factory accompanied by Portuguese beer, which was indeed a fitting end to my sojourn through the country. I am certain that anyone who wants an authentic dining experience in Portugal can start with these dishes. I hope I get to go back some day to explore some more. Viva Portugal!

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Take a Heritage walk in Mumbai city

Mumbai heritage buildings are largely in Art Deco style. These buildings can be seen around Fort and Marine Drive
The Art Deco buildings at Marine Drive
  1. The Taj Mahal hotel in South Mumbai has an image trademark for the design of its building.
  2. The Rajabai Tower modelled after the Big Ben in England, was added to the World Heritage Sites in 2018. As the story goes, construction of the tower was donated by Premchand Roychand a prosperous broker. It was for his blind mother (and her eponym) and the chiming of the clock tower made her aware of the time.
  3. There are two prominent style of buildings in South Mumbai, Art Deco and Victorian style. Eros and Regal, the last remaining single screen theatres, are built in Art Deco style.

These are just few of the details we learnt on Mumbai heritage, one weekend this April on a Khaki Tour. All thanks to my friend Gargee a history buff and someone who conducts her own walks in Mumbai (stay tuned for details). She wanted a birthday gift we could experience together. 

Why is heritage important

Heritage of a city provides it with an identity and a way of remembering. Hence it is good to know that there are many heritage buildings in Mumbai that are UNESCO protected. It is my hope that my grandchildren will see them one day.

As an Indian, the attacks we have had on our monuments and people, has established that we are living on borrowed time. We need to treasure what we have around us. More importantly we need to make the right choices that we may live in a more equitable world. In Mumbai, itself we are spending crores on structures in the middle of the sea. I think it is more important to use that money to preserve our marine resources. Monuments should not define a generation or be a tick off your bucket list.

Bombay Vintage 

We ended our day quite serendipitously at a place that was serving Mumbai fare. Bombay Vintage a restaurant that as the name suggests, serves dishes from different Indian communities. Since we had a friend observing lent we tried both the veg and non-veg options at this restaurant. While the dishes maybe similar to the fare in Indian kitchens the prices are not. They are normal Mumbai rates which would be approximately 1500 Rs. per head with drinks.

Experiencing Mumbai through its food

Vagerla Channa is a spicy Gujarati style salad, an ode to the business community in Mumbai
The Vagarela Channa Salad

For starters, we had Vagarela Channa(type of legume) SaladGujarathi style– with channa dal, raw mango tempering. This was as Chatpata (Spicy) as the city of Mumbai and just as tasty.

Malabari syro beef fry tempered with curry leaf and roasted coconut is not to be missed
Malabari syro beef fry

We also went with the Mouthwatering Malabari syro beef fry: Roast beef tempered with curry leaf and roasted coconut. This particular recipe is a Syrian Christian invention and it did not disappoint

Parsi Jardalu Salli Boti dish is part of Mumbai heritage along with Mumbai's buildings
The famous Jardalu Salli Boti

For the mains, we had Jardalu Salli Boti(Mutton and apricot with potato sticks),which was apt for the evening given that it Is a famous Parsi dish. On our tour, we received an education about the Tata buildings. This included the exclusively European hotel that Mr. JRD Tata was denied entry to because he was Indian. Story goes that it was this incident that prompted him to build the famous Taj group of hotels. Similarly, we also saw buildings built by the wealthy Parsi Mr. ReadyMoney as well. Parsi seemed to be flavor of the evening.

The Bharli Vangi is a traditional Maharastrian dish and quite tasty
The Bharli Vangi from the Konkan coast

Bharli Vangi (Stuffed Brinjal): Traditional Konkan stuffed eggplant dish cooked in a spiced peanut sauce. However, Gargee who is from the Konkan coast felt that the dish was not true to the recipe but tasty nonetheless.

As a Mumbaikar (native of Mumbai) I love the fact that I am from one of the most cosmopolitan cities in India and feel grateful to be born here where my accessibility and mobility is high. Still I do not want to take for granted the metamorphosis this city undergoes, because tomorrow it may not land on its feet. Hence I hope that this article encourages more people to take an interest in Mumbai heritage and support its preservation. Though it should not be at the sake of the resources themselves. 

Pro tip:Khaki Tours open bus tours is great for travelling with the elderly. As compared to walking tours, it is a pleasant drive around, on top of the bus, even in summer.

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