I think one of Gandhi’s greatest ideological innovations (and certainly the symbol most associated with him) was the Charkha, the spinning wheel. It was a great example of a mechanical device that was easy to make, easy to use by an individual working by himself, and it made a product that was clearly useful to the spinner as well as society as a whole. In one stroke, Gandhi seized upon an invention that subverted the idea of industrialization being necessary for production in a modern economy and furthered his goal of highlighting the material and spiritual benefits of manual labour as opposed to the mental gymnastics normally associated with Brahminical Hinduism.

However, times have changed. When we think of technology we dont think anymore of massive steel mills and big dams. Our imagination has been captured by intelligent computers and virtual worlds. Some might say that the microcomputer has combined high technology and decentralization to give rise to the ideal Gandhian artifact. Is that really true? Here are four questions I have in this regard:

(a) Is the computer and the internet really Gandhian?

(b) If not, can you think of a technology (that already exists or should exist) that will take the place of the Charkha in our imagination? What is the Charkha of the computer age?

© More ambitiously, if one were to write the The Charkha Computer for Dummies manual, what would it look like? What design procedures would one include and what products would one design?

(d) If you were on the jury of the Charkha Award for Intelligent Design, what new technology or person would you award it to (apart from God, who created everything in 4004 BCE)?