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Updated: November 17, 2011 12:51 IST

Nuanced protrait of India that was and is

Soma Basu
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OEB: Book Review: The India Idea. (Heralding the Era of Path-breaking Innovvation). _ by Sharma & Arya.
OEB: Book Review: The India Idea. (Heralding the Era of Path-breaking Innovvation). _ by Sharma & Arya.

Even before stealing a first look at this third in a series of coffee-table books conceived by the Public Diplomacy Division of Ministry of External Affairs, it is not difficult to hazard a guess about its content.

When you know it’s a kind of ‘sarkari’ production meant for promoting India the world over, the rhetoricism doesn’t appear over-bearing — that global companies are learning lessons from India on simplicity and affordability and that ‘Indian solutions’ are becoming ‘Solutions from India’ for transforming lives in other parts of the world.

Quite interestingly, grass root India’s needs and indigenous solutions merge in a pleasing symphony with ideas originating in sophisticated state-of-the-art laboratories and research institutions in this evocative and glossy 160-page publication.

By providing a fascinating peep into the robust innovation model across India's social and economic spectrum, the compendium effectively sidelines the image of India as nothing more than a “Land of the Mystique.” It also takes a look at innovative applications of relatively minor applications of science and technology at the local level.

The articles in this volume, grouped under two broad heads — ‘Creating the India Idea’ and ‘Sharing the India Idea’ — are rich in detail and, together, they paint a nuanced portrait India that was and is.

Passion drives the nine exclusive essays written by the likes of M.S. Swaminathan, R.A. Mashelkar, Sam Pitroda, K. Kasturirangan, Anil Kakodkar, V.K. Saraswat, Anil K. Gupta and Samir K. Brahmachari, who underline the importance of the country’s concerted effort to achieve inclusive growth and are confident that the future belongs to India.

And, that essentially means creating a model of innovative inclusion in every discipline that will empower everyone with access, quality, and affordability, and deliver more (in value and performance) by using less (resources) for more (people). In other words, the MLM (More from Less for More)-type of paradigm will seek to harness sophisticated S&T to invent, design, produce, and distribute extremely affordable products and services for a majority of the people. It also means a shift from ‘green’ to ‘ever-green’ revolution, which calls for taking advantage of new technologies and the farmers understanding the importance of integrated natural resources management and ecological gains.

It also requires switching to a model that goes by the name “crowd-sourcing”, wherein a big problem is broken into smaller manageable modules, which in turn are tackled by pooling the talent and expertise of skilled people recruited from the cyber world for the purpose. The principle underlying this huge networking exercise is to enable such professionals to participate in a joint endeavour even if they may not be acquainted with one another. It also shows how atomic energy and space technology can be harnessed to meet the peoples’ aspirations.

It is in the second half of the book that ‘real India’ comes alive, with illustrations of path-breaking innovations. It is packed with the success stories of some very interesting innovations that have transformed lives. They include: the famous Jaipur knee and the Mumbai dabbawallas; Amul’s white revolution and SEWA’s green energy finance; the new age Malkha (a unique combination of machine made thread and handcrafted handloom) fabric; the green footprints of a leather research laboratory that designs shoes for diabetics and patients of leprosy, and ankle-foot orthosis, besides other eco-friendly fancy footwear.

How the use of high technology in health care gave India a competitive edge is substantiated by a number of examples. If Bangalore-based Narayana Hrudalaya has emerged as the prime hub of innovation, the Madurai-based Aravind Eye Care System adopts a unique outreach model for treating blindness. There is also Uttarakhand’s success story of using scientific knowledge, received wisdom, simple technology, local skills and resources to revive the dead springs.

Particularly noteworthy are two articles that tell the inspiring stories of two entrepreneurs. One speaks of Mansukhbhai Prajapati, a Rajkot school dropout belonging to the pottery community, who used clay to develop a whole range of products — fridge, water filter, pressure cooker, and non-sticktawa. He now heads the firm manufacturing them.

The other is about Coimbatore-based A. Muruganantham’s innovation of low-cost napkin for rural women, who also make a living by working on his patented machines that produce sanitary napkins to meet local needs.

As every other coffee book,The India Ideais studded with impressive photographs and the 120-odd frames in it brilliantly capture India’s march ahead and turn the pages into a colourful tableau. This book is a recommended acquisition, with a lasting value, for your library.

THE INDIA IDEA-Heralding the era of path-breaking innovations: Sharma-Arya; Wisdom Tree, 4779/23 Ansari Road, Darya Ganj, New Delhi-110002; Price: Not mentioned

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