8 Things We Can Learn from the People of Meghalaya

8 Things We Can Learn from the People of Meghalaya


I recently visited Meghalaya, one of the most beautiful states of India, situated in the north-eastern part of the country. This was my first tour of the north-east, to Assam and Meghalaya, two of the popular ‘seven sisters of India’ as they are called. While my visit to Assam was much of what I had expected to see, the tour of Meghalaya was an eyeopener.

Here are 8 things profound in Meghalaya that made me reflect hard on our ways of living in the cosmopolitan, metropolitan cities. Take a bow, Meghalaya!

Laitlum Canyon, Shillong
Laitlum Canyon, Shillong

1. Clean your own mess
Nearly every household in Meghalaya, particularly in the surrounding areas of Shillong and in Sohra, takes care of its garbage. They not only reuse stuff a lot, but also make compost of the wet waste, burn the rest of the waste and then use the ashes as a soil fertilizer. The government agency does come for waste collection but what’s noticeable is that people neatly pack the garbage in bags or covered bins before keeping it outside their houses for the regular pick up. People are generally conscious of not creating waste, disposing it only where there is a dustbin, and keeping their surroundings clean. For miles, on the road, in the hills, around the lakes, in the grasslands, nowhere one would see any waste, and therefore touring the state is a pleasurable experience and the only thing you are to see in Meghalaya is its extraordinary beauty. Unlike some of the cosmopolitan and metropolitan city dwellers of India and indifferent administration, people in Meghalaya seem very particular about keeping their houses and city/villages clean.

It is admirable that from the lowest to marginal to large income families, nearly everyone in Meghalaya makes an effort towards keeping their place clean, making their state probably the cleanest in India. And that deserves respect because no other state in India that I have visited has been able to match up to this level of conscious effort from residents and the government.

2. Go organic
The people in Meghalaya seem to have a deeper connection with nature. Both the residents and the government opt for maximum use of organic material. For example, extensive use of bamboo, roots, natural herbs, wild plants, etc. can be seen in the stuff that is being used in houses and in the state, in general. For example, nearly all over the state the government has put dustbins made of bamboo. It doesn’t get affected by rains, it is easily replaceable, and it is cost-effective! I feel it is a vicious circle – they preserve nature, which leads to better weather conditions, better green cover and which in turn gives them easy access to organic produce for use.

3. Dustbins everywhere
It’s true. This is the first state I have seen in India which has a dustbin at nearly every 100-200 meters. It was simply super cool! I always feel that one of the main reasons why cities like Delhi and Bangalore have turned into garbage cities is because there are no dustbins, for miles! And the ones that are there are either full or do not have a base! There is no regular collection/clearance either! In Meghalaya, not only were the dustbins made of organic material (which also promotes local industry), but they were also placed everywhere at a uniform distance and they were being cleared with great discipline, even in remote areas. I did not see any overflowing dustbin, rather each one in Sohra (which is the wettest place on the planet) was covered with a reused cement bag to prevent the trash from getting wet! I wish municipal corporations in India visit Meghalaya, instead of making trips to foreign countries, to learn how to manage city waste!

Street lamps in Sohra
Street lamps in Sohra

4. Reuse
It is amazing how the entire state is focused on reuse. In Sohra particularly, the street lights are covered with not glass or metal lampshades but by reused, half-cut plastic bottles/jars. It not only reduces the plastic pollution but also protects the lights from the constant rain in the region. And, again, it is durable, cost-effective, and easily replaceable. I found it quite an innovative model adopted not only by the people but also accepted by the state government. Imagine if we adopt the same for all of India in some manner – we could reuse a considerable amount of plastic and save on generating more waste.

5. Kindness matters
The culture of a state/region matters a lot when it comes to tourism. Unlike Uttar Pradesh, a state where you need to be wary of thieves, eve-teasers, fake guides, etc. around the tourist spots, touring Meghalaya is very safe. People are generally kind. Even the very low-income groups living in remote areas are kind in offering help if you need it. In my five-day tour, there are several instances where we stopped for tea and snacks and witnessed locals’ kindness towards each other, be it a free tea or a free ride or an affectionate bowl of soup! When people are happy, and share a hearty smile, the general mood/the environment is light. In Meghalaya, especially in Sohra, one could feel it almost everywhere.

6. Endurance
Living in the hills can teach you a lot. Life in the hills is hard, the weather conditions, the distances, the lack of proper livelihood, the lack of facilities, etc. make living daily life quite a task. I believe endurance comes naturally to the people who live in the hills. In Meghalaya too I found that people have far more endurance and acceptance of life as is than we who live in the well-provided for environments. I find that quite admirable. To learn to live life at its pace, not rush it or fret about it, is something one could learn from them.

Flowers on the roadside in Sohra
Flowers on the roadside in Sohra

7. Care for nature
Nearly every household in Meghalaya is a garden! No matter the size of the house, every home is well kept with nice little windows and white lace curtains, and a welcoming garden of flowers or an alley of potted plants. People are very careful about preserving nature. They care for it, nurture it, and protect it diligently. I also found that people are quite conscious of how their actions could harm nature and they try avoiding them. A conscious effort not to litter is just one of the things that’s on the list. And that is why all over the state one can see clean, abundant flowerbeds on the roadside, grasslands, flowers and vegetable gardens in the houses, well-maintained parks and lakes, and untouched natural beauty. I feel much of Meghalaya’s beauty is nature’s gift to its inhabitants for the care they offer towards its upkeep.

8. Live like a community
Last but not least, I found a great camaraderie and a sense of community in the people of Meghalaya. It makes a lot of difference to a tourist to see the people of a state as one community, and a welcoming one at that! In a 10-day tour, I never saw a fight, heard no arguments, no abuses, no accidents. I am not doubting that they all must be existing but no one was washing their dirty linen in public. Why I point this out is because there are places where the behavior of the locals among themselves can tell a lot about the culture of the state, which at times is not a pleasant realization. I feel that people in Meghalaya are aware that they are a tourist-friendly state and they are supposed to behave responsibly. It almost looks like there is an understanding among them and certain behavior is promoted as a community.

I hope this list evokes curiosity in you to visit this beautiful state and contribute to its economy. Do write in if ever you visit Meghalaya and are able to observe any of these eight things. It would be great to learn from your experience. Also, I hope someday someone will take inspiration from this to start making amends, at home, and drive change to make our cities technologically advanced, yet naturally beautiful.

Charkha Gets Innovative Twist to Produce Hand Spun Colored Yarn

Charkha Gets Innovative Twist to Produce Hand Spun Colored Yarn


The Colored Yarn prototype
The Colored Yarn prototype

In an attempt to give an innovative twist to the age-old spinning wheel (charkha), students at the MIT Media Lab India Design Innovation Workshop have created a prototype that can color the yarn on the fly!

The project, Colored Yarn, has been created to provide technology advantage to the weaver community of India.

The Spinning Wheel

Charkha is one of the oldest known forms of the spinning wheel. It works with a drive wheel being turned by hand, while the yarn is spun off the tip of the spindle. It is a small, portable, hand-cranked wheel that is ideal for spinning cotton and other fine fibers. Mostly, the charkha is used for spinning cotton and the hand spun cloth is called Khadi in the Indian peninsula.

According to the Handloom Census of India 2009-10, India has about 29 lakh handloom workforce working on 23.77 lakh looms across household and non-household handloom units. About seven percent of the 20.91 lakh working household looms continue to use the hand spun yarn, supporting the Khadi programme. The most extensive use has been observed in Tamil Nadu and Karnataka where 30.1 percent and 24.4 percent looms operate with hand spun yarn, respectively.

It is for the community of weavers who provide hand spun yarn for the looms that the young innovators wanted to change the traditional way the charkha works.

The Colored Yarn

Team 2GB students Monica and Lavanya with Mentor Artem Dementyev
Team 2GB students Monica and Lavanya with Mentor Artem Dementyev

Attendra Sharma (20) of the Institute of Hotel Management, Gandhinagar along with Monica J. (21) of PESIT University, Bangalore, and Lavanya Gupta (20) of Dhirubhai Ambani Institute of Information and Communication Technology, Gandhinagar, have developed an innovative prototype of the charkha that allows for the yarn to be colored on the fly.

The trio developed the project as part of the ‘Sensors Across Scale’ track at the 2015 MIT Media Lab India Design Innovation Workshop that was held in Gandhinagar, Gujarat, in January. While the track focused on building new sensor systems working across scales, it also encouraged innovations that “affect human relationships and social problems”.

The 2GB team (two girls and a boy), as they called it, focused on innovating with the spinning wheel not with the sensors but by using basic components such as the box charkha, a pulley, a coloring unit, and a spool.

The team used a briefcase charkha that weighs just about 1.4 kilograms. Here’s how it works:

  • A tightly rolled tube of cotton, called pooni, is one of the ways to fine and even spinning. Weavers can make poonis from pre-carded cotton by laying a thin layer of cotton on a flat surface and rolling it around a thin stick and compressing it with hands.
  • For proper tension, the spindle support post must be positioned far enough so that the spindle drive cord holds it vertical. Also, the post base should be angled so that, when the spindle is spinning freely, its pulley rotates midway between the post arms, not touching either one.
  • For the first time, a leader is added to each spindle to help start the spinning process. The drive wheels turn together smoothly and the tension of the thread gets adjusted by moving the small wheel.
  • A spinner begins on this apparatus by drawing out the yarn to arm’s length with one hand while turning the big wheel clockwise with the other hand. The trick is to coordinate the speed of the draw with the speed of wheel turning, so that the yarn holds together but not too much twist travels up into the cotton in one’s hand. (Source: http://www.markshep.com/peace/Charkha.html.)

The 2GB team introduced a coloring unit as an attachment to the briefcase charkha. As a spinner spins, the plain thread passes through the unit where color is dropped on the thread through a funnel, producing a clean, dry, dyed hand spun yarn.

“This is a new and unique use of technology on a traditional product. The process of spinning the yarn and then dyeing it in a color of choice is a five-day process. Our prototype not only allows the weavers to color the yarn within a few seconds, but also provides them the freedom to experiment with different colors of their choice for the hand spun fabric, without much dependency on the dyeing process. By making minimal changes in the charkha, we have tried to retain the authenticity of the product and yet modernize it enough to save the art,” said Lavanya and Attendra who conceptualized and engineered the prototype.

The team plans to improve upon the design and function of the coloring unit to create a final product.

To know more about the Colored Yarn prototype, write to lavanya181194@gmail.com or attendra.ihma@gmail.com.

(This article is part of a series on innovations presented at the 2015 MIT Media Lab India Design Innovation Workshop.)