A lover of music, trekker, avid foodie and spiritually inclined. Meet Vinayak Gajendragad, the man with a multifaceted personality, who urges you to think, “Of all corrupt things around you, is your food corrupt too?”
The idea is certainly worth more than a passing thought. Vinayak says, “It’s time to rethink what we eat, where it is produced and how. It’s time to treat our soil, our farmers and our food with the respect they deserve. It’s time we collectively did something to save native foods and farming practices. I believe in the Vedic philosophy that says, ‘We are what we eat.’”
A mechanical engineer, Vinayak worked for corporate giants like L&T and spent a long time abroad. In 2014, he quit his job at the peak of his career as director of Sicoma Mixers India Pvt Ltd, a company he helped set up from scratch.
Vinayak wanted to follow his true calling—producing healthy food for healthy living.
“India is the diabetes capital of the world, or at least the vested interests say so. Why is this happening? The changing food habit in the country is a worrying trend, and so is the alarming rise of diseases among the youth.”
During the time Vinayak was engaged in this introspection about food and its relation to life, he happened to visit his friend’s farm in his native Ramdurg, a small town in Belgaum district, Karnataka. As he later ventured into the conventional way of farming with his friend, Praveen, and realised the difficulties that every farmer faces, and how the so-called support system for a farmer is just a vicious circle of dependency on agents/middlemen for fertilisers, pesticides, weedicides and more.
“I was aghast when I came to know that the use of fertilisers leads to the growth of weeds, and that the farmer is compelled to buy the weedicide to kill weeds. The use of chemicals has not just destroyed the quality of food, but also that of the soil.”
As Vinayak researched and read more on the subject, he came to know about the lectures of Dr Khader Valli, a homeopath and unique farmer who is known for his extensive research on millets and their benefits to health. His introduction to Subash Palekar, who practices and preaches Zero Budget Natural Farming (ZBNF), further intensified his conviction that growing healthy food in a healthy manner is indeed possible.
Adopting natural methods of farming in his land near Malavalli, Vinayak started selling the naturally-grown agricultural produce from his farm at his apartment complex.
“We transported the natural vegetables from my farm and sold it without any margin for 10 months at our apartment complex. Initially people hesitated, but later they started queuing up before my car filled with vegetables arrived,” added Vinayak with a smile.
When neighbours and fellow apartment dwellers appreciated his efforts and asked for regular supply, he conducted a survey among his customers to know their requirements and specifications. Based on their responses, he opened the first natural outlet, with his friend and partner Sakalesh, of Astitva Naturals in Bengaluru.
Customers flocked to the store off Bannerghatta Road, and it became evident that there was a need for outlets that made quality food available to discerning consumers. Vinayak went on to start Ishta Café with another friend and partner Asmita, where a fusion of traditional and contemporary foods are prepared with naturally-grown ingredients.
“We serve modern foods like pizza and burger in a traditional and healthier way, thus suiting all age groups, especially the older generation, who don’t have palatability for the fast food served elsewhere”, Vinayak says.
The re-inventions of falafel, quesadilla, and others with millet as their base are a delight to the health-conscious foodie.
Combining health with taste has worked to the advantage of Ishta Café, now a busy eatery tucked away in a suburban neighbourhood.
“Orders for birthday parties and family gatherings are gaining momentum these days. We have revived traditional food like sangeetha, navane dosa, and puddu, along with other re-imagined versions of continental cuisine. These are flying off the shelves in no time,” said a confident Vinayak.
Vinayak has also built a thatch house next door to Astitiva Naturals and named it Kośa. The space offers a platform for events and conduct workshops to create awareness about various social and health-related issues. This initiative further underlines the importance Vinayak attributes to the value of good food.
Thrilled at the response he has received, Vinayak looks forward to taking Astitva Naturals and Ishta Café to the next level. He wants to reach out to more people by opening such stores and café models in different parts of Bengaluru. He is confident that with the right intent and effort, it is possible to turn every dream into a reality. “If I can contribute to better living and add value to natural farming, I am satisfied,” he signs off.