In the summer of 2012 Sudeep Gowrishankar (BUMP's Field Director in India) spent several weeks surveying the need and possibilities for production of the OpenSocket in India. This is a excerpt from his blog during that trip.
The day and a half long trip to the US Consulate in Chennai came to an end yesterday and I was glad that it was so. The train on the way back had mice running around in it and the walk from the railway station to the nearest auto rickshaw was very wet and uncomfortable. After getting back home and taking a shower, I ate my dinner as quickly as I could so I could go sleep. And I did, for a good 9 hours. One of the first things I do when I wake up is to check my phone and it had blown up with emails and messages. The emails were all indicators of work to be done and the messages were an indication that I had gone to bed too early.
I started the day off by responding to the emails and working on things I had to in order to respond to those emails. After that, I called Major D.P. Singh - a retired major in the Indian Army who had served in the Kargil war. He lost his right leg after a bomb exploded too close to him. However, he bounced back and became India’s first blade runner and regularly competes in marathons now. He has also started an organization called “The Challenging Ones” that helps amputees recover and regain their lives. His TED-talk can be found here and an article about him can be found here.
The conversation was a promising one and he seemed receptive to the idea of partnering with IPT but was not sure exactly how to do so. He was also a little busy at the time and said he would call back when he is free and we would discuss it. I sent him some information about IPT and now I await his phone call.
Soon after this, I decided to go back to the marketplaces around Majestic for some more shopping. This time it was only one other cousin of mine and me. We met up at the bus terminal and walked into the narrow streets filled with shops of every kind. I decided not to drive there so as to not waste an hour trying to park the car. We navigated through the market much more easily than the first time because of our slight familiarity with the area as well as the significantly reduced vehicle and pedestrian traffic.
First, we went around asking for HDPE sheets. Most shops here do not carry HDPE. They all have polycarbonate and acrylic plastic sheets of different colours. But we managed to find a shop that specializes in plastic by following the directions given by each shopkeeper that we asked. This place had only one thickness of HDPE plastic (1mm). They carried different thicknesses in polypropylene but probably only sold it in wholesale quantities.
Then began the incredible excursion through the “pet” dimensions. We started to go off the main roads and into the narrower streets into the interior of the market to a place called Balepet. “Bale” in Kannada means bangle and “pet” is a suffix that means marketplace. The name probably came about a long time ago when this place would be the place with all the bangle shops. Fittingly, we found some bangle shops in the area. More importantly, this was the place almost every shopkeeper we talked to directed us to find buckles and straps. After an intense search of the area, we finally found the street that was full of places selling straps. They only sold it by the roll and only sold straps. Similarly, we found another street that only sold buckles. And another that only sold materials that bags are made of. Each place was named a different kind of “pet”. The names we have heard thus far are: Cottonpet, Chickpet, Balepet, Upparpet, Mamulpet…
All of these exist in the same general area. Some of these “pets” exist within others and some overlap onto others. It was impossible to figure out where one started and the other ended. The most fascinating thing was that these narrow one-way streets where a car can barely fit through had movie theaters restaurants with balconies, temples, mosques, houses with cows, and every imaginable type of shop. Mind boggling is an understatement.
Somewhere between Balepet and Upparpet, we found a person who repairs bags. We asked him whether he would make the fabric cover of the Open Socket. He said he could if I would bring him the fabric. He also said he would source the straps and buckles himself. He also warned us that no one would sell us small quantities of strap material. This was good information to have and a good source to go to with all the materials and get things stitched. We then set out in search of straps and buckles – I wasn’t going to let someone source their own straps and buckles at wholesale quantities.
More of the same shop-hopping happened and then we landed at a store that was ready to give us small cuts of material. I found some strap material that was not exactly what we get in the US (not laminated and not as thick) and also some rectangular loops. Even though these were being bought loose, the prices are much, much lower than Jon’s source in Guatemala.
We also went to different shops just to look for more types of loops and buckles and their prices. The prices in bulk are even cheaper than what I paid. Sourcing materials in India is a good idea and now I see why so many people are coming to India to manufacture their products. However, one thing I couldn't find were the cam buckles. When I explained why I needed them, the shopkeepers said I could just use the plastic double loops that are used on backpacks. They were right, but this kind of loop doesn't allow for easy adjustability. If the cam buckle is not available in India (I highly doubt this) we might have to look for some alternatives.
After two hours of navigating this maze of place, we both were pretty tired. My cousin correctly pointed out that this was because of all the pedestrian and vehicular traffic in the area. Just like driving in traffic is harder than on an open road, walking in traffic is harder than in an open field. We were done for the day, and headed back home.