One sunny January morning in a dusty town in Banda district, a reporter got a call that there was an unidentified flying object, a few feet off the ground in Tindwari, a block some 25 kilometres away from the district headquarters. He, and a bunch of his peers, headed off to Tindwari to check the story out for themselves. A scrawny young boy flew a shaky contraption some eight feet off the ground, surrounded by a cloud of mediapersons. News flew, belatedly, you might say, to the closest police station in Tindwari town, and between the befuddled constables on duty and the press, they plucked the flying object and its pilot out of the sky, and accused him of being in cahoots with the ISI, and hatching a plot to assassinate prime minister Modi.
When we caught up with the 21-year-old Ramchandra, a.k.a. Narad, a few days after this this botched X-files encounter, he had disassembled his helicopter, in spite and/or fear, and it lay strewn tragically, in parts across the entrance to his one-room tenement in Tindwari town. ‘I can’t even read and write, how would I know what ISI is!’ he sneered. ‘Nothing comes of reading and writing – everyone I know who pursued their education has failed. I thought I would do something else.
From the time I was a kid I wanted to make one of these. I always wanted to travel in one, but I knew I would never have enough money for that. So I thought I would try and make one myself. This was just an idea in my head, I kept thinking, can this happen, can I do this? I thought I should try, and see what happens. If I had money, what would I not be able to do?’ So Narad prowled around, to Fatehpur and Kanpur, and sourced old motorcycle engine parts and other electricals necessary for his dream vehicle. He put a small fortune into this, some 30-40,000 rupees. Unfortunately, inventiveness and imagination that stretches one’s everyday lifeworld out of shape, isn’t a personality trait that is nurtured in Tindwari. Said Vimal Pandey, the slightly sheepish clerk at the Tindwari police station, ‘Think about it, what would you do if there was a flying object with no control out in the sky? What if it falls and kills 10 people, who will be responsible? Think about it from a humanitarian perspective.’
Narad’s friends and family said the police broke Narad’s spirit. Although, a few weeks later, he had assembled the parts to make his helicopter again, and claimed he wanted to make it again and show the public, ‘the same people who had made such a spectacle of me. Till I get this helicopter off the ground, I won’t be able to sleep in peace’, the junior school dropout had lost some of his confidence. ‘The constable told me I was mad. And that I could be locked up if I did things like this.’
And so the inventor-turned-cynic left Banda, where friends and family thought he had lost his mind, to explore the world outside. Months later, when he returned, he talked about wanting to know what people were inventing, in the country and beyond, to learn things beyond his world. Now, Narad is back in Banda, with noticeably leaner ambitions and a striking Mumbai-infleunced handlebar moustache. He runs a small electrical repair shop, where young and old fans claim he can fix and create anything he puts his mind to. Somewhere under the taciturn, hardened exterior, there’s still a glint of the inventor, waiting to break out, ‘There are so many things in this world that are yet to be invented. I want to do what hasn’t been done before.’