Studying Water Use in India


I’m Nupur Dokras (LGO ’17), and I recently travelled to India as part of MIT’s D-Lab course, where I worked with in a team of MIT students to study water filtration in Uttarahand. Read my full blog post here.

The purpose of the project was to gather market data for a current MIT research project under Rohit Karnik, Associate Professor of Mechanical Engineering and Amy Smith,
Senior Lecturer, Department of Mechanical Engineering and Founding
Director of D-Lab. We wanted to understand what rural people in India
need and prefer to better develop a low-cost water filter.
We started
our project in Dehradun where we met with local partner organization
People’s Science Institute (PSI). Over a period of three weeks in India,
we travelled to Almora, Kapkot, and Bageshwar, three towns at the base
of the Himalayas, to conduct research. We worked with local university
students as interpreters. We hiked up and down the hills and approached
villagers to conduct interviews. After completing nearly 100 interviews
and a few design workshops, I was able to use what I learned in classes
such as Global Engineering and New Enterprises to develop a set of market findings.

interviews gave me an inside perspective on villagers and their way of
life. Some people had to walk for over an hour to gather their water
several times a day. For many, providing food for the family takes
precedence over water quality. Filters and maintenance parts were
difficult to find in local markets because the villages are so remote.

trip reinforced my studies here at MIT, but it also absolutely changed
my outlook on life. Not only did I learn about water filtration and
water use, but so much more about a simpler way of life. I saw students
walking for an hour each way to attend school. I laughed with a child as
he ecstatically ran across the field when we fixed his broken plastic
flip flop with duct tape. I tried on a crop basket and felt the enormous
weight of the mustard plants against my back as I climbed the hills.
Families greeted me with a cup of chai even though they had only enough
electricity to power three LEDs for the entire house. I watched ladies
lug gas tanks for cooking from the base of a hill to their kitchens.


I have visited Mumbai and Delhi for family trips before, so I did not
expect to be affected by culture shock. However, rural India was a
different experience. I realized just how much of an adventure we were
on when we had to go to ten different stores to find bottled water and
had to drive for another hour to find toilet paper and gasoline! The
food, though incredibly spicy, was so fresh and some of the best Indian
food I have ever had. When handed an orange in a village, I was promptly
given salt and spices to smear on the peeled orange. The mix of tangy
and spicy flavors was unforgettable!

This experience gave me a new appreciation for India’s beauty and a simple life. Additionally, I have a new perspective on how to view day-to-day challenges. They pale in comparison to other larger issues in the world. I know I wouldn’t have been able to learn many of these life lessons solely from the classroom. I am incredibly fortunate to have had this opportunity and will never forget the relationships I made, experiences I had, and lessons I learned.


Read my full blog post here!