Most of us think of Siberia either for the cranes which fly from there every year for India or for the dissidents who were sent there during communist rule. But now we will have an additional reason to think of Siberia. And that is the distinction of being Russia’s first node of the Honey Bee Network at Tomsk State University set up in 1878.
Thanks to Prof Olga Ustyuzhantseva, I had an opportunity to interact with the university’s faculty, students and many innovators, scientists, thinkers and others to trigger honey bee network activities in Russia. At minus 15 degrees centigrade temperature, layers of snow naturally seemed to cover all buildings and the side lanes. But there was a problem. While snow on the main street was cleared regularly by machines, side lanes had undulating depositions of snow, making the path very difficult to walk particularly for older people. This problem among many others triggered an intense discussion about what kind of innovations could be developed to overcome this problem at low cost.
The situation in rural areas is often quite difficult. We went to Chimoski, a village which has an old traditional khazak culture still being maintained by the community. Water availability was one problem. When even in cities, the water supply breaks down at minus fifty degrees, the people take recourse to drawing water from the wells; in villages, such supply may not even exist. Wells thus are inevitable. Culture has a way to deal with the inevitable. Any thing which becomes necessary, culture shows it in a variety of metaphors, aphorisms, adages. “Don’t ever spit into a well, you may need to drink water from it” is one such Siberian adage. I remember seeing a lot of debris, old clothes, shoes and what not on the cover of a parapet of an old functional step well in Jhinjhunwada, little Rann of Kuchh. I am sure we have such sayings in our culture too.
Using a pulley, water is drawn from a well not too far from a major nuclear power plant and oil exploration site. There were many other traditions kept alive in this village for pottery, crafts, architecture, herbal teas etc. Technology of making clay pots for storing potatoes, other seeds and milk, had many unique properties. One of the steps in making this pot is to soak the hot pot at 200 Celsius in hit milk. After drying, the pot is polished with bee wax. It is supposed to make the surface antibiotic and keep things fresh for a longer period. The people living in this village also gave us herbal teas having several ingredients inferring various health advantages. As usual, the mechanisms for validating and value adding in their knowledge were missing.
I hope that search for grassroots innovations in Siberia will give us opportunity to learn a lot from each other. Two of the colleagues from SRISTI will go to Tomsk soon to prepare for Shodhyatra there in July.