And it was all that Ankit Yadav, age 18 of Dabethuwa village in India, dreamed of as he biked 30 kilometres across the dry and dusty roads to the town of Gyanpur.
A lack of water left Dabethuwa in its last throes. Young people were leaving the village in search of work, turning away from farming.
But Ankit could not join his peers in their exodus to new lives in the cities.
His father was sick and needed to be taken care of.
His family had roots in Dabethuwa going back centuries.
This was his home.
Somehow, he would have to keep the village alive.
So Ankit began his daily journeys to Gyanpur, in search of a resource perhaps more precious than water.
“I had heard about the Internet from my friend who had studied in Gyanpur,” says Ankit. “I did not believe what he was saying, that you could find entire books just by using a machine.”
“I thought perhaps this could be the key. I had heard of people building machines to gather water, but no one around me knew of such a thing, and we had no libraries nearby. I had only a set of decades-old encyclopedia my father had obtained through his bartering one day, which I cherished and nearly memorized.”
But Ankit was given a cold welcome his first day in Gyanpur.
“I found the local college my friend had told me about and entered the modest computer area. I was totally clueless as to how to operate the machine, but I observed the other students and was able to turn it on, to my amazement.
“However, I was immediately reported and thrown out by security. Although it angered me, it did not take me completely by surprise. My clothes were of a beggar’s. They perhaps thought it was just another vagrant who wandered in. I tried to reach the library but it was the same story with security.
“I walked the streets of Gyanpur, worrying what to do, when I saw a beat up sign for a small electronics shop.
“I asked to use the computer but the owner laughed in my face. ‘I bet you haven’t a rupee to your name,’ he sneered.
“I tried to persuade him to let me work for computer time but he shooed me away, saying a poor peasant like me had no skills to offer him.
“I perhaps did not have the computer or electronics skills then, but I knew I had the heart that no one else had.
“The whole time we were talking, I noticed there were bags and bags of rubbish cluttering the store – it was nearly impossible to move around. Everywhere you looked, every step you took – rubbish.
“I asked the owner about it and he bluntly told me that the people he had hired to clear out the rubbish kept delaying their work, resulting in the accumulation of discarded metal, electronic parts, papers, and so on.
“And so, before he could finish, I began carrying out the bags of rubbish, heaving them over my back, feeling the metal digging into my skin, as I brought them from the shop and to the bin outside.
“Again and again and I hoisted the bags of rubbish, nearly folding under their weight, until I collapsed outside beside the road, having deposited the last bag, breathing in the dust thrown up by passing cars.
“I fainted but was brought back by the owner’s shouting.
“’OK, OK, you maniac!’ he yelled. ‘I will let you work!’”
“I would bike everyday to work at the shop in exchange for computer time and brief lessons from the owner on how to use it. He gave them very grudgingly – I would be prepared to work extra on such days.
“The pitiful computer I was forced to use nearly exploded from overheat. And it just could not handle the needless bloat of the modern web. It did not help that the only computer he allowed me to use was so old, it could only run Windows 95, although I initially did not understand what that meant at the time.
“Luckily, from my friend, I had heard of Wikipedia, the free web encyclopedia, which he had to consult for assignments due to the lack of books available in his town.
“It is a great virtue that Wikipedia is accessible to people with limited resources. Its clean design and lack of clutter eased my poor computer’s load.
“And it is from there that my journey to knowledge truly began.”
“I set a plan for myself to learn the information I needed, studying the articles on Wikipedia and the courses on Wikiversity [Wikipedia’s fellow project devoted to learning resources].
“I learned that building a windmill could provide the water that would save my village, and so I studied the physics and engineering I needed to build it.
“But more than that, I learned of the great figures of Western science that never left my side: Galileo, Newton, Einstein…their triumphant genius set the world alight against the darkness of their critics and comforted me when I was most doubtful of my plan.
“Their legacy showed me that if I could teach myself, I could teach my village, and if I could teach my village, I could teach the world.
“It was during this time of intense study that I began construction of the windmill, bartering and performing services for scraps I would take home.
“I had exhausted bartering and needed a part only available in an old junkyard I was told to stay away from. I do not wish to repeat the rumors I had heard.
“But there was no other choice, I had to have it.
“I paid a guard standing by to let me in and told him I would find the part and bring it to be purchased.
“I wandered through the piles of scrap, twisting and cramming my body to fit through cracks between columns of metal that teetered when I brushed past, and that’s when I heard them.
“Their deranged eyes would make any trespasser pray for his life and beg the animals to spare him. Their paws rapped on the metal like a storm and the harsh metallic echo of their barks left me stunned.
“The dogs did not care who you were or what reason you had to be there. They were simply trained to attack, to destroy. It was a terrible abuse of their natures to beat into them this relentless spring of violence.
“I almost lost an arm as the dogs neared me when I refused to let go of a piece of metal that was stuck between in piles of scrap.
“Luckily, I tore it away, but I was nearly surrounded by them at this point.
“After I opened my eyes, I noticed the dogs running away.
“The man stood behind me, his gun pointing in the air.
“A bandit, I thought. It is certain, I will be killed or robbed completely.
“I could barely nod my head. He smiled and I feared the worst.
“ ‘You do not look as intelligent as I thought you would,’ he said, then laughed.
“It turns out that word had gotten around of my scavenging. ‘Junk Boy’ was my nickname. Few people understood my goal but the junkyard owner seemed to get it, and gave me some constructive advice. Now is the time to show them what kind of treasure this ‘junk boy’ can create, I thought.
“One day I came back from the town, barely escaping a storm and finding shelter at home, when I visited my windmill to make plans for the next day.
“One villager brushed past me with some metal I had left near the base.
“I turned my head back to berate him for his theft, but then another villager bumped into me again, carrying a different piece I had stashed.
“And that was when I finally got a good look at what had become of my windmill.
“But I could not believe what I saw.
“It was torn apart, like vultures to a carcass.
“It felt as if it were utterly naked and freshly scarred in the blistering desert wind.
“It was total heartbreak. I thought my work had come to naught.
“I felt like I was going to throw up. To realize I had lost all the time I had spent, all the hours sweating under the sun for hard-won credit to exchange in the store, it was simply too much.
“I fell onto my knees and my head spun sickeningly.
“Truly, I thought I was going to die. It was the feeling of the future collapsing, snatched and thrown away.
“I ran to one of the other villagers and shouted in his face.
“ ‘Don’t you see what you have done?’ I screamed.
“ ‘Don’t you understand what you are doing?’ I screamed and shook my hands.
“But he looked at me blankly.
“He pointed to pile of scrap some villagers were assembling. They had wanted to sell the metal and some other possessions they had due to the growing poverty that had [bereft]
“I was certain I was going to strike him down with all my anger.
“But somehow, something, whether inside myself or outside, intervened, and I took a breath.
“Violence was not going to solve anything.
“I had used my brains to get so far, and so I thought, I must use them now.
“ ‘You are all utter fools to take this cursed metal with you,’ I said.
“They looked at me and wondered. Curses are a very serious matter. It was said that our village had been cursed – that is why we had the droughts in the first place.
“ ‘Yes, cursed,’ I said. ‘Deathly cursed. You will only bring more death and pain upon us all if you toy with this metal.’
“And so on and on I went, describing in detail all the effects of metal poisoning in human life. I painted as grim and disturbing a picture I could of the real effects of metal toxicity I had learned from my independent studies online: the breakdown of organs, the destruction of one’s mind, endless sickness, and death.
“Real life was scarier than any curse, I thought. So I drew from my new knowledge of science – with some embellishments, of course.
“Perhaps they did not believe me. Perhaps they thought I was merely out of my mind, ranting as I was.
“But whatever I said, perhaps because of my passion, persuaded them to stop for some time and gave me a chance to reconstruct the windmill. I knew I had to make it count.
“Finally, after all this great struggle, I had constructed the windmill.
“My family thought I was losing touch, that I was wasting my time.
“My neighbours still thought I had gone mad, utterly mad.
“If it didn’t work, I didn’t know what I was going to do. I would have been totally shattered.
“But before the fear took over, something inside me spoke up.
“‘Ankit,’ it said. ‘You followed your reason. You followed scientific principles. Put your faith in this, and thus have faith in yourself.’
“It is perhaps ironic. From devotion to reason arose my faith. But in that moment, it was clear to me the unity of those two diverging human modes.
“And so, I knew it was time. To show what I had devoted myself to. To show that it was all true. And that it would save our village, our way of life.
“I stood back and called everyone in the village to come and watch. People gathered around as my machine began to receive the wind and spin.
“‘Spin,’ I said, as if I had a psychic connection to the windmill.
“Faster and faster they spun, my heart racing to keep up.
“I didn’t know if the machine could hold up like this.
“And then finally, the sound of hope.
“Gradually and gradually the pump drew water. My days of back breaking work digging in the heat and putting the pieces together were finally over.
“I ran over to the water it was steadily drawing out, and thrust my hand into the stream, shivering at the cool sensation, knowing this was the blood of our new life.
“All the villagers cheered and brought out their containers to collect the precious water that had so eluded us.
“My parents hugged me tighter than they have ever hugged me in their lives.
“My mother said, crying, ‘Ankit, I may have given you life, but you, my son, have brought our village back to life.”
“It was then that I knew everything I had done had been worth it.”
Today, Ankit is studying computer science and hoping to eventually create his own company and follow the footsteps of young technological luminaries in America.
“I want the computer to be to Indians as the windmill was to me.
“I want to draw from the deep well of knowledge and share it with my countrymen and the world, so that we may all be nourished.
“For where there is a desert, we will bring forth water. And where there is ignorance, we will bring forth knowledge.
“Truly, this is what I believe.”
“Rather, this is what I know.”