14 August 2014

Local boys pose with sun masks during the launch ceremony of the solar-powered microgrid in Dharnai village. The first-of-its kind in India, this 100 kW solar microgrid, developed by Greenpeace India and partners BASIX and CEED, supplies around-the-clock electricity to more than 2,400 residents, 450 homes, and 50 commercial operations, including two schools and a healthcare facility.


It was the quietude that struck me first. Far from the incessant honking of Patna vehicles, the muck, the pollution, here I found peace. It was here that I felt calm. It was here that I felt, I should have been born a 100 years ago. It was here that the green fields soothed my eyes. It was here that the tweets of birds felt real.

Not far from here is Bodh Gaya. Maybe, I felt this peace cascading down and through me because I was not far from the land of Buddha. Or maybe, I am an incurable romantic!

The ‘here’ is this beautiful village of Dharnai in Bihar, a mere 80 kms away from Patna. My first visit was during summer. The heat was all-pervasive. Walking through the village with my colleagues, being introduced to the Mukhiya and other senior villagers; their hospitality warmed the cockles of my heart. Sweet tea accompanied with fresh off-the-field bhutta was a heaven-sent (we were starving!).

And then, I passed by one school and then another and then an aanganvadi. Beautiful children, their eyes sparkling with mischief, runny noses, and a smile playing on their lips. The womenfolk stared at us with curiosity and shy smiles.

But after 68 years of independence, they had not gained independence from darkness. Dharnai had not seen light for 30 years. No electricity. Is that unfair or what?!! Yeah, yeah, you might mutter to yourself, this is the story of many a millions in our country. So what’s new?

What’s new is the love story of Suraj and Bijli. I wish this love would have reached fruition when I was growing up. Power cuts, sometimes for three days at a stretch, studying for my board exams under the light of a lantern with mosquitoes attacking me was not a pleasant experience. Kabhi transformer jal gaya toh kabhi line toot gayi toh kabhi pole hi gir gaya. Mera bharat kitna mahan!

They spoke about their inability to grow rice due to lack of water. A pity because the land is so fertile. They spoke about buying land near Patna so they could have water and electricity for farming. Burns a big hole in their pockets. They spoke about lack of basic health facilities, they spoke about their children leaving their homes in search of a better future. They spoke about wanting to be part of the modern India. They spoke about their lives coming to a stop after sunset when they could do so much more. The list was endless.

It was time to change all this. The smiles needed to turn to laughter. The go-getter attitude of these village folk needed to turn to profitability, not just for the villagers but also for our country.

Who better to do that than Suraj and Bijli. They coming together was all that was needed to turn problems into solutions. They did. And how!

The lovestory of Suraj (sun) and Bijli (electricity) has culminated into a decentralised solar-powered micro-grid bringing light to 450 households and shops. Solar water pumps have ensured that the land never runs dry and flourishes with green fields.

Kids frolicking under the waterfall of solar pumps will not fail to bring a smile to your face and sparkle in your eyes.

It is the land of the Buddha, after all.

The solar microgrid project is a collaboration of Greenpeace India, BASIX and CEED, you can find more details at dharnailive.org.

Reema Ganguly is the Marketing and Communications Manager at Greenpeace India