For the first time, Ved realised how idyllic he had imagined life could be — and how distorted this notion really was. “There used to be plenty of water but those rivulets had dried up because of sand dredging and plastic blockages. The drought was driving farmers to bigger towns. Those who stayed behind were desperate people, living a life of penury, aggressive after crop after crop failed….”
It was a visit to Bangladesh on work that gave him the idea. He was appointed executive creative director for a cigarette company — and realised none of his colleagues smoked. When he asked why, he was told: “Because we know what goes into a cigarette.”
Vedoboroto Roy and his wife Chetana
What is bad about cigarettes? The tobacco, to be sure. But few realise that the paper cigarettes are rolled in, is the most carcinogenic — and most expensive — component of a cigarette. Consider the numbers. Every year, nine trillion non-biodegradable, chemical-laden cigarette butts are stubbed out or simply tossed out. This will take up to 250 years to degrade. The paper in which tobacco is rolled is soaked and treated with strong chemicals — to make the tobacco smoulder slowly. Just to put it in perspective, among the chemicals used to coat the paper are butane (lighter fluid), toluene (industrial solvent), nicotine (insecticide), acetic acid, methanol (rocket fuel), acetone, cadmium, arsenic, benzene (petrol fumes), and much more. The slower the paper burns, the more you smoke, and that makes it more addictive.
This is why cigarette smokers in the West have begun switching to the Roll Your Own (RYO) variety of cigarettes. One of the proponent of this movement — and Ved and Chetana’s mentor — is Dr Roger Penn, a chemist with training in medicine and toxicology, who has worked with British American Tobacco (BAT) in the UK, with Unilever (UK) and other MNCs.
Chetana enrolled with a hand-made paper producing unit in Rajasthan. After much trial and error, Karma Tips was born. You can use the treeless organic paper, roll your cigarette in it and seal it with seed-infused cigarette filters — so when you stub out your cigarette and toss it, you can actually water the stub and after a few days watch a spinach plant grow (or whatever you fancy).
In its second year already, Karma Tips have an African manufacturing arm, PaperAlive, in Kenya, led by Arindam Sarkar. The company has started its operations and is developing various packaging solutions for the huge African market, plus, under licence and expertise, to manufacture patented Karma Paper. They expect their turnover to be around Rs 40 million in 2019.
The Roys have developed another innovation that they expect to launch commercially in a few weeks. Known as SnakeGuard, a machine that aims to minimise the snake-human conflict in fields by sending underground vibrations of frequencies that drive snakes and small rodents away. Death by snake bite is still feared in India — and while most snake are not venomous enough to kill humans — a snake-bite can still cause enough alarm to send farmers racing to hospitals in ambulances where they are fleeced.