Saturday, November 21, 2009

Hope, Sea Dolphins & Electric Lemons

This is my first blog post after an extended 55 day break. And I have my reasons.

I had been working overtime on a big idea, giving life to an ostensibly brilliant scheme of mine (at least that is what I wish to believe). I wanted my idea to fly like the Wright Brothers' first home-made airplane but I am not building a new aircraft in case you were curious….rather something that would spawn employment, help the poor, save the planet and also generate a fairly decent amount of money.

Alas, not even a single investor (I met three) seemed to share my social entrepreneurial beliefs. They were okay with the money angle but not with the saving the planet thing or helping the underprivileged. Can’t blame though, they wanted to fund a money-making business venture and not a Mother Teresa themed non-profit as they misread mine to be.

After almost a year of refining my idea, getting the right people on board, fixing the maths and even micro fine-tuning my elevator pitch (that’s the presentation you make to your investors), I was obviously very disappointed. And it took me almost a week of introspection at a secluded beach resort to get through the disillusion.

Perhaps the azure waters of the sea had a reassuring effect on me or maybe it was sanguine hope of the touristy young kids I befriended at the hotel. Every day, they would wait with me on the beach front, waiting to catch a glimpse of the elusive dolphins the resort brochure claimed were aplenty there. That it was a gimmick was apparently evident but the kids believed anyway. While I would lounge on the beach reading Stephen King with Cold Play and Collective Soul for company, they would sit around with binoculars and digital cameras intently inspecting the sea, waiting for the right moment. 3 days elapsed but they never lost hope and impressed with their dedication, I didn’t wish to discourage them.

During sundown on the 4th day of my stay, their efforts paid off. In true Hollywood style that even astonished the resort staff, we were entertained with a breath taking spectacle of at least 9 to 10 small dolphins, frolicking in concert, around 200 meters from the shore. It was a spectacular show indeed but what made it more special were the kids who were relishing every moment of it, shouting and juggling their digital gadgets, completely satisfied at their 4 day wait.

This episode reminded me of a similar experience during my childhood. It is about an electric lemon experiment my friend Bobby and I attempted for our sixth grade science fair project. It sounded so cool. A lemon, the library science hobby book said, could put out enough electrical energy to power a small light bulb. We rounded up a lemon, a small flashlight bulb and some copper wire from a defunct radio the day before the school fair and figured we were all set to glory.

Our experiment was aptly named ‘Lemon Electricity’. On the day of the science fair, Bobby and I poked two pieces of the copper wire into opposite ends of the lemon and wrapped the other ends around the base of the light bulb holder as the book instructed. But nothing happened. Absolutely nothing. We kept jabbing the wires into the other end of the lemon and fiddling with the bulb, but to no avail. We thought our lemon might be a dud or maybe the bulb was dead too so, we used the additional lemons and bulbs we had bought along for backup but it still didn’t work. We became desperate, we asked around but of course, there were no fresh lemons or bulbs to be found in the school canteen. So, Bobby and I sat at our allotted booth with our punctured lemons and a wet set of bulbs demonstrating to the fair visitors how it was, well, supposed to work.

I still love the idea that a lemon can produce electricity. And over the years, I’ve become fascinated by simple people who have the optimistic resolve to ride out failures and the courage to push the damp letter out of the wet envelope. They are the generators of hope, ordinary people you’ll encounter who are pushing extraordinary ideas in different ways. There are some people I personally know who inspire me and push me to move on; calling to mind my favorite definition of Hope which comes from the American Heritage Dictionary “the desire and search for a future good, difficult but not impossible to attain..”

So regardless of whether it’s starting a company, passing an exam or marrying the girl of your dreams, its important to never give up Hope. After all, it is Hope that inspires you to dream and encourages you to follow your own electric lemons, dolphins or other ideas, no matter how big or small.

And by the way, Bobby and I did figure out a technique to get the lemons to work (you use concentrated lemon juice instead). It also won us a prize during our seventh grade science fair. If anyone of you reading this has gotten an electric lemon to work, I’d love to hear from you on how you did it. With lots of hope, tata.
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