Lives Well Lived

When we look at the problems ailing our country, the usual suspects line up, waiting as usual as they have from the past 66 years, to be solved.Poverty,illiteracy, clean water, electricity for all etc. We know them all,in fact so well by now, that we often tend to take them for granted.Some of us who seriously consider doing something worthwhile, get discouraged by the sheer numbers.In a country of over 1 billion, every problem meta-morphs into gigantic proportions and the sheer magnitude is upsetting.

It is said that all it takes is one idea.An idea that can change the world.But should one tarry indefinitely for that one ‘grand’ idea which would act as the panacea for a multitude of problems ? For all we know, there is no ‘grand’ idea out there waiting to be discovered. The tiniest idea capable of being a solution to the smallest of problems can become a force to reckon with. One neutron can a initiate a nuclear fission. No problem is too small to be tackled and no problem too big, that it cant be broken down to sizable chunks.In the interconnected world of today, ideas are collaborative. Ideas build on other ideas, riding on those that have proved their merit and set in motion an avalanche that suddenly makes the impossible possible.

And amongst us are a small set of people who find the right problems to solve.They are the torch bearers who shake us out of our ennui and show us what is possible if we set our mind to it.

Arunachalam Muruganantham , a TED speaker at TEDxGateway (Franklin Templeton Investments partnered the TEDxGateway Mumbai in December 2012) asks each one of us to find a problem.A problem that will lead us to design solutions and in the course of which, we will learn to live a meaningful life.
One day he saw his wife resorting to unhygienic methods for her monthly periods as they could not afford the sanitary pads available in the market.A very common scenario in a country where 95% of the women use unhygienic methods including husk and ash ! Arunachalam decided to make his own low cost pads and after repeated trial and errors perfected a machine that today enables rural women to make their own low cost pads.
Being a school drop out or venturing into a totally unconventional domain didn’t stop Arunachalam from tackling the problem and today, its a no mean achievement that 706 machines are now implemented across 23 states giving employment to 7000 women and enabling more than 3.5 million women to adopt more hygienic practices. Watch Arunachalam’s TED talk and one is bound to be amazed at what perseverance can lead to.

It is only through continuous observation and a complete understanding of the needs that one arrives at the correct solution.What one discovers is that solutions need not be complex, but are occasionally very simple and at times, stare at you in the face.This is evident from the solution that Cynthiya Koenig,another TED speaker, has come up with. Water distribution and its inability to reach poor villagers has been a perennial problem.Whenever we think of village women, images of women carrying pots of water on their head comes to mind.But how many of us have given a thought to the chronic health impact,that carrying a 20 litre container across 1 to 2 kms everyday, is bound to have.

Wello Water Wheel Curtsey :
Wello Water Wheel
Curtsey :

And while other people figure out how to make clean water available at the doorstep, Cythiya worked towards making this load a little lighter in the meantime. Wello water wheel, a wheel-able water container that enables transportation of 50 liters of water over rough terrain not only makes this load bearable but also frees up valuable time and empowers them to get involved in more productive activities.Watch Cynthiya’s TED Talk and you will marvel at the simplicity of the solution.

For a gadget to work in a rural setting, the obvious requirements are that it should be economical and easy to use.The less obvious ones are that it should work without electricity, without moving parts enabling a more rugged design and should entail minimum behavior change. Suprio Das designed the Zimba Chlorine Doser to be exactly all of that.In today’s world 780 million people don’t have access to safe drinking water and 4000 children, out of which 1600 are from India alone, die daily due to preventable water borne diseases.In such a bleak scenario,the Zimba Chlorine Doser promises to be a boon by enabling safe drinking water to the poorest. Watch Suprio demonstrate his life-saving invention in his TED talk.

Arunachalam remarks of his Trial & Error method that failure is what you set yourself up for when you embark on a new journey. And it is true for any speaker at the TED forum.Take the case of Myshkin Ingawale who finally got it right after 32 attempts ! He designed a non-prick, easy to use gadget for diagnosing anemia which rural health workers can use at the point of care. Watch Myshkin demonstrate his non-invasive invention in his TED talk, that he believes will rid the world of anemia deaths.

But ideas need not be individual centric. Ideas in a collaborative mode, sometimes can garner a far greater reach and impact.Christian Sarkar’s 300 $ House, a low cost housing project is one such case.The idea, the design and the implementation was all put together in a collaborative mode and came from different people living in different parts of the world. And what resulted was the housing development for an entire village in Bihar. Watch Christian’s TED talk on how they strung it all together.

And sometimes, its not about a ‘big-bang’ idea at all. It just about witnessing situations around us and deciding to get involved.Working with people to bring about changes in mindsets is , by far, the most challenging aspect in all of this and people like Mittal Patel and Ruma Roki deal with this challenging aspect on a day to day basis.

Mittal works with over 300 Nomadic and Denotified tribes of India to give them their long lost identity and a place in today’s world.Snake charmers, street performers, are people from our yester-lives who got left behind in a fast paced world.Today 10 crores people form a part of these tribes who are not counted anywhere as they lack an identity.
She worked relentlessly and for the first time in 2008, managed to get 20000 of these people an identity card.Today her organization runs 26 schools enabling education for more than 1000 children of these tribes and works to provide access to identity cards, housing and government welfare schemes. Listen to her TED talk to hear her inspiring tale of grit and determination.

Ruma’s tale is also a tale of determination and of defying the odds where she works with hearing impaired people to enable them to live with dignity.She talks about how her work was cut out when she sought to disassociate the word ‘dumb’ from deaf from people’s mind. Listen to her TED talk to know how she got 580 of her hearing impaired students to work for leading organizations.

There are many more inspiring stories to be told and lessons to be learned from them. The common thread in all of them is that they are people who decided to take that crucial first step. As we listen to each one of them, they erode away little by little some of our inertia to act and show us that the steps are there for those who look for it. If we view problems as the opportunity to enrich our lives with more meaning, then there are plenty to pick from. As Arunachalam says, we all have to find our own problems to solve in life and live more meaningful lives in the process.


16 thoughts on “Lives Well Lived

  1. All these stories resonates what you said in the beginning of your post – there is no ‘grand’ idea out there waiting to be discovered; holds absolutely true for zimba, water wheel and sanitary pads. You have highlighted the major cause of concern in our country.

    Good luck!

  2. I was really touched when I saw this video. Exactly, these seem like small problems but can make a difference in a girl going to school or dropping out. That a man understood it and tried to rectify it in his own way is worthy of applause. Often, it is our sensitivity to smaller irks faced by people that can translate into big ideas! Loved the stories you shared!

    1. Even I was very touched by the video.Despite the fact that he had no formal education and had to face the consequences for dealing with an unconventional issue like this, he plodded on and that is really praiseworthy and also makes all of us introspect.

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