The Story Of The Couple Behind The Movie Swades

“Never be afraid to travel the road less traveled by” – Aravinda PillalamarriAravinda Pillalamarri and Ravi Kuchimanchi were the couple who were behind inspiration of the movie Swades with Shah Rukh Khan as the lead actor.  The NRI couple returned to India to give back their love to their motherland. Distressed by the outcasted living standards of the tribal of Bilgaon, they provided electricity to the ‘off-the–grid village schools’  through the method of pedal power generation.Ashutosh Gowarikar read the book called ‘Bapu Kuti’ by Rajni Bakshi. There he saw the reference to the achievements of the duo.

Making of Shah Rukh Khan’s SwadesAshutosh Gowarikar read the book called ‘Bapu Kuti’ by Rajni Bakshi. There he saw the reference to the achievements of the duo. He soon got interested in the life and motivation of the couple. He spent time with Ravi and Aravinda. Gowariker went to see a village of adivasi named Bilgaon in Narmada Valley, the back drop of the Narmada Bachao Andolan.“Ashutosh was interested in knowing things like the costs and whether that was something Shah Rukh Khan could withdraw out of the ATM machine, the size and space of something that would be needed to light a village so he could visualize the sets, how fast something like this could be built and also about suggestions for the story and the script that he read out. He took contacts so that he could get the turbine replicated,” says Aravinda.However, the couple were disappointed with the fact that the movie didn’t highlight the conflict and the people’s power to ascertain the right of water resources and their process of decision making.“If you believe life is not compartmentalized, then you don’t have to get out of one compartment (Physics) to get into another compartment- grassroots.

Foundation Stone of AID and MarriageRavi Kuchimanchi is one of the founder member of Association for India’s Development. He founded the association in 1991 while he was a graduate student of Maryland University. The main concept and driving principle of the association was that “ problems are interconnected, so must be the solution.”  Ravi is an IIT-Mumbai graduate with a PHD in Physics from Maryland University. Many of his papers have been published in international physics papers. During his years at Maryland, he came up with toy-puzzle as an early to raise money to tackle poverty. He obtained US patent as well and his puzzle was featured by several channels and by New York Times. With poor status of world economy, the project didn’t get picked up. This is when the idea of Association for India’s Development struck his mind and ever since then he has been working on it.The couple got married between 1996 and 1998. After receiving his postdoctoral degree in theoretical particle physics at Virginia University in 1998, they moved to India. Ravi remarked in nostalgic tone that “ It was not an easy decision to quit formal research in Physics which I love.

However with scientific papers accessible on the Internet nowadays, I manage to keep up with the developments in the field and even publish something once in a while,” he says.Aravinda has always been a passionate lover of her country. Born and brought up USA she remained in touch with her roots and when the opportunity came to do something for her motherland she instantly grasped it. However the fear of living in the third world devoid of the pleasures of her NRI life did give her chills but when she reached Mumbai “accessing current at the flip of a switch, water on tap, and of course Internet at one’s fingertips,” the first world was still with her.The organisation has now matured into a movement ‘ for sustainable, holistic development with 30 chapters in USA and AID-UK, AID-Australia and AID-INDIA.’ The organisation brings forth skilled professionals including NRI community to work along with the poor for a deeper comprehension of the causes beyond poverty symptoms.

Dams V/s People

In 1998,they visited the villages affected by Sardar Sarovar dam after getting to know about Narmada Bachao Andolan, watching films and meeting with Medha Patkar. From this time on they have been active part of the satyagrahas, have met with the officers of government at all levels be it tehsil, Supreme Court or World Bank.Aravinda shared her first reflection of her visit to Bilgaon with a reporter by saying “What I found after spending some time with the indigenous people of the Narmada Valley was that when they would go to meet the district collector it was all foreign – foreign language, foreign concepts. One can be in the same country yet be in a different world. They [people] actually say things like, we need sturdy people to occupy the border areas, and therefore displacing them from the valley is a matter of national security. And a real classic statement: tribal do not live in community — their houses are far apart. But if you spend even a few days in a tribal hamlet you will learn that each one of those houses was built with the participation of every family in the village. Yet today those houses are submerged without the consent of any of those villagers, just by decisions made in remote centers of power approved in World Banks and Supreme Courts that don’t even speak the same language or live in the same world as those whose fates they seal.”The couple feels that the villagers don’t need “alternate energy”, what they require is alternate purposes and alternate politics.The electric lines that passes from Sardar Sarovar dam goes through the Narmada Valley that is right next to the dam! The irony is that the nearby villages have been living in utter darkness.They took away their land with a promise to rehabilitate and to provide electricity however, couldn’t give them anything but poverty and backwardness.

Rural Electrification

In 1999-2000 Ravi along with his collaborators developed a pedal power generator to provide remote village schools with electricity. The electricity is generated by pedaling the cycle. One hour pedaling generates three hours of electricity supply to a room. People take turns to pedal. The pedal power generator has now made the Bilgaon energy-sufficient providing electricity to 12 helmets of village of Bilgaon.Now the electricity has been prioritised with the objective of lighting of homes, community agriculture, the pumping of drinking water, livelihood creation and at last for entertainment. The village has five sets of television. The electricity charges are INR 10 a tube light and INR 30 a television per month. The people of Bilgaon are highly appreciated for their voluntary 2000 person-days of ‘Shramdaan’ to make their village self-sufficient.

Integrated Programmes

Understanding that electricity is nothing just another solution to the poor living standards the couple has initiated various education and vocational training programmes in the tribal villages. Aravinda has been teaching the villagers the ways of healthy life. She has been raising awareness on sustainable lifestyle and fair trade, she aids tailors to design and market khadi garments with a perspective of keeping alive the traditional spirit of India in modern times. For maternal health and empowerment and healthy upbringing of tribal children, she makes the women aware of importance of natural birth, baby wearing, breastfeeding, natural hygiene and sleep sharing.  She motivates villagers to take control over their education and skills with initiatives such as the villages under her guidance have kitchen gardens, whole foods, village libraries and accountability in governmental services for mother and child.The couple travels to various parts of the Bilgaon and nearby locality, stays in their homes like one of them, make careful note of their problems and sit together with them to formulate measures for the problem. And this they do quite often. They feel that it is very crucial to review the success of each of the villages under them so that the aim of AID is achieved. Their vision for the country is simple: “It is high time the people in the cities and villages sit together and have a shared vision.”

Source: From the Editors of Gadgetadda