“Let’s do something about it!” There’s no waiting around for someone else to fix things for these guys, they’re taking matters in their own hands — from skiing to raise money for the leprosy-afflicted to rewriting an unbiased history of India and Pakistan; recycling tyres and pushing solar energy to solutions for the hearing impaired and making earthquake relief count. Motherland picks out a bunch of promising superheroes from across the country, determined to light up the world we live in.
Let there be light, thought four 19-year-olds studying at St. Xavier’s college in Mumbai, sparking off the Jal Jyoti Foundation in October 2012. Moved by a collective urge to light up the dim dwellings of the city’s crowded, neglected slums, they got together to figure out how they could help. “It started when I was teaching in the slums in Navy Nagar as a volunteer,” founder Sanjna Malpani, 22, tells us. “I realized the houses were built so close to each other that there was no light inside, even during the day. So a friend and I started looking for solutions and came up with ‘bottled bulbs’!” All it takes is a transparent plastic 1.25 litre bottle; a mineral water/soft drink bottle does fine.
They had initially considered solar panelling, but financial constraints meant it wasn’t feasible. They soon discovered the concept of “bottled light”. It’s something that only works during the day, but they were keen on at least getting the process started. The plastic bottle is filled with water, and 10 ml bleach is added to avoid fungal growth. A strong industrial sealant is used to fix it to the fibre glass roof that most slums have in place, positioned with half the bottle exposed to the sun and the other half popping into the house. Sanjna, along with Ashna Roy, Radhika Lokur, and Tasneem Kakal eventually started setting up bottled light solutions for slum areas under the Jal Jyoti banner.
Slum areas generally don’t have an inlet for natural light as there are no windows because they’re closely clustered. “So, if it’s a single storey establishment and you drill a hole in the roof, a beam of light comes in, illuminating only a specific spot. But if you put a bottle full of water there, the sunlight refracts to disperse the light evenly, equivalent to a 55W bulb.” It’s funny, but none of them were fully sold on the idea until they lit the first house and realised it actually works. They got help from a team from Switzerland called Liter of Light, a widespread global movement, which was on its way to Bangladesh at the time. The Jal Jyoti team asked if they would go through India. They agreed, came to Mumbai and helped the team with basic know-how and techniques. Liter of Light’s previous experiences included setting up bottled light in Cambodia and Colombia, but, while the situation in India is no doubt radically different, the four knew they could make it work given their understanding of the ground reality, and how the slums would react to and handle it.
Jal Jyoti’s four-member team is currently on enforced hiatus, as they’re all in different countries finishing up university, with no one being able to actively run the organisation in the last four months. Even so, they managed to install a total of 160 bottles last year, and the members are constantly on the lookout for solutions and sustainable technology to further help the cause.
Once they return to India, they plan to figure out solutions for the night as well, and on a much higher scale. They’ve also been toying with concepts such as gravity lighting and other affordable lighting solutions that, Sanjna tells us, should enter the Indian market soon.