Last June, the Indian Space Research Organization confirmed the successful launch of a moon-bound spacecraft (Chandrayaan-2). The mission’s budget is only $141 million, significantly lower than that of other countries: the U.S. spentaround $25 billion on 15 Apollo missions (i.e. ~$100 billion with current prices). Likewise, India’s Mars Orbiter Mission cost $74 million, compared to NASA’s $671 million Maven Project. Other examples of “cheap” Indian innovation are the affordable cars offered by Tata, such as the Tata Nano, which costs around $3,500, or the cheap data bundles that Reliance Jio offers: about $2.80 for up to 3 GB of data and unlimited calls or a “WhatsApp Plan” of $0.20 per month for unlimited usage of WhatsApp and Facebook across India.
What does this mean?
Most of these innovations emerge in India because it is still a poor country with a large consumer base with little disposable income for high-end products. However, these types of frugal innovation tie into deeper Indian concepts of technology. In fact,there is even a word for this, jugaad, which is derived from the Hindi yoga, meaning “joining” or “union”, and from the Sanskrit word yukti, which may be translated as “hack”. This goes to show how this concept of Indian innovation is related to cosmotechnics; how we use and conceive of technology is intrinsically related to our cultural worldview, philosophy and metaphysics. India’s worldview can be described as one in which fantasy, sensibility and idealism merge with physical reality, leading to a free civil society as well as a focus on “otherworldly mysticism”. Bringing this back to the concept of technological innovation, it implies that technology in the Indian worldview is always related to transcendental concepts such as liberation, magic and spiritualism.
We have written before that India is a civilizational culture, defined by its spiritual and religious traditions. The idea of Indian innovation should thus be understood in relation to other concepts of the Indian world. For example, it relates to Mahatma Ghandi’s ideal of simple living, in which one should denounce material possessions and pursue an ascetic and self-sufficient lifestyle. This, in turn, relates to India’s society and economy, which are still highly rural and local in nature, or the subjugation of politics and economics to religious and spiritual practices in India. Speculating further, we could see that the coming generation of “transcendental” technologies (i.e. whose working surpasses our immediate sensory perceptions), such as artificial intelligence, brain-computer interfaces, or meaningful virtual worlds, tie into Indian cosmotechnics and that India could become a spiritual leader in the adoption and implementation of these technologies in our everyday lives.