The energetic and versatile Almitra Patel says curiosity and a zest for life keep her on her toes
“Mrs. Almitra H. Patel, Parsi Zoroastrian, 70 years young,” reads the first line of Almitra’s biodata on her 2006 website. Scroll down and you’ll be stunned to find that everything on the list is the work of a single person: if you learned that Almitra can tell you how to run a poultry farm, and how to build a low-cost gender-friendly toilet; that she was convener of the Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage (INTACH); that she’s written poetry as well as a user manual for induction furnace refractories; that she’s an expert on solid waste management and has been Karnataka’s Honorary Tree Warden since 1973, you’d barely have scratched the surface.
Drawn to the outskirts
Almitra has been a resident of Kothanur for decades; she moved here from Bombay with her husband and two daughters in 1972. “My husband and I loved the countryside and felt that children should climb trees and have pets,” she says. Her husband fell for the bougainvillea outside an old house on Hennur-Bagalur Main Road, and that was it.
“To us, the house was a bargain at the time,” says Almitra, who explains that they bought five acres for roughly the same price at which they’d sold their flat in Bombay. The family settled amidst Kothanur’s green fields, four villages away from the city limits, and at the time, Almitra says, Kothanur village only had a bar, a bakery and a bangle shop.
Her family’s constant interaction with the residents of Kothanur and surrounding villages was precipitated by the lack of facilities. Theirs was one of three cars in the area, and so they would frequently offer people a lift. And in the event of a medical emergency in the village, the family would frequently have to drive an injured man or pregnant woman to Bowring Hospital for treatment.
Almitra doesn’t just live in Kothanur, as the village residents will affirm; she’s shaped it. Apart from helping build housing in Byrathi bande, her family donated an entire school building to Kothanur village. And being a tree and insect lover, she planted a row of trees along nearly two kilometres of the Hennur-Bagalur Road. They were chopped down when the road was widened for use as an alternative route to the airport, but she hasn’t given up. “I’ve been begging them to announce the new planting line, so I can start again,” she says doggedly.
Her home, which she shares with her large shaggy dogs Silky and Lulu, is still surrounded by trees, and she still has a Paradise flycatcher going past her window. But things in Kothanur have changed drastically, something she sees as inevitable. Almitra closed down the family’s poultry farm and sold four of the five acres they owned to a prominent builder. Asked about the construction next door, she says, “My policy is, if you decide to let something bug you, it will.”
Almitra is currently involved in three “pet projects”. She’s mentoring a person interested in nala gardens, she’s helping promote low-cost portable solar LED lighting, and is working on the technology for 100 per cent compostable low-cost sanitary napkins. When asked where she finds the time and energy for the incredible number of activities she’s involved in, Almitra laughs. “I think if one just has the curiosity and zest for life, it happens.”