The hill swallowed the cave, the cave swallowed the ant

The title is actually a line from a Kannada folk song, Kodagana Koli Nungitta. It was performed in IIT by Raghu Dixit during Mood Indigo, and I totally fell in love with the song once he explained to us the meaning of it. But that's the big surprise for this post.

This post is a humble dedication to Professor Date, whom I mentioned in an earlier post. He taught us a lot of things, including compassion, humility and also the pleasantly surprising fact that honesty and intelligence are not, and should not be, mutually exclusive. He completed his PhD from the Imperial College of Science and Technology, London ( where he also played Cricket for London Univ and the Indian Gymkhana. He had the opportunity to play against many first-class cricketers including a one-day match between the 1973 touring West Indies team captained by Clive Lloyd and the Gymkhana at Osterly - a suburb of London. He opened the bowling for Indian Gymkahana and got two wickets - Steve Comacho and Roy Fredricks ) and returned to India to join IIT Bombay as an asst-professor in 1973. He witnessed, with his own eyes, the terrible effects of the drought of 1972 in Maharashtra. From what we know of him, he roamed the entire state with a bunch of his students, saw the plight of the people and could not take it beyond a point. He returned to IIT and decided to dedicate his major time in the application of technology to solve the problems of rural India.

This was the beginning of first, the Appropriate Technology Unit ( ATU ) in 1973 and later, in 1985, the Centre for Technology Alternatives for Rural  Areas, or CTARA, in IIT Bombay. But Date sir's true legacy is not CTARA, or even the invaluable insight we gained from him. It is his philosophy. His philosophy of true empowerment of people, combined with local self-sufficiency, has been heavily influenced by Gandhi and Schumacher, and has, in turn, influenced about 3 decades of CTARA students: Project Assistants as well as degree students. Analyzed deeply, it is the ONLY workable philosophy for sustainable rural development, and it seems to provide solutions to most rural problems that I apply it to.

The philosophy essentially is very simple: don't force your rule on people, don't force a large scale bureaucratic system on villages. Let villages handle their own problems, and help them in the process of doing so. They know the problems, and they more often than not have the solutions. Your task is limited to helping them connect the two and doing it in a sustainable way so that after you go away, the villages can do it on their own. And the smaller the scale of the problem/solution, the more effective it will be. Which means, always identify a large problem and divide it into smaller portions, and try to solve these portions separately, while not losing sight of the bigger puzzle. A simple application of this philosophy would be setting up bio-gas plants in a village with good cattle population but no toilets/sanitation system and heavy reliance on firewood. The health hazards due to open dung and defecation can be easily overcome by channeling all that excreta into a biogas plant, and supply the villagers with the resultant gas, which can be used for cooking, resulting in lesser exploitation of forest resources for the same.

Professor Date is nearing retirement now, and has won, as mentioned earlier, the prestigious Lifetime Achievement Award that IIT B gives to its best faculty members. I owe a profound debt of gratitude to him for completely changing the way I look at this world. It is he and the other professors of my department who are my motivation today.

And this is where the title of the post comes in. The line in the original song goes this way: 

"Gudda gaviyannu nungi, Gavi iruveya nungi, Govinda guruvina pada nannanu nungitta thangi"

Meaning, the hill swallowed the cave, and the cave swallowed the ant in it. So just as the hill swallowed the ant, my guru's feet swallowed me.

Pretty much sums up what I feel about Date Sir.

If anyone's interested in the song itself, here it is:


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