Getting to Know Some of India’s Future Leaders

Before I arrived in Bangalore, people told me: Bangalore is different. It’s techy, it’s new, and it has a spirit of entrepreneurialism. Bangalore is full of people too impatient for their economy to fully develop. They’d rather work on start-ups and business ideas now and be the drivers of the new India.

I had planned to visit the city to spend some time with Raghava KK, an emerging explorer for National Geographic, and an all-around innovative thinker. But while in town, I also got to see that creative spirit in action.

Alok Shetty is an example. His idea was to repurpose old shipping containers into stadiums. The giant boxes can only be used so many times to transport goods across oceans. When they pass their usable life, he makes them into stadiums to seat as many as 250 people. These structures give smaller communities places to gather. They can be built within a day, and shipped the next day on a truck.

Alok’s idea provides a public service, too. Each mini-stadium costs about $20,000 and his group is working on building several prototypes. In the meantime, he says, they’ve already received interest from the New York Knicks and Brooklyn Nets basketball teams. They’re attracted to the idea of using the small stadiums in areas around New York for fans to gather and watch telecasts of games played in nearby big arenas.

Deepak Ravindran is another thinker with a global idea for developing countries. People in rural areas in countries like India don’t have access to search engines, let alone the Internet. But many of those people do have cell phones.

Deepak figured he’d build a search engine to work via text. Text a question and you receive a one-sentence response. More than 130 million now use it. The most popular queries, Deepak says, align with ABCD: astrology, Bollywood, cricket, and devotional (religious queries). And S. “Sex,” he said, “a lot of questions about sex.”

To see real fearlessness in India, you’d have to spend some time with Shilo Shiv Suleman. Shilo’s an artist, but she’s more than just a person who sketches and paints. She’s one of the leaders of Bangalore’s women’s rights movement. India isn’t always an easy place to be fearless about rights, especially in a culture largely rooted in defined gender roles.

View Images

Shilo had me over for tea and showed me her work. She travels around India to speak out against episodes of sexual assault while encouraging young women to feel empowered. Shilo’s a great artist. But with her poise under pressure, she also seems like a person who might one day be her country’s prime minister.

All three of these thinkers I met dreamed out loud of what India could soon become. Many of their friends made comparisons to Silicon Valley, seeming to want to recreate the drive of California’s innovation epicenter. But if their ideas and energy are any indication, they won’t be lapping for the attention of America. They’ll be competing with it.