Spreading the Sunshine 1: A New Year Message
Even today, in the first half of the twenty-first century, thousands of villages in Africa and Asia (mainly in India) remain off-grid and have no access to electricity. Ever since a three-month stay in Kenya and Tanzania in 1985, I have dreamt of bringing solar lighting to the smallest villages on these two continents. In Kenya I was astounded to see that, as early as 1985, a few rural families had bought individual solar panels connected to used car batteries to power a single light bulb and the occasional television set. They did this because they had no hope of access to grid electricity in their lifetimes. It’s even more astounding to think that in affluent countries today, the majority of people who drive $ 20,000 cars consider solar power unaffordable without government subsidies. No wonder the world is hotting up! Such economic calculations show how skewed our thinking is.
Of course it was obvious that this journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. Less obvious was what this first step should be. Mhairi made the first step on a recent (November 2015) visit to a village on the outskirts of a tiger sanctuary in Rajasthan. She made contact with the owner of a handicrafts shop on the edge of the Ranthambore national forest and tiger reserve who helps village craftswomen earn a living by marketing the beautiful tiger paintings, patchwork quilts with mirror designs and appliqué fabrics they make. Dharamveer was thrilled to hear about the idea of installing solar lighting for the nearby villages. He immediately took us to visit three of the 10 surrounding villages. These villagers have limited or no access to electricity. Even the few homes connected to the grid have power only 2 or 3 days a week, so they end up spending 2 to 3 hundred rupees a month on electricity bills or on kerosene for inadequate lighting with lamps. The proposal to pre-finance solar lamps for each household in the village was met with much enthusiasm. They were quite willing to pay 200 to 300 rupees a month for reliable solar lighting. And they were delighted to hear that, at a price of just 499 rupees (US $ 7 at current exchange rates), the lamps would belong to them within three months. Apart from the environmental costs of burning kerosene, the biggest drawbacks are cost and inadequate light for children studying or doing homework.
The idea we propose is quite simple. We plan to finance around one hundred of these solar lamps initially, to be distributed to a number of households in the ten target villages. Presumably they will be paid for in 3 months from the money the villagers save from their kerosene and electricity bills. We will request voluntary contributions for another 2 months and use the extra money to expand the circle of recipients till all households in the villages are covered. After which one can think of more elaborate systems, for example, like the model shown here that costs 7000 rupees or US $ 100 at today’s exchange rates. Greenlight is a for-profit company started in the US by three engineers, two American and one Indian. Their products have received good reviews in the international press.
We have decided on Greenlight’s Sun King model range, based only on our own internet research and news reports. Readers of this blog are invited to give feedback or share their own experiences with different models. I can envisage offering a range of different systems based on cost and reliability. I look forward to hearing from you.
For more by this author, see his Amazon page here.
Deeg: The Palace that Time Forgot
A pleasure garden in a timeless corner of a forgotten palace. Deeg did not much impact the history of the wider world outside, but in this palace can be seen glimpses of the glory it reflected after Suraj Mal’s victories over the Mughal emperors and conquest of Delhi. He brought back several buildings entire, marble and all, cut into numbered blocks and skilfully reassembled in his palace grounds. The seams are invisible, and the buildings include Nur Jahan’s favorite marble perch from which she presumably contemplated the blue flowing waters of the Yamuna River. Today that truly is a dream.
For more by this author, see his Amazon page here.
The Banquet and afterwards…
The wedding banquet was a long drawn out affair that began at seven in the evening in a brightly lit and freshly decorated marriage garden. Guests trundled in from 7.30 on, with a constant stream of arrivals greeting friends and relatives. Street food was prepared fresh by a handful of cooks who constantly replenished the buffet tables. Small molded plates were available, pressed from the large dried leaves of a local tree, the ultimate in recyclable convenience. Marriage gardens are a big business in India, by the way, and even the most modest ones enjoy a healthy cash flow, while upmarket ones in urban areas are more like themed parks that can cost € 50,000 a night or more. It was mind-boggling for me to think of the amounts of money being spent on the most lavish weddings. In contrast, the one we attended in Agra was a masterpiece of careful budgeting that looked three times more expensive than it actually did.
While all this cooking, eating and socialising went on in the marriage garden, the groom arrived in a carriage drawn by two white horses, accompanied by lights and music. A short while later, bride and groom mounted a raised platform where the actual ceremony is to take place. Traditional Indian weddings are a delight for the guests, who enjoy hours of free food and fraternity, while the bride and groom endure a long drawn out ceremony dictated by religious rites and countless local traditions. The couple are finally wedded at dawn, by this time numbed to exhaustion. This could be a reason why arranged marriages last and divorces are rare. However, as traditions die out, there are many signs of change.
Signs of change next morning everywhere, ubiquitous cell-phones, ads for online shopping, fat cars muscling their way into narrow, overcrowded streets. But after last night’s banquet, we will rest a couple of hours and then drive to Deeg, the palace that time forgot. More in the next blog.