Dear Friend of Ashaya,

Where do I even start?

The last three months have been a whirlwind – like other earlier whirlwinds, but maybe with an increased velocity that makes flying by the seat of my pants more real than metaphorical.

Let’s start with people.

While our computational chemist gave up after three weeks, we did bring on two full-time folks here in Pune, and they have been magnificent so far.

Tejaswini brings along a biotech lens to the equation, but more importantly, a sense of humour and social command that uplifts our lab every day. Manali is our new Polymer Engineer – she might not have a ton of experience, but she is as sharp as the hawk-iest of gamers with a wide-eyed curiosity that fuels her hunger to learn.

The best part? We all get along. Or at least we pretend to. So yes, so our lab is buzzing with life now that it’s not just us oldies, Jitu, and me.

Also, finally, our magic machine is here. A machine that’s taken up half of our full annual budget this year. A machine we knew we needed to get back in February. A machine that we ordered in May and that was supposed to arrive by August but ended up coming in November. A machine that always kept us guessing, while unapologetically keeping us paralysed. A machine that might be the answer.

I never thought a machine could be more important and more unpredictable than a human, but our little large extruder seems to be trying real hard. So, we even christened it with a name.

More importantly, it finally shifts the locus of control onto us.

Control has been such an illusion lately. We had done almost everything to ensure that the machine wouldn’t be delayed – ordered early amidst unknowns, paid extra upfront, hedged ourselves by a month – but to no avail. Why? Well, it was a complex mix of the pandemic, personal loss, and the inefficiencies of small-scale local manufacturing – a tale better told over a beer. Or maybe we should have just signed a binding agreement.

That extra month that we lost was slow and painful. A paralysis poisoned by helplessness – not long hours or difficult problems, but a haunting of the static.

That’s old news now though. It’s here and it’s working alright so far, so it’s heads-down-and-execute time.

Our internal deadline of December 31st still looms over us – that’s when we want to have a prototype upcycled material of sorts. We believe we can still get there, albeit with imperfections.

And we already have glimpses of it.

It’s thoroughly rewarding to see something as flimsy as a chips packet get converted into something strong and durable, something renewed. We are still tweaking though because it needs to be stronger and even more durable. I can’t wait to share all that with y’all when we get there!
Meanwhile, we were fortunate enough to get shortlisted for this plastic hackathon run by the Indian government. And I was fortunate enough to get the TEDx platform to break down the complexity of the waste problem in India.

But all that seems like garnish on a half-baked dish. We don’t even have an upcycled material we are happy with yet, let alone a product, and we don’t lie so our pitches and presentations are full of final unknowns or “ideas”, leaving juries and viewers either bemused or dismissive.

The thing is that even though we are trying to do cool and important things, we haven’t really done anything yet. In fact, with all our R&D, we have probably created more waste than recycled it. So, sometimes, all the excitement of our breakthroughs gets sobered down real quick.

This is a long play against odds that doesn’t seem reasonable. But the beauty lies in the fact that if we pull this off, it doesn’t really matter if it was reasonable or not.

The only reason that counts is that we see a path, illuminated by the illusion of control. I just hope I’m not deluding myself.

Here’s to finding that out or making it happen,


The Arrival of the Machine

The Machine – “Ashoka”