Changing the world with a plastic bottle

Sanjna speaking at a TEDx event in Madrid.

Sanjna speaking at a TEDx event in Madrid.

She is 20 years old and the founder of a social venture that helps slums in Mumbai get free electricity during the day from solar energy. My little cousin Sanjna Malpani is an inspiration to me.

She founded Jal Jyoti (translates to ‘water light’) a few years ago and works with a team of youngsters on this project that is making a big difference to many slum dwellers in Mumbai.

The way it works sounds too easy to be true: You fill a 1.5L bottle with water and 10mm of bleach to prevent algae from growing, and install it in the roof of a house in a slum. The sun’s rays hit the bottle of water; the light refracts and illuminates the house by producing light equivalent to a 55watt bulb. The bottles can last 4-5 years. They also teach the slum residents how to make and install the bottles themselves, so that they can sustain it. Slums are often so densely packed and without windows that they hardly get any light. Most of the people living there cannot afford electricity, or they save it for nighttime. This tactic is saving them money and fulfilling a basic need that we take for granted.

The challenge hasn’t been the science behind it; it has been convincing extremely poor, uneducated strangers that you can give them free light if they let you drill a hole in their roof to insert a water bottle. However, once they see the result in a friends’ or neighbours’ house, they open up to the idea. Also, working with NGO’s who operate in those slums has helped Jal Jyoti gain trust from the residents. So far they have installed a 100 bottles.

Sanjna was inspired by Alfred Moser, a Brazilian mechanic who came up with the idea in 2002 and launched ‘A Litre of Light‘. Recognizing the potential of such a simple idea in India, she jumped on it.

I’m really proud of her. She took her first step towards changing the world at 18. Her ability to not only have understood a great idea, but envision it in her own country and then commit to implementing it, amazes me.

I’m inspired everyday by something, but it remains a fleeting inspiration. How I can change that and develop it into something, I still need to figure out.

Here’s a video of the work they do and how it impacts the community they work in. Do watch / share / like. And if you live in Mumbai, participate or collaborate!

#Day 3, post 3.

Emirati art in my house

Print by Emirati artist Abdul Qader Al Rais

Print by Emirati artist Abdul Qader Al Rais

I moved into a new apartment just over a year ago. Other than magazine rip-outs of crazy photography and a printed canvas of a geisha I picked up in Kyoto, my walls have been bare.

I appreciate art and always go to art museums. Goya, Picasso, Van Gogh, Dali, Monet, Botero – all have incredible work that inspires. However it has always been the history, the motivation, or the story of the artist behind the painting that has brought it to life for me, more than the painting itself.

Perhaps that explains why I’m not someone who cares to have an original painting in my house; art for me is not about that.

As long as the picture has a meaning, and works in my house, I’m happy to have it up. I now own two pieces of what I consider ‘genuine’ art and I am proud to say one of them is by the celebrated Emirati artist Abdul Qader Al Rais. It was gifted to me by my dear friend Muna who is passionate about art and understands its value.

I really needed something on my walls. After looking through various sources selling art I could afford, I couldn’t find anything that resonated, so I decided to get a master painting copied.  When I told Muna of what I thought was the best solution to having art I liked on my wall, she was horrified. “Are you mad!? I will not let you commit this sin. It’s sacrilege!” I don’t understand, but my friendship with her will never allow me to do it. Her convictions helped me look harder for something original and I picked up a stunning painting from a street artist in Hanoi.

The Emirati piece I have by Al Rais is contemporary Islamic art. His colour and calligraphy combination is striking and beautiful. And it works perfectly in my living room.

It’s cool to have an Emirati touch in my home. Once it’s up, it will feel like I have a bit of the city’s soul on my wall.

Day 2, post 2.

Print by Emirati artist Abdul Qader Al Rais

60 days, 60 posts

bloggagain

When I think about the death of this blog, it deeply saddens me. Makes me feel like I gave up on something I really enjoyed: writing for myself.

The voices in my head have turned what used to be a simple joy into a conundrum driven by excuses: I don’t have time. I need a new angle for my blog. Let me launch a new blog and start all over. But what will I write about. When will I study. When will I finish all those books that are half read on my bedside table. Between dancing, yoga, running, work, a masters programme, and learning Arabic, I really don’t have time. I need to give up something. But I don’t want to give up anything!  I need to be going out more I don’t have time to blog. I’m turning into a nerd I need to go out more. No one is going to read my blog anyway. I’ve lost my blogger mojo.

Underneath it all is a nagging subconscious that says just WRITE goddammit.

So here I am making time to redeem the pleasure I used to get from writing. And, I’m happy to realize and admit – I don’t need to write earth-shattering posts. As long as I enjoy writing them, it really doesn’t matter.

Starting today, I will write 60 posts in 60 days with hope to repossess my blogging prowess, and discover a new angle for this blog in the process.

I don’t know what I am going to write about. But I will write everyday. I hope some readers I used to have come back! If not, I’ll just be happy to be writing again.

#Day 1, post 1

(Photo via http://www.gimmemojo.com/)

Ode to my little brother

ImageI’ve changed his nappies. I’ve made him cry. He has made me slam doors and scream my lungs out.

He has made me happy. He has made me proud. He has made me feel like the best human being on the planet.

He has shared secrets with me. I have given him good advice. I have given him bad advice. He has protected me. He has supported me unconditionally.

He drank his first beer with me. He hated it! Now he loves it. So if he ever becomes an alcoholic it will be my fault.

My brother is one of the most sincere, positive, generous, and open hearted people I know. He is also one of the most creative people I know –- except for when he designs his own tattoo. Thanks to me, he now has the coolest tattoo ever. His thoughts, my advice = great result. You are welcome, Anish.

He has a precocious mind. He knew what he wanted to major in, in the eighth grade. His first short story was published when he was in grade 10. He started his own business with his friends when he was 15. He is a football fanatic and I know he will work and excel in that industry one day.

He has numerous unique, multi-dimensional skills:  Intelligence (he passed his CFA the first time round, after studying only for a week!). A diligent and responsible work ethic. Can dance hip hop, rap and bhangra equally well to the same song. Can sing without embarrassing anyone. Superb design and video-editing skills. Taught himself to play the guitar. Can cook Indian food (!). Can do the tough-mudder.

He is amazingly patriotic, even though he hasn’t really lived in India. That feeling along with his talent, could make him a game changer for our country. I hope India doesn’t disillusion him irrevocably.

He has taught me to believe in who I am by always looking up to me. I feel a responsibility towards him as a big sister; it helps me make decisions sometimes. He is the most mature 24 year old I know. I won’t make big decisions without his opinion. He inspires me in many ways.

I hurt when he is hurting, and also when he acts stupid. I want to protect him, but still be the cool big sister. A tough balance to keep.

I worry who he will marry, only because in my mind no one will be good enough for him. But I do hope he finds genuine true love and is able to keep it for life.

He was born on my request when I was 9; I was a lonely child. He is the best gift my parents could ever give me. I am blessed to have him as my brother, and really wish he didn’t live 13,334 kilometres away.

Happy Raksha Bandhan, my dearest brother. I miss you.

From search engines to knowledge engines

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(Photo credit: PK Gulati’s facebook page!)

Yesterday I had the privilege to listen to who I would justifiably call a genius of our age – Amit Singhal, the guy in charge of coding Google’s search algorithms.

A fascinating subject, Singhal explained the basics of data on the internet and what Google is doing to turn the information we receive through search, not only into knowledge, but a step further into wisdom.

He said that a key issue today is “quality noise” that needs smarter engines to understand things, not just strings. Every year, Google undertakes 500 improvements to improve search with the aim of giving us the most locally relevant results. The ultimate goal is to be able to give us concocted wisdom on any query we search for. The recent launch of Google’s Knowledge Graph is a step towards that. He believes that 5 years down the line, machines will have gathered enough artificial intelligence to compete with human intelligence. This will completely change how we operate by adding a different level of efficiency to our daily lives.

He also said that he sees a future where we wouldn’t even need to take the effort to come to a device and type to search; it will all come to us in an easier, more natural way. Perhaps he is referring to voice search and Project Glass.

What was also great about the session was the quality of questions asked by the audience. Questions were on how social media affects search, to which he said that it will perhaps increase in influence, however social search is still in its infancy. On the subject of Google owning the content Vs just directing the user to the original source, he said that people actually want the results to be original sources, showing not much benefit for Google to own it. And on the subject of search engine optimisation that digital agencies undertake for clients, he said that by actually helping build websites that are better read by search engines, the service is doing a favour to them as long as it is not abused. He also said that Google ads do not and will never have influence over organic results.

The recent debates over Google removing information upon government requests was also a great question posed, which Singhal answered by saying that Google needs to abide by the laws in the countries that they operate and content that goes against those laws is removed on request. However, they are transparent about why content was removed in their transparency report.

I have to mention here that he was beautifully media trained.

The talk and Q&A were intriguing and coming straight from the horses mouth, definitely a rare opportunity to experience that. He managed to inspire even the two kids who attended it with their Google t-shirts on, to ask him smart questions infront of a 150+ sized audience. Organised by dear friend PK Gulati Managing Director and CEO of TiE Dubai, I left the room feeling lucky and inspired to have been engaged with the smartest man in technology today.