Swasti Mehta, a resident of Mumbai, took the proverbial ‘when life gives you lemons, make lemonade’ too seriously and decided to make Pudina Punch with the lemons that life threw her way.
A bonafide entrepreneur, Swasti is a 27-year-old born with Down Syndrome. A very busy Swasti, speaking to The Better India, says, “I wake up at 10 am and almost immediately start working on making the punch. I do that until 2 pm when I take a break for lunch.”
She adds, “When I am done with my work for the day, I wind down by watching Taarak Mehta ka Oolta Chashma. I enjoy that show.”
Swasti, who found her calling during the first lockdown in March 2020 says she has never been busier. Having started with selling one or two bottles a day, today, Swasti gets more than 20 orders a day.
Swasti is thrilled with the work she is doing and her mother, Darshana Mehta, couldn’t be prouder. “Having worried about how Swasti would cope in the real world, to see her do this completely on her own put me at ease. I cannot begin to describe the emotions that surge through me.”
A Mother’s Perseverance to See Her Daughter Succeed
“The early intervention that we started when Swasti was just a few months old helped her a great deal. Swasti was always a very active baby and other than the Down Syndrome condition, she had no other ailments. That was a huge plus for Swasti,” says Darshana.
Swasti started with occupational and speech therapy early and Darshana believes that all of that helped her immensely.
She continues, “There are parents who self-declare that having a child with Down Syndrome means it is the ‘end of the world’. There is so much potential these children have. As parents, we just have to be patient to find and nurture their interests.”
In an attempt to help her build her social skills and also interact with others her age, Swasti was enrolled in Dilkhush Special school when she turned five. “Being in the school did wonders for Swasti. She picked up four languages – English, Marathi, Hindi and Gujarati and found ways to interact with people and peers. Swasti spent six years at Dilkush school after which she was homeschooled. “I was told that academics would not be easy for Swasti and the only way forward was to work on her vocational skills,” says Darshana.
It was disappointing for Darshana to be told that but she did not give up on Swasti.
“I continued to find ways to help her academically as well. I am happy with the progress that she has made,” she adds.
Darshana relied on the Glenn Doman method, which believes that children with Down Syndrome can thrive cognitively, physically and socially. The programme is based on the recognition of the absurdity that the idea that children with Trisomy 21 (the most common chromosomal anomaly) are hopeless because of their genetic disorder.
However, when Swasti was 20, she, unfortunately, was diagnosed with psychosis and all the work the duo had put in until then crumbled. “That was a major setback. All the major development that had happened in the last five years was just vanishing. Swasti was becoming stubborn and aggressive,” says Darshana.
From an active, bright and understanding young girl Swasti transformed into something that even Darshana found hard to cope with. “But with the right psychiatric intervention and medication, Swasti was able to feel better soon,” she adds. This went on for a while and things were getting back on track when she relapsed.
“This period was hardest on me,” says Darshana. She speaks of being exhausted and frustrated, both at the same time. “Having come this far, I felt that she was going back in time and that was the stress point.”
With the help of medication, Swasti is better now and Darshana says that one will not even notice that she was once diagnosed with psychosis. As a word of advice to parents in similar situations, Darshana says, “Please do not outright reject psychiatric intervention or help. The benefits of it are tremendous.”
2020 – A Turning Point
In March 2020, with everything going into lockdown, Swasti’s physical classes were also put on hold. This was the time that Swasti started experimenting with food. With just the right encouragement from her parents and brother, Aarsh Mehta, Swasti embarked on her entrepreneurial journey by launching her brand Pudina Punch.
“Pudina Punch has given us a shared goal and brought us closer together,” says Aarsh.
Adding to this, Swasti says, “I go to the market and buy the pudina (mint) leaves. Wash them well and sort them all out. Then I dry them, make a paste and add lemon juice to them. Then comes the sugar, which goes in according to taste. Once I am done with this entire process, I also fill out the bottles and have them ready to dispatch.”
Each bottle is priced at Rs 200 and is being shipped pan-India at an additional cost. The 1-litre bottles can make up to 30 glasses of the drink.
All the sales so far have been via word of mouth and social media reach. Aarsh actively helps in making fun Instagram reels for Swasti and says that he enjoys being a part of it.
He adds, “In running a business, something or the other goes wrong every day and one is constantly on fire-fighting [mode] to keep things running smoothly. Doing that together every day has given us a deeper understanding of each other, which in my opinion is priceless.”
To place an order for the Pudina Punch, click here.
(Edited by Yoshita Rao)