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Saturday, September 18, 2010

The real Swadesis

While at Johns Hopkins University (1991-'95), I used to often see this young, pretty Indian girl on campus. With a strong accent typical of Indian American "kids", she used to talk about India with passion. While it was obvious that she was more intense than other youngsters, I honestly did not think much of her passion at that time. I had seen other kids of Indian origin go through a similar "phase" of love for India, which did not translate into much real benefit for India.

I got introduced to Aravinda Pillalamarri subsequently, through a common friend. I found out that she was interested in library sciences - a subject that did not mean much to me. We spent some nice times together, I found her thoughts intense always and her accented Telugu sort of funny.

Change of scene to Princeton. I graduated from Hopkins, got married and took up a job in New Jersey. We got an unexpected call from Aravinda. She said that she was in Boston, and that the "thiruppavai" puja at the Bridgewater temple was done very traditionally (at 5am on shivering, icy winter mornings). The puja  happened throughout a particular month (dhanur-masam). Aravinda wanted to stay at Princeton and attend the puja on multiple days, so called to see if we wanted to join her. My wife and I like this kind of things, so we jumped at the opportunity.

Through the 45-minute early morning rides for thiruppavai, subsequent interactions, and eventually a wonderful Maha-Sivaratri celebration in 1996 for which she did not eat or sleep for 24 hours,  I discovered that Aravinda was made of a very different fiber than most other youngsters. Her intensity was on, throughout the day, whether it is in reading the Vishnu Sahasranamam, in enjoying music, in enjoying the beauty of winter, or in discussing library sciences. I felt very proud and protective about her.

When Aravinda told me some time later that she was getting married to a certain Ravi Kuchimanchi, I was very happy. I requested that the bride's party should use my house for the marriage. I did not know much about Ravi except that he did a PhD in Nuclear Physics at UMD and that he started a service organization named AID India. Throughout Aravinda and Ravi's marriage, I did not know a single person from both sides, but felt like it was my own younger sister's marriage. I was very happy to meet Ravi and see his intensity.

Since that time (1996 summer), I have had zero contact with Aravinda. I knew that AID was very active and that Aravinda and Ravi had moved back to India in 1998 for full-time village service. I fondly thought of them often, but never had a chance to get in touch.

Today morning, as I was leisurely browsing the Web, I saw this on Wikipedia: "Swades (the Shahrukh Khan starer) is inspired by the story of Aravinda Pillalamarri and Ravi Kuchimanchi, the NRI couple who returned to India and developed the pedal power generator to light remote, off-the-grid village schools." With a pleasant shock, a filled heart, I searched and found many more accolades for the great work this couple has rendered in the past 12 years.

I am honored to have had this personal perspective of Aravinda's development, from a passionate youngster to someone benefiting hundreds of thousands of lives in India. Aravinda and Ravi are indeed flaming examples of the love and dedication that each of us must shower on our motherland. Hats off to them!


  1. Wow!!! thats really a heart touching moment :) Lucky U...

  2. Blessing to know this story and about the work you all do.

  3. Sir, it is amazing what intermediate technology can do. In my schooldays when I read Schumacher's Small is Beautiful, which was a very popular book at that time, I was inspired with a new vision of the world where possibilities would be explored and technology would be exploited to its fullest; inventions, innovations and contraptions would take progress to remote corners of the world. However, despite the information revolution, nothing much happened on those lines. People like Ravi and Aravinda are to me the remains of a dream that once was, but also the reminders of a vision that could once again be.

  4. this is really wonderful and hats off to the couple