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.

Movie Review: Slumdog Millionaire


I come home from watching Slumdog Millionaire with a lump in my throat. The blatant truth of the Mumbai slums depicted in the film is unsurprising for Indians, yet horrifying all the same.

There are a number of off-beat Indian films that shed light on various issues — like Split Wide Open, Water and Salaam Bombay — but never before has life in Indian slums been shown so explicitly, and in a non-victimized, non-patronizing way. What is shown is fact, and that’s exactly how it has meant to be shown — as raw fact.

Despite all the harsh moments that make you squirm in your seat, what makes the film extraordinary is how it has managed to capture the undying street-smart energy and spirit of the slum kids. This energy portrays them as bright and strong-minded individuals who, despite their miserable and disgusting environment, believe in being able to make things happen for themselves. And they do. One even becomes a millionaire.

The main characters of the film, Salim and Jamal, are piercingy powerful. One grows up to be a ruthless bastard who gives up his morals and family to survive, while the other one stays an honest and loyal romantic; yet you don’t feel hatred or pity towards either of them.

This film is so real that knowing it is not an Indian production bewilders me; as a “white man” Danny Boyle has got every detail in this film so right I don’t think any Indian director could have done it better. There is so much truth in the details that even the “Who Wants To Be A Millionaire” bit becomes believable. It resonates the idea that today in India, there’s an opportunity for anyone and everyone, and that anything is possible.

The only negative thought that I carried out of the film was that it reminds you that you can’t trust anyone; that circumstances can create devils and there is nothing you can do about it, that even your own brother will turn against you in his quest to survive. As someone who trusts everyone unless I have reason not to, it gave me a lot to think about human behaviour.

Some of the cast and crew have been promoting the film saying it’s a “feel good” film. Urrrmmm, I think not. The film will make you laugh, but most of it will make you cry, and feel like vomiting. That said, ironically it doesn’t leave you depressed.

A lot is packed into the film, making it an intense and overwhelming 2-hours. I cried the last 10 minutes and walked out blown away with what I had seen. It’s a hard-hitting film; one of those that keeps you on the edge of your seat and leaves you with much to ponder. Although it is being said otherwise, I really hope that all the slum kids of the movie get compensated generously.

All-in-all, a must must watch.