Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Comment: Revisiting why India cant fly

Sarosh has written a response to a comment by Aarjav on a previous post on this blog. It deserves to be read as a commentary in itself and be further commented upon. Here is Sarosh A., on innovation in India:

[For context, read the original post and Aarjav's comment here]

(The workings of innovation in India) is a much more complex phenomenon, and the discussion here cannot and should not be tied down to lack of innovation in the IT sector or even industry, per se. I would like to begin by saying that technology and invention, in the way that we have come to know them broadly have been the bane of western preoccupation since the days of the Rennaissance and the replacement of the project of religion (or God) with the project of science and reason (which may be the 'new' gods). I will furthur speculate that God is not replaced in any form but exists through the ages, in simultaneity, in the East. To my mind this could be one of the chief reasons why, for the past two hundred years, technology has largely flowed from the west to the east, starting with the Industrial Revolution till date. This is obvious when we take a quick glance at any/most of the appliances we use in the east today (and i take appliances only as an example - be they cars and washing machines, or typewriters and computers).

What is urgent and very essential is to recognise that with the birth of the Indian nation, we have to learn to recognise the value of being innovative and inventive in our own realm and on our own terms - but this must not and cannot shortchange for less innovation and or less invention or appropriating existing technologies alone. My problem with appropriation is that while it is inevitable and essential at one level, it is not to my mind, the truest or purest form of innovation and invention (hence Google India, or LG India just dont excite me as much as Grameen Bank and Sewa). To my mind this is something we must address urgently and in all its complexity from the grassroots levels to the big polis'.

You are totally right in your observation that the problem lies in academia, in developing a culture that questions and desires risk in order to innovate. One example for instance, is that there is a total dearth of ground breaking research (at the material level/ semiconductor level) on solar technology for instance, which has vast ramifications for a sun rich nation like ours. Yet I dont know of any Indian organisation that is researching the cell itself. Why should we wait till NASA develops the most efficient solar cell for its space station or an obscure mission to land a man on Mars? We are obsessed with collaborations and in trying to replicate the 'Maruti-Suzuki' model again and again (my marketing your technology). After decades of collaboration with Honda, I dont think Hero (of Hero-Honda fame) can make a decent/innovative motorcycle spare-part. The TATA's are always looking at a mass technology (be it cars or trucks), but it always seems to shortchange innovation at some level - they will rattle at little more, be more tough on your arms, just feel like 'I wish I could buy a Mercedes instead (something that Mercedes recognised and so split quite early on with the TATAs).

We cant say "its Indian, and its the best in the world, and (which is my point here) that none like it exists." With the coming of age of the project of modernity in the country, the opportunities are vast, but we have to start acting at a multiplicity of levels. Projects that seem to come from the NGO sector seem to address far more ingenuity today (for example microcredit and microfinance) than the big enterpreneurs of the Industry. Do you read me Mr Narayan Murthy?

[Sarosh, I used my editorial license to snip at the comment to make it read like a post. Mind not please.]

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