excerpted from above 

“Between 1760 and 1830, the Jamaican Legislature passed 49 bills granting patents for improved methods in sugar and rum production. Of these, 34 were for innovations in the infernal sugar crushing mills. It should be said that there were also many agricultural patents at the same time in the mother country, but they were mostly concerned with how to prepare manure or improve irrigation. Machinery patents were in the distinct minority. The most important patents in Jamaica were undoubtedly those that involved the application of steam power to the sugar mill. It would take at least 30 years for steam power to be as important in the British textile mills, a cornerstone of the industrial revolution.”
In keeping with the interesting findings in Cliff Conner’s “People’s History of Science,” Satchell reveals that many of the patents were the inspiration of artisans working on the mills, most of whom were slaves rather than scientists off in a laboratory. The slaves themselves occupied a sort of netherworld between abject field work and free labor. Satchell writes:

Nevertheless, slaves were the principal artisans, and they worked in foundries. My considered view here is that the slaves actively participated in inventing new techniques and equipment pertinent to the sugar industry. My position is based on two premises. First (as stated before), slaves were the principal artisans in the island. In Jamaica there was a paucity of White artisans, so there developed an almost total reliance on the artisan slaves. Planters relied heavily on slave labour for all aspects of plantation life; it is for this reason that Douglas Hall concludes that the slave was a ‘multi-purpose tool’.33 Barry Higman notes that at the time of emancipation in 1834 compensation was paid for 17,873 artisan slaves, representing 5.74 per cent of the total slave population. These included blacksmiths, millwrights, coopers, wheelwrights, masons, plumbers, carpenters, coppersmiths and engineers.

Many of these slaves came from an area of Africa that had a highly sophisticated understanding of metallurgy. The West African coast, from which most Jamaican slaves originated, had developed complex skills in working iron and became blacksmiths in the Americas, either free or slave. Their activities included the manufacturing and repair of machinery, as well as making arms and ammunition. One sugar planter reported that his slaves “perform all manner of foundry work the greater portion of which cannot be performed by any other establishment in the island.” Indeed, as the former slaves of Cuba would eventually discover, they could do all this without the plantation owner himself.


will u let the light seep through,

will u let the light seep through

will you bend so much, o reed

will u caress the winds

and ignore the clouds

overflowing with tears

ever so now

An open letter to emperor Ashoka


Respected emperor  Ashoka

You were the pioneer king who despite being very cruel  earlier had a change of heart and became one of the most benign, considerate and just king in Indian History.  One of the your earliest edicts was discovered at girnar in Gujarat which had an advice: “Everywhere  within Beloved-of-the-Gods, King Piyadasi’s domain, and among the people beyond the borders, the Cholas, the Pandyas, the Satiyaputras, the Keralaputras, as far as Tamraparni and where the Greek king Antiochos rules, and among the kings who are neighbors of Antiochos, everywhere has Beloved-of-the-Gods, King Piyadasi, made provision for two types of medical treatment: medical treatment for humans and medical treatment for animals. Wherever medical herbs suitable for humans or animals are not available, I have had them imported and grown. Wherever medical roots or fruits are not available I have had them imported and grown. Along roads I have had wells dug and trees planted for the benefit of humans and animals”.

And as if this was not enough, you added, “Along roads I have had banyan trees planted so that they can give shade to animals and men, and I have had mango groves planted. At intervals of eight //krosas//, I have had wells dug, rest-houses built, and in various places, I have had watering-places made for the use of animals and men. But these are but minor achievements. Such things to make the people happy have been done by former kings. I have done these things for this purpose, that the people might practice the Dhamma”.

I hear so much about dharma of different kind but edicts enunciated in  256 BC still remain a point of standard reference for inclusive development.

In the last few weeks lot of wonderful green lush avenue trees have been whispering in the ear of cool breeze that they are no more sure of being  left alive. You had in fact suggested that even if you were taking food, any news about conflicts or injustice to human or nature, actual or perceived should be brought to your immediate notice. But news of this kind does not travel very far now days.

You will be glad to know that local communities are not against the development process, they don’t mind the widening of the road if that is most essential. But should the road be widened on both the sides, is an innocent question they ask?  They have an alternative plan by which a slide turn and expansion on one side can keep the avenue intact. In some other places, whole trees need to b uprooted and replanted. India has the capability but if needed. A Major Buddhist country can come to our rescue. China has developed planting grown up trees on avenues  into a simple art.
What do we do, Lord Ashoka? Who do we appeal to? Planting the trees, conserving life, watering points and care centres for human and  animal  were part of the world’s first sort of civic charter. But the rulers no more seek ideas from common people, else by now some solution could easily be found to have development and conservation of nature. If assume that traffic moves slowly for a few miles, will not people bless the rulers for letting them look out of window to see beautiful trees, birds, and places to relax under the shade. Why so much rush, for what, for whom? In any case, the traffic in the cities is becoming slower every day?  Assume that some rare minerals are found under the bungalow of governor or chief minister, will we just remove all the nearby settlements for excavating those minerals? Will ashram road be uprooted if oil is found underneath? May be, ask yourself, trees, far away, on the road side, does any one care now, how did you manage to persuade the rulers of smaller kingdoms?

I don’t mind if negotiations are held with people living on the roadside so that they are persuaded to sell part of their land for expansion of the road, if that is must and has no alternative, without cutting trees. You will not be able to see the situation of your edicts today. Pl forgive us, Ashoka, for we could not prove worthy of your legacy, in perpetual apology ……….

‘I am the flute, music is thine’

Knowing how little I know about the science of architecture, I was intrigued when I was invited to talk about grassroots innovations to a very interesting, intriguing and inspiring meeting of some of the world’s most famous architects. Rauzia Ally, half Kashmerian,  HALF Keralite , and  Guyanese in some measure, the architect of this meeting, tried to create chemistry of  Sufi traditions, Arabic experiments in combining meditative structures in everyday life by famous Harvard designer, Nader, Czeck frugalist Martin using low cost material to design affordable structures besides lovely icons for his friends who could just thank in place of fees, and of course Brazilian designers of solar structures, tapping into local youthful energy. NASA designer(..) ;  discovered that art of seeing towards sky needs to be resituated on the ground. Wheel chair dancer like Judith( axisdance) created appreciation for spaces they could access and enliven by their creativity, and are not we all disabled in small part, she reminded us.

Rumi’s poetry informed the blend of what Middles east is trying to fathom amidst all the cacophony of extremes, recalled beautifully by Nader. Eastern European design of dome of wood slings was erected in 36 hours in a manner that light is in but not sun rays. Doshi was present through his voice and signatures in the film that Gomez, editor of a famous architecture journal showed. Louis kahn’s disdain for natural light and cross ventilation leading to dungeon like corridors and classrooms also came up in the discussion. Notwithstanding, the beauty from outside and highly functional broad corridors came up for discussions too. One did not miss how elbow rest arch windows facilitated dialogue and discussion among the willing discoursists at iima building.  I had nothing to share except the  lessons we learned during  thousand of miles of shodhyatras, lessons someday our youth might like to revisit.

What was most significant was absence of how to bring non-human sentient beings in side our homes and gardens. The example of bird feeding platforms ( chabutaras)  which many people from north Gujarat have outside their homes in Ahmedabad  was a telling commentary on what modern deigners in India also are missing out. We work hard to innovate how to keep birds out of our structures rather than finding places for them to be in and enrich our lives.  The squirrels and peacocks are an obstruction to expansionist and consumerist spirit. Recently parrots had a feast of sapotas, and langurs had a  party of organic  tomatoes in my garden at iima, and gardener was apologetic about this celebration. But I asked myself, what would I do then, barricade my garden, enclose all the vegetables inside a green house for birds to look at but not devour? How do I pay for the life and vitality they brought to our life when they partook in the natural growth? Can we create urban garden where surviving wildlife will have party?  Can we have baskets of vegetables on roadside trees for children to see and learn how plants grow and for monkeys and birds to have their fill when fruits and pods  come? Can we make it obligatory for every school and office and mall building to provide some space for urban gardens, a wall for fold artists to show their creativity, and a place for poetry and pottery to be displayed? How else will finer arts, cultural traditions,  and nature become embedded in our psyche? Is asking for one wall per building for rural and urban folkloric artists too much? If it is, then let us at least a global and national consensus on creating a graveyard of all traditional art, architectural and artisanal traditions in every city and put a lock on its doors so that no younger person even by mistake visits these graves and get inspired! Inspiration can be insurrectional, imagination can breed insurgency.  Don’t let breeze of  grassroots innovations ever pass through your homes and working spaces, let pollution of ‘pristine’ nature not occur, and let popular mind be not infected by virus of  sustainable forms, functions, features. Ah! Mandarins, Quarantine the curiosity!

Indian innovations setting Global standards


Though National innovation Council has not studied the role of standards in promoting and influencing innovation eco-system yet but I do feel this is an issue which we can not ignore any further. What standards do is to make it obligatory for the users to conform to them and thus expand the creative space. If there were no standards, world wide web would have not made so much progress and fostered innovations in so many sectors and social segments. Same can be said about telecom sector. There are very few examples where Indian innovations have influenced global standards. Leadership in innovation space is almost impossible without that. I wrote about Sridharan, a Bangalore based construction engineer whose technology for earthquake proof braces was patented in USA. It was later adopted as a part of civil construction standard in USA. Everybody who used such braces while constructing buildings had to pay a royalty to him. Indian standards lag behind as usual but the world did not hesitate in learning from him. I had discovered him during the Four Inventors of India workshops organised at IIMA during 1998 to 2008 after reading about 6000 patents.

Let me now take examples of four innovations which  recognised recently at First Gandhian Young Technological Innovation awards, 2012,  through at IIMA.


Many years ago at a workshop at IDC,  IIT Mumbai, a participant, Venkatraman raised an issue as to why could not the heat of the compressors be used for having hot water alongside the cool chamber.  

Four teams have recently developed ideas which can be pooled to develop new standards. Chintan Patel, Mayank D Patel, Mayank I Patel and Biren Patel, guided by  Prof YL Raol, Prof AB Patel, Laljibhai Chaturbhai Institute of Technology, Mehsana; Jainil Bhatt, Dhruvin Kagdi, Tirth Jani, Kunjal Jadav and  Jainil Bhatt, Dhruvin Kagdi, Tirth Jani, Kunjal Jadav, both groups  guided by Prof. Tushar Patel,  LDRP-ITR College, GTU; Dhruv Patel guided by  Dr Nilesh M Bhatt, Gandhinagar Institute of Technology, and Harish Umashankar Tiwari, Pimpri Chinchwad College of Engineering, Pune have used variations on a theme using lpg gas to pass through a cold chamber, say a fridge,  before being burned in a gas burner for cooking food, or harnessing waste heat energy from exhaust of an automobile for cooling driver’s chamber, or harnessing heat from compressor of a refrigerator to generate hot water, a chamber to keep things warm and also save energy, elongate the life of compressor etc.  Sib Sagar Mandal of Assam was recognized by Honey Bee Network through NIF for using the heat harnessed through air pipe coiling around exhaust pipe of three wheeler and then using it to mix with fuel to increasing combustion efficiency.

There are two standards which can be changed:  one) every fridge manufacturer must be obliged to attach a heat harnesser to the compressor so that energy consumption in the fridge goes down, and user can harness extra heat to be used for casserole or heating water. In fact if pulses are kept in hot water for a while, they cook faster and save further energy. Some of the vegetables need not be cooked at all and they may become palatable merely by keeping in hot water, saving all the nutrients as well.

Second standard can be changed or modified  to permit  use of LPG gas for not just heating but also a cool chamber so that villagers where there is no electricity have access to fridge for keeping milk, ,medicines, and vegetables etc.

Indian resolve to reduce carbon intensity in the economy by 20 per cent will require a whole range of innovations and Honey Bee network is showing the way. Will policy makers listen? Will they let hundred of crores of rupees collected from students in every technical university be used for investing in the tech ideas of youth and informal sector? Will mandarins in central and state government rethink the entire higher education policy framework to unleash the power of socially and ecologically responsible and sensitive youth? Will readers contribute, even if government does not?

Eating pakodas sans oil: challenging young minds


In a month’s time, it will start raining. Many of us will then relish pakodas with a cup of tea in the moist evening. Can we then wish to have pakodas without oil sticking to them, conscious as we all are now a days about cholesterol and excessive oil. Is there a household device  which will remove the oil from the hot pakodas? How about designing  such a device and have in return a visit to USA. Well incentives matter, and non-material incentives matter even more. An exposure to good labs and technical centres around the world can be a good driver for creative efforts by students. Dr Sudhir Jain and his team at IIT Gandhinagar has mobilised the creative potential of undergraduate students in a manner that many Institutes may not yet have realised.  He has invited various outstanding experts to throw changes at the students, no matter, of which  year. And the result has been quite astounding.

Underwriters lab, a non-profit organization was set up in Chicago more than hundred years ago to study and develop guidelines for fire safety. They threw two technical challenges which are being faced in India as well. Almost half the batch responded to these challenges. When two team of eight were shortlisted, the Fire officers from Delhi, Maharashtra and Ahmedabad were invited to evaluate the solutions. The team were invited to visit Fire Academy in Delhi and also the  lab in Chicago. One team comprised only first year students.

After the popularization of solar panels, it has been recently realised that in the unlikely event of fire in the solar panels, fire tenders would not know what to do because no manuals or guidelines have been developed yet. This challenge was also thrown at the students for which of course solar systems were required for various kind of testing. GEDA obliged with the infrastructure and several other well-wishers joined hands and the projects started. Incentives will be international exposure to the students.

One can multiply these examples manifold. But it is obvious that ability of young minds to solve technical problems has been grossly underexploited in our country. The experience of Ignite awards of NIF for school children and technology students under illustrate the concept very well. And yet we should ask ourselves how many examples we have of such problems having been solved by first or second year undergraduate students around the country.


Another issue which is linked to the harnessing the potential of students is about engaging them with large scale social problems all around our campuses. Dr Jain has at present IIT running in the premises of Vishwakarma Engineering College and there is a school run by a famous educationist in the neighbourhood. Head of the three institutions met and asked each other, whether they could be of greater help to each other. Mr Sharma, principle of the school mentioned that many girls did not take science because they could not  get coaching unlike boys in which parents invested a bit more liberally. On Saturday the girl students of IIT go to school to teach girls and on Sunday, the school girls come to IIT to learn.  If each Institution of excellence could take one municipal or government school in their neighbourhood, so much could happen motivating all involved in the process. If such lessons are recorded, then another quest of ours will also get fulfilled. We will soon be able to have a large database of open source educational content in different languages and formats. Summer of 2012 is a time for taking new initiatives for inclusive education without which we will never have inclusive development in our country. Should not each bright student aim to develop at least one lessons for school children?   Should not we challenge undergraduate technology students to also address real life problems of our society? Should not third year technology students undertake industrial learning exercise in summer to benchmark the problems of msme for taking these up as their final year project? Youth is waiting to be challenged, only  we have to shed our myopia and hesitation.

Anil K Gupta

Creative communities innovative individuals anil gupta.