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Wednesday 23 August 2017
News updated at 4:42 AM IST

Techie becomes jack man of Kerala

Anitha Pailoor in Bengaluru, May 01, 2016 0:00 IST

He encourages qualified people to return to roots

James Joseph.  Photo by Anitha Pailoor
Jackfruit will be a better substitute for mashed potato

He is a mechanical engineering graduate and has a masters in engineering business management but now promotes jackfruit grown in Kerala. No wonder, James Joseph is called the “jack man” of Kerala. A series of incidents transformed an engineer into an entrepreneur with a social cause and its impact is interesting.

James worked in the corporate sector for about 2 decades, held key positions, specifically marketing roles, in leading companies, and worked from cities in three different continents. But, no matter where he was and how sophisticated the life was, his passion for hometown was alive in him. When he was appointed as a director (executive engagement) of Microsoft in India, he decided to connect his passion and profession. He wanted to explore the possibilities of working for a corporate company from his native in Aluva in Ernakulam district of Kerala. Both the company and the family supported him to try out the idea.

In May 2009, James started his new journey. For over three years, his work and life were in perfect sync and he could achieve better while working from his village. “I worked for different companies in three continents, but achieved my career-best professional performance, at the global software giant Microsoft, from my village,” says James.

When he realised that people can return to their villages without sacrificing their career and even perform better while experiencing the peaceful environs of rural India, he decided to spread the message and launched a pioneering initiative, Professional Bharati.

Through this startup, he has been encouraging professionals who grew up in villages and are working in cities to return to their roots. He points out to advantages from avoiding the traffic to stress-free life and a healthy environment. Also, they can facilitate the transformation of villages and work for social causes. To advocate the cause, he started the Come Home campaign on October 2, 2012.

He has shared his experiences on social media platforms like LinkedIn, Youtube, Twitter and Facebook, he has also been writing for publications. He has been posting information about his activities in his blog ProfessionalBharati.com.

After successfully working from the village for 3 years, which he considers the most peaceful and productive years of his career, James decided to write a book to spread the word. He took a break from his work for the purpose and as he was in the process of writing, the turn of events compelled him to work for the cause of the most neglected crop of the state – jackfruit.

“Though I cherished jackfruit in all its forms, specifically jackfruit meal – a unique tradition of Kerala, I never thought that I would be so much associated with the fruit,” James said. “While I was working on the book, unknowingly I was observing the jackfruit tree in the backyard, different stages of the fruit from tender to ripe and slowly realised that most of the fruits go waste not only in Kerala, but also in the entire country.”

Soon curiosity gave way to planning and action. Jackfruit, though known for its utility value, has been given the tag of a poor man’s food. James decided to take it to larger cross-section of society and experiment with different dishes--both traditional and exotic. After research he realised that in certain areas the crop is popular as a vegetable and in most places it is used as a fruit. The arduous task of cutting the fruit kept it away from consumers. Thus he wanted to try it out in different recipes both as a vegetable and as a fruit.

“Whenever I had food with potato as base, I felt that jackfruit would be a better substitute for mashed potato both taste and health-wise,” says James. His idea was to make jackfruit a universal vegetable and ensure that it replaces potato at least in places where it is grown.

For the purpose, he contacted leading chefs with whom he had a good network. But convincing them took some time as they were reluctant to use it for three reasons--seasonal, messy to prepare and the strong aroma. Though it proved to be a task, he succeeded and the result was amazing. Chefs were fascinated to see the range of dishes that could be prepared using a jackfruit. This led to experimenting hundreds of dishes from jackfruits, both traditional and contemporary.

He also launched jackfruit365 to sell freeze-dried ripe jackfruit and raw jackfruit. The venture solved two problems attached to jackfruit--seasonal and messy. The venture evoked overwhelming response. Soon he became the flagbearer for jackfruit in Kerala, also networking similar efforts.

As the jackfruit initiative became popular more and more people expressed keenness to know more about the Come Home campaign too. “All credit to the jackfruit campaign, a reputed publishing house like the Penguin Books India came forward to publish my first book – God’s Own Office.” The book, which was released on October 2, 2014, narrates James’s fascinating journey from the backwaters of Kerala to become an achiever in the corporate world and then treading the unique path of working for the corporate world out of his village.

Here is a response from a professional - “Reading God's Own Office gave me the courage to chuck up a full-time corporate role and return to Kozhikode. I've co-founded a boutique BPO, voice call centre and tax and financial advisory in Kozhikode.”

By the time he completed writing the book, James decided not to go back to corporate life and continue the jackfruit campaign and founded another start-up called God’s Own Food Solutions for the purpose. James had observed that the jackfruit meal of Kerala, where unripe jackfruit displaces rice and wheat, had resulted in hypoglycaemic incidents when taken with insulin.

He also found that in many instances, where jackfruit when used instead of rice or wheat, has reversed the diabetes condition. He took this clue forward, worked with doctors, scientists, chefs and consumers. The recent study by Sydney University’s Glycaemic Index Research Service has mentioned that the glycaemic load and carbohydrate content is the lowest in unripe jackfruit compared to rice and wheat and its high fibre content leads to low absorption of sugar.

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