Spilling Good INK – Final Installment

Here is the last of three guest posts on INK from our birthday boy, Viswa Subbaraman. Enjoy the read, then wish him a happy 29th birthday!

Here’s my final INK Talks blog. http://inktalks.com/ I could probably keep writing about INK, but Bill Eddins wants his blog back. One of the performances I neglected to mention was Dharavi Rocks. Dharavi is one of the largest slums in the world. Dharavi Rocks is a music and dance program for kids in the Dharavi slum. As you will see when the video is posted, those kids really did rock.

So in my last blog, I wanted to talk about my fellow INK Fellows. I’ll admit to being surprised when we were told that there were 1200 applicants, and 20 were chosen. Meeting the fellows was probably one of the most humbling experiences of my life. I talked about Arunima Sinha who lost a leg and climbed Everest with a prosthetic, but there were so many interesting stories.

Anjney Midha works in venture capital and is using technology and micro-loans to help young entrepreneurs. Aurelie Chaleur is preserving native music and performance technique by finding opportunities for these performers to get their music across. I posted a video of one of Dhairya Dand’s inventions in a previous post, and Daniel Leithinger is another inventor from MIT’s Media lab. Daniel is working on making human/computer interactions easier and more logical. Hamish Patel is using technology to make healthcare more accessible to a variety of people. He invented a cool mobile phone case that records your vitals while sitting in your pocket. Doctors can take that info from your phone to better treat what ails you. Kavita Babu has studied every single science known to man, I think?

Leonard Pauli is only 16 but has developed an online teaching platform that helps teach kids in ways that are more tailored to the way they learn. Did I mention he’s 16? The best moment was when he said he needed to go work on an assignment on the website that he himself built. Shashwat Ratan came up with Electro Bricks. Think building blocks but with circuits. The bricks plug into each other, and with them you can build machines. He did not want to license the technology because he wanted to keep the price point low enough to make them available to as many kids as possible. Frankly, I want a set to play with. Shravani Hagargi talked about developing her security firm – that employs female security guards in order to promote gender equality and to offer more avenues of employment to women.

Those are just the inventors and business innovators. There were also artistic innovators. Hannah Roodman used Google Glass to bring a neighborhood together. She made a documentary with members of the Caribbean community and members of the Hasidic community wearing Google Glasses, so that each community could see life through the eyes of the other. Daniel Barenboim – maybe something for East West Divan to try? Harshvardhan Kadam was fascinating. Many of us Indian kids and Indian-American kids grew up with Amar Chitra Katha. In fact, for a lot of us Indian Americans, it was the way we learned the old Indian stories, the Mahabharata, and the Ramayana. Those were the comic books of my youth. Harsh’s art has a root in those comics, but he has taken his art to a whole new modern level. For the kid in me, it’s like his art is the embodiment of what it would be like if those comic books also grew up with me.

Neeraj Kakkar is a co-founder of Hector Beverages, which makes Paper Boat drinks. I put him with the artists because in many ways the mission of Paper Boat is an artistic one. They make old Indian beverages – the pre-Limca, Thumbs Up, Coca-Cola beverages. Tasting them evokes those memories of my time as a kid in India. Pulkit Datta talked about the experience of being a Third Culture Kid (as many of us are these days), and how that shaped his view of filmmaking. Shipra Jain talked about the evolution of jewelry design and how over time jewelry has gone from being utilitarian to more of a design element for women in India.

Two of the most moving talks have to be those by Reshma Valliappan and Gazal Dhaliwal. To be fair, I’m not certain I can explain to you how moving their bravery was to talk about their personal stories with us. Reshma battled schizophrenia and mental illness. She was the subject of an award winning documentary. Her story, however, was fascinating because of her perspective on how mental health is related to in India. Growing up, discussions of sex, mental health, etc., were to be avoided among the Indian community. Reshma is using her story to get people to talk about mental health in India. I think you could have heard a pin drop during Gazal’s talk. She had the entire audience in the palm of her hand. Gazal was born a boy, but for her entire life knew she was born the wrong sex. She talked about her internal struggle with the very vessel her spirit was in. Yes, there were people who walked out when she told everyone she was born a boy, but there were also people coming up to her telling her that her story changed their hearts. There can be no greater reward for her bravery. Gazal is also a Bollywood script writer, and Mr. Amitabh Bhachchan will be in her next film. If all goes as planned, Gazal, Joi Barua, and I might be announcing a new project.

Finally, I have to talk about my roommate, Steve Boyes. The funniest story of my time at INK was probably on my first night in India. I arrived at the front desk at 1:00AM to be told that my roommate had already checked in. My what? I go up to the room, and I meet Steve. We’re both staring at this slightly smaller than a double bed bed wondering what we’d gotten ourselves into. Luckily, they brought up a cot. I couldn’t be more thankful that we had roommates, however. I got to room with Indiana Jones meets Crocodile Dundee. Steve is a conservation biologist who primarily works with birds, but the project he talked abut was the Okovango – a river delta in Africa approximately the size of Texas. As he refers to it, when you go there, you feel what it must be like to be in the birthplace of man, god, and all that we are. It has the largest population of elephants, lions, hyenas, etc.. The pictures are beautiful. The Okovango has been protected for centuries because of the difficulty of access, and for the last century, it was protected because of the Angolan civil wars. Fortunately for Angola, but unfortunately for the Okovango, the civil wars are over. Steve poles in with other scientists, computer programmers, and others to study this very delicate ecosystem. In fact, you can follow their exploits every time they have an expedition into the Okovango live – they live stream their expedition to whomever is interested. They do live chats with school kids directly from the Okovango with school kids. Steve is helping build awareness for some of the last bit of wilderness we have. As he says, if we lose the Okovango, we may well lose elephants on the continent of Africa. <http://www.nationalgeographic.com/explorers/bios/steve-boyes/>

I was amazed at how much I had in common with the other fellows and how much their experiences have already changed my world view. As their talks come on line, I hope you’ll experience them as I have.

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