Sunday, December 28, 2008

'Tis the season to ... help!

Cross posting this from my blog.

Going with the Christmas spirit, and for a cause VERY close to my heart, I urge you to help the kids that call Project WHY their shelter, their playground, their home and hearth! What is project WHY you say?

It is a non-profit organization based in Delhi helping out slum kids of Delhi and their families, in any which way possible. go, yet another non-profit. Here me out, please, before letting out that yawn.

This is not just another non-profit organization. This one is special. Anou has made it special! They get NO support from the government or any other institute. Their teachers are from WITHIN THE COMMUNITY! Anou is known as the lady who made a sweeper into a teacher. Most of the teachers at their school are slum dwellers, with a minimum education of 8th grade. So the benefits are reaching every where! Everyone earns and learns with dignity!

They now have over 600 children and run two early education programs, one prep class, four primary and one secondary after school support programs, a day care and life skills program for 20 children with disabilities as well as a computer center.

Anou is indeed leading a revolution at the grassroots level. The primary charter for the organization is education support and life skill enhancement of slum children and their families. But believe me, they do more than that. They have helped a lot of these kids get life saving surgeries and other medical, financial and emotional help. They have helped get them out of the streets and into a classroom. Off the foot path and into a home! They help wherever they can, and NO ONE is every turned away.

I was introduced to this project through a comment on a friend's blog. She had written a poem promoting education for one and all. And someone had pointed her to this blog by Anouradha Bakshi, the director and founder of Project WHY. I dropped by, and have been doing so everyday now, even have Anouradha as a Facebook friend.
The poem by my friend was beautiful, but the blog is a private one, so I cannot share it here. (Ella, I am talking about you, dear!)

Anou's blog is a window into the lives of these children, the difficulties they face with so much courage, the basic rights that they have to fight for, the smiles on their bright little faces which are so innocent, and so unfortunate! And so much talent and potential! The stories Anou puts up are heart-wrenching, because the little ones face so many adversities, and at the same time they are heart-warming because the kids are not alone! pWHY is there for them!

Project WHY has started another initiative called Planet WHY. This is also a very very special undertaking. I will let you take a journey to that planet yourself and explore it with your own eyes. It is truly a world of its own.

I can go on and on about the project and the little angels. But now...lets get down to business, shall we? :D

I ask you to donate Just One Rupee A Day to Project WHY. What is this?
It is an initiative of pWHY where they make it possible for even the poorest in India to contribute and make a difference. It is only Rs. 365 a year. Less than what you would spend on a decent dinner. Less than a movie for your family at that multiplex. Less than a pair of shoes!

Think about the difference it is going to make! I hear a lot of fellow bloggers "wanting to make a difference". Here is your chance! And this here is a proof of how it is going to help us build a better India! Anou Didi approached a child who would otherwise have gone on to become a goonda, and turned him towards studying, towards a better life.

This is real! This is effective! And Anou Didi is there to take it further. I have so much faith in the project because of the faith she has in the kids!

So once again, I urge all of you to donate Just One Rupee A Day. And maybe take a step further and donate Just One Rupee A Day for each earning member of your family. The kids deserve this! India deserves this!

Here's a link to donate pWHY via paypal.
And here is a link to other other ways you can donate.

GVK has suggested an excellent idea for putting Just One Rupee A Day into action. This isn't exactly what he suggested...but a variation of it nonetheless...that parents have their child put aside Re. 1 a day for the underprivileged kids. Two benefits of this...while the donation happens, our new generation understands the value and importance of charity.

Merry Christmas everyone :) Lets spread some cheer, shall we?

Saturday, December 27, 2008

BBC/The Box - an idea worth copying

Good ideas are worth copying. The Box - a BBC documentary on the travels of shipping container - ought to give ideas, not just to our media but also social activists groups such as Rebuild India Mission(RIM). The BBC programme tells the story of international trade and globalisation by tracking a 40-ft shipping container on its journey around the world. Isn't this a fascinating way to tell a dull and dreary story of the global downturn?

The BBC box, for instance, set out from Scotland with a consignment of whiskey bound for Shanghai. The brewary manager, interviewed by BBC, said the economic meltdown in the west had little impact on their market in China and India, where the demand for scotch was, in fact, on a rising curve. The chief of Marks & Spencers in Shanghai, who took delivery of the liquor, gave BBC correspondent an insight into the shopping habits of the growing middle-class in Shanghai.

The BBC container picked up from Shanghai made-in-China consumer items for the US market. The Chinese factory workers expressed concern about the prospects of a fall in export orders. The next port of call for the BBC container was Los Angeles, from where it travelled hinterland on a heavy-duty truck to New Jersy. The story at LA was about slackening outbound container traffic because of falling US exports. An upshot of this was loss of high-paying jobs in the dock area. They had to cut down on the number of crane operators because of lower container shipments. A crane operator at LA port made $160,000 a year.

Rebuilding India Mission, a bloggers initiative, could partner with Times Now, NDTV,IBN-CNN or whichever TV channel that is enterprising enough to take on a wagon-tracking operation on the BBC pattern, to give us all a sense of India, our consumption pattern, trade practices, social norms, and factors that promote or counter the idea of a unified India. And the story could be told by tracking a railway goods wagon that criss-crosses the country.

BBC didn't have to spend much - other than painting the box with its logo and fittting in it a GPS transmitter. The shipping container paid for its keep. BBC merely kept track of its location by having a GPS transmitter bolted in the container. With an Indian rail goods wagon one need not invest in GPS system. For the movement of a frieght wagon can be traced with the help of the railways communication network.

RIM website could follow the wagon through its journey; and report its progress on a regular basis.TV channels and print media could publish stories on the wagon's cargo and the people associated with its production, transport and marketing. Citizen journalists and bloggers could post their take, and photos on the passage of RIM wagon through their town.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Yes I can

Whenever I fail to achieve something in my own life I always have handy excuses to give to myself, 'it was my fate', 'what can I do', 'it was not my fault', etc. No dearth for similar excuse for life situations that we come across in our every day lives around us, like 'what can one man like me do', 'the entire system is at fault', 'how does it matter if one single man in one corner of the world makes a difference' etc. Such beliefs get powerfully challenged when I see movies like "A Wednesday". I caught up with this movie featuring Naseeruddin Shah & Anupam Kher on TV the other day. It is an empowering movie that shows how a common-man, like you and me, when he realises that he has to take charge, can go about making a difference.

I thought it was a very powerful movie which can be quoted as an example to depict how each individual can make a difference by being responsive to situations that is unfolding around ourselves day-in and day-out. When I see such movies I start feeling small, I feel that I have become immune, living-dead to stark realities around me.

The character Naseeruddin Shah plays so convincingly can be a common man's role model. It set me thinking of ways in which I can be proactive in Green-STEP, an enviornmental advocacy group with which I am associated in Bangalore. If anything, 'A Wedesday' has strengthened my resolve to devote more of myself to playing a responsive common man.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Karnataka's solar-powered village

Balenahalli near Chitradurga has 250 houses that draws its power supply from solar panels. A single panel that can power two bulbs cost Rs.9,000 four years back, when the village went solar.And the villagers are convinced of the benefits of solar power - no power cut, minimum power bill. Balennahalli residents retain regular power supply connection for farming and other non-domestic usage.

Solar maintenance is minimal,involving perodical topping up of distilled water in the battery. Local boys, trained in minor repair-work, take care of maintenance.

It appears a win-win situation,and yet it hasn't inspired other villages to go solar. People, even in cities, tend to view alternate energy as something that comes with high subsidy, if not as an outright dole from the government. Maybe Balenahalli wouldn't have opted for solar, if the villagers had to pay for its installation.

When someone mentions solar we think of subsidy. This has been the story of our public adoption of solar water-heating technology. An additional factor working against solar-powering is its relatively high cost of installation. We tend to overlook or underrate the energy-saving potential that enables recovery of the installation cost in three to four years. Besides being a cost-saver, solar-energy device does away with unannounced power-cut. With solar-energy we know when we can't have power-supply - on cloudy days.

In cities, and in affluent rural households, they have the inverter to take care of power shutdown. Snag is the solar power pack can cost twice as much as a conventional inverter. Which is an inhibiting factor. But then, they say, an inverter battery, while on charge, consumes more power. And at the end of the day we pay a higher power bill for the benefit of having uninterrupted power supply.

Solar-power would have a chance with urban households, if it is marketed as a hybrid inverter, with power-charged back-up option. Dealers with a tie-up with banks could extend credit to buyers at promotional interest rate. Builders and architects could factor in solar-power system while planning new apartment complexes.The cost of solar installation wouldn't look prohibitive, if it is worked into installment payments by apartment buyers.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Of junked rail carriages, and refugee dwellings ?

An UNHCR photo showing an overview of the makeshift Krinding encampment in West Darfur.
Junked sub-way rail carriages in New York being loaded in a barge, to be dumped into the high seas. Abandoned rail carriages resting on the seabed, they say, is conducive for growth of sea-weeds and other forms of marine vegetation that fish feed on.

If only they could be transported to Darfur, the junked rail carriages could meet housing requirement of the refugees.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Rebuild India

Ashutosh Didwania and his team have given a call to all right thinking people for suggestions for “Rebuild India” mission. “We need to form a core group of people who would decide on the subsequent plan of action. Since you all have contributed to the forum, I would request you all to pitch in and suggest as to how do we proceed from here on and make the mission a successful one.”

Here are 10 factors that need attention and implementation as soon as possible:

1. India is a democratic country so vote we must. In the coming elections none of us must sit at home. All eligible voters must compulsorily cast their vote to dislodge the non-functioning politicians sitting there at the top.

2. The top portfolios must be filled with people qualified for the post. Portfolios like ‘Defence minister’ and ‘Home minister’ should go to defence personnel, just as Manmohan Singh a non-politician had been roped in to head the finance ministry in 1991. A defence personnel as home minister would definitely not have taken six hours to send commandos to Mumbai, that too all in one single aircraft.

3. Air Defence should be given the top most priority now.

4. Another immediate step to be taken: All Pakistani passport holders must be sent back to their country, a thorough combing operation to be carried out all states of India, deport all refugees back to their respective countries, issue National Identity Card to all Indian citizens. Every villager in the remotest village should be proudly able to display their identity card.

5. The border areas have to be given high security for 24 hours, 365 days. Communication equipment provided should be of latest technology.

6. Money allotted to Defence ministry should be put to right use. The arms and ammunition provided to security personnel should be of latest technology. The terrorists had better bullet proof jackets than our officers. It pained me to see the Maharashtra police men fumble with decades old rifles.

7. Government should issue directives to the citizens how to conduct in a public place to face any kind of emergency. And these directives should be issued in regular intervals. No sensitive information received should be taken lightly.

8. Government should issue directives to the media how to conduct itself in case they are covering emergency. Nobody wants a ball by ball commentary in such situations.

9. Any politician found preaching communal hatred and sowing seeds of disharmony should be banned from entering politics and dealt with severely. They should be urged to give up their high level security.

10. Rehabilitation centers should be se up to take up the cause of families who have lost a family member in mindless violence. Emotional and financial support should be provided to those left behind.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Mumbai fallout: Calling bloggers and anchors

Confront or perish - this appears to be the option for the Zardari-led Pakistan government that is engaged in a clash of attitude with its military establishment over their response to the Mumbai terror strike.A perceptive edit-page piece in The Hindu, by Nirupama Subramaniam, makes these points:

1)President Asif Ali Zardari finds himself isolated in his government's promise of co-operation with India in respect of Mumbai terror strike investigation.
2)Pakistan military,on the other hand, would like to see India go for the military option.Their generals see in it an opportunity for resurrection of the Pak army image in the eyes of Pakistanis.
3)A majority of people,led by a 'disproportionately' influential electronic media is dismissive of evidence built up by India as just so much anti-Pak hype and 'conspiracy' to defame Pakistan.

Thus, we have a situation where the right-minded in Pakistan find themselve marginalised and voiceless.They have a well-intentioned,if weak,government at odds with its own military.And,above all, an opinionated electronic media with no-good opinion about India's intentions.

Question is: What can we do to make their media change their stance? Nirupama, who is The Hindu Islamabad correspondent, says Pak television has gone into a denial mode; which, in part,is a reaction to the ham-handed manner in which the Indian TV channels began implicating Pakistan soon after the Mumbai attacks. Media leaks from interested quarters played their role.
How do we make the Dutts and Sardesais,the Kanwals and Goswamis of our electronic media realise that their spirited utterances have unintended consequences on the minds of people beyond our borders? Would it be too much to expect our talking heads to do some thinking before they talk on TV?

Question is: How can the right-minded, but marginalised, millions find their voice? Blogs could be an answer,according to Ashutosh Didwania. His Rebuilding India forum, an online initiative to mobilise bloggers, gives one an idea of the possibilities open to an increasingly influential online community the world over. With its proactive networking,focused on factors that unify peoples in India and Pakistan, we should be able to identify Didwanias in Lahore and Karachi, and engage them in a collaborative endeavour to turn the worst of all isms - terror-ism - into a wasm.

As I key in this post, there is report of a car bomb explosion in Peshawar,klling 20.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Books for Children

Kalyani's idea to set up a chilldren's book library in Ooty has picked up steam. She has mobilised online over 150 people to back Sirukathai project with cash and books donation.The library seeks to help children,with little access to the world of books and other audio-visual material, widen their mental horizon.

In response to Kalayani's plea, many have volunteered to act as post office for accepting books donations and shipping them to Ooty. The volunteers include Sathyam Ravoor in Annanagar East, Chennai (91-44-26284746 - ); Raji Muthukrishnan at Alwarpet (24994160); Newton Raja at Teynampet (98409-2499):and N S Sudhakar/S Priyarani in Bangalore(98453-25287).Those who wish to send books direct to Ooty could mail them to Hobart Park Cross Road, Market, Udhagamandalam 643001 (cell-94430-70540).

Those inspired to set up such libraries in other places could count on expert guidance from Kalyani -

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Volunteerism: Corporate initiative

IT professionals in corporate Bangalore have taken to vounteering in varied ways. In an earlier post I referred to a group of 30 from HCL spending Diwali with children at an orphanage. More recently, nearly 60 Mphasis employees with brush in hand painted the premises of the National Association of the Blind, as part of the company's Global Volunteer Day. Mphasis volunteers were there last October as well, when they painted a class-room.

EDS, a multinational that has taken over Mphasis, has a tradition of observing in its units worldwide Global Volunteer Day in October. EDS is now part of HP.The company website says Volunteerism has many business benefits, such as corporate awareness, improved employee morale, better teamwork skills and increased opportunities for personal and professional growth.

Projects the company takes up are diverse - building ponds and planting flower beds, preparing and serving meals to pouring foundations and painting fences. EDS website provides guidelines to other multinationals wanting to start volunteer programmes.

Survey employees in different areas for holiday schedules. Consider allowing a window of time for the event, such as two weeks or a month, to accommodate worldwide schedules.

Communicate the event via company newspapers, electronic mail, bulletin boards, leader communication, direct mail, voice mail messages, speeches at group meetings, pre-event posters.

EDS provides on request information kit on how to recruit volunteers, choose a project and a recipient organization, report results and give feedback, recognize volunteers, and talk to the press.

According to Anand Parthasarathy of The Hindu, almost every international IT player in Bangalore has a volunteer programme going in the city. Dell runs a learning centre for destitute kids with Parikrama;funds a HIV rehab centre. AMD promotes what it calls '50 by 15' project - Internet access to 50 percent population anywhere by 2015. Intel is into training school teachers in imparting IT skills to their class.

Of the Indian companies big ones such as Infosys, Wipro and TCS have put their money into many worthy causes, says Mr Parthasarathy. This could not be said about the numerous small and medium enterprises that owe their name and fame to what Bangalore offers by way of human and other resources. His quesion is:

When did you last stumble on an initiative by these small guys that helped changed life for the better albeit in a tiny way for the less advantaged ?

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Diwali at a Bangalore orphanage

Many orphanages and old people's homes receieve sweets, fruits and other gifts on special occasions.But not many who gift them find time to visit the institutions. Some 30 techies of HCL, Bangalore, chose to carry gifts and also spend Diwali with children at a local orphanage.Their company contributed towards purchase of tiffin boxes, bags, sheets and towels for the children.

The Visitors, many of whom came with families, had a fulfilling day; and the children,lots of fun. Bangalore Mirror wrote that when the time came for the visitors to leave,they were escorted to the gate by the grateful children, who wanted them to come again next Diwali.

This is social networking at its best. For many of these IT professionals who spent the day with the kids would want to visit the place more often, and sooner than tne next Diwali; and some may want to have the children come home to spend a weekend with them.

Founder of the institution, Dr T V Ramakrishna,is quoted in Bangalore Mirror as saying he tried and failed to mobilise retired people for charity work through such social interaction with the children. "None of them were interested, but these young men and women have shown enthusiasm ...Their gesture makes a difference ...and others should emulate them by doing their bit to society”.

Thursday, October 16, 2008


Most people on our e-mail contacts list may not know one another. Connect them, and you can have a network going.An e-group brings together people with shared interests such as cooking, books,music,java,bee-keeping,dating,job hunting and umpteen other activities. Networking has its uses,for,to quote,Someone knows what you need; someone needs what you know.

I have 90 plus LinkedIn contacts,whose contacts add up to 12,800 connections.In SiliconIndia my 60 odd friends account for over 27,000 connections. Notionally, I can
network with so many. Snag is, I don't know how to go about sending them messages, without getting deleted as spam. How many us open a message from an unknown ID or
forwarded to us by a contact.

I reach for 'delete' tab when I see a chain mail, even though many of the messages sent out are well intended; and the sender believes his mail would interest me.Far too many e-mail users do not want to have anything to do with messages received from an unfamiliar address;there is too much viral traffic.

Spamless and viral-free networking is what Oli Barrett does to promote Global Entrpreneurship Week. He has developed what he terms speednetworking, which is like speed-dating. Mr Barrett puts together in a room some 20 people of varied fields, unknown to one another,and lets them interact among themselves. He carries a whistle, which he blows every three to five minutes. At the blow of whistle each partipant finds someone else to talk with. This way,at the end of the day, each participant would have created a few contacts.

Mr Barrett believes speednetworking gets people talking ideas; it helps them find answers; and brings together people who don't know each other,and want to build
connections fast. All you need is a venue, a whistle and a gathering. When you blow the whistle, everyone finds someone to talk to. Blow the whistle every 5 minutes and everyone has to talk to someone new.

You must speednetwork with people you don't know well enough or have never met before. No sticking with the person you arrived with or your buddy! Talk about anything you like! You can speednetwork anywhere - be it at school, college, cafe, or a club.Read more...

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Coastal erosion: A green wall for protection and for profit

Let us forget the communal strife in Orissa for a moment and look at a natural calamity the state faces repeatedly. Frequent tidal waves and the soil erosion caused by them endanger the lives and properties of lakhs of people along the 480km shoreline of Orissa.

IIT Chennai and some other agencies are studying this issue and have reportedly submitted some preliminary recommendations. In the meantime, the Orissa Government has approached the Central Government for financial support for a Rs.7000 crore project to save the coastal villages from the ravages of the sea. The main focus appears to be on building protective walls along the shore.

There could be a far cheaper, more effective, eco-friendly and profitable project to prevent soil erosion. My suggestion is to try planting Morinda citrifolia (Noni) along the coast. This plant, which is endemic to India, is unfortunately on the endangered list now.

How do plants prevent soil erosion? When rain water runs off to lower levels or waves recede to the sea, they carry away loosened soil with them. The stems of trees and the roots mitigate the erosive force of flowing water, thereby preventing soil being carried off. The native plants are best suited for this.

Significantly, Morinda citrifolia (Noni) is also known as Indian mulberry and Beach mulberry. It tolerates saline and secondary soil, can withstand drought conditions and grow well on sandy beaches. It can attain a height of up to 20 feet and serve the dual purpose of preventing soil erosion and acting as a windbreaker. Normally stem cutting is used for propagation. The planting distance is about 15 feet apart. Once introduced, it will start growing wild.

Photos of Morinda citrifolia growing wild

in the coastal belt of Kerala.

Copyright reserved. Click to enlarge.

The benefits of planting Morinda citrifolia are not confined to protection from coatal erosion. It is actually considered to be a wonder plant with immense medicinal values. India has known that for thousands of years. But the Western countries started taking note of this gift of nature only in the 1990s.

And, in less than two decades, the Noni (Morinda citrifolia) products, particularly the juice made from the fruit, has turned into a business that is worth billions of US dollars! By planting Noni along the coastline the country can, apart from preventing soil erosion, capture a major chunk of the fast-growing Noni market.

Additionally, greening such a large area would help in reducing the carbon levels. And, it does not take long to feel the impact. Noni starts yielding in 18 months and has a productive life span of around 40 years!

The only negative point is that during flowering time the plant emits a foul smell.

Why not give it a try, at least in small stretches?

Read more about the plant at::

Medicinal Plants: Noni (Morinda citrifolia) planting for profit?

Tuesday, September 9, 2008


Interesting things do happen at book release events.

September 9 was the 95th birthday of the prolific Thamizh writer, Devan, whose immortal creations include ‘Thuppariyum Sambu’. When ‘Kizhakku Padippakham’ decided to republish five books of Devan, writer Charukesi, who heads the Devan Memorial Trust, decided to make it an occasion. With Badri Seshadri of New Horizon Media Private Limited, (of which Kizhakku Pathippakam is a part) extending his full cooperation, Charukesi made it an evening to remember.

Cricket lovers will remember Badri as one of the founders of

The highlight of the day was a first. The opening speeches were followed by the dramatised reading of a short story by Devan, called ‘Parvathiyin Sangalpam’, by Gurukulam Boys’ Company. No sets, but the cast did have a bit of make up on, and wore costumes to set the play in the 1950s. They each had a copy of the play from which they read out their parts, well, acted their parts would be more appropriate. Obviously the cast had had no time to learn the lines by heart, since the function had been organised in a short four days, and the deficit was camouflaged by this ploy. The reading took about an hour. The actors were all amateurs, busy with other professions - one of the ladies works with BSNL, another person at a bank, and the young girl is a student at REC, they said. More details of function here.

The dramatised reading gave me an idea. What if more Thamizh works were dramatized and recorded on audio cassettes, with the actors reading out the parts - in today’s culture of ‘No time to read’, they might go down well with booklovers. (Just like the audio cassettes of famous novels which are so popular in the West). And many may be tempted to actually read the originals.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Library fund-raisers

Every county library in the US has a volunteer group involved in fund-raising through donated book sales. At each library the group runs a used books counter from where you can pick up a book for 50 cents or a dollar (for hardcover).Once a quarter they hold book-sales on a bigger scale.The Friends of San Ramon Library, a registered volunteer group, held a two-day weekend sales last month.

On the first day the books set up on tables under various categories - fiction, biography, non-fiction, business, self-help books, children's books - were available for a dollar or less. On the second day one could pick up a bagful for $2. Sales organisers supply the bags, each of which can hold 10 to 15 books, depending on the paperback/hardcover mix of your choice.

I packed into my bag, Erickson's Gandhi's Truth, H G Wells' The Time Machine, a biography of Robbin Williams, Art Buckwald's last work, Too Soon to Say Goodbye, Bob Woodward's book on Watergate's 'Deep Throat' and some other titles, all for two dollars.

At San Francisco the annual book sale sponsored by Friends of San Francisco Public Library is a major event. The 2007 sales raised over $250,000 for the library programs. According to the organisers, the books were deonated by residents and
businesses; and some 350 volunteers worked at the big annual sale held at Fort Mason Center. The yearly event is in addition to the monthly book sales held on the frontyard of the San Francisco city library.

The 2008 sale, due late September, will be a five-day affair. Organisers say more than 300,000 books would be available for $5 or less each. On Sunday (final day) the price would drop to a dollar or less per book. Besides books, they say, audio books, CDs DVDs, tapes and vintage vinyl records would be up for the grab.

Sunday, August 31, 2008

Making zoo a more child-friendly place

The Oakland zoo in California has strollers for hire.Presumsbly, they were donated by animal lovers feeling philonthrophical. I don't know if they do this at Oakland zoo, but such strollers could also be a source of ad. revenue for the zoo management. Advertisers dealing in schooluniforms, toys, children's garments and shoes might be interested.

These benches, gifted by well-wishers, are conveniently placed at the tigers enclosure. At times it takes a while before you can sight a tiger. And the benches are helpful for the wait. Donated benches srategicallly placed at several spots makes the tour of the zoo less taxing on your calf muscles.
This one, put up in loving memory of Hong Y Tom is at the amusement area adjacent to the park. This space is accessible to all visitors, even those who have not paid the zoo entrance fee.

Apart from the designated amusement area there are play spots at many places within the zoo. This makes the going a lot more fun for children.

And then there is an interactive enclosure in which children can touch, feel, pat and fondle the animals - goats and cows.

This contraption, looking like a parking meter, accepts small change by way of donation. Attracts child donars.

Friday, August 29, 2008


A couple of days ago, I was present at a family wedding. Seated in the front row, this is what I got to see most of the time!

Our weddings are full of ceremonies and last well over two days, whittled down from the five day-ceremonies of yore. But celebrations begin much earlier and social get-togethers follow. Friends and relatives are invited days ahead and expected to participate in all events. For those who can’t, there are photographs and videos!

Videographers and their assistants – sometimes more than two pairs – stand in front of the dais where the marriage is being conducted, and manage to block everyone’s view of the proceedings. True, they have their job to do, and do it properly. But for those wanting to see the ceremonies live, and not a recorded version, it is frustrating. I saw many going up to the side of the dais to see the ceremonies. In some cases, close circuit TVs and screens on both sides of the hall (in one instance, even in the dining section) show the ceremonies ‘live’!

Which brings me to my gripe. Are videos really necessary? They are hours long, and I have not met anyone who is really enthused over seeing them. There are bound to be interruptions too. No one has the patience or time to sit through hours of these videos, unless it is to check out the few frames they are in - “Can we fast forward the next bit?” Most of the video players are defunct now, and the videos have to be converted to CDs. You need DVD players, and even in the remote possibility that someone actually wants to see the wedding ceremonies, you need to have power, and some nimble young fingers to operate the remote. I have to confess I haven’t viewed the wedding videos of my sons more than a couple of times.

I suggest that the videography be done away with. Instead let there be more photographs, as many as you like, in black and white (they are really far more glamorous), in colour, in sepia, whatever. Let there be many albums – one for each ceremony, a picture to a page. The albums can be held conveniently and one can look at the pictures peacefully, at one’s own pace. Convenient breaks can be taken, without having to hunt through frames for the last one seen.

I took a quick poll among those present, and was happy to find that everyone I asked was in agreement.

When so much is being spent on weddings, the budget allotted to the videography may not be much, and scrapping it may not be a big saving, so that is not my concern. It is just that it is an exercise in futility.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

So... What are we waiting for ?...

The following photos were taken at train stations around the world:

Malmo, Sweden

Amsterdam, The Netherlands

Tokyo, Japan

Leuven, Belgium

Niigata, Japan


So… What are we waiting for?!...More in One Green Generation...

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Go by bus

On a recent trip (See Bangalore: Flying in, flying out in Song of the waves - Parayil A. Tharakan Blog) I realized that that there is an excellent bus transport network between the Bengaluru International Airport and the City. This is run by Bangalore Metropolitan Transport Corporation (BMTC) with a fleet of Euro3 compliant air conditioned Volvo coaches and non-A/C buses.

Why don’t passengers use this transport system instead of depending on taxis or own cars? Many well-to-do Indians seem to have a hang up about being seen traveling by public transport. If this mindset is changed, there would be fewer vehicles on the roads, less pollution and great saving in fuel.

The BMTC buses are comfortable, cheap, fast and punctual. They ply on 8 convenient routes. Tickets can be booked online and delivered to you. Also available is a unique Home Connect service. You can pre-arrange for a taxi to pick you up from or drop you at the chosen bus stop. (Log on to or I understand plans are on to include auto rickshaws also in this pool.

It would be great if a few CEOs start using the bus for airport connection. Those who work with them are also likely to follow the example. Imagine the saving if pool transport is accepted instead of each one using his vehicle or a taxi. The transit time can be well utilized with laptops and mobile phones. Actually, at higher levels, most of the work is done in the mind. And, there is no compulsion that one should read a book while traveling.

What are the alternatives for traffic generated by the Electronic City, the farthest point in the Metropolis from the airport? I am told that a helicopter ferry was considered but had to be shelved because the cost would be something like USD100 per head per trip.

Another possibility is the companies in that area coming together to organize a captive bus system. After all, the people who provide solutions to others should be able to solve this one.

Use your car sparingly. Go by bus. Save money, reduce pollution, cut down gas consumption.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Perhaps we can light a lamp instead?

Recent generations of Bhaaratvaasis adopted several practices from newer societies and cultures, with or without fully understanding (or even attempting to know about) the ethos of our own. Blowing out one or more candles is one such 'alien' custom. I for one never knew why the candle(s) were blown out, but found a possible explanation here "The blowing out of the candles on the birthday cake originated from an early tradition that believed that the smoke from the candles would take one's wish or petition up to God."
A senior citizen (can we call them Gen W or earlier?) - my mother - is amazed that most families follow and perpetuate such new 'traditions', come each red letter day.
In India, and likely elsewhere, the 'light goes out' to symbolise the instance of a transition from light to darkness. Even this Rabindranath Tagore explains as: “Death is not extinguishing the light; it is only putting out the lamp because the dawn has come.”
Recently a family celebrated the 80th birthday of its matriarch who declined to blow out the candle, instead she lit a lamp. Let us salute this anonymous octogenarian-trendsetter.
Is the next red letter day due very soon? Get ready to light up, don't waste your lung power to blow out.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Filming locations

On any given day, they say, there are 70 film crews at work at various public places in New York. The city has in recent years been a favored location for Bollywood film-makers. A few of their films – Kabhi Alvida Na Kahna, Aa Ab Laut Chale – have extensive footage shot in New York.

City apartments, with backdrops featuring familiar NY sights, are in demand not only for film and TV shows but also commercials and magazine ads. Producers of prime-time TV serial, Central Park West, hired an apartment with Central Park views. Bathrooms and kitchens big enough to give moving space for a couple actors and a filming crew are sought after for film shoots. One such apartment owner hired out the kitchen for $500 a day to a company called A Cocktail Napkin Production. A professional studio with a kitchen could have cost them $10,000.

A New York-based company, AKA Locations, maintains a library of available homes and other private premises to suit specific needs of film and TV production companies. They work with the company location scouts in identifying private houses for film shooting.

There is scope for outdoor location search agency in my city Mysore, which has been a traditional destination for filmmakers from all over the country. Many of them are unaware that, locations-wise, there is lot more to Mysore than Lalith Mahal Palace and Brindavan Gardens. Scores of other lesser known mansions, not to mention Crawford Hall and Oriental Research Institute, provide equally impressive backdrops. A local heritage group has identified over 200 sites within Mysore city alone. Besides, there are locales in Srirangapatna, Nagarhole, Bandipur waiting to be discovered for outdoor filming.

This could be a project for stakeholders in tourism to promote Mysore. The Mysore locations agency could be a joint initiative of tourism dept., local authorities and enterprising location scouts.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Back to bicycles

Bike rentals, a fashion in Paris. His suggestion is to try out in Bangalore what is fashionable in Paris. It is easy to imagine the benefits if more people take to bikes instead of automated transport - exercise, cheaper transport, easing traffic congestion, saving fuel and above all, reduction of pollution. I hope that the business community and the citizens would give this a serious thought.

Once upon a time Bangalore was a town of bicycles. With the increase in the number of cars and buses and the eagerness of people to reduce transit time, the humble pedal vehicles were pushed to the background. But now we have come a full circle and often the bicycles can get you to your destination faster than an automobile.

Bicycle rentals were quite common in Bangalore fifty years or so back. In the early 1950s we had one next to St. Joseph’s College Hostel. An Anglo-Indian couple owned it. I forget their name now. The bikes were available any time on nominal rent. It was a great facility for the hostel boys because very few of them owned vehicles.

During a class on the importance of punctuation, the English professor at St. Joseph’s asked us a question. The owner of a bicycle rental had a new name board made for his shop. It included the caption ’Bicycles for gentlemen and ladies for hire’.

The painter put a comma at the wrong place on the board and that changed the entire meaning. I am sure that you can guess after which word the comma was inserted.

That was a lesson well learned.

Coming back to bicycles, I remember that in Kerala too, bike rentals were quite common in villages and small towns. At least in our area this service is making a comeback. Why wait for a bus or auto rickshaw? Take a two-wheeler and pedal away.


Also see: Bangalore memories

Cross posted from

Song of the waves - Parayil A. Tharakan Blog

Thursday, July 24, 2008

A solvable power crisis

The power crisis faced today exists or does not exist depending on how you look at it. Large industries still continue to work normally by running diesel generators. Many homes do not feel the pinch too as they would have UPSs. Even a remote village such as Kabbigere is not short of power. The government however is not able to procure the required power even if it is willing to pay double the actual price. When such is the case, it is worth thinking whether power distribution has to be reconfigured.

The solution really is that power need not be distributed at all. Power can be generated in distributed locations just as the Kabbigere example above demonstrates. However, this requires many considerations as well. For example, we found that Biomass gassification is not feasible always as it requires a constant supply of woody biomass. When demand is created in a village for biomass, the costs for the previously-considered-as-waste biomass suddenly increases. So, unless the biomass gassifier is maintained by the village people themselves, it is difficult to operate one profitably. This is the main reason, most biomass gassifiers are run by village panchayats/communities. The biomass gassifiers at West Bengal run by village people has in fact changed the quality of life of the people living there.

It is not just biomass. Solar thermal is appropriate for areas that receive a lot of sunlight which is quite normal in much of the country. Methanification of urban waste is another source of energy.

If only the government ever considers distributed power as much as it should instead of working on uncertain energy sources such as nuclear, it would be possible for a India without constant power-cuts.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Hired night nannies: Where have the grandmas gone?

Reacting to a newspaper report on growing demand for night nannies in the US my wife sympathized with the young parents who are constrained to hire nannies to take care of their infants. It is just bad luck, if parents of a new-born don’t or can’t draw on the support of their own parents.

Like her late mother, who had night-nursed our son and five of her other grandchildren, my wife believes it is a blessing to be able to take care of one’s grandchildren. Hiring night nannies is an idea that is alien to our traditional family values. What are grandmas for?

The grandma support system has been our mohalla culture. In villages and close-knit urban localities – agraharam - young couple with a newborn can count on nursing support from neighbours. Any elderly woman in such neibhourhood would volunteer to play grandma to your infant.

My twin nieces – now in their early 30s – were nursed by an elderly neighbour in Mysore’s Vidyaranyapuram area. They retain link with the family, though their night nanny, whom they called ajji, is no more, and my nieces moved out of the neighbourhood years ago. Such has been our social support structure, and night-nannying makes our women worthy of a special bond and life-long affection of those they had nannied.

In the US, they say, a week’s worth of night-nanny services could cost well over $1,000; and a hired nanny earns between $15-40 an hour depending on her experience and expertise. An article in The New York Times refers to mushrooming night-nanny service agencies in major metropolitan areas - the International Nanny Association in Philadelphia, Caring Nannies of Scottsdale, Ariz., Nocturnal Nannies at Ashland, Mass. and Night Nannies for Newborns in Denver.

Those taking up professional night-nanny work are themselves mothers in their 30s and 40s, whose husbands do the nanny-ing in their homes. The Mysore ajji scenario is, perhaps, inconceivable in the US, and, even in major cities in India. But I reckon we still have women with child-rearing experience of the likes of Mysore ajji.

Many such grandmas in economic need could be helped, in return for their nanny service. Maybe this is being done already in cities, through word-of-mouth and social networking . In Bangalore and other cities there is scope for placement agencies that bring together working couples in need of night-nanny services and eligible neighbourhood grandmas. Residents associations and community organizations could get involved.

Retirement homes and other institutions for the aged can be tapped for eligible grandmas for night-nanny services. Temples are places where such women frequent. Management of some temples that run matrimonial agency as service project for devotees could extend their services to help young parents find a ‘grandma’ to nanny their infant.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Look behind the glitter...

Have you ever thought of the lengthy process after which a piece of gold jewellery reaches the showroom's display? If you want to understand the magnitude of the environmental costs of mining, take time to read Kamala Balachandran's article Gold is costlier than you think.

The glitter and dazzle portrayed in the media, and the way jewellery outlets (want you to) go gaga on Akshaya Tritiya and Dhanteras are such a far cry from the desolation wrought by mining, and this contrast reveals a lot about the attitude of gold-collectors. No wonder then that "the more you know, the less gold glows", as No dirty gold points out!

As long as corporate houses and nations delude themselves that material upliftment signifies progress, the demand for yellow and white metals, and black gold will continue to abet the crime of increasing environmental costs.

If we have to redifine prosperity, let's start now. That re-definition can be as simple (or as complex) as accepting the fact that Kapalbhati pranayama gives you a glow no 'precious' trinket can.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Bike rentals, a fashion in Paris

In my schooldays in Coimbatore, Tamilnadu, bicycles were the prime mode of transport for the middle-class. The affluent among my class-mates came to school in own bikes. My parents didn’t get me one till I joined college in New Delhi. By which time (this, in late 50s) bicycling went out of fashion.

With aggressive marketing of Luna, scooty, and other two-wheelers bicycles became a poor man’s vehicle. We, who considered ourselves better-off on the social scale, preferred the rush, long wait and uncertainty of public transport to a bicycle for travelling to work. Coming to office on a bike wasn’t an executive thing. Clerks biked to work.

Today, the good old bike could be an answer to traffic congestion and carbon emission in Bangalore,if only office-goers and company executives take to the bike in a big way, making bicycling a fashionable mode of transit, as they have done in Paris. One would like to see Anil Kumble and Shivrajkumar going to work on a bike;see Rahul Dravid with a bicycle in lifestyle media ads. Major IT companies - Infosys, IBM, Yahoo and others - could promote use of bicycles.

They could cut-back on car allowance and offer, instead, bicycle bonus to employees. And those who give up their cars for bicycles could be considered for telecommuting. Maybe IIM-B students could take up a project to explore the prospects of putting in place (are you and your project group reading this, Reema Mahajan?) bicycle rentals service in Bangalore on the pattern of Velib’ of Paris.

The New York Times, in a recent articleA New Fashion Catches On in Paris: Cheap Bicycles Rentals – gives us an idea of how the system works. Maybe we can’t replicate it in all aspects, for Bangalore isn’t quite Paris; but the concept could be emulated.

The highlights of the Paris bicycle rentals:
1)The bikes are cheap to rent, as they are subsidized by advertising; some 20,600 bicycles are for hire, from 1,450 rental stations.
2)Annual subscription (29 euros) lets user take a bike whenever needed for 30 minutes at a time without extra-charge. It is reckoned 96 percent of all rides are less than 30-minute duration (and hired bikes can be returned at any convenient location).
3)Bicycles theft rate – 15 percent in the first year of operation. About 1,500 bikes a day come in for repairs.
4)Bikes can be rented on hourly basis, for a day, and also on weekly basis.
5)The 10-year contract for running bicycle rentals has been taken up, not by a transport contractor but a major PR and advertising company – JCDecaux.

Cross-posted in My Take by GVK

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Cremation woes

In my village, Olavipe, cremation sometimes poses a problem. It is difficult to obtain the right type of wood on short notice to burn the dead bodies.

Possibly, other places without an electric crematorium or a public burning ghat that has support facilities also face this predicament. Therefore I am recording a project underway in our place to tackle this problem so that it might be useful to others as well.

To burn a dead body, about 400 to 500 kilograms of wood is required. In addition, 50-75 kilograms of coconut shells are also needed. In the olden days we (Thekkanattu Parayil Family) used to provide all these, free of course. (See A tree of death? at Song of the waves - Parayil A. Tharakan Blog) But now most people take care of the need themselves.

This is as it should be, for those who can afford. But the difficulty they face is the immediate availability of fire wood when the need arises. After a person dies, the search for wood to burn the body begins. It is somehow obtained and the rituals are carried out. But in most cases there is a lot of running around and the suppliers exploit the urgency.

My brother Jacob is implementing a project in Olavipe to tackle this problem. One could call it a Pyre Bank. We provide a proper storage facility and donate a buffer stock of one or two tons of wood and sufficient quantity of coconut shells. Others also are welcome to contribute. Anyone who needs the material for cremation can draw from this stock. But what they take has to be replaced within a specified period.

Representatives of the organizations of different communities in Olavipe administer the facility. It is that committee’s responsibility to ensure that the stock is replenished within the stipulated time. The periodic turnover prevents the wood from becoming too dry and therefore fast burning.

The idea is very well received by the people of Olavipe. Even the vicar of the local church is involved in the project even though the Christians are not normally cremated.


Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Elders: Sunshine in sunset years

A local organization in Chennai, India recently conducted an opinion survey on whether grandparents are being treated as glorified servants. The findings of the study are not known.

Anyway, this is a relevant question at a time when there is a subtle change in the nuclear family scenario. With both husband and wife working there is often a problem in looking after small children. Increasingly more couples seem to be depending on their parents to fill in this need.

Whether the grandparents in such cases are being treated as glorified servants mainly depends on attitudes. Provided they have no serious health problems, the senior citizens would be generally happy to look after their grandchildren.

Many elders see their grandchildren as an extension of themselves. Taking care of the little ones brings a new meaning and purpose to their lives. What otherwise would have been empty, depressive hours are filled in purposefully.

Are such arrangements good for the kids? The answer is yes, of course. Busy working parents hardly have the time for their children. Expressions of love and shared activities are often below the desired level. Grandparents fill in that void.

The elders, particularly in the Indian context, provide a link to culture and heritage. Many children who grow up in the cities are only vaguely aware of their roots. That changes slowly if the grandparents stay with them. The stories and reminiscences narrated during the hours together make the children aware of their background and also, in many instances, instill in them a certain sense of values.

With grandparents staying in the house there are likely to be more visitors and greater contact with relatives. This too has a positive impact on the children. They become conscious that they have people, a family background. That provides the children with a feeling of belonging and a better sense of security.

There is, however, an amount of risk when parents stay with their progeny. The elders are bound to be quite sensitive. A thoughtless word or gesture from the offspring (or his/ her spouse) with whom they stay, can cause considerable damage. This is particularly so if the seniors are financially dependent on the son or daughter.

On the other hand, unless the seniors understand the requirements of their offspring, living under one roof can be a fiasco. Awareness of the compulsions of the younger generation, their need for privacy and independence is essential for being together happily.

These risk factors apart, the return of the joint family system in a modified, modernized and limited form can be good for the society.


Monday, June 30, 2008

10 Alternatives to Plastic Bags

Do we have to wait for a ban on use of plastics to stop using them? Why don’t we initiate on our own, make a conscious effort to stop accepting and using plastic bags?

Some of the ill effects of plastics are:

  • Plastic bags kill at least 100,000 birds, whales, seals and turtles every year.
  • It takes almost 1000 years for plastics to decay and mix with soil.
  • Plastics with a thickness less than 35 microns are the most harmful ones to the nature. They are mostly dished out by the retailers and take away food outlets.
  • Food is not safe in these and is prone to cross contamination.

The various other alternatives:

  1. Use biodegradable bags made from fabrics.
  2. Ladies can fold a cotton bag or two in to their purses which can be used to quench their sudden urge for shopping.
  3. Nylon bags can be used and reused several times.
  4. Donate old news papers and magazines to small scale institutes that cut these old papers in to paper bags and packets.
  5. Use a wicker basket. (They can make a fashion statement today.)
  6. Educate the local retailers on the ill effects of use of plastics.
  7. Insist your local retailers to use plastic bags of thicker variety if at all he has to use.
  8. Offices can distribute canvas bags as New Year gifts instead of diaries and other sweet nothings.
  9. Better still buy a foldable shopping trolley. When you can buy a stroller for your new born this is not impossible you see.
  10. The common man is already burdened with spiraling prices, so I don’t wish to suggest to the government to impose a plast-tax. Mere ban will fail, as it has in the previous.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

The Right Numbers

Yesterday I attended the upanayanam ceremony of a cousin’s children. A religious ceremony, it was conducted simply with only close relatives in attendance, and a lunch to follow.

The invitation had carried a request that we inform the hosts of how many would be present, and would participate in the lunch. This is quite unheard of in the circles where upanayanams are conducted. Everyone is welcome to eat. Loads of food is cooked, expecting many people to eat. And then invariably, a lot of perishable food is left over and hasty and unwise decisions made as to their disposal.

A simple note like this, very much like the RSVP (Repondez s’il vous plait) is very much to be appreciated, (though some hard core traditionalists might object on the grounds that it reflects on the hospitality of the host). It gives the host an idea of how many people will actually lunch, and suitable arrangements can be made. Caterers spiral out of control and go overboard with the numbers – when they cook for 30 around 45 people can be fed, as they easily admit.

And the menu was perfect – a good balance of vegetables and proteins, with the right amount of side dishes (including chips and appalam), sweets and Payasam (kheer), all served in reasonable helpings, second helpings on request. I found that everyone enjoyed the food, and at the end, very little left on the leaves to be cleared up. A far cry from the upanayanam I had attended two months ago. There were two kheers, three sweets, and to top it all, three varieties of ice cream, not to mention the innumerable side dishes. The hosts said they had been pressurized by the caterers that this was the norm. (The ‘norm’ at weddings is mind-boggling). This keeping-up-with-the-Joneses syndrome is an unhealthy practice, for there is just so much a person can eat at a meal. It benefits no one except the caterers.

Let the pipers put their foot down and call the tune – good food with adequate variety in moderate quantity - this should be the norm on all occasions, and will the guests be good enough to let them know how many will partake of lunch/dinner.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008


A hat rack.

From Abraham Tharakan's Song of the Waves.

Saturday, June 7, 2008

About that Devanahalli tree-corridor idea

A green belt along the road to the new airport at Devenahalli was what we had in mind when we first read about Janet’s tree-for-free trust. Creation of a Banglore resident the trust plants trees on public space. You can dial a plant, and Janet does it for you. People sponsor planting of saplings in celebration of their birthday, wedding anniversary, graduation, placement, promotion.

A California-based NRI had 21 saplings planted in Koramangala, Bangalore, in celebration of her three-week India vacation. Vaishnavi said bon voyage to fiancé Sandeep on his posting in Singapore. If everyone who goes abroad the first time – students for higher education, II and other professionals on their first foreign placement – were to plant a tree to mark the occasion, we would have tree-cover all along the road to the airport in three to five years from now.

Airlines and tour operators could offer tree-gift certificates to tourists, who wish to have saplings planted to mark their Bangalore holiday. Besides being a PR gesture, tree-gifts could be yet another way companies could meet their corporate social responsibilities.

In response to an earlier post on the green corridor an observant reader, Mr Guru, left a comment saying that BIAL road is all set for a ‘green’ look; and sent us a link to a recent article in Mid-Day about a joint initiative by the Bangalore city corporation and the horticulture department

Friday, June 6, 2008

Two simple practises for better health for children

The dog-fight between Health Minister Anbumani Ramadoss and celebrities Shah Rukh khan and Amithabh Bachhan made only painful reading, neither side winning or even making a difference to the most needy, poorer population in both rural and urban India.
Let me give couple of examples.
Do you know we have one of the highest morbidity and mortality rates for children in the world? Children continue to die in summer as the effective WHO Oral rehydration message has NOT really crossed the information barrier and percolated to the rural parents.As a result children who often get dirty infected gutter water to drink die within hours of dehydration.If they can be administered water with salt and sugar, within few minutes the child will survive. No advertising modern Guru who often come and wax eloquently on drawing room topics on National TV has come forward and shown their brilliance here in closing the information barrier.Children still continue to die.
Again, there is a study which says, if children wash hands with soap and water BEFORE each meal, mortalty rates will come down substantially.This is not going to be terribly expensive if only we put this practise in each and every school before children have their food by making available soap, water and a clean towel more importantly making them do.It is more important they wash hands before than afterwards.We normally practise the other way!Even if they lick after the meals it's okay!
It is this Anbumani Ramadoss should promote and get Amithabh, Shah Rukh and Regional stars to show it on TV. If this meassage could take wings, Companies will distribute free soaps and towels and indeed we really can take this far and wide and we will have healthier children.
Imagine the byproduct of this. A child used to washing his hands before a meal, will insist his parents do the same at home, whether rural or urban India.And when a child insists on a good practise which parent will say 'No'?It is through inculcation of small but significan practises we can build better health. By teaching the children we can build by bottomsup approach and reach elders too.
Let's start.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Rob Nani to pay Sudha!

As our city gets more and more IT-jacked and more commercialised , less and less open space will be available for likes of Sudha, Rahul and Rina to play.On one hand we see huge playgrounds with basketball courts and Football goalposts empty and hardly anybody there to use these! On the other hand kids, urchins have hardly any place to play.We see complaints that the children nowadays have become TV-Centric or computer-crazy! But in the first place, do we give them playgrounds/ open space to play?Medical college grounds near the Railway station in Mysore are hardly put to use and so also the grounds at Infosys. Except for once year a tournament or a marchpast hardly any dust comes out of these places by playing any game.Surely there needs an attempt in striking a balance between open spaces kept under lock and key or out of bounds and needs of children and growing kids to spend their time in playing, getting exercise and learning 'what is a sportsman spirit is' by playing. For that to happen they need open space, playgrounds...

"Buy Green, Buy Fair, Buy Local, Buy Used, and most importantly, Buy Less"

Surely that message is plain enough to understand and follow?
If you were too busy generating trash, you most likely didn't find the time to calculate your human footprint. If you can, do spare the time for The Story of Stuff - a 20-minute video on (what's wrong with) the material(istic) economy and mindless consumerism.
What presenter Annie Leonard conveys to the viewer is a simple axiom - A linear system of consumption in our finite world is unsustainable. The viewer is conducted through harsh facts of consumer goods production - extraction of natural resources, factory process, distribution in the market, consumption levels and goods disposal. The presenter frankly admits all the wrongs in the average American's consumption pattern - the Government-Corporate nexus, the exploitation of the Third World, the addition of enormous amounts of toxins - yes, toxins - energy, and natural resources to produce toxic products and by-products.
So, whatever kind of consumer each of us is, we could try to be more responsible by trying to "Buy Green, Buy Fair, Buy Local, Buy Used, and most importantly, Buy Less".

Monday, June 2, 2008

Case for infrastructure audit

Our morning walk in Mysore takes us along Baden Powell Public School; and I have often wondered if the basketball court on the school ground has ever been used for the purpose of playing basketball. I have seen the space being used for parking standby power generator, delivery vans and spares whenever they hold consumer fairs on the school ground.

Maybe such willful waste of sports infrastructure is perpetrated with the school’s sanction. In which case one would wonder why the basketball court was created in the first place. Shouldn’t the authorities consider dismantling the sports fixture for installing them in any of the so many poorly-served schools in the city? Educational and other public institutions would do well to carry out periodical audit of the use put to their public facilities.

Infrastructure audit by the government and public institutions would ensure proper use and better maintenance of facilities developed with tax-payers money. At times, scarcely needed public facilities are created in the name of social infrastructure.

Many apartment blocks that have come up in Mysore in recent months include a community swim-pool as a value-added feature. I wonder how many residents in a complex use the facility. The idea of locating a public swimming in the midst a residential complex may not fit in with our middle-class mindset. Property developers nowadays factor in the cost of social infrastructure such as a gym, club-house and swim-pool, in pricing apartments. Seen as symbol of upscale living such value-add-ons are of little use to most apartment residents.

An infrastructure audit would reveal underuse of gym and club-house in most apartment buildings. If property developers take to infrastructure audit, rather than going by false notions of upscale living in relatively conservative towns such as Mysore, we wouldn’t create wasteful infrastructure.
Such fancy trash can, installed by the Mysore city corporation in many places, is an instance of wasteful infrastructure. I wonder how these pricy plastic cans facilitate municipal trash collection.

Friday, May 30, 2008

Greening the fences

In the coastal belt of Kerala, fences used to be made with plaited and dried coconut fronds. This practice is mostly discontinued now because of reduced availability of the fronds, lack of sufficient workers (mainly women) for plaiting, and the high cost of material and labor.

The new trend is to use plastic sheets, often of an ungainly blue color, for fencing. The material is non-biodegradable and not eco-friendly. And it doesn’t blend with the greenery around. It is an eyesore.

At Olavipe, my village, we are planning to introduce an innovation. The objectives of a barrier around a homestead or plot are protection and privacy. These can be achieved with hedges formed with plants or shrubs or small trees. And, they can, in the bargain, bring some additional income as well to the owner.

What we are thinking of is to encourage people to have hedges of medicinal plants. The first experiment may be with Vitex negundo (Nirgandi in Hindi, Karinochi in Malayalam). It is considered to be anti inflammatory, analgesic and antibacterial.

Ceasalpina Sappan (Pathimukham) and Hibiscus (Chembarathy), both having many uses, are other possibilities being considered. We are also in touch with different sources to identify medicinal plants best suited for hedgerow in our area. Any suggestions would be welcome.

A project of this nature anywhere should be able to attract financial and/or technical support from local administration, government departments, NGOs, and manufacturers of herbal medicines/cosmetics.

It may not be easy to convert the villagers to this idea. People have a tendency to resist changes. But fortunately we have a committed group of young volunteers under the leadership of my brother Jacob (it was his idea in the first place) to undertake the mission.