Looking beyond the obvious

Here is a book that celebrates innovations made by Indians. Pawanpreet Kaur reports on the launch of “The India Idea”

Published - August 12, 2011 07:27 pm IST

For long, India in the imagination of the world remained the land of the Taj Mahal, Khajuraho temples, snake charmers and a hotpot of art, crafts and culture. Innovation, seen as a core dimension of economic change, was not a word associated with India. A newly published coffee table book titled “The India Idea”, challenges this viewpoint. Edited by journalist L.K. Sharma and photo-researched and edited by Shobit Arya of Wisdom Tree Publishers, this volume is iconoclastic, taking a fresh look at the kaleidoscope called India, from the perspective of its tradition of innovation.

Capturing the two ends of India's innovation spectrum, the book gives an overview of the many laudable and pioneering technological developments in the country, both in the laboratory and at the grassroots level. Published by Wisdom Tree in collaboration with the Public Diplomacy Division of the Ministry of External Affairs, the book has contributions by celebrated members of India's scientific community, like M. S. Swaminathan, Sam Pitroda, K. Kasturirangan, Anil Kakodkar, R.A. Mashelkar among others.

Launching the book in New Delhi in the presence of M. S. Swaminathan, Union Minister of State for Science and Technology Ashwani Kumar lauded the men and women of genius who innovate and use their ideas and applications to give India its competitive edge. He felt a book like this “sells the idea of an India that has arrived”, presenting India in a “symphony of colours”, as a rising and synergetic nation.

Sharma, who had a life-long association with science and technology as a journalist working for national dailies, felt that publishers — both Indian and Western — showcased India as a ‘land of the mystical' and coffee table books invariably carried photographs of temples and rivers, beaches and mountains, babas smoking chillum or speaking over cell phones and naked children diving into the Ganges for coins.

“During my stay in London I realised that though India was visibly changing, to the Western world we were still the land of mystique. There wasn't a single volume on the scientific and technological advancements we were making. And, since we were on the wrong side of the Cold War, we just did not get the opportunity to project our core competencies,” he said in a brief chat on the sidelines of the event.

He feels featuring innovations and technical developments has a direct implication on the development of a society. His previous two volumes, “Innovative India” and “Innovative India Rises”, showcase such works. This volume, however, goes beyond highlighting developments, into the realm of social growth and inclusion stories.

A few examples of superb innovation illustrated in the book are the ISRO foot and Jaipur knee, Green footprint and Solar Sisters of Tilonia, Mumbai dabbawalas and mashaqs, the traditional Indian leather water bags, Dr. Devi Shetty and Narayana Hrudalaya. Another inspiring tale is of Muruganatham, a Coimbatore-based high school dropout who invented a machine to make inexpensive sanitary napkins costing Rs.1.50 only and distributes them to women's co-operatives in rural areas.

A window

Addressing the audience, Swaminathan said, “Diversity and pluralism are the hallmarks of the Indian way of life. I hope this book provides a window to India's growth by helping to contribute to environmentally sustainable development and equitable distribution of resources.” Navdeep Suri, Joint Secretary and Head Ministry of External Affair's Public Diplomacy Department, the brain behind the idea, said the book would help foster a better understanding of today's India through cultural exchanges at the ambassadorial level.

Shobit Arya said India as an idea may not always find its origin in a sophisticated lab or a state-of-the-art industrial R&D centre; it is an idea as unique as the country's identity, ethos and culture. “The aim is to present India in all its flavour and fervour and to project known and unknown stories of cutting edge innovation among our midst.”

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