-Penned by Board member Alo Pal

After I’d finished speaking to them Manikantan went to our art teacher and took keen interest on newspaper toys painted in gold that were on display in the hall. His resting face is a happy one and appreciation is genuine in enthusiastic appreciation of what Sharana does with the children. Two of his own are beneficiaries of our Back-to-School program, and as I finished revising my notes from the interview with him and his wife, Manikantan was looking at the paintings of display done by our children during art therapy. You could tell he was invested and that is when Prakash, Manager of the Social Entrepreneurship Program, told me “All our outreach for his children is handled by him, he really cares for the well-being of his children”. This was refreshing. From fathers who abandoned their families, to abusive and alcoholic ones, to providers who are caught in a cultural conditioning to be stoic, seeing a father so spontaneously happy and inquisitive about our activities with children was a delight.

Up until 2021, into the second wave of COVID, Manikantan and Jiva worked in various merchant shops and factories that were ruthless with wage cuts when they were forced to take time off to attend to sick children or any other family emergency. This was especially difficult since Jiva resumed work very soon after delivering her children. A double income was essential for meeting expenses of their growing family and at the same time the draconian policies and long working hours of their pay masters made it untenably stressful for both.

That is when they decided to give up their jobs and start a tea business. Jiva stayed home and made tea, while Manikantan took his scooter around and sold his tea. When I asked him what the gains were of this new activity, his first reply was “I have established a good network of contacts”. Though that wasn’t what I meant, I was impressed by his response. The crux of his kind of business was indeed a network of contacts and a bankable clientele.

In Sept 2021 Sharana gave this entrepreneurial couple their first interest-free loan under its Social Entrepreneurship Programme. This helped them purchase a commercial stove and larger vessels and implied an immediate doubling of per-day income. Today after a top up loan, they’ve bought bigger and better flasks a better stove and diversified into selling filter coffee in the evenings along with ginger tea. A third top-up on ten thousand for a further upgrade is under process. The top-ups must be seen as a positive since this little boost yields results and their fiscal discipline also ensures Sharana gets back the amounts in regular installments. The enthusiasm and drive to work hard on their own terms is what’s remarkable about this couple. The desire of a good work environment, the stress of salary cuts, layoffs and stalled plans due to the lack of capital are problems of every professional. What is beautiful is when Jiva and Manikatan decide to take charge of their lives and channel their productivity into being masters of their business.

(Images are representative).