Techie Vinutha Choudri unwinds most days with some form of hand-craft art. But she knew she had more to do for society in general. She didn’t know what till she waited in a mall, and watched the swirling business life around a Kundan jewellery sale. The rest as they say is history. Vinutha spoke to Techgoss about how her NGO combines her love of art with social service.
Techgoss (TG): Tell us about yourself Vinutha, your family, your education and background?
Vinutha Choudri (VC): I was born and brought up in Bangalore. My parents are from Karnataka and I have a younger brother. My father and brother are into export business. I did my schooling at National public school. I then did bachelors in Electronics from SJR and then did MCA from central college. I have also done MBA from IGNOU. I am married to Lingaraja Choudri; he is originally from Hospet but now in Bangalore. He works at HP.
TG: Where do you work, what is your nature of work and what is your weekly routine?
VC: I currently work at Cisco systems, Bangalore. I work as technical and project lead in Cisco. I am more inclined technically. My work mainly comprises of planning the work for the team, and also I sit and do the technical work. My week starts on Monday which is usually without any calls as it is a Sunday in US. Tuesday to Friday days starts with status or stand-up calls. The day usually ends by 6 pm or so. Evening, depending on my energy levels, I either start or make some progress on some art work. Like, now I am doing a quilled wall hanging, so I do some of it every day. Else, just slump on the sofa and watch TV. Ballika Vadu is one serial that I have been watching from the time it started. So I do watch it.
TG: Tell us how you first struck upon this idea which later became the NGO – Living Raaga
VC: I always wanted to give back to society. So I kept thinking of different possible ways. Initially, I thought of building a small temple, and then I thought of building an orphanage. But nothing really clicked. One day, my hubby and I went for a movie at Sigma mall. While I was waiting for him at the entrance of the mall, I saw some small stalls. The stalls had Kundan work and other trinkets for sale. Out of curiosity, I checked the Kundan work and their prices. Since Kundan piece was sold at 150 to 200 Rs. per piece, I knew very well that it wouldn’t cost more than 20 – 30 Rs to make a piece. Like lightning, it occurred to me that I could teach my art to women and help them make a living. This Art will also serve as a hobby for them, to help their mind. As, all know “Art is a great healer”. I took up this idea and started pursuing it. I started working with Abhalashram. Initially, they were reluctant then they warmed up to the idea. The girls began to earn an income making articles. I wanted to take it across ashrams. So I named the initiative Raaga, as I didn’t want to make it sound like a typical NGO. Also I wanted it to be a brand name, which I could use to sell the products. As time progressed, I realised that Raaga was very musical, so wanted to alter it a bit. My hubby and me struck with the name “Living Raaga”, music i.e. art that will live with the women for ever. Thus, was born “Living Raaga”.
TG: How did you go about planning the project first?
VC: I realised early that talking about the project won’t enroll people. So I began to make samples of everything I could teach and could sell. For each sample, I built a excel sheet with the cost and the possible price it could be sold. I also found out the best places to buy these raw materials at large quantities.
TG: Were there resistances?
VC: Definitely resistances are there for any new idea. Unless any idea works, no one will accept it. Unless, I made samples, worked out the costing and possible profit, ashram was not willing to go ahead with the idea. Even after that, they are reluctant. As they see the girls happy doing it, see the profits, I am sure they will open up.
TG: How does it work out now time-wise on your routine?
VC: It perfectly fits into my Saturdays, we teach on Saturday evenings. Weekdays, I think of new ideas or make some new samples. Since, I have few volunteers with me; the classes will go on irrespective of anyone in our team making it that day or not.
TG: Does it overlap into your personal life or space as far as your profession is concerned?
VC: Living Raaga doesn’t overlap with my profession, because I work only on weekends. I go to teach on weekends only. Other volunteers too are in IT or are students so they get time only on weekends. So it is weekdays I work at Cisco and weekends I work for Living Raaga. At Weekends definitely it overlaps my personal time. But, quite often my husband drives me around, so we get out time together too.
TG: What are your other interests in life?
VC: I do quite a bit of art and craft ranging from – glass painting, artificial flowers, warli painting, quilling, Kundan work and so on. I am a blogger. I have been blogging from 2006. My blog name is vin2win.blogspot.com. I blog about anything that interests me, I have blogged about paranormal incidents, written short stories, blogged a trip so on. I like watching movies and it could be anything that is coming on TV.
TG: Why do you think techies are low on such social commitments? Would you have a message or word for them?
VC: I have found many of the techies are lost in themselves and their own world. Even if many of them are not hard pressed for time, they live under the notion that their minds are taxed, and they must only rest on weekends. I find some techies not very close to the real world. Their worlds are restricted to A/C offices, Facebook, mails, onsite calls, onsite opportunities, malls. I just want to tell them – “We need to give back to the society which has given us so much.”
TG: What are your future plans with Living Raaga?
VC: 1. Start living Raaga in many more organisations. We are starting this soon with Association of Disability.
2. Rope in more volunteers
3. Put up stalls in different IT companies once a month to sell the products. All that comes from selling will be given away to the related organisation.