Anupam, a mechanical engineer from Rewa, Madhya Pradesh, grew up in a family of farmers. He decided at a fairly young age that he wanted to be an engineer when he saw his uncle repairing his 25-year-old tractor. During the course of the interview, Anupam makes a very hard-hitting point that makes us think: technology is a utility and not luxury. Read on to find out how a boy from Rewa fell in love with technology and how we can use technology more sparingly so that it reaches those who really need it.
Anupam Singh Solanki, 26 years old, Mechanical Engineer, Pune
Interviewed by Vinaya Kurtkoti
Why did you decide to give us an interview on technology?
I’m closely related to this field, and I believe that technology is not properly utilised in our country.
What do you mean by ‘it is not properly utilised’?
If you compare our mobile phones, we change them often. The educated class used basic Samsung phones initially but now everyone has smartphones. We have alternatives for the Samsung phones, we have laptops as well. But farmers have been using the same tractors with an average of 5 kilometres per litre of diesel for years. So technology is not reaching people who actually need it.
So you mean to say that there’s concentration of technology in the hands of a few, and others don’t have access to it?
Concentration, yes, kind of. And many of us use technology for luxury. But the purpose of technology is utility, not luxury.
At what age did you start getting interested in technology?
I was very young, maybe in 7th or 8th standard. I saw my uncle repairing his 25-year-old tractor. This was purchased before I was born and it is still running.
When did you decide to become an engineer?
I decided to be an engineer when I was in the 9th. Before that I was interested in geography, but I realised that geography is not so popular in India. People think that they won’t be able to make money studying geography. Apart from these two, I was also interested in music, but you have to invest 7—8 years learning music.
How did your parents react to your decision to become a mechanical engineer?
My father wanted me to join the IT sector. The IT sector was booming back then, but I was not interested in IT. My mother, on the other hand, wanted me to become a doctor. But that was way too ambitious for me.
You mentioned earlier that the purpose of technology is utility, not luxury. How can you draw the line between ‘need’ and ‘want’ or ‘utility’ and ‘luxury’? How do you think people should go about their purchases?
People need to ask themselves this question: do I need this? If people stop buying high-end luxury items, the low sale of a particular product or a particular range of items will reflect in the market, and this will prompt the company to shift the features of the product or try to develop new products.
Do you think this will lead to increased access to technology for those who do not have it so far?
The shift is not instantaneous. Right now India is the largest market for mobile phones and automotive products. So these companies are earning their money. But the people who actually need these products are not getting them.
Could you give me an example of purchases made in the interest of luxury as opposed to utility?
It starts with luxury cars. In cities, we cannot drive above 100 kilometres per hour, so most people can use Nano. Using cars such as Tata Safari is not realistic. So changing the way we buy cars will direct the companies to change their product range. This is why, I think, Tata Nano started rolling out. Tata Nano, Alto, Maruti 800… these small segment cars are perfect city cars.
In India, there are hardly 2—3 companies that make tractors. What about the other companies? They can make tractors too, but they think they won’t benefit from making these products. Most farmers and villagers don’t know about the various products that exist in the market.
If farmers know about the products, they could arrange for money to buy them. But either they don’t know about new products, or these products are not available in India.
What are the other ways in your opinion to increase access to technology for farmers?
First, we need to make cost-effective products. In India, John Deere makes tractors, which are very good in terms of quality and strength. But most farmers cannot afford these tractors. And they don’t have spares and maintenance services in the remote areas of our country. So secondly, we need to expand the dealership and maintenance centres. Third, we need to spread awareness among the farmers about the different products that could help them. For example, I saw this video about a man who made a harvesting machine which allows him to cut crops alone and without bending. This machine was a battery-operated motor with a long rod. So such products are available, but not in India. Even if they are available in India, they are too costly.
The last question has nothing to do with your interview topic. But we ask everyone we interview – what does love mean to you? What does love mean to you?
Love is a very large circle that encloses almost every relationship, like father—son, teacher—student, brother—sister, husband—wife, friend—friend, even dog and human.