Nearly eight years ago I attended a seminar on non-conventional, renewable energy sources. The tagline of the seminar was Clean Green Sustainable.

Whenever I have mentioned having attended that two day seminar, then or since, the reaction has been uniform.

“Why waste two full days attending a seminar on a topic which has nothing in common with your own line of work? Wouldn’t it be better if you attended a seminar in your own field? What a waste of time!”

Of course I laughed and never explained.

How does one explain to closed minded people that innovation and trail-breaking is always inspiring to learn about even when it happens in a different domain? How does one explain to sodden, un-ignitable, single- dimensional minds that human creativity is a spark that gets ignited by random sparks glittering in off- beaten paths? I just grinned and moved away.

To be honest, I remember only two presentations from that two day seminar. One on bio- fuel and another on solar power. I remember the presentation on solar power word for word… even after all these years.

The gentleman who gave that memorable presentation on solar power was Mr Deepak Gadhia, at that time founder and CEO of Gadhia Solar Energy System Pvt Ltd. Currently, he is a trustee at Muni Seva Ashram, Goraj, Vadodara, Gujarat where he continues his pioneering work on solar power and other renewable energy sources. When I began writing this article, the idea of looking for him on Linkedin hit me. I found him and have connected with him- and am mighty pleased about it too.

The most memorable part of his presentation was an incident Mr Gadhia shared. It has remained stuck in my mind through the years.

One day, a man called Raman Panwala came to visit the facility at Gadhia Solar. He came from a village near Valsad. As was their wont, Mr Gadhia said, they gave a tour of the facility to the man. This was one of the ways in which they could introduce their innovative ideas to the villagers and help educate them. When Panwala saw the way a piece of wood could burn with solar power, he had an idea.

His request that took Mr Gadhia aback. The man said that India would need more forests than she had in order to cremate the Hindu population of the country. It was obvious, the man said, that Hindus would need to think of a solution to this problem. Moreover, even if India had the wood, it didn’t make environmental sense to burn it all away.Therefore, he had decided that he will commission Gadhia Solar to make a solar crematorium for his village.

Though highly intrigued and excited, Mr Gadhia compelled himself to rein in his excitement.

“I can build a solar crematorium for you”, said Mr Gadhia to the man. “But knowing how deeply entrenched tradition is in the Indian psyche, I am not sure if it will be accepted and used. Can you guarantee that?”

The old man was more than eager to assure Mr Gadhia upon that point. Still skeptical, Mr Gadhia asked for a written assurance.

“I want a signed commitment from every head of the family in your village to say that his family would use the crematorium if it is built.”

Cheerfully, Raman Panwala assured Mr Gadhia that he would return soon.

Within a month, Panwala was back with written commitments from his community to use the solar crematorium. Amazed, Mr Gadhia asked him how he had managed to convince the villagers.

“It took me some time to figure out what to say to the villagers”, confessed Panwala. “I prayed for guidance to Sai Baba. And I got the idea after a few days.

“I told the villagers that Sai Baba had visited me in my dreams. I said that He was very upset and displeased that we were burning away our forests for cremating our dead. Being innovative, Baba had  found an unusual solution which I was to communicate to them as His instruction. I told them that Baba wanted us to build a solar crematorium and to use only that henceforth. I showed them my helplessness and begged them to help me. I told them I was sure Baba would get very angry with me if they did not do what he had instructed them to do. They had no option but to agree.”

And he grinned happily, this simple man from a village of Gujarat, who helped make history.

India’s first solar crematorium has been set up at Muni Seva Ashram.

I think it was a good idea I attended the seminar, wasn’t it? This incident is an eloquent  demonstration of how simple solutions can be found even in the face of seemingly insurmountable difficulties. The most complex challenges can be solved if only we’d keep our head. Sometimes the solutions as staring us in the face, all we need to do is to take a step back and refocus our vision.

That’s how innovation happens, powered by sunshine.

Gadhia Solar’s success story: