A pilgrimage that is older than time. A technology which the rest of the world is fast waking up to. What happens when you collaborate and merge these two dynamic timelines into one? You get the undisputed Kumbhathon. Ashwin Kandoi, Co- Founder & Director, Winjit in conversation with Mansee Dabral on what it takes to take the timeless through the perfunctory needle eye of the future. Excerpts:
AK: “They say the journey of a thousand miles begins with a simple step. And where we are today, is in reality a culmination of a thousand steps that each one of us took in our personal expedition and the individual dots lead up this remarkable initiative. Some of them literally traversed thousands of miles and mountains, nothing short of a fable. (Ramesh Raskar, Associate Professor, MIT, MEDIA LABS, who probably flew down 6 times in eight months from Boston to Nashik, fighting schedules, jet lags, commitments, but never once did he complain, while he gave this his best, will I know, smile and relate to this). For some, it was nothing short of an orchestral destiny piece to be a part of this unit. (Sandip Shinde fought a bout of Dengue not just for himself, but his entire family. And while lying on a hospital bed, he made a decision that if he recovered from this, he will dedicate a year of his life to a good cause. And he did just that. On recovery, Sandip gave the best part of the year relentlessly to this cause). And as far as I am concerned, I will always be indebted to Dr Sachin Pachorkar, the man who coined the term Kumbhathon in the first place and introduced me to this fantastic movement. He is someone who wanted to make a difference to city of Nashik through Crowd Sourced innovation, and somewhere we all joined him to make a larger dream come true. But this journey has been nothing short of a personal biography for me, which probably began when I was just a little boy.
I can still go back to my very first Kumbha Mela, which was a period of long school holidays with a lot of guests around us. By the second Kumbha I remember, I wanted to run away from the city! But it was with the third Kumbha, that things really changed. For the first time I felt a sense of inclusion, I wanted to be involved in different capacities, from a very personal level to a citizen level, if the occasion would have allowed me. At an individual level, being an avid photographer that I am, this was a fantastic time to capture the myriad colours that you can only get at this point of time in Nashik, because the landscape is a beautiful hue with the celebrations. But also, I was very aware of the sense of responsibility we had at a citizen level with such a mammoth moment happening in the city.
Things really picked up pace and moved ahead in the right direction at the Mobile Confluence happening at KBT College of Engineering, Nashik, where Dr.Sachin Pachorkar, asked me if the Kumbhathon team could join us as they wanted to present to us. The beauty is, much before the event even started, I still remember meeting this young boy Nilay Kulkarni who was barely out of his eighth grade, hanging around in his half pants, looking a little lost there. When I asked him if I could help him, he mentioned he was looking for the Mobile Confluence. A little surprised and taken aback, I shared with him that the event was just for college students, to which he humbly yet confidently replied, “I am an app developer and I am a part of the Kumbhathon”. For me at that stage, that was the exact instant I felt so right about this cause.I thought if being a part of the Kumbhathon, you can interact with driven people like this; I want in. That initial spark was absolutely cemented moving ahead because we truly loved what the Kumbhathon team presented to us and we never looked back.
The 8th Grader building Apps! My Meeting with Nilay at the Mobile Confluence. (We even built a video of him to inspire youngsters: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SfI8TOogPxg)
It’s pure hindsight today as I satisfactorily share this, but being a part of the team and offering whatever we could in our capacity was the best decision we took then. It was a gut feeling then, and hindsight today, but the consensus remains unchallenged even today. When we collaborated with the Kumbhathon team back in the day, it was a point where we had not even shifted to our new office, and had space restrictions. All we could offer to them was the area of our cafeteria, which the Kumbhathon team took on zealously. Seeing their dedication and spirit in that sweltering summer inspired us and made us so happy. With our new office space, we offered them any technical aid our team could give them, steaming cups of tea and more space to work out from. And as time moved on, the collaboration only became stronger.
For us at Winjit, to have the team (Kumbhathon) with us meant constant innovation and a buzz happening around us. And every time there was a Kumbhathon, we organized an ‘un-conference’ here in office where people just let their (Saadhu) hair down figuratively speaking of course, to have a good time (Smiles). At one such un-conference, we invited prominent doctors of Nashik to interact with the team, at other times we organized get together where the team purely bonded and kicked back for some light moments.
One Step at a Time: The Foot Counter in action on the day of the first Shaahi Snaan
The most beautiful part of the Kumbhathon was, there was no hierarchy or verticals to adhere to. There was only one cause, the Kumbhathon. People came, people went, but it made no difference to the movement. Everyone worked in the capacity of a team. And it was remarkable, the effort, the help and the initiative which was put up by each one of the members. From the Police Commissioner to the common man who was involved, their dedication and commitment is why the event was such a success in all honesty today.
Letting their (Sadhu) Hair Down: The team having a blast at an ‘un-conference’ post the Kumbhathon meet.
With the first, second and third shaahi snaans when we saw every effort come alive, the joy of planning for months to the real practical implementation of it fructify, is an emotion, only the team can truly relate to. And I can truly, proudly say that we have worked and collaborated with few of the most driven innovators and passionate people from around the world for this cause.
After the first Shaahi Snaan: An exhausted but exhilarated team celebrating next to the ghats!
And even though Kumbha Mela was over, we believed the Kumbha movement had to continue. And continue it did. Because no good movement or cause I believe ends just there. It is a snowball which only picks up momentum and grows bigger as it moves forward. A wonderful learning for us was round the corner post the Kumbha Mela.
Thanks to MIT Media Lab’s Camera Culture, who invited us to the Emerging Worlds Conference in the US, post the Kumbha, where they mapped their journey with the Kumbha as a team collaborative. While there, we were exposed to MIT’s initiative of how they solved real problems by being on ground rather than sitting in the comfort of closed spaces. For me individually, it was my life’s eye opener to see the kind of technology being built there and with the possibilities one can explore. What a vision, what a foresight the team has! The kind of innovations and initiatives taken by them there was inspiring stuff! And I knew we were on our second learning curve right there. This is the beauty of getting out there and collaborating and merging with interdisciplinary fields: the opportunity and palate it offers to you to get involved and keep pace with fellow likeminded units who become friends and close associates, and the journey then is so much more of a personal enthuse.
At MIT, Media Labs, Boston: (I better remember to pose in that suit of mine the next time!)
It has been a fantastic journey and looking back, and I have met some of the most collaborative and interesting people on this team. The journey couldn’t have been the same without support from Ajay Bohra and his team who has always been a mentor and unparalleled support, Sunil Khandbale who worked with Ramesh to get this started.
Interactions and support from all authorities, Corporates to name a few Praveen Gedam, Eknath Dawale, Deependra singh Kushwah, Shriarang Sarda Ashish Kataria, Akshay Golia and many. And each one of you knows exactly why I say this.
When Associates become Friends: With Ramesh Rascar, sharing a light moment.
The Kumbha was over; the orange hues had been captured. But for us, the journey of the next thousand steps had only just begun.
Photo Credits: John Werner