Spotlight Series: Q&A with CEO & Founder of ChargeInc, Akshay Mukesh

We caught up with Akshay about his tech developments in all things Electric Vehicle charging in India, Middle East and North Africa

What is your ethnic and professional background?

I was born to a North-Indian family residing in South India so one could say that I was brought up in a very cosmopolitan-kind of environment. Essentially, I am a self-taught entrepreneur with minimal formal education and a handful of practical experience. 

I started working when I was 16 and I have diverse experiences in industries like publishing, realty, IT and a digital agency upholding senior executive positions. I love to dig into customer problems and solve them with modern tech and out-of-box solutions. I create, scale and optimise portfolios that matter.

What is Charge Inc and how did it come about?

When I founded ChargeInc back in 2018, the company was headed towards setting up smart charging infrastructure across India and the MENA (Middle East and North Africa) region. In the process of developing the charger (EVSE), we realised that over 5000 companies with a similar product were going to deploy different solutions by 2026 making it difficult for the end user to charge the electric vehicle (EV) with different hardware/service providers. A user, at one time would not subscribe to more than 2 service providers, dividing the charging infrastructure and making adoption of EVs more difficult.

To curb this menace, we decided to focus on building a software platform that could manage and power hardware from any manufacturer or service provider. In simple terms, We would do what ‘Windows’ did for the computer industry and what ‘Android’ did for the cell phone industry. 

What are your main values and aims as an organisation?

We have one clear focus. A unified charging infrastructure irrespective of the type of vehicle, the service provider, the manufacturer of hardware or the geographical location of the charging station. The sooner we are able to achieve this, the faster we can see people choosing EVs over internal combustion engines. And, in this process, we as an organization, are imbibing the values of globality, collaborations, integrity and utmost commitment towards customers

What inspired you to act as a catalyst for sustainable practice? Is there a particular story you can share?

The movie ‘2012’ caught my attention in 2010. Though the movie was overly dramatized, it depicted the imminent disaster that is in looming unless we reacted in time. This was just, as I realize now, paving my path forward.

Being an automotive enthusiast, I started to notice advancements in the industry. The kind of buzz Tesla and Lucid Motors were making at the time made me more interested in the EV industry. I transitioned to the IT sector in 2016 where as part of my job, I was fortunate to meet with prominent government figures from across the world and pitch for projects defining the future of the public transport system. 

Their valued opinions and feedback on national problems they face owing to transportation were intriguing for me. I was also witnessing how a few lines of code were able to reduce the efforts and drudgery of millions of people. This was the tipping point. It was here that I knew something bigger could be done.

I started researching what the EV industry was missing and every person I spoke to pointed towards 2 things. First being the range anxiety and second being the lack of charging infrastructure

The vehicle manufacturers were working on developing better battery technologies to fix the problem of range and a lot more charger manufacturers were working on setting up the infrastructure. But with such a diverse approach to the charging infrastructure a much bigger problem was awaiting to be addressed. Unlike refuelling a gasoline powered vehicle, an EV would require the user to reserve a charging point, before they get to a charging station or any business premises supporting it; but the user would be limited by the subscription from a service provider they opt in for. We were now clear on what we wanted to pursue, using our expertise to make a difference. 

I believe I am in the right place at the right time with the right kind of people. 

Being South Asian, did you face any backlash about this career decision from family, friends or society at large? How did you overcome it?

I would consider myself blessed to be surrounded by people who have always supported me in my endeavours. It surprises me sometimes yet gives a feeling of gratitude to have such an arrangement around. Almost everyone I reach out to for help, guidance or connections, they do the best they can. 

I make conscious efforts to ensure I pass on what I receive in a similar fashion.

How have you actively changed your daily practice to be more sustainable?

With the kind of work I do, I land up travelling a lot. I currently drive to most destinations because of the pandemic which adds to the carbon footprint. Within the organisation, we often talk about ways to offset the carbon footprint we incur. We are tirelessly working towards deploying our solution at the earliest as it would enable faster adoption of EVs which in turn will offset quite a bit of carbon coming from vehicles on the road.

While this is a part of our primary objective of the organisation, as a personal commitment towards sustainability, I turned vegan back in 2019 and started to ride to most destinations within the city on a bicycle. We also try to limit Air/Long Road travel, use less paper, re-use most resources and reduce electronic waste by donating what is not in use or use electronics for a longer duration than intended. Soon we’ll work on policies where we will incentivise colleagues who eat locally (as that reduces the need to import products from distant locations), share rides to work and replace their ICE vehicles with EVs. While most of these are plans for the future, we intend to take them up gradually to ensure there is less resistance and we are able to sustain proposed changes in our lifestyle. 

Do you feel there is a stigma or lack of understanding of the climate crisis among South Asian communities? What do you believe the blockers to be and how would you go about solving the issues?

It is a harsh reality but most people today wish to switch to an EV for the financial incentives and not the environmental benefits. Environmental reasons and climate change often get side-lined.

I often hear a conversation about “Climate change being real” when people realise that summers are getting hotter or winters are colder or when we experience natural calamities. We need to ask ourselves, what are we doing to prevent this? 

Something as basic as waste segregation is not widely adopted in most places in India. It’s surprising to see that most developed nations in the MENA region also do not enforce segregation of waste in households. It’s of prime importance that we understand this and self-regulate our lifestyle or the Government will have to step in, incentivise or enforce people to change to be more sustainable in their lifestyle. 

Just running ads or campaigns for awareness are not going to be enough. Stricter regulations have to be put in place and environmentalists have to be taken more seriously before it’s too late. 

What have been your greatest successes and learnings?

I personally don’t think I have experienced success as yet. My contributions have been minimal and I would consider them negligible. The vision is to make an impact which reflects in the life of millions for a long period of time. Whilst I am not someone who runs a company which is valued at over a Billion USD, it is difficult to convince people and make them align with the vision. 

There is also a subtle difference between being persistent and being clingy. As an entrepreneur, it’s necessary to know the difference and to know who to have around you for the journey. Unless the person travelling with you matches your vision, they will only end up being a hindrance. 

There are 3 main things I have learnt on this journey and remind myself of these.

You are going to hear a lot of “NO”. You will meet a lot of people who will disregard your idea, do not let them de-motivate you. Self-motivation is one of the most expensive resources and it’s scarce. Use it wisely so you don’t run out of it.

Assuming you do find a person, they may not always be able to align to your vision, learn to let go of people and focus on those who do. If you do not have a person who aligns with your vision, don’t stop searching for them. If you are on the lookout for such a person for a long time, it’s probably the vision that needs to be adjusted. 

It is important to be persistent, but one must know where to stop. Sticking to something that may never work is putting yourself at massive risk. It is okay to fail at something and apply the learnings from that onto the next one. Knowing where and when to pull the plug is an art not many can master. 

What are the biggest challenges being faced in the EV industry? Has any one country got it ‘right’ so far?

The EV industry is MASSIVE. The challenges that lie ahead are bigger than one person, one company or one country. The problems will continue to remain as long as there is range anxiety, lack of charging infrastructure and long periods of time taken to charge the EV batteries.

Norway and China are leading the EV adoption race and other countries need to learn from the, but even in these countries, the charging infrastructure is defined by the companies that manufacture the vehicle. 

Imagine if brands like Mercedes or Volkswagen had to step in to sell fuel because no one else will do so. The vehicle manufacturers are currently charging service providers because they are forced to do so. They have invested massive amounts of money in developing these vehicles and it is in everyone’s best interest to get them on the road as soon as possible. 

If experts from the charging domain step in to fill in the gap, vehicle manufacturers can focus on the battery technology and develop better vehicles rather than focusing on providing charging services.

It needs to be a joint effort between domain experts from the charging infrastructure and vehicle manufacturers to enable faster adoption of EVs.

What career advice would you give to younger generations in relation to sustainability and the environment? Why is it important for them and their future? 

My advice to the younger generation would be to look around and analyse the situation for themselves. Refer to historical data and look at how things have changed over the years and try finding the reasons for those changes. 

They will soon come to realise that it’s us who are responsible for these changes and unless we do something right away to fix these issues, shortly there would be no room left for us to be able to step in and fix them. 

These shortcomings are not too far ahead in the future. Today when you read about the technical advancements, you would often read about companies trying to colonise Mars or space travel and alternative places on Earth for the existence of the human race. 

Looking at billions of $ being poured into making it happen must ring loud alarm bells within us so we wake up to reality and realise that we are already late. We either start to fix the problem right away or fixate over it for the reason of not doing so for the rest of our lives. This choice needs to be made by our youth.

Can you share one life story which has deeply impacted you?

I have had far too many ups and downs in my life. I have experienced a steep raise and fallen too quickly. These ups and downs made me value quite a few things that I took for granted. 

A few instances during the initial phase of my career made me realise how important it was to be financially secure. I started to pursue projects in the realty sector as they paid well. Every project I would take up would be of decent value and if something came across that did not pay well, I would not take it up. 

Shortly after I was left with no work and with depleting finances it would become increasingly difficult to live below means after experiencing a lavish lifestyle. The reality of life hits you hard when you are down and the first thing that goes out the window is faith. 

I consider myself extremely blessed to be surrounded by people who truly care for me and stand by me in every situation. Some helped me reinstate my faith while others helped me find work and some helped in stabilising the situation so I could focus on work.  

It’s often said that only a few get a second chance. I can, with gratitude say that I have received quite a few ‘second chances’ and this keeps me grounded.

Is there anything else you’d like to share? 

I may sound like a hypocrite when I say this as my previous answer reveals how I reacted, but I now believe faith is the driving force behind everything. Be it faith in The Almighty or the faith in yourself to do something. 

Be rest assured neither the good nor the bad is going to last for too long. Life will be a roller coaster, it will flip you upside down over and over again. I can scream but it’s my choice whether this is because I am scared or because it excites me.

Company Website: www.chargeinc.in

Akshay’s Linkedin Profile https://www.linkedin.com/in/amukesh/

ChargeInc on Linkedin: https://www.linkedin.com/company/chargeincindia

ChargeInc on Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/charge.inc/

Spotlight Series: Q&A with Shilpa Bilimoria

We spoke to Shilpa, Creative Director and Founder of House of Bilimoria about her ancestral roots in tailoring and how she ‘luxcycles’ South Asian textiles

What is your ethnic and professional background?

I am Indian, my mother was born in Kisumu Kenya, my father in Mumbai. My grandparents were all born in Gujarat. I have a BA (hons) in Design for Fashion & Textiles and have worked in the fashion industry for the last 15 years.

What is House of Bilmoria, how did it come about and what are your main values as a business?

House of Bilimoria was born from the gifts my ancestors have bestowed upon me – the craft of tailoring and making clothing. I was dissatisfied working within the fashion industry as a high street retailer when I first graduated. I came to very quickly discover that it had none of the energy, or substance that I felt designing and creating should be about. With that in mind, and being pregnant with my first child, I decided to take it into my own hands and start my label. 

The values of my label would be all the things I didn’t find in that first job: ethics, sustainability, culture, community and circularity. More detail can be found here.

What inspired you to act as a catalyst for sustainable practice? Is there a particular story you can share?

My inspiration was and will always be my elders, my grandparents, my ancestors. I was so proud of what they did for a living, I was so proud that I had these skills embedded inside me and that they only needed to be ‘switched on’ in a sense. 

The story I always come back to is when I was first gifted a toy sewing machine, I must have been about 8 years old and so excited! I quickly went to use it, but was so frustrated, that it wasn’t actually stitching. It had a needle, foot pedal, and was battery operated. What was going wrong? I took the machine to my Dada (grandfather), and he looked at it, and said to me “Shilpa, there’s no bobbin.” I was so disappointed. I can remember the shock, and being so stunned at how quickly he knew why it wasn’t working. He explained what the bobbin’s job was and I understood, and swiftly went on to use the actual sewing machine my Mom had – no more toys! I love this story because it was my first glimpse into the real technical side of sewing and the craft. I knew then I would need to know all of the parts of the machine and how it all worked. You could call it the moment that the penny dropped. 

Being South Asian, did you face any backlash about your career choice from family, friends or society at large? How did you overcome it?

I did. I had people in my immediate family that were not supportive of it at all, that this was ‘going backwards’. If I really wanted to make any money and be stable I should be an accountant. That negativity was and has been one of the toughest things to navigate through, as all you really need and want in life is to be supported and believed in by those that are the closest to you. With the burden of failure already implanted into my mind, it had become a barrier to starting with the strength and belief in myself that would have been a great gift. But on the flip side, it made me even more determined. I would do this, and I’d do it with all the ideas they had which were so wrong about the industry in the first place. 

Alongside that, I must give total credit to my Mom and some of my extended family who have actually been nothing but supportive. I mean my Mama & Mami (uncle and aunty) were the ones that gifted me the toy sewing machine in the first place. I have many that are so proud and happy to see that this craft and legacy is continuing. This is how and what I use to overcome the negative aspects; being very in touch and in tune with my why – which is continuing my ancestors legacy, and that over any opinion wins, always. 

How have you actively changed your daily practice to be more sustainable?

There are lots of things that I have changed and continue to do so slowly. It is not an overnight thing. I consciously choose our detergents, soaps, and cleaning products to ensure they are not harmful to the environment. I have grown up wearing and loving hand me downs, so this is something that has continued in my own home. My girls wear clothes that have been passed down to them, and even more special that they have also grown up wearing the very dresses I had worn, that were made for me by my grandparents. We don’t own a car and use public transportation. I also have a lot of second hand items of furniture in our home! Before I look at new things, I always check if I can source second hand items.

Do you feel there is a stigma or lack of understanding of the climate crisis amongst South Asian communities? What do you believe the blockers to be and how would you go about solving the issues?

I don’t feel it is a stigma, I think it is more the lack of understanding, alongside a cultural and societal success benchmark which is very materialistic. If we look intrinsically at many of the habitual practices we have at home and have grown up with, they are things like saving the empty yogurt container to use for leftovers. I am sure there are homes that have cupboards full of these ready to reuse. I am sure that before this boom of fast fashion, many have also grown up wearing hand me downs too.

I think the blocker is now having a greater consciousness and connecting the dots backwards, as to where and how the products we buy are made. 

It doesn’t take much to see that the products we consume are and have been made with the lives of our own communities and people on the line. Once this connection is made, I believe that it would be hard to look at things without thinking about them. 

The South Asian community is very fixated on the idea of what ‘success’ outwardly looks like and maintaining that picture to the world. This though is an outcome of what the generations before us have been through, it’s something that I am beginning to unravel for myself. I believe that it’s once this work is shared and done, that our communities can look at starting to break into these cycles, which will in turn have an impact on how they live their day to day lives and becoming present to the issue of climate change and what it is a bi-product of. 

Do you find such lack of understanding makes having a sustainability-led business like yours more challenging? 

Short answer YES! Educating our audience is 75% of the work, but I am happy to do this, and it is what I am passionate about so… I also see it as a challenge that I am ready to be up against. 

What advice would you give to younger generations in relation to sustainability and the environment? 

Choose and start with ONE thing that is important to you, ethics, animals, air, water… Start with that and see what you can do to live in line with ensuring that you approach life and purchases being conscious of that. Once you have got one working well, add another. You will often find that with one, others come automatically too. It’s a win win!

Can you share one life story which has deeply impacted you?

I lost my older sister at a very young age. She used to talk a lot about the environment, about not being wasteful, I can remember brushing our teeth. She would always tell us to stop running the water in between – it’s wasting. To cut up all the plastic rings the cans of soda used to come in back then because they would end up strangling birds…

As much as my grandparents inspire my deep love for craft. My sister inspired and instilled my passion for sustainability. It’s also a part of her I can keep living on.

In many ways she was a spirit that was here well before her time (this was in the early 90’s), and she left me messages that I can live through and by everyday. 

Is there anything else you’d like to share? 

I love to share, exchange ideas and collaborate with like minded people! Don’t hesitate to contact me or DM! 

You can find out more about Shilpa and follow her journey here: Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, Linktree

Spotlight Series: Deep Dive Q&A with Dancer Nandita Shankardass

We spoke with Nandita, Founder of Welcome Movement about her creative dance journey and inspiration behind ‘returning to nature’.

What is your ethnic, academic and professional background?

I am British South Asian born and brought up in London to Punjabi parents. I’m a performing artist, choreographer and movement facilitator and hold a BA Degree in Humanities and Innovation.

Trained at The Royal Ballet School, my dance career has taken me to work and perform with dance companies across Europe and U.K – Zürcher Ballet, Victor Ullate Ballet, Ballet black, Scottish Ballet and Compañia Nacional de Danza, touring internationally in a range of classical and contemporary repertoire.

I choreographed ‘Capture’ for the Zürcher Junior Ballet, ‘Synergy’ for Ballet Black and ‘Anjaane Ajnabee’ as part Young Choreographers of Compañia Nacional de Danza. I was commissioned to choreograph and perform for Television for Environment (TVE) Global Sustainability film awards and I co-created and performed with Flux in the collaborative work “In Other words” at Kings Place, London.

I embarked on my freelance journey in 2017 to focus on creating my own work and to explore more collaborative work. I have since collaborated with Beta Publica in Madrid, Sujata Banerjee Dance Company, performed with Adrian Look Tanztheater and with The Royal Opera house for their family events. I choreographed the solo works ‘Sundown’ and ‘Rainsoaked…’, the duets ‘Lightweight’ and ‘Umbra’ and most recently choreographed my latest collaborative dance film ‘Returns to Nature’. I assist artists in movement direction and dramaturgy and I have been teaching and facilitating a range of dance classes and movement workshops for over 10 years, across age groups and in various environments.

You recently created a piece of work on nature and connectedness. How did it come about?

Over the last few years I have felt increasingly inspired by nature in both my creative and teaching practices and simultaneously began to develop a curiosity and awareness towards its connection and relationship to our human race, our human nature and our health.

In 2020 I was commissioned to create a new work for ‘The Naked Truth’, an online fundraiser for World AIDS day to encourage awareness around HIV. Motivated by the year we were having, despite the pandemic restricting access to studios to create work and the use of stages off limits, my most natural instinct was to embrace the great outdoors as my creative playground and performance space in this new work. I was excited to explore different natural terrains under my feet and the different spaces I could move in and interact with. In deciding to manifest the piece outdoors with nature for company, I was presented with a fresh experience of scenery, backdrop and offering of props! 

The frequent walks I embarked on during lockdown had such a positive effect on my wellbeing, which led the way for me to take my art outside to create ‘Returns to Nature.’ During the creative and performance journey of the work, I recognised how significantly charged I became in improvising and dancing outdoors. I began to listen to the Earth, get closer and more intimate with its textures and movements. I enjoyed working in different dance gear than I’m used to; in outdoor boots as oppose to ballet shoes or socks and I welcomed a chance to dance bare feet on the grass. I am a big believer in the energy transmitted to our bodies from being in direct contact with the Earth!

I was humbled by being up close to the bark of a tree, in all its greatness, supported by the soil and refreshed and nourished by the fresh air I was breathing in. 

‘Returns to Nature’ explores a renewed curiosity and relationship with nature, engaging with all its qualities. Journeying through moments of exploration, nourishment, courage and hope, we are reminded of the infinite possibilities we have in returning to the natural world, to embrace our human nature and reconnect to ourselves.

Amidst a global pandemic and the challenges humankind has been facing over the last year, the work aims to inspire a reconciliation with nature and recognition of how it can beneficially impact and influence our physical and emotional wellbeing and our peace of mind. Time spent alone and with others in nature to observe, connect and absorb natural nourishment is healing and an invaluable source of strength. We are all spending our time in different ways according to our personal situations in this crisis.

By sharing this work, I wanted to remind us of the gift of nature, inspiring us to cherish our surroundings, wherever we may be and to stimulate awareness around the environment’s need for a sustainable future. Especially right now, in the moments we find ourselves in. I believe we have been offered a great opportunity to shift and gain new perspectives.

The process of researching and creating this work offered me an opportunity to deeply contemplate and experience how nature can influence and impact my own states of being. I found reflections in the dynamics and movements of nature, which allowed me to relate to what exists within our own human nature. Also how what we think and feel on the inside might be reflected in our actions towards the space and environment which we inhabit. The process became an inward journey of awakening, empowerment and an acceptance of the states within my own self, through observing and tuning into nature’s states, in all their variety, shades, textures and colours.

This awareness has become a guide and a source of inspiration to evolve my own states and realise more within myself. We can find a sense of harmony and presence between our inner landscape and the outer landscape, reflective and supportive of each other in so many ways. I am gaining a deeper appreciation and respect for nature and its benefit towards our perceptions, emotions and actions – how we choose to live and behave. All it took was stepping outside to be with nature, to initiate and spark this new evolution within me!

Nature is literally right before our eyes, every single day, in some shape or form, expressing multitudes on a real life canvas. If we recognise that returning to nature and interacting with it is beneficial to us, we can express our gratitude through our actions by taking care of it, granting us the possibility to the return to the endless wonder and inspiration it continually offer us, day after day. If we can surrender to the power of nature and learn to appreciate and welcome it, in all its diversity, we can reach an acceptance that same power and diversity lies within ourselves and all of humankind.

We are nature, and nature is us, we are not separate but a part of this whole ecosystem and it is our responsibility to take care of what we are a part of and enjoy playing our part. We will only lose out on living well within our own inner ecosystem, if we separate or isolate ourselves from nature’s ecosystem.

By embracing nature I come closer to accepting and valuing my own natural states and cycles. It is an exchange that is vital for our wellbeing and nature’s potential to heal and thrive, supporting the longevity and health of our environment for now, and for generations to come.

Becoming more conscious and relating to nature in new ways last year nurtured and supported my life greatly. I feel I am just on the surface of discovering how much more nature can and will impact my work moving forward and it motivates me to find solutions in how I can work in harmony, in a fruitful exchange with nature in my life. 

What has inspired you to focus on the environment in your art form? Is there a particular story you can share?

Since becoming a freelance artist, a collaborator and an independent creator, I am experiencing a growing awareness around costs, creative labour and production processes in the Arts. Especially during the pandemic, we have seen artists go on to create innovatively with a lot less. Hopefully this allows us to reassess how we use our resources – personally, collectively and environmentally moving forward.

Right before the first lockdown, I was beginning to wonder how we could create our work in the dance sector in a more sustainable fashion and felt motivated to re-consider how much material and energy is needed and used to create a theatre production. I also realised how responsible we are in our practices within the industry towards waste and recycling.

When contemplating on more sustainable practice, I think about how we care for the humans – artists and collaborators we work with, how we market and publicise our work, the lighting and materials involved in designing and running a production and how we recycle materials post production.

Last year, I was invited to support difficult dialogues as a Youth ambassador with a focus on the environment in collaboration with TVE (Television for the Environment) for the 2020 Global Sustainability Film Awards. My body and spirit felt ignited and invigorated after coming together with the young activists I met via this platform, from all over the world, tirelessly contributing and finding ways to support the environment and encourage their nations to take action towards a sustainable future.

2020 was a year I felt encouraged to challenge myself to create with less and realise what is truly essential and necessary to express and create a piece of work. I am motivated and excited to continue this journey in sustainable creation and production processes in my own work, amidst the pandemic and moving forwards. 

My dance journey started with learning Ballet at the age of four, moving on to creative movement and contemporary styles as I grew older. Swimming was a big part of my childhood where I found the weightlessness of being in water very comforting and liberating, and a welcome balance to the time spent on my feet dancing. When my full time dance training and my performing career began at the age of 11, I encountered challenges such as injuries, stifled creativity and expression and struggles to conserve my energy over long periods of time.

In managing myself as a professional, there came a time when I felt I needed to address and nurture the state of my mental health. I found supportive practices to keep my mind healthy, positive and determined and started to understand how to maintain my energy levels more efficiently.

When I slowly started giving up eating meat around five years ago, I noticed eliminating it from my diet impacted the longevity of my energy levels, overall mood and thinking patterns, finding increased vitality and vibrancy and less stagnation of energy flow within my body. I had always previously believed that I needed meat to supply my muscles with its protein for dance, having a pretty fast metabolism and not keeping weight on easily. I was always trying to eat to put more weight on! In this process I learnt how much protein we can receive from alternative, non-animal foods. 

I feel blessed and grateful to have met some incredibly transformational coaches and mentors during the challenging times along my way, who all steered me to return towards natural approaches of moving, thinking and being. 

A particularly severe injury forced me to take time off from dancing to heal, rehabilitate and retrain. At this time one of my closest and dearest dance friends introduced to Boglarka Hatala – Embodiment Coach and Physiotherapist in Dresden, Germany, who reeducated and reawakened my body’s potential and capability. She encouraged me to recognise the power my body had to heal itself and strengthen through her blend of biomechanical and psychomotor approaches.

The process with Boglarka opened up space and opportunity for me to find efficient and empowering pathways to heal, communicate and express through movement. Boglarka’s guidance enlightened me in how I could work more functionally and with a more inclusive approach to my body in motion; taking into account and incorporating my personality, inherent nature, my culture and ancestry to understand my body on a personal level, holistically and within my working context or environment.

She suggested I retrain my ballet technique with Renato Paroni in London who teaches a sustainable approach to the form, (inspired by the late Tina Bernal) where taking care of the health, alignment of our bones and use of the joints and muscles in our body is the priority over the general aesthetic.

Ballet technique, as all dance forms, is extremely demanding on the body, inducing wear and tear on the joints over time if not training intelligently and well. I learnt from both Boglarka and Renato how to take care of my body and train in a sustainable way. This was a turning point in my career, becoming aware and understanding the best ways for me to dance within my body specifically, in both practice and performance.

I am enlivened and renewed by a holistic way of being and doing, in reverence to my spirit, energy and emotions and my body’s longevity, as I evolve, change and grow. I want to be responsible for my health to dance and live as long as I can, rather than the possibility being brought to an end by injury or not taking care of myself, which I have faced on occasions.

My pathway in understanding sustainability is through my body and its movement. In the fast paced society we live in today we want to push the body to the limits and see how far we can go to produce as much as we can, we risk over use, wear and tear and burnout. Just as we need to balance and manage our movement and rest periods for the longevity of our bodies, we can find this parallel in our environment and how we respond to it and to nature, which works around the clock for our benefit – in just the same way, it needs our care, love and attention.

I am often inclined to dig a little deeper and research what I think I know and challenge what I am being told or asked to do living in a western working world. I have missed out on eastern and South Asian approaches to the body, mind and soul in my early training in ballet; initially being away from my family and home at boarding school from the age of 11 and then moving to Europe at the age of 19 for work, all the while in predominantly white institutions and surrounded by cultures other than my own. Later in my career I felt drawn to acknowledge and engage with my own South Asian roots and approaches to movement.

Initiating this responsibility within myself and taking my dance journey into my own hands and feet also meant that as my body changed, my inner world yearned to express itself in different ways. I welcomed the diversity and freedom of contemporary movement approaches in dance, as well as different practices and approaches such as Meditation, Yoga, Feldenkreis, Alexander technique, BMC, Tai chi and somatic processing. These all continue to nourish and support my journey, allowing me to access greater awareness, grace and possibility to discover and explore the diversity of movement within myself.

Yoga and Tai chi – the ancient practices of the body and mind from the east, invite us to connect with nature and move in harmony with it rather than against it. The foundations of Yoga and Tai chi, each in their own ways, take their inspiration directly from nature, human nature and the animal kingdom at their core, allowing us to embody the nature within us and connect to what is around us, becoming a part of it and joining with it through our movements.

These practices help us realise how the effectiveness and quality of our mind and body can be measured by our awareness, not by the length of time or quantity. This gracefully allowed my movement experience and practice to become more sustainable and heightened. To practice these techniques, few materials needed, if any at all, working only with the bare essentials of your body and its relationship to the Earth and the space in and around you. I find movement practices that come to life through nature’s laws and our connection to them to be deeply authentic and organic.

Taking care of my inner landscape has in turn, turned my head and perception to look in different directions and find parallels in how we can take better care of our planet earth and the environment more genuinely.

Learning to understand and train my body as an individual, respecting and honouring both its limits and boundaries whilst developing its capacities, permits me to start to understand this concept of the sustainability of our environment in all its elements and resources. 

We can choose what we feed our minds, bodies and souls with from our external environment, we can be shaped and informed, guiding us to eliminate toxic elements from our consumption. In turn, we may become aware of any toxicity we may be contributing to our environment which impacts the quality of the food we eat and the air we breath and water we drink etc.

How are we taking care of what we have? How do we use resources and consume? How are we renewing and replenishing our environment to last, without getting utterly depleted and burned down? I have come to realise that the times when I have been faced with burnout and extreme exhaustion and pain, occurred when I wasn’t feeling entirely connected to what I was doing or the environment I was in.

Transformational life coach Yashwant Patel gently guided me towards observing nature around me and has been a mentor to me in this infinite journey of discovery of listening to my body and soul. Yashwant introduced me to Bhavin Solanki, wellbeing physiotherapist, who brought my attention to Gary Ward’s Anatomy in Motion, at a time in my career when new assessments of how I was moving were greatly needed.

I am so grateful to have met the right people along the way in just the right moments to inspire, support and guide me on this path, as I pick myself up after challenges and keep on walking and dancing forward! It gives me great comfort and assurance that dance, health, life and our environment are intrinsically connected and we can find ways for them to be mutually supportive to live our best lives, in harmony. 

At low points in my dancing career, where I felt unsure of what direction to take and yet empty enough to receive, I had the opportunity to meet two incredible pioneering women in dance and movement, whose approaches and practices were holistic and broadly encompassing what it is to be human. Susanne Linke – whose approach to training includes movements of the body inspired by animals, the drive of our emotions and the energy of our spirit and Minako Seki – whose methodology combines the practice of developing a conscious mind, our attention towards nature and a healthy diet. 

Movement can be exhausting and draining mentally, emotionally and physically and I learned that in understanding our true inner nature and how we navigate and manage that across the spectrum of being human, we can create and move from a source of joy, abundance and unlimited creativity and expression.

This brings me more sensitivity towards how we exhaust our Earth of its resources and I started to learn more about the nature of our environment and what can contribute to its health. Becoming more individual in my practice and learning about the possibilities in my nature and of the body, made me more aware of the diversity in nature and humanity, along with our commonalities and the power of coming together in our communities to work together and support each element.

We observe and learn about patterns in nature and how each individual part feeds into the whole, to support the collective. This generates an understanding of a similar dynamic, in how each individual’s actions feed into the wholeness of our environment and contribute to climate change and other environmental issues.

The elements, movements and dynamics of nature continue to inspire me in how to take care of my body. Connecting with the elements of air, water, fire, earth and ether influence my practice greatly, inspiring and guiding the quality of movement for a deeper understanding and experience as we learn to embrace and feel our own way through them. The elements give life and quality to our movements, allowing them to blossom and evolve.

We can 

Connect to the lightness of air to create and breathe space within us,

Invite the flow of water soft and yet so powerful to gently cleansing away stagnant energy within us,

Develop a sense of groundedness within us through the support and fertileness of the earth below our feet,

Ignite the fire within us propelling us into action

and we can Grow an awareness of ourselves in the space we inhabit and how we interact with it.

Connecting with the elements has helped me find new pathways and uncover intuitive and natural movement within myself. Observing nature I learn about growth, resilience, renewal and rebirth and connect to those qualities and energies within myself. Nature is an endless source of inspiration for us, and one of our greatest teachers. The movement and shift towards sustainable living is an action we can involve ourselves in daily, in how we go about our day and asking ourselves if our choices are healthy for our body and for our Earth. More times than not we find they are one of the same.

Learning about sustainability through my being, on physical, emotional, mental and spiritual levels is like looking at the ecosystem, holistically. Renewing the energy sources of our body, mind and spirit allows us to understand how we treat the resources in our environment. We learn to understand that how we create stress on Earth is not too dissimilar from how we create stress on the joints of the inner Earth of our body, both through a pressure and desire for more.

Just as we become conscious about how we reach exhaustion within ourselves, we understand better how we might be exhausting and taking advantage of our environment. I feel that the practice and experience of dance and movement is about how you manage and use your energy, emotions and ideas and how you express them and go on to keep being able to express them.

Looking and feeling through the lens of the body and how we sustain ourselves, not only to survive but to thrive, we understand how our actions contribute to the quality of resources and how much it actually takes from the earth to be healthy and function at its best. Respecting the elements of nature around us is in turn, good for our health; maintaining healthy soil for crops, clean water to drink, unpolluted air to breathe. It is apparent that caring for our environment serves it well to keep on taking care of us.

Learning to treasure our bodies and human experience within the ecosystem and the part we play in it, creates a deeper, on-going relationship with the Earth.

I do believe that it can work both ways – in starting to become actively conscious about the environment’s health and how we contribute and care for it can in turn motivate one to take better care of themselves and others.

Our environment is here to support, feed and nourish us to live and thrive upon it and to enjoy these benefits, we must value and honour this exchange and find the ways in which we can give back and support its replenishment – if we are to continue to receive nature’s gifts and co-exist in harmony with it. Becoming aware of how we live, how we consume and being more mindful and efficient in our practices, helps us to understand what really is necessary and enough.

In my experience, what is humanly sustainable for me opens up a portal to appreciating what is sustainable in nature. The delicacy of a flower, that can literally break in your hand and yet its stem may have such strong roots that it can breathe new life and flower again- in resilient splendour. Likewise as humans, we can recognise how delicate we are, yet can recover and experience a sense of rebirth within one lifetime and renew ourselves and our own energy resources, before our time is up. Understanding how delicate, vulnerable and yet resilient our Earth is for things to grow, flourish and rebirth too, we must take care of it before natural resources run out. 

Just as the current state of many issues have come to light during the pandemic, giving us time to wonder, contemplate and begin to figure out how we can begin to heal the necessary, we have been offered an opportunity to realise just how much we are destroying on Earth and reassess our impact on the planet through our choices and decisions. Has the Covid-19 virus come perhaps as a spiritual signal directly from nature about how we are interacting with it and what we need to improve? 

Living with and through nature at our core, humbly with a sense of wonder and appreciation, might just bring us more into sync with Earth for collective benefit and the good health of all species and our environments.

Nandi in a forest setting, looking up to the sky with her arms in the air. She's wearing a long brown and maroon printed dress and has dark curly hair
Image credits: ©Simon Richardson

How have you actively changed your daily practice to be more sustainable?

We have all had a little more time to really sit and think about the environmental emergency this last year. A year of different possibilities and a clearer 20:20 vision of so many issues which have come to light, which have existed for a long time and yet still increase and are on the rise. I have been less distracted by a busier lifestyle during lockdown to take more time to digest and feel my responses towards things such as sustainability and what actions I can implement right now. 

I progressed a little further during lockdown in eliminating fish from my diet and most animal products. I have found this much easier being at home and preparing every meal I eat, due to time saved in not commuting for work journeys and grabbing food on the go. I hope to keep this up. I would like to be more responsible in how I consume plastic packaging which cannot be recycled too.

Moving back to London in 2018 and reconnecting with the South Asian community, I have been brought closer to its traditions and practices in health. Connecting with Dr Indira Anand, I began eating with more awareness through the Ayurvedic approach to diet and nutrition. The principles of Ayurveda are governed by the elements in nature and connected to our emotional tendencies, mental abilities and physical traits.

Ayurveda analyses our physical, emotional and mental attributes to guide our eating habits and routine with the foods that suit and compliment our nature best. Dr Anand introduced me to the practice of Yoga Nidra – deep rest in the conscious state before between being awake and asleep.

I am encouraged and motivated to take more time to assess and research the products I consume moving forwards, across food, fashion and beauty, learning if products have been ethically sourced and if their production process damages our environment or the animal kingdom.

In beauty, I am becoming more aware of the products I choose to use on my hair to take care of its inherent curly nature, choosing products with less to no chemical ingredients, that are sustainably sourced and produced and therefore better for the health of my hair. In embracing my natural curls I have realised the value of accepting your natural self, and discovering and staying true to your own nature. These are some of my life’s biggest personal challenges, which have helped generate and guide that awareness in me towards nature and the environment. This journey feels so NATURAL and organic!

I have switched over to drinking loose-leaf tea or biodegradable tea bags, shocked by research proving that some brand’s tea bags still contain plastic. It has been encouraging to notice over this last year that packaging from some retailers now come in paper bags instead of plastic. I have yet to research deeply in fashion production processes, but I hope to address how I consume in that area with more awareness moving forwards, towards more sustainable options such as vegan clothing lines, which I see are on the rise and some brands having started consciously made lines of clothing.

Do you feel there is a stigma or lack of understanding of the climate crisis amongst South Asian communities? What do you believe the blockers to be and how would you go about solving the issues?

In South Asian communities as in any community, I feel we can readily explore and journey deeper into our roots, culture and ancestors to help us understand and solve current issues. We can ask more questions – what wisdom can we still access and bring forward, which ancient practices and philosophies are there for us to keep alive and breathe new life into, to support us in today’s world? We can look back at how indigenous tribes survived and managed, when humanity was not over producing things at such a rapid rate and in such large quantities.

This is our challenge to manage in today’s world of consumerism, we can ask ourselves what we can do with less, what we truly need and what is merely a distraction? 

We can come together as a community in facilitating and having more discussions, dialogues and talks by professionals and activists in these fields, to educate, bring more awareness and inspire our South Asian communities to move forward. We can engage and take part in activities and projects together, use storytelling to communicate messages in a multitude of forms, share our discoveries with each other, and encourage support and togetherness in our actions.

We can trace traditions and practices which have been recorded or passed on from our ancestors and learn how they managed with what they had. The youth of today can actively converse with senior members across the community to find out what they can share with us from the past to inform their practices and efforts to tackle current environmental emergencies.

I believe it starts with us, as individuals, making conscious changes and improvements and simultaneously coming together to share what we have come up against and the solutions we have found to generate change in our environment with our community.

Our South Asian heritage and culture is ripe in its practices to support our wellbeing in accordance with nature and environment  – from Yoga, Meditation and Ayurveda – connecting to our bodies and minds in an essential way, wisely and safely in our own habitat. We can encourage a ‘waste not, want not’ perspective and way of living. I am beginning to acknowledge and value what we can learn from our heritage and ancestors and India’s ancient past. We can choose to actively seek out guidance to understand more about our South Asian roots in education and practices. 

I’m not 100% aware of how active India is as a country in being sustainably responsible and how they are contributing to climate change in this present moment with increasing demands and economic challenges, but I feel that all generations of South Asian people globally, can exchange and share ideas of what we have learnt from our experiences and from other cultures to support tackling issues. We can pave a bright path ahead collectively through and across generational learning. We can embrace exchanging practices and knowledge between the east and the west to create innovative solutions. 

Meanwhile, currently in India, with the farmer’s protests and the future of farming and agriculture being challenged, one cannot help but recognise the value of this essential connection between humans and the earth and appreciating those who are literally working and caring for the soil and whom have dedicated their life to that mission.

We can understand how essential it is for humans to manage agriculture well, to honour and value their work, and recognise how much is being asked of them and nature to over produce. This is another avenue in which we can improve how this relationship between our selves as humans and our planet can be addressed, in how we care for it and contribute to its wellbeing. I support and can only hope that industrial methods will not win over traditional and indigenous methods of farming in agriculture and how we sustain a decent and good level of human rights and nature’s rights. 

Do you find such lack of understanding makes communicating the message through your art form more challenging or difficult? 

In the dance industry, being an artist in some instances can mean forming part of a mute culture where not every artist’s opinions and thoughts are always considered or integrated into a creation of a work. It is a challenge for all artists to recognise when this is happening and take a decision if they really want to participate in this and get used to or stuck in it. As a creator in the dance world, you are required to share, verbalise and express your opinion and thoughts via your marketing and publicity, as well as the work itself with your collaborators. 

The action of Dance itself being a ‘silent’ non-verbal art form, has immense power to communicate ideas, meaning and messages through movement, yet at the same time, I feel dance artists and creators can always compliment, supplement and support their messages and work via verbal communication in speaking out.

Audiences don’t always get a chance to communicate verbally with the dance artists in response to their work, yet we can create and facilitate this channel to welcome written responses, feedback and dialogue. Voicing and writing about what we do supports the message we are trying to get across and I think dancers and creators in the sector should provide opportunities to verbally express, talk and write about their work and creative processes, research and development and put it out there. You never know whom it could reach and or provide more available access to, to learn about your journey from an inspirational idea to a finished performance. 

So I feel, finding our physical voice, as well as learning to express it effectively through movement is important to support and create greater access, inclusion and belonging of our work and the comprehension of our message, in the bigger picture.

I have seen waves of insights and sharing increase over the last year through the lockdowns and art being shared so generously and innovatively, creating space for more interaction and discussions with artistic creators. I look forward to this movement continuing and evolving in the future!

What advice would you give to younger generations in relation to sustainability and the environment? 

My encouragement for the youth of today, is to start with yourself! 

How is your inner environment serving you and what does your outer environment and habitat look and feel like, how can you serve it better and treat it with the same respect that you could treat yourself? 

How are you taking care of your inner landscape and nourishing it – your inner earth, your inner fire, the breath that passes through you? Are you contaminating those elements within and around you with toxic habits? Do you feel you are only just surviving and existing? Do you feel you could thrive more? Ask yourself about it all.

Taking this responsibility towards ourselves in turn lends itself to teach us to become more aware of our actions towards our earth. Check in with how clean you feel the air and water to be around where you live and where you travel to and what actions of yours might be contributing to its quality. 

Get in touch with yourself, check in with you how you are feeling in any given moment, how you are nourishing yourself and your nature and replenishing your reserves. Spend more time out in nature and observe and feel what resonates with you, and see if and how that experience might plant a seed and inspire you to have a new perspective, take a new action or direction or simply bring you into an improved state of being.

Evolve your practices as you get older and in conscious ways that feel natural to you. Take care of the renewable energy of the Earth as well as you can of your own. Tune in to the phases of life, its cycles and those of the Earth, like the harvest season, the planting of crops, the energies of the day and the night, of the moon and the sun. 

The Earth has to survive and thrive well to support the next generation of humans. If we abuse it here and now, selfishly in our own personal timelines on Earth, we are not supportive of others receiving all the possible resources and experiences in the future, that we may have enjoyed till now. Find joy in being responsible. If you might believe in reincarnation, then think about what your soul will come back to, do you wish for a healthy Earth for yourself or at least for the next generations.

In starting a journey and enquiry for yourself, you may find yourself endlessly motivated. Throughout our lives we may face spells or periods of boredom, and this journey of discovering ourselves, as a part of nature and as an active force within the environment, is vast and I feel it doesn’t lets us down.

The learning process can be fruitful and infinite, through the states of nature we can welcome experience and understand the changing seasons of our life, along with the seasons of our environment. There is so much possibility of evolution that a human can go through in a lifetime, culture goes through over years, society goes through across eras and nations go through over decades and centuries. 

Its important for the youth of today to initiate journeys for themselves that can be continual in their education and development, opening up new pathways, avenues, diversions and branches that may lead to new enquiries as they move through life.

Dance has been this evolving and infinite journey of discovery within myself and how I relate to the world around me and more recently merging it with my interest in the sustainability of our environment and its health now only adds to my big adventure!

Is there anything else you’d like to share?

I am soon to launch my website (www.nanditashankardass.com) offering my wellbeing service Welcome Movement which is available to all organisations and individuals. The service provides a range of movement and dance classes or tailored sessions from Organic movement, Yoga, Meditation, Ballet to Creative movement, drawing inspiration and guidance from nature, our human nature to encourage a better experience of ourselves and possibility for our growth and evolution. 

I look forward to learning not only how I can create sustainable practices and productions in the future of my work but also communicate messages of the environmental issues we face and spread awareness of the power of nature through my work. 

I am passionate about how creative and production processes in the arts can generate a sustainable future, for the environment which surrounds us, and the inner environment of our body, mind and soul.

Website: www.nanditashankardass.com

Returns to Nature: https://vimeo.com/510284291

Nature Feels: https://vimeo.com/505694179