Moved by stories, driven by curiosities : Dhairya Dand, award-winning researcher-designer-inventor
Updated on: 16 Nov 2015
From growing up on the outskirts of Nashik to creating a shape-shifting screen and working on a bacteria-based computer, the 27-year-old has been widely hailed as a path-breaking innovator. In an interview spanning emails, Skype conversations and phone calls, the award-winning researcher-designer-inventor tells Marisha Karwa about his formative years, why he skipped his college lectures and what motivates him to keep inventing.
Where did you grow up? What were your childhood years like?
I grew up on the outskirts of Nashik. My father was a plumber and my mother, a storyteller and housewife. My father built our house with his own hands. We had many animals — three monkeys, seven dogs, five cats, one wild goat, an ant colony and a dozen white rats. I was supposed to take up my father's craft, so I was taught plumbing when I was six. I also picked up carpentry and masonry from my father's friends. My mother would tell me stories, which fed my imagination. The stories, combined with my dad's hands-on approach added to my personality — the hand played with mechanical objects even as the mind created stories about it in an imaginary world. For example, SuperShoes , which has insoles that tickle you to guide you in the right direction, was born out of the mind imagining the possibilities but the limbs working in sync with the thought.
I was a bad student in school... I barely passed. I could never pay attention in class and I hated structured learning. I did enjoy reading and I liked making (things) with my hands. When I was 14, I saw a computer and was awestruck. This was a medium, a tool, that I could program with my intentions and it would follow. It was a magical tool. I decided that I didn't want to be a plumber and instead learn more about this new love of mine. So against my parent's wishes, I moved to Bombay in 2005 to study computer science at Veermata Jeejabai Technological Institute (VJTI). I learnt much at VJTI but soon dropped out because the classes never taught me anything. I absorbed what I could from the Internet and by meeting new people.
What is the one thing/one lesson you most remember from that time?
From my father, I learnt that the mind and the hand are one. Creating new things is a form of human expression and the only reason that humans are different (from other beings) is because we express. To truly create, you must act from your hands and govern from your mind. Philosophy and craft should be balanced. They are one – not one higher than the other.
From my mother, I learnt the power of stories. You can live in a land of pure imagination with stories. They have the power to transform your life and that of others. We become the stories we tell ourselves.