Sunlight streaks in through the big windows and falls on a floor of woven straw compressed in mud and cow dung. At night, Shripal Shah, the 28-year-old owner of the store ASAL, watches the light of castor lamps dance on hand-crafted toys, handmade bronze, brass and copper utensils, glass lamps and other handicrafts.The magic, warmth and earthy fragrance of the store draws people from all over the world to learn from Shripal the secret to sustainable living - a secret regained from ancient traditions and cultures of the Indian people.
Leaving my shoes and notions of modern living at the door, I walked into ASAL to find Shripal Shah, the man who gave up a lucrative career in the diamond industry to invest in traditional wisdom.
As a very young boy, Shripal had the opportunity to travel a lot. During his trips - sometimes in horse buggies, sometimes in bullock carts, and sometimes by air - he spoke to a lot of people and developed a growing understanding of traditional knowledge. He realized that with the changing sustenance model of local economies, the definition of desirable professions is changing rapidly, and with it the ancient ecosystems of different professional categories, or varnas, is disintegrating.
While in standard twelfth, Shripal had an opportunity to stay with his spiritual guruji who inspired him and gave him the vision of collaborating with people to preserve time-tested arts, crafts and culture. In the seven years since he founded Asal, a movement to regain a sustainable lifestyle, the organization has grown to include 375 families engaged in farming, handicrafts, and manual processing. About Asal, the store, Shripal Shah says, "The store does not just showcase products but also a philosophy of a sustainability which keeps people and the planet healthy. Asal encourages and educates its visitors to rethink modern ways of living. Some of customers have been inspired enough to integrate sustainable design into their daily lifestyle."
With a growth of 20 percent per annum, Asal has redeemed Shripal's decision to wear the entrepreneurial hat. To appease his parents, Shripal worked in the diamond industry for two years but returned to Ahmedabad to realize his dream to found Asal. The company produces and sells organically grown and produced food and a wide range of body care products made by aurvedic and traditional methods. Asal ensures that all its products are made following traditional methods of slow manual processing thereby eliminating use of fossil fuels and retaining the beneficial natural qualities of the product.
"Nowadays, development means greater industrial production - by this standard, India has been labeled as poor and underdeveloped nation. Even today, every village in our country has eighteen "Varnas", or categories, of different professions which makes each village economically sustainable. Individual development is at the cost of destroying natural resources, human relationships, and culture," says Shah. "Value system" is the core of our business model at Asal. We reinvest our profits into revival of traditional wisdom."
Asal is able to achieve high returns because of minimum dependency on machines, electricity, and other industrial processes. There is an emphasis on high quality of products with Shripal's personal attention to detail. In today's culture of hyper-consumerism, Shripal has rediscovered a sustainable way to combat growing environmental issues and global warming. He offers an alternative approach to living based on traditional concepts of sustainability.
Asal owes its philosophy to the traditional Indian science of Ayurveda. Even the Asal store is built in tune with the Asal philosophy. The building materials and mechanisms are inspired from traditional practices to create an energy-conscious and stimulating environment. An intricately carved wooden door at the entrance of the store depicts stories of a sustainable, traditional lifestyle.
The philosophy is to be in harmony with the external environment and with one's own body. In keeping with its principles of conserving energy, the store does not use any electricity. Lighting and ventilation are provided by large windows and castor oil lamps in the evening. The lime plaster on walls regulates room temperature and visitors are encouraged to walk bare feet to experience therapeutic effects of cow dung floors. The store has its own rainwater harvesting tank that helps conserve water.
As evening sets in, the store is lit up with seventy flickering castor oil lamps. In times when all processing is mechanized and runs on electricity, Asal has not compromised its principles. With tireless efforts to revive tradition, Shripal Shah has convinced people of the economic viability of returning to tradition.
Find out more about Asal and howyou can contribute. Email Shripal Shah at firstname.lastname@example.org
YourStory will continue to follow the light of Shripal Shah's castor lamps and the story of the man's entrepreneurial success.