DH Changemakers: 20 to watch in 2020

To ring in the New Year, Deccan Herald is proud to shine the spotlight on 20 changemakers to watch in 2020, and beyond. Through their initiatives and innovations, these 20 -- either a Kannadiga, or someone who embodies the spirit of Karnataka -- are paving the way for a better tomorrow, across different spheres of work. In line with Deccan Herald's Power of Good, the candidates have been chosen from across specialisms such as social work, sport, agri-tech, business, arts and culture, films and media, and governance.

Join us in celebrating these harbingers of change. 

Young voice of the veena
 

Ramana Balachandhran, the 18-year-old prodigy from Bengaluru, is the son of Carnatic music practitioners Balachandhran and Sharanya. His talent for music was noticed when he was a toddler: with no formal training, he could identify ragas and point out nuances. In fact, he says his introduction to the veena came about when he found a mistake while his mother was playing the instrument.

“I say that the veena chose me and not the other way around. After that instance I started training in music intensely,” he says.

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Happily caught in the web

Abhijith A P C is trained to treat humans as a homoeopathic doctor. But his passion is to study spiders and their role in the ecosystem. The family’s 14-acre farm in Kalalavadi near Mysuru is where he follows the trail of spiders.

Abhijith developed a liking for insects and birds at a young age. He would observe arachnids for hours. He decided to take his passion to the next level, for a cause, five years ago. “I wanted to change the popular notion about spiders. There is such a diversity and each species is unique. There are social spiders that build colonies on plants, the jumping spiders, the spiders that camouflage themselves to catch the prey as well as to escape. There is not much awareness about their place in the ecosystem’s food web,” says Abhijith.

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Hero with a cause

Chetan Ahimsa spent the first 23 years of his life in the US. He made regular trips to India during his summer vacations. Thus, Karnataka and Kannada played an integral role in shaping his understanding and identity.

“I was more than just hyphenated from an American standpoint; I was a hybrid from a global perspective. As I matured, I began to comprehend the unjustified privileges I was a beneficiary of — in education, economics, health, parental love — in comparison to many of my Indian counterparts. I felt it my responsibility to dedicate my life to giving back,” he says.

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Son of the forest

The narrow road connecting the scenic Shishila village in Belthangady taluk — on the foothills of Western Ghats — to the world outside stops near the grocery store that belongs to Balakrishna K. The road has been awaiting asphalting for decades. And the shop’s walls are plastered with notices about the next Grama Sabha.

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A Launch pad for space travel

For 26-year-old Rohan Ganapathy, the name of his fledgling space propulsion startup, Bellatrix — innocuously located above a jeweller’s store in the heart of Malleswaram’s busy market district — has special significance.

Harry Potter fans may know Bellatrix as a crazed practitioner of the dark arts. But the name also applies to a massive star in the constellation Orion, 250 light years away, which has become a sort of holy grail for scientists, space engineers and science-fiction writers. 

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Novelist with a bold new voice

At one point in Ib’s Endless Search for Satisfaction, the novel’s protagonist says: “It is difficult to put a man into words.” Ib’s words may well be referring to his creator, Roshan Ali. 

The 30-year-old writer from Bengaluru is fresh off the high praise and attention his debut novel has garnered in Indian literary circles. Jerry Pinto, author of Em and the Big Hoom, called Roshan’s prose “an exhilarating dream ride through a city of memory and desire, mixing Emily Dickinson with tapori English…” 

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A vision to empower

In 2017, as her classmates at the IIITB’s MSc in Digital Society showed job offers from tech majors, 24-year-old Vidhya Y watched it in dismay. She, after all, was the class topper and gold medalist, and no company had made an offer fitting her skills and capabilities. 

“Some of the companies asked me if I could use computers,” Vidhya says with a disheartening smile. 

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They have arrived in unison

Twins Heramba and Hemantha are among the most sought-after flautists on the concert circuit, and the only flute duo in Carnatic music today. 

Grandsons of the well-known writer, musician and harikatha exponent Ambale Subbarao, they were exposed to classical music early on. Their father, Ambale Satyaprasad, was their first musical influence. “He played the flute as well, and we grew up watching him. His guru, A V Prakash, became our guru when we were six,” says Heramba. 

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Masons’ eco-friendly mark

Demolition squads bulldozing through Bengaluru’s crumbling heritage structures had first caught their eyes seven summers back. That shocking lack of a heritage consciousness and the acute vulnerability of every old building worth preserving had the architects in them think, talk and act conservation and sustainability.

For Sridevi Changali and Rosie Paul, the brains behind Masons Ink, the time was ripe to cut a new path that went beyond buildings and design. It was time to educate, redefine, refashion architecture to discover a sustainable connect with heritage.

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Poised power ‘PLAY’

If Sudha Muttal’s first stage was her school, her most-performed act was skipping classes. Parched in a caste-based discriminatory atmosphere, she was all too familiar with last benches, blurry blackboards, and the big thorny neglect.

So, off the truant went to create her oasis in the fields, by playing dough with mud, unearthing worms, and sailing paper-boats when rains obliged. 

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Succour for change

Mahesh Jadhav is the ‘father’ of 46 children. At his spacious home in Belagavi, he ensures basic needs for them all, right from food to schooling. Such is the warmth here that the kids never feel the trauma of being HIV-positive. Left orphaned and uncared for otherwise, they have found their parents in Mahesh.

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Made of masterstrokes

 

Manish Pandey had described Devdutt Padikkal as an asset after Karnataka’s fourth Vijay Hazare Trophy triumph in Bengaluru in October 2019.

There is nothing unusual in a skipper praising one of the architects of a title-winning campaign. But the player he was talking about was just 19, and had just debuted in an A list tournament.

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The world’s beneath her feet

Nandita Nagangoudar, 31, is the first civilian woman from Karnataka to have conquered four of the Seven Summits of the world. She is now out to climb the other three.

When she first shared her mountaineering dreams with her family, she met with scepticism.

“I was told the sport was risky to life and limb, and definitely not for women. We hail from small-town Hubballi, and that made my family more apprehensive,” she says

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Helping hand for upper limb amputees

Lakhs of people in the country lose their arms due to injuries and diseases. The replacement of the arm above the elbow is undertaken in some of the premier hospitals across India. The cost of a prosthetic arm ranges from Rs 5.50 lakh to Rs 40 lakh, putting it out of reach for the poor and the middle class.

There is now a ray of hope for them. A group of young techies has come forward to develop a ‘Super Arm’ for those with upper-limb amputation. This prosthetic arm can handle daily tasks. More importantly, it will cost just anywhere between Rs 35,000 and Rs 80,000.  

Samyak Shah, the brain behind this, is carving a niche for himself in the field of robotic technology.

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Giving wings to conservation

Under the shade of a leafy canopy tree, the Southern Birdwing slipped out of its pupae delicately attached to the host plant. After a wait that seemed to last for hours, the butterfly gained confidence and slowly, freed its beautiful red and yellow-coloured wings, and took flight sending three German teachers squealing in delight at Sammilan Shetty’s Butterfly Park in Belvai, located 44 km from Mangaluru.

The Southern Birdwing (Troides minos) — which is Karnataka’s State butterfly — is one of the largest butterflies in the country with a wingspan of 140-190 mm.

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How an off-beat filmmaker emerged

D Satya Prakash, the director of critically-acclaimed movies Rama Rama Re or Ondalla Eradalla, hardly watches movies. Neither is he from a family that lives and breathes films.

So how did cinema happen? The director in him stems from his love for telling stories. “As a kid, I loved telling stories. I would observe movie posters with fascination and form my own stories,” he recollects.

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Untying the knot of child marriage

Over 600 early married girls are trying to build a life of their own in the villages of Bagalkot district. They attribute the change in their mindset and the new-found courage to Shailaja G K, their 26-year-old mentor.

For Sumalatha (name changed), who was married when she was in Class 9 and physically abused by her then-husband, life changed when Shailaja entered the scene: “When my parents weren’t willing to hear me out, Shailakka lent me a sympathetic ear and a shoulder to cry on. She even helped me continue my studies,” says the student of B Com.

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Wasting no opportunity

In 2012, Bengaluru’s garbage crisis raised such a dreadful stink that the New York Times found it to be news that’s fit to print. 

Amid the crisis, a dreamy-eyed 27-year-old Rajesh Babu G M approached solid waste management godmother Almitra Patel offering help.

“Get a job! Then, become a farmer at your farmland in Chintamani. Don’t get into this waste business,” was Patel’s advice (as if to test one’s resolve) to Rajesh, an industrial engineering graduate, who was volunteering with the UN Environment Programme. Unrelenting, Rajesh continued brainstorming with experts to figure out a way for Bengaluru to handle its garbage problem.

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When women stand guard

It was the year 2009. Shravani Pawar, then 23, was on a unique mission. To recruit rural women for her new start-up, Safe Hands 24X7. The idea was to train them as security guards. “ ‘How is this possible?’ was the first question I would get,” she recalls.

During her first visits to villages, she couldn’t get the honest views of women as they were masked by the opinions of menfolk in their families. Villagers and neighbours also advised them against crossing the ‘line’. Uniform was the first hurdle. Many families did not want to see their women working in a city in men’s clothes. 

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Poetry of resistance

Growing up in a Mandya that had not yet touched urbanisation, Rajendra Prasad’s interaction with the world was through folklore and mythology. Stories of Male Mahadeswhara, from the Mahabharata and vachana tradition inspired his first poems. The town has grown into a city now, but these stories continue to shape the now-established poet’s worldview.

Prasad didn’t study literature in a classroom. However, as an MCom student at the University Of Mysore, he was already known among the literary circles for his poems. After studies, Prasad took over the family’s industrial gas agency and shuttled between Mandya and Bengaluru. But the poems continued and continue to flow.

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