High and Dry in a Waterless World

The girl next door hollered ‘Auntyji, please turn off the tap! The tank is full. The water is overflowing.’
These dratted environmental do-gooders were pesky. Their perpetual rants grated on my nerves. Save Water! Save Electricity! Save this! Save that! Didn’t the water gush out of my taps 24 hours a day? I was still squinting to see where the shortage was. One blighted chap even badgered me to monitor how much water I use to brush my teeth. They threw me dirty looks for leaving the garden tap open the whole night. Raising unnecessary brouhaha I say. My darling Bunty loved to play on the little puddles that formed by the morning. I couldn’t let him frolic in the dirty water on the roadside, could I? In fact, being the conscientious mom I was, I even got my garden pipe hooked to the Cauvery supply.

No one could fault me on my housekeeping. I insisted that the maid hose down the entire pavement and all the balconies every day. Even the driver knew, he had to hose the car daily till a nice pool glistened underneath lest madam assumed he had played truant.
That annoying girl was still shrieking something incomprehensible. I was sipping a refreshing glass of sherbet and nothing was going to shake me out of my torpor. I took a good 15 minutes before sauntering to turn off the tap. That irksome girl was still there looking daggers at me.

I didn’t usually let the water overflow for more than half an hour as a rule. Barring that one time when I had left the taps running and gone on a vacation. In my frantic search to locate my favorite shade of lip gloss, I had plain forgotten to turn them off. No big deal actually. But some people actually had the nerve to lecture me on the water wastage and for the flooding it had caused nearby – in spite of me explaining the lip gloss catastrophe. I had asked them to take a walk. It was after all my tap, my water, my money !!

And imagine their impertinence; for Holi they had actually warned ‘my’ Bunty not to spray the entire street with color. Last Holi, we had thrown this grand bash for all of Bunty’s friends, complete with a big tank of water. Well boys will be boys. The little chipmunks had jumped into the common swimming pool as well and the water had turned different shades of color. Those poor darlings couldn’t get to the loo in time, so had been forced to pee in it as well.

Then those nosey parkers had turned up again yapping away about some depleting water tables. I knew my multiplication tables too, I informed them petulantly. People will consume water their whole lives, wont they. We can’t change the way we live, just because the future looks waterless. And looking at the way people are exploding – literally crawling out of the woodwork in my opinion, it’s a no brainer we would be needing more and more water. We could drill all we want and still be left high and dry. The lucky ones could even strike oil!

Yeah, the writing’s on the wall and soon we might not have enough water for all of us. It would be upon us so fast; we would go cross eyed trying to figure out what hit us. And if push came to shove, we have it all figured out. We could do away with baths and other useless cleaning stuff and instead invent gadgets which would spray us with perfumed disinfectant powder. Food, of course, could pose a tiny problem. But again we could always rely on eating all other living things which might still be surviving which should last us, at least for a couple of years. Life would no longer be about a spiritual search for meaning, but just mean the quest for that all elusive drop of water. With the constant race for water, whoever would have the time to work or study? We could collect human fluids as well and work out ways to recycle. And don’t you pucker your nose at me! So I have just thought of these brilliant ideas for the new waterless world of tomorrow. So let’s see how long the water is going to last? 1 year.. 5 maybe ? 10 years?

Short sell the industries and schools, don’t waste money getting plumbing done on your new home, make drugs for water retention in your body, nasal clips to block out the stink of unwashed bodies, make…

Wait a minute… Was that Bunty shouting? ‘Mooommyy… there’s no water in the bathroom..’
Jeez! That was quick! I had better get to work fast before time runs out.

Lend a hand of empowerment

When was the last time you saw a beggar ? That may sound like a superfluous question taking into account the poverty one encounters at every corner, but then let me rephrase – when was the last time you really ‘saw’ a beggar and not just looked through them.

Like many people , I too had stopped ‘seeing’ beggars till my son made me painfully aware of them every time a pair of hands extended beseechingly or knocked at the car windows in a traffic signal. While I was at pains to explain to my son, why putting some money in a begging bowl wouldn’t really help as it wouldn’t make the beggar stop begging , it still rankled that I didn’t have too many answers on how we could really help.

“Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.”

You can give charity, but does your charity have the power to bring about a change.

Now people like you and me can. And its not charity because they don’t need alms. All they want is a little help, a slight nudge from us, in their bid to live their lives with dignity.

‘They’ are Devdasis – Women we relegated to an era gone by and forgot about them. But they continued to live, continued to struggle against an unfair destiny.The Devdasi system was outlawed in 1988, but 250,000 women still continue to be trapped in this system. Girls as young as 5 year old are taken away to be wedded to the temple deity and subjected to lifelong sexual abuse at the hands of higher caste men.Some of them had the grit to break away and are striving to educate their children and break the shackles society has imposed on them. Mahananda is one such woman. An ex-Devdasi, she has fought to survive in a society which looked down upon her and her children.Today, she proudly shows her sewing machine which she uses to run a small tailoring business and dreams of educating her children so as not to let her story repeat through her children.


It was at an event organized by Indiblogger that I chanced to meet an ex-Devdasi – a woman who had not only broken away from the system but also fought to give other ex-Devdasis a chance to rehabilitate by working with NGOs and a crowd funding platform called Milaap. She spoke in Kannada to an audience which consisted mostly of bloggers. While she elaborated the many reasons women continue to be forced into becoming Devdasis including superstitious beliefs of a bad fate befalling the villagers if the Gods aren’t propitiated, the root cause was still the abject poverty which plague these families. She spoke of tragedies, but her voice carried the conviction of a fighter. They too deserved a chance to live with dignity and for once, we can do something about it.

Crowd funding is the new mantra which has the power to bring about changes – right from startup funding to social upliftment. It works on the premise of small amounts and large volumes. For a country like India, the potential is huge. Milaap is one such crowd funding platform which enables common people to lend money towards social change.You can extend a loan for any amount, starting from Rs.500, to a group of your choice. The purpose of the loan is mentioned like rearing buffaloes or starting a tailoring business and the amount is then repaid over a predetermined period in small installments. You won’t earn any interest in the money you lend through Milaap but the principal is guaranteed. The risk of any defaults is absorbed by Milaap and the NGO.

Giving charity is not so difficult, but giving charity to the right person, the right cause and in the right manner is difficult.And in all probability, if one really identifies the correct prospect, the charity would no longer be charity instead would be an investment.

So this new year, why don’t we stop giving charity and instead make an investment – an investment in people and the power of change.

While this particular event was held to promote the Hope Project which is Milaap’s initiative to help the Devdasi women re-establish their lives, Milaap continues to enable funding for various social ventures in the space of education/training, energy,enterprise development, sanitation and water.

To lend a loan to an ex- Devdasi visit http://www.milaap.org/hope

To check out the other lending options for social change visit http://wwww.milaap.org

Note: Please go through Milaap’s website and read the terms and conditions before making a loan.

1.Watch Mahananda’s story : http://www.youtube.come/watch?v=k026QTnKlqQ

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 : wellowater.org
Wello Water Wheel
Curtsey : wellowater.org

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.