Voice, visibility and velocity to the minds on margin


When unsung grassroots innovators from different parts of the country stay as a guest of the Hon’ble President of India as a part of Innovation Scholar-in-residence, a small statement is made about Indian value system. There are not too many countries where the Office of the Head of the State hosts a Festival of Innovation at Rashtrapati Bhawan. This journey of creative children, students and farmers and artisans over the last 26 years has been steered by the Honey Bee Network, thanks to the patronage of the last three presidents of our country. Every President beginning with Dr.A.P.J.Abdul Kalam added a new dimension to the grassroots innovation movement. The President, Kalam started the tradition of recognizing the grassroots innovators through Presidential awards. The next President, Smt. Pratibha Patil started the tradition of hosting the exhibition of grassroots innovations at Rashtrapati Bhawan. Our current President, Hon’ble Shri. Pranab Mukherjee has given an altogether new impetus to the innovation movement by hosting a week long Festival of Innovation. Not only that, he has also started the programme of Innovation Scholar-in-residence, writers and artists Scholar-in-residence, National Innovation Clubs in various institutions of higher learning and so many other steps. A brief account of this journey has been brought out in a book, ‘Grassroots Innovations: Minds on the margin are not marginal minds’, Penguin Random House, this month [http://www.amazon.in/Grassroots-Innovation-Minds-Margin-Marginal/dp/8184005873]. I have tried to argue that it is not possible to separate our life and work completely. Neither the demand of authenticity, nor the concern for objectivity can obliterate the thin line separating the two. It is for readers to judge as to whether this line is visible enough or not. I want to share two instances from the book to illustrate the dilemma of masking one to highlight another. In 1971, I missed my train at Kolkata after coming back from a debate in Bihar [page 41]. The war of independence of Bangladesh was just ending. After reaching the station, I was very nervous since I had no clue how would I reach home. I didn’t have enough money to buy the ticket for the next train. An elderly coolie read the anxiety on my face and asked the reason for my nervousness. I explained the problem. He offered to get me a seat in the next train. I said that I didn’t want to travel without ticket. He offered to buy me a ticket. I was very much relieved. I requested him to give me his address so that I can send the money after reaching home. He refused. When I persisted, he got annoyed and said, ‘if you ask one more time, I am neither going to buy you a ticket nor get you a seat’. There was a deep-seated value that got ingrained in me through that debt. I haven’t been able to pay it back yet. The second instance is from 23rd Shodhyatra. We got down from the hilly terrain in Janglemahal Sanctuary in Panchmahal district to the plains of Jhabua district, Chattisgargh [page 127]. We asked for a glass of water and after quenching our thirst, offered to replenish the stock of water for the family. The tribal host felt very shocked. Was he so poor that he could not even offer water to the guests? We were embarrassed. These IOUs will remain unredeemed. And that perhaps is the reason why our Shodhyatra will never end. We would complete one round of walk through all the states in next November in Nagaland. After that, we will start our journey to learn from the wisdom of common people once again and again. I will be very happy to talk more about this book next week on July 29 at 6.30 pm at AMA along with the critical commentary by Dr. R. A. Mashelkar and Elaben Bhatt and a few other friends. I also hope to find new volunteers, make new friends who will carry this movement to new heights.


Visiting Faculty, IIM Ahmedabad & IIT Bombay and an independent thinker, activist for the cause of creative communities and individuals at grassroots, tech institutions and any other walk of life committed to make this world a more creative, compassionate and collaborative place