A herbal bouquet

The pharmacist Mukund Savani came to Mt Abu in 1983

A NRI’s passion for Ayurveda turned into a retail business in Mt Abu

“The overgrown trees and creepers around may give the impression that no one stays here, but we do,” says Mukund Savani on the phone guiding us to his squat stone bungalow Narendra Nivas, on the leafy lanes of Kumbarvada in Mt. Abu, Rajasthan.

The fascination doesn’t end with the bungalow: for every visitor to the Nivas is routinely offered a glass of water and told that it's rain water which is stored year-round in age-old brass pots and drums, acquired from bhangar shops in Kutch and Saurashtra.

For over 20 years now those visiting the rocky hill station,especially followers of Brahma Kumaris from the US and Europe, have been making a beeline to the bungalow, which also houses a boutique Ayurveda pharmacy, MARS, short for Mt Abu Ras Shala. The bungalow was built in the mid-1930’s.

The pharmacy’s products are made of natural herbs and come as tonics and powders for a plethora of ailments. His Chyavanprash Special, made of 70-plus herbs is cooked in ghee for over eight hours, cooled for two days before being packed and retailed for ₹550 for 500 gm. Last year, MARS had a turnover of₹30 lakh.

“I came here in 1983 and fell in love with this place. Three years later I acquired this bungalow along with 16 acres of agricultural land and moved in with my wife Shraddha and our two toddler kids after having stayed in the US for over two decades,” says 74-year-old Savani, a chemical engineer.

And why the shift from chemical engineering to Ayurveda? “While in the US, I worked with Celanese Plastics as a research chemist and helped develop high temperature resistant plastic polymer used in exterior coating of NASA Space Shuttle, way back in the late 1960s,’’ says Savani.

Interested in Ayurveda and yoga since his school days in Amreli, Saurashtra, he quit his job to teach yoga, started a health food shop in Westfield, New Jersey. Savani lived in a commune and became a hippy like many others in the USA of the 1970s. In between his stint as an engineer and an Ayurveda enthusiast, he even sold saris to the Indian diaspora.

It was during a trip to Mt Abu in 1983, Savani, then 41, decided to bid goodbye to his flourishing sari business and lead a life of a recluse, pursuing his passion for herbal cures.

As a first step to intermingle with the locals, in 1986, he got involved in a tree plantation drive undertaken by the Abu Environmental Conservation Committee. “During one of my visits to a government nursery here, I realised that there were hardly any takers for the plants. So I took the initiative of buying saplings and distributing them. I must have given out around 50,000 saplings over seven years,” recalls Savani.

At the same time he continued his tryst with Ayurveda. He experimented with different combinations of herbs to produce diverse products and offered them to friends and acquaintances. When the feedback was positive, he obtained an Ayurvedic pharmacy license in May 1995 and began commercial production.

Currently MARS has a bouquet of over 40 products which he retails solely through his pharmacy, refusing offers from leading health food stores and malls to stock them.

“Mine is a one-man pharmacy and we are aware of our limits. More volumes means abandoning good manufacturing practices which we are against,” concludes Savani.

The writer is a senior journalist based in Mumbai

Published on October 07, 2016

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