Asha Kiran – A ray of hope
I nearly find it too hard to believe–after ages of hard work and perseverance, I’ve finally gotten my PhD from the Indian Institute of Science (IISc)! The smile on my face when I obtained the degree didn’t go away all day.
As part of my professional assignment, I ended up taking the bus to Vogga, a beautiful village in Bantwal Taluk, South Canara, Karnataka. On the bumpy ride there, I found myself recalling my mentor’s words.
“I’m truly proud of you, Kiran. Now, I want you to put that degree to good use. Your assignment is to help improve the lives of the villagers of Vogga in any way by using science and technology,” he had challenged me.
I had the advantage of Vogga being the home of my grandparents, so finding a place to stay was, as you can imagine, rather easy.
Upon reaching my destination, I enthusiastically rushed to the gates of my grandparents’ home, delighted to find them waiting there for me. I greeted them happily, asking them for their blessings. A grandparent’s love is truly warm and beautiful.
After unpacking my bags, determined not to waste any time, I took a seat next to Grandpa. “Grandpa?” “Yes, Kiran?” “Do you feel like there’s any problem in the village? Like, is anything difficult to do for you? After all, I’m here to help the people here.”
Grandpa smiled at me, patting my head. “We lead a simple life here. We don’t need anything more.”
I sighed. Admittedly, it was a beautiful attitude towards life, but it wasn’t going to help me with my assignment! I suppose I’ll just have to keep my eyes and ears open.
After about a week of sightseeing and eating a lot of delicious food (some of it forcibly fed since my grandparents insisted I was as thin as a stick), I still couldn’t come up with any particular idea…until one day, my Grandpa summoned me, wanting me to witness the harvesting of areca nuts.
“Areca nuts? Isn’t that betel nuts? I’m pretty sure that’s not good for your health, Grandpa,” I frowned. He laughed. “No, don’t worry. No one in the village here eats them… we sell them to be turned into dye for fabrics.” My eyebrows rose in surprise. I’ve never heard of them being used for that purpose before.
Excited, I turned towards the group of villagers gathered around the areca palm trees. They were incredibly tall and abundant with bunches of ripened bright orange colored fleshy areca fruits with an exception of some bright bottle-green unripe ones here and there. I wondered how the villagers would harvest them. This ought to be interesting!
I saw a villager walk to a tree and start climbing it. “Wait…he’s climbing the trees?!” I asked, horrified. “That’s so dangerous!” I continued, panic rising in my chest. Grandpa dismissed my concerns. “The villagers are experienced, don’t worry.” He paused, before adding sadly, “One of the reasons I wanted to show you this is because I’m not sure if you’ll ever get a chance to see this again. There are fewer and fewer men willing to climb the trees.” I was tempted to cover my eyes, terrified to the core, as some more young men bravely climbed the trees, using a sickle to hack off the stem of the bunches of areca fruits.
Suddenly, the tree shook, bending over. I barely managed to keep in a scream, certain that someone was going to fall. “This is…” I trailed off, at a loss for words. Grandpa looked at me, chuckling. “I told you, don’t worry. They’re only jumping from one tree to the other. Anyway, watch them again later, they’re not going to do it all in one day,” he teased me. My heart still pounding rapidly, I observed the men effortlessly swing from one tree to another. All throughout this, I couldn’t help but think how risky this was, no matter how experienced the villagers were. Accidents in acts like these were, to me at least, inevitable.
When the time-consuming harvesting for the day was finally over and the young men were safely back on the ground, I looked at Grandpa and grinned.
“Now I know what to do for my assignment.”
What I was thinking of turned out to be more complex than I thought. I’d sat for hours at my desk, only to end up frustrated with the blueprint, tossing it into the trashcan.
Well, Rome wasn’t built in a day, and neither are inventions.
After persistent designing and sleepless nights, I held up my sheet of paper. “Eureka!” I laughed with pure joy.
“Grandpa!” I ran to him. “Can I borrow your bicycle?” He nodded. Without a moment’s hesitation, I rode off in the direction of the nearest hardware store.
I spent an hour or two, gathering all the materials I needed. The machine I wanted to make had to be relatively simple—something that the villagers could make or fix on their own.
After paying the shopkeeper, I rushed home, impatient to start working on my project. Seeing my blueprint reminded me of why I had persisted and worked through all these past years. Technology and machines have always been my passion, even when I was a little kid, and I couldn’t be happier to use that passion for the benefit of others.
I unloaded all the material I had bought onto my desk. It was finally time to do what I loved more than anything else—building machines.
What was I going to build? It was simple—a machine that could climb trees. I suppose the best way to describe it would be an artificial crab.
The machine would first be firmly fixed to the tree, having long sharp blades sticking out that would easily cut away at the stem of the bunches of areca nuts. The machine would be operated by a villager on ground with a simple pulley system.
I repeatedly tested the machine on the trees, making adjustments as I learned from my mistakes, until I finally perfected it.
I don’t think words could ever describe my joy on seeing the machine properly inch up the tree and slicing off the stem of the bunches of areca nuts. The risks for injuries and accidents by harvesting the areca nuts now were almost nonexistent, and the time it took was drastically reduced.
I eagerly demonstrated my machine to Grandpa, who heartily approved, looking amazed.
The next day, I gathered all the villagers near the trees, showing them how the machine worked, loving the looks of surprise and wonder on their faces. This was what technology could do!
Over the course of the next few hours, I showed them how to make the machine. The gratitude in their words were more than enough of a reward to me.
I stayed in Vogga for another day, before bidding everyone goodbye and packing my bags.
I boarded the bus back to the city, smiling broadly as I dialed the phone number of my mentor.
“Sir? I’ve completed the assignment.”