In Kottayam, a spice trading city in the southwest state of Kerala, India, summer means rain—and lots of it, averaging 2.7 meters of the wet stuff each year. From June through September, monsoon waters cool down sweaty bicyclists, and the winds wreak havoc on foot passengers’ umbrellas. But in Kottayam, they don’t throw away broken umbrellas, engineering professor David Kraemer tells me.
David lived in India for six months last spring, researching ocean wave energy conversion and teaching at the Indian Institute of Technology at Kharagpur—8,000 miles from his home university in Platteville, Wisconsin. Walking around the streets of Kottayam during a visit south, he happened upon an umbrella repairman. The man sat on the ground, umbrella in his lap, mending a bent rib with nimble fingers and wooden tools. It was only spring, not yet monsoon season, but he seemed to have a little business—nobody wants to be without a working umbrella when the rains hit. David was pleased to see someone spending so much time on an item that many treat as disposable. He explained, “So often I’ve seen broken umbrellas crammed in the trash cans on a subway platform here in the US.”
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