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July , 2017
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When you walk into ‘Emerald Mithai Shop’ opposite Ramakrishna Math (Lower Tankbund), you are in for a surprise. This ‘small’ shop sends out a ‘big’ message. One look around and you’ll know why. Beside the famous Moti Choor Ladoos, Gulab Jamuns, Rasmalais and Jalebis, you see walls that are covered with paintings of nature, photos of kids participating in eco-projects, certificates of awards, stacks of files, folders and paper bags. A little unusual, isn’t it? But when you meet the owner, Mr. Vijayaram (who is also an artist), you know exactly what Emerald is. It’s much more than a ‘mithai shop’. It’s his vision; his way of protecting the environment and spreading awareness about the issues plaguing it. It’s a gallery for the art connoisseurs and a sanctuary for the nature lovers.

“Most of the things around us have alternatives, be it fuel or energy. The only thing that is irreplaceable and damaged the most is nature. There is no alternative for it in any other shape or form. And yet, we continue to harm it like it’s nobody’s business”, says Mr. Vijayaram. He believes that ‘change’ should come from within and that it should start at the individual level. He thinks that the seminars and rallies conducted on certain days in a year can achieve only a small amount of change and that if every individual takes it upon himself to do something for the environment; a much bigger and better change can be seen. Little things like using less plastic (by reverting back to the old tradition of using cloth/jute bags), using water more judiciously, travelling by public transport occasionally or pooling a vehicle bring a more substantial change than meetings and speeches. “It’s these small things that bring about a big change. Plant a tree once in a year and see what satisfaction you get. Nature always gives us back ten folds of what we give it”, he adds. The mantra, he believes is‘Reduce, Reuse and Recycle’.

Mr. Vijayaram, the artist, entrepreneur and activist

Mr. Vijayaram, the artist, entrepreneur and activist. Credit : Rouge wave

One can’t help but wonder about what inspired Mr. Vijayaram to such an extent and why an artist would open a mithai shop. “Back in 1996, I was once standing in a line, waiting to pay the bill at a shop where the lady in front of me was refusing to accept the plastic cover she was being given. She had brought her own bag and insisted on using that. She then told the shop owner the harm that plastic causes to the environment and how it should be banned. It struck a chord within me and I stopped using plastic since that day. And I started Emerald in 1999 because my family needed me to. It let me combine my passion with my work. Environment and Emerald, both of them green.” reveals the artist-cum-entrepreneur. He has opened two more branches of the shop, one in 2007 at Kukatpally and the other started six months ago at Gandhinagar.

A look at the creative side of the shop.

A look at the creative side of the shop. Credit : Rouge wave

A major reason why Emerald has a large and growing loyal customer base is because it encourages ‘conservation of environment’ in every way possible. It serves sweets only in cardboard boxes and paper bags. Skeptics of using paper would say “using paper results in killing a tree if not choking a fish”, but the boxes and bags that are used in here are recycled and bio degradable, obtained from the WOW (Wealth out of Waste) programme of ITC. A 4%discount is given to people who bring their own carry bags and Re. 1 reduced if the plastic covers used by them in inevitable situations are given back to them. Emerald comes up with creative ways of spreading awareness on important occasions in the year as well. Every Holi, it sells natural colour and every Ganesh Chaturthi, it gives away clay made Ganesh idols for free by taking a pledge from people that they’ll do everything that they can to protect nature. And on special environment days, it prints special messages on its sweet boxes! At Emerald, it’s not always about the environment alone; health is given top priority too. All items available are free from preservatives. The sweets are relatively low on cholesterol as they are prepared in as little (refined) oil as possible and the snacks are prepared with refined sunflower oil. The colour used in the sweets is not artificial as Annatto seeds are used as natural colouring products.

One of the paintings on display.

One of the paintings on display. Credit : Rouge wave

The reactions of the customers are very diverse. Some of them embrace the concept with open arms and bring about a change in their lives too. “This is my first time at Emerald and I must say that I’m pretty impressed with what they are offering and I’m inspired. I am definitely recommending this place to my friends. And I think I’ll probably reduce my plastic usage a little; to do away with it is near impossible though”, says Mrs. Mythali, a Central Govt. employee. But not everyone notices, let alone appreciates the effort being made, a few them only being bothered about the sweets. “Sometimes there are people that come in the big, splashy cars and walk away without a glance at things beside the eatables. We are not really disappointed in them because only when you expect something in return, is their failure at not getting it. And at the end of the day, we do have a business to run”, says Mr.Vijayaram’s brother. According to him, their Dry Fruit Laddoo, Milk Mysorepak and Kaju Barfi are pretty popular with the customers. And their new range of diet sweets, like the low sugar Khajur sweets made without oil are fast becoming hot selling items.

Carry Bag with a message.

Carry Bag with a message. Credit : Rouge wave

To work for something so persistently and never give up, no matter how tough the situations get, one must have a very strong inspiration and faith. “One of my main inspirations over the years has been this man called Ramayya, who for 45 years has been relentlessly planting and taking care of trees all over Andhra Pradesh. He doesn’t even know what ‘global warming’ and ‘green house gasses’ mean and yet he strives so hard to make the world we live in a healthier place. If he can believe in it so much, why can’t we?” questions Mr. Vijayaram. At the same time, there also have are people who seem to consider the social activist as their inspiration. “I read about Vijayaram garu in a paper three years ago when he had conducted and sponsored a movement where remains of plastic were removed from the intestines of street cows. I have a special liking toward cows and this act inspired me so much that I quit my job and shifted to Pragati Nagar (near Kukatpally), where I had the opportunity to contribute to the restoration of nature. I’ve worked with people there and today, the locality is almost plastic-free”, says Suresh Suryadevura. SAVE (Society for Awareness and Vision on Environment), an organization run by Mr. Vijayaram has currently around 300 volunteers. They have so far worked on spreading awareness about various environment related topics, planting trees and are currently concentrating on dry borewells and rain water harvesting pits. For people who’d like to join the organization, sending a mail to letssave@gmail.com could be their first step towards it.

The mouthwatering sweets at Emerald.

The mouthwatering sweets at Emerald. Credit : Rouge wave

The world is filled with people who want to bring about a change, make a difference but not many actually put it into action. The change starts and stops at the thought. But for a few, action really does speak louder than words. Here’s a man who has and will continue to do everything that he can, in every possible way to protect the environment. Here’s a man who, after achieving so much, is still humble and modest. “The similarity between people and nature is that both of them take time to adapt to change. But man, it seems is taking way longer than he should. Too much damage has already been done. Undoing it is going to take a lot of time and effort. Undoubtedly, the efforts are being made but there’s still a long way ahead. And I plan on doing my bit for the environment until my last breathe”. Words of a hero indeed!

Address: Lower Tank Bund Road, Opposite Ramakrishna Math, Hyderabad, Andhra Pradesh, India-500029
Phone No:  +91-40- 27654336, 27635867
Email:  emeraldfoods .AT. gmail.com

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