The Charka or the Indian spinning wheel is closely associated with the Indian national movement. In many pictures of possibly the most famous Indian, Mahatma Gandhi, you could see him sitting with one of these contraptions.
I am seated in an office surrounded with different kinds of technical equipment. Among them is a young entrepreneur. Above him is a quote that reads “If Shah Jahan had taken quotations for the Taj Mahal, and gone for the lowest quotation, you would have not had the Taj Mahal”. I am sure many people who drop in and out of Nazim’s office may have taken note of this quote. It indicates that some things cannot be merely measured.
Nazim is a young entrepreneur who tries to adapt technology to the needs of local communities in the southern Indian state of Karanatake. He lives and works in Belgaum. He has created a series of improvised ducts which lead to a large boiler; the heat of the kitchen fire from a hotel is transferred into the boiler. In this way, the heat is reused in an energy efficient manner. Upon are return, he tells me that conserving energy helps to reduce firewood use. He works all day long with different technological innovations.
I ask him what his pet project is, and he responds instantaneously; “Popularising the spinning wheel among local communities”. The Charka or the Indian spinning wheel is closely associated with the Indian national movement. In many pictures of possibly the most famous Indian, Mahatma Gandhi, you could see him sitting with one of these contraptions. It is a tool and symbol of the Indian independence movement. This small portable hand-cranked wheel is used for spinning cotton and other fine short stable fibres.
Nazim got involved with the charka when a dutch NGO approached him to find out how the spinning wheel could be adopted to suit the needs for Indian shepherd communities. The charka had to be adapted to spin more quality wool in bigger quantities. Nazim who was involved with his father in producing mobile spare parts was keen to take up the challenge because it was an opportunity for him to learn from the community and come up with a community oriented technological design. The shepherds wanted a hardy charka that could spin their wool into thick, hardy woollen blankets known as kambili. The initial technological design was a very complicated one, and difficult to use as it could only be cranked by hand.
However, here he was looking at a charka design that could be paddled with the legs as his argument was that our feet were stronger than our hands. The spinning of the wheel was to be done by solely by hand, but the feet were used to turn the wheels. The technological design became complex because both hands and feet had to be used simultaneously.
Nazim tells me that he was able to solve this dilemma by working with the community. He vigorously tested his design with the community and came up with an easy to use spinning wheel to be distributed among diverse communities in the Karunatake province. There was a lot of talk and support for the idea. The provincial government stepped in and requested that he start production.
“I was so enthusiastic with this idea of producing spinning wheels that I lost sight of getting my paperwork in place. I got an initial advance which was very small and by the time that I completed the order of 1000 spinning wheels, the provincial government had changed. There was reluctance to honour the payments. There was not anymore discussion about supporting local communities with technology. I pleaded for months and could have gone to court, but that could have further ruined me, so I accepted a meagre payment and parted ways”.
My next question to his was what lessons he had learned. “A lot” says Nazim. He tells me that he is very sceptical on hypes surrounding initiatives based on local knowledge. He tells me that the hype on local knowledge and local initiatives far exceeds the optimism pronounced by politicians. Since his great financial loss, he has slowly started rebuilding his business by providing adaptive technology to industry. However, he still says that his heart is really in providing technology to local communities who aspire for change, but he says that through his experience he has found out that experimentation needs to be carried out with caution, especially when it involves your livelihood.
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