Dr Smitha Kamath: A Polymer Engineer Making Chemical Free Products
A complete range of chemical-free natural products – cleaners, shampoos, detergents and healing skin creams – made using traditional, locally sourced ingredients. Products drawn from native knowledge and indigenous practices that are inherent to our culture since time immemorial. Products that follow cradle-to-cradle approach, that means they are either biodegradable or can be reused or become a source for recycling into something else and never see the end of life cycle. This includes packaging, which does not add to landfill waste and transportation, where carbon footprint is reduced by going local. Also, these products are earth friendly and reduce the water footprint as they lather less and use less water. Unlike chemical cleaners, which kill all microorganisms including those that are capable of cleaning polluted water bodies, natural cleaners don’t kill the microbes. Instead, they invite beneficial microbes into our living spaces and waste water to regain ecosystem balance, restoring life to nature.
These products are the brainchild of Dr Smitha Kamath, the Founder of Praana Poorna. It took a journey of ten odd years before Smitha found the answers to her questions, questions that laid the path for her to traverse – a path where she grew spiritually, too, and found her life’s purpose.
The Quality of your Life is a Direct Reflection of the Quality of the Questions you are Asking Yourself – Tony Robbins
Smitha Kamath, a polymer engineer, worked for 16 years in the corporate sector before finally quitting it in 2011. She was on the fast track to climbing the corporate ladder when she did a leadership programme in 2005. And, this set in motion a train of questions for herself, to do something more satisfying by which she could improve not only her life but that of others also. She changed tracks to the NGO sector, trained in environment law and in her last position drove a company’s sustainability initiative. This ignited in her a passion for sustainability and to truly walk that path she realized that she had to go deep into the supply chain itself.
So while this discontent was growing professionally making her to want more from life, from herself, on the personal front her two-year-old daughter had started getting allergies way back in 2002. The family did not know the cause of the allergies and tried all treatments including homeopathy. To understand better, Smitha researching the stuff that she used daily and realized that “We live in a world full of chemicals, from the air we breathe to the food we eat and the products we use…all are loaded with chemicals/ potential toxins and allergens”. At this time, she quit the corporate sector to research into mainstreaming traditional products.
According to Smitha, “We started to understand interconnectedness with food and everything around us, especially toxins, inhaled or absorbed through the skin.” And the answer lay in switching to a more natural lifestyle, a lifestyle that reduced the carbon footprint, too, by going local – by switching to local fruits and vegetables that were produced during the season. She also switched to ragi, red rice, and millets for the family and the blisters on her daughter’s hands disappeared. Switching to rain-based, dew-based crops, and tree based seeds and fruits for nutrition reduced the water footprint in food. So from a fast-paced corporate life, her life slowed down when she started becoming aware of the interconnectedness.
We live in a world full of chemicals, from the air we breathe to the food we eat and the products we use…all are loaded with chemicals/ potential toxins and allergens
Awareness is the Greatest Agent of Change. Eckhart Tole
The tipping point for her came with a workshop on exploring sustainable future at Auroville in 2011. While the workshop was practical and explored sustainability with a focus on water harvesting, wastewater treatment, food, health, and wellness, it also included the inner dimension. It was a transformative experience that brought all her questions, experiences, and inner yearnings together resulting in spiritual and metaphysical growth, giving a new direction to her life. Instead of planning for the next moment, she started living in the present moment and observing every process or experience she underwent. As per Smitha, “Being in the moment makes you aware of energy interactions and we start listening to how our body responds and we grow without straining/ injuring ourselves.”
During her childhood, with annual visits to her ancestral village, Smitha had been exposed to traditional knowledge abundant in local culture. With a native healer for a grandmother, whom she saw treating new born cousins for jaundice, the traditional knowledge of plant-based remedies was seeded at a very young age deep into her consciousness. So when Smitha was contemplating her questions, looking for ways to bring a healthy ecosystem for future generations, the seeds deep in her consciousness flowered and the answers she was searching for came to her in her enlightened state from the universe. As a sustainability proponent, she started looking deep into the cycles of nature and found a lot of assimilation in spirituality. She realized that abundance is always within us, within our ecosystem and always in our reach. We have to integrate into nature’s lifecycles not vice versa. And it is this abundance that we have to bring to ourselves, our communities and our ecosystems by reviving the ancient wisdom of self sufficiency and interconnectedness.
Devara Kadu or Sacred Groves
Strongly believing in ‘connected forests’ as critical to ensuring the equitable well-being of current and future generations, Smitha converted three acres of farmland, which had seen draught for five years, into a sacred grove with 60 species in 2012 near Bengaluru. This sacred grove was envisioned to enrich the land with groundwater as the trees capture the rainwater from the atmosphere and channel it down their roots gradually increasing the water table and also releasing the water slowly into streams and rivers.
Sacred groves, known by different names in different regions, are associated with different cultures throughout the world. In Karnataka, they are known as Devara Kaadu and designated as the adobe of the local deities. Ancient beliefs of being connected spiritually to the forests and revering nature actually led to conservation of biodiversity. However, with erosion of traditional beliefs and over-exploitation of certain plant species to meet commercial demands, there has been an erosion of these sacred groves. Sacred groves maintain the ecology of an area by preventing soil erosion, deforestation and increasing the water table. And, because the people live in harmony with nature traditional practices exist for healing as well as daily usage items from natural, herbal sources.
In her mission to source local vegetables for local consumption, she encouraged the local farmers and community to grow native crops organically i.e. without the use of fertilisers or chemicals. Hence, it sought to impact rural nutritional security (from native wild fruits and seeds) through self-sufficiency measures rather than those that made people dependent on poverty alleviation loans or public distribution system wheat and bulk produced crops.
Being in the moment makes you aware of energy interactions and we start listening to how our body responds and we grow without straining/ injuring ourselves.
She did a lot of workshops to spread her knowledge and encourage a sustainable lifestyle. One tip she would like to share is, “Include a lot of herbs in your food to increase your immunity. Medicinal herbs that grow well in forest nurseries can also grow in the semi shade of balconies.”
And one step led to another. Having given up on kajal and other cosmetics, she decided to learn how to make them naturally, without chemicals. She soon realized that she stood at a unique cross point in time and knowledge – trained in the modern sciences as a polymer engineer, she respected and researched nature-friendly traditional knowledge. Using her blend of diverse knowledge she forayed into a segment of cosmetics and consumables that were chemical free and earth friendly. And, thus, evolved Praanapoorna as an urban initiative to inspire city folks to switch to chemical-free lifetsyles.
Smitha made soapnut blends and skin butters. Soapnut and woodash have been traditionally known as mild cleaners and natural disinfectants. Soapnut liquid can also be used as a shampoo or utensil cleaning. Skin butter using beeswax and frankincense in virgin coconut oil is a popular healing anti-ageing as well as stress busting cream. Beeswax and virgin coconut oil have anti-inflammatory, germicidal, antibacterial, and anti-allergenic properties while Frankincense contains natural chemicals that stimulate the part of the brain that controls emotions.
This polymer chemist took care to retain the original molecular structure and vibration of the sources used to make these products by making them by hand. And to bulk produce them, labor in bulk was required.
Thus, evolved the collective through employing local communities to bulk produce these products, which in turn enabled stronger local economies. It is again a way of self sufficiency and breaking the cycle of poverty and loans by employing locals to source and produce locally and generate livelihoods.
Avantika Vijay Singh is an Editor, Writer, Blogger, and Sustainability Practitioner. She holds an M.S in Biomedicine from BITS, Pilani and a Master’s Level Certificate in Sustainable Development from Blekinge Institute of Technology, Karlskrona, Sweden.