Your ideas can make a difference to the world around you. Don’t give them up. Keep trying.

Harsha and her friends sat chatting about the invention of anti-rape lingerie by college students in Chennai. The news was trending on Twitter. The international media raved over it. “Wonder where they got the idea from?” Harsha commented. “We will never hear the end of it,” grumbled Prachi. “My parents have already started: why can’t you be inventive and all that.”

The anti-rape lingerie came about as some people’s response to life around them. In the aftermath of the Delhi gang rape, it became increasingly clear that the threat of sexual violence was not the stuff of movies. It was very real. Everyone was outraged. But it took a few students to come up with a likely solution. Whether the product will be effective or commercially viable is not the moot point here. That some students took the initiative to look for a solution, and applied their knowledge and skills to come up with one is significant.

It is significant because it is a rare instance of Indian students applying knowledge in a real world scenario. Knowledge is life-oriented. It is only for the convenience of study that we have chunked it into subjects. Unfortunately, though, this has fragmented our vision and most of us stop with acquiring knowledge and do not go on to apply it.

Many studies and reports have rued the lack of application and original thinking in Indian students. No innovation has taken the world by storm. If the number of patents applied for by a country is an indicator of its industry-driven innovative technologies, India is nowhere on the global map. Reports say that the number of patents applied for by India is about 2 to 3 per cent of that in the US, China and Japan, and far behind South Korea, Canada and Russia. In this bleak context, the invention of the anti-rape lingerie seems like a ray of light.

Learning to apply is not so difficult, though. The first step is to be in touch with the world. The real world that is beyond the world of Wassup and Facebook. You first need to get to know it well. Not like Deepak who did not know who Dave Cameron was and when someone enlightened him, could only remark, ‘But what does it matter to me? I am not interested!” To get to know the world that has accommodated us and provided a platform for our growth is not just in our interest; it is our responsibility. Surely we owe this much to the world.

Being in sync

Read the newspaper every day, watch news on television and keep abreast of current affairs. When you take a bus or walk down a road, unplug the headphones and start observing things around you. Living in the present is a simple way to develop the skill of observation. Observation builds an eye for detail at the sensory level and empathy at an emotional level. Reading not only adds to knowledge but also develops critical thinking and the ability to analyse, associate ideas and synthesise. Awareness is just a step away from involvement. Empathy and involvement will make you see the world’s problems as your problems. It will also help you develop an integrative vision that goes beyond the narrow confines of your subject area. Being more aware of the world, you will learn to situate your knowledge in the context of the world — which is the first pre-requisite for application and innovation. Be able to think for the world.

Power of positivism

The next most important thing is a positive outlook. It is easy to get weighed down by the problems in your life, leave alone the issues facing society. You need a robust positivism that tells you that change is possible, and that you, a tiny cog, can be part of it. Have faith in yourself and your ideas. Never forget that all the momentous advances in human civilisation in the last ten thousand years were made possible not by aliens or superhuman beings, but by people like you.

Think with a calm mind, express your craziest ideas with courage, be objective and self-analytical, and take criticism in a positive way. Learn to distance yourself from your ideas and look at them objectively.

Remember that an idea is a seed, not a fruit. A seed needs to be planted, watered and nurtured, if it has to grow. Your ideas too need to be discussed — with friends, teachers, others — and modified and worked on, if they have to bear fruit. Make a habit of brainstorming. Be ready to give up one idea for another. But don’t give up trying. Because you wouldn’t want to regretfully ask yourself some day whether you could have made a difference.