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.


Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Calculate your 'human footprint'

Ever wondered about the impact of one human in one lifetime on the environs? How do the volumes of consumption of daily necessities, luxuries and extravagances add up? Watch this documentary Human Footprint (1 hr 13minutes) on the consumption levels of an average citizen in a modern society.
If you think green and would wish for more people to start thinking green, take this rather staggering lesson on 'Human Footprint'. You'll get figures that tell several sad stories. At the end of it you are likely to feel sober, but much, much wiser.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Changing planes at Changi

Changi is a mega shopping sprawl from where you also catch a plane. But then a modern air terminal is not designed for passengers in a hurry, particularly, if you happen to be nearing 70, over-weight, and under-exercised with un-cooperative knee-joints. My wife and I were on way from Bangalore to San Francisco. And we found ourselves with barely 20 minutes to change planes at Changi, Singapore.

A brisk walk, at a breathless pace, from Gate B-10 to A-3 on Terminal-3 took us nearly that long; and the worst part was that we weren’t sure if we would make it to the plane. Our boarding pass mentioned that the gate would be closed 10 minutes before departure time.

And when we made it at last, I was gasping; and virtually collapsed into my seat. That our flight to San Francisco got delayed further by 20 minutes after I had taken my seat was no consolation. If anything, I felt cheated, for having been put through an avoidable ordeal. A timely announcement of delayed departure of our flight by the airlines ground staff could have spared us the physical strain and anxiety.

I wish the airlines show as much concern towards transit passengers as they apparently did for their baggage transfer. Oddly enough, detection of ‘unaccompanied’ baggage on cargo hold contributed to further delay in our departure. As it happened, they had loaded the baggage of a transit passenger who couldn’t make it to the plane. As the captain put it, unaccompanied baggage was not allowed on board for security reasons. Which was why there was further delay as the crew had to locate and offload the baggage.

Clockwork efficiency with which the airport staff transfer baggage from one flight to another could be extended to transfer of transit passengers under emergency. The airlines ground staff that meet incoming flights to direct transit passengers could arrange for passenger carts for those pressed for time to catch their connecting flight.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

‘Moore Market’ for discarded ideas

“It has made me think of a number of ideas that I have shot down without trying,” wrote Ananya in reference to our web initiative - Giving It A Shot. Prof. Ananya Mukherjee Reed teaches political economy at York University, Toronto. Maybe Ananya could consider posting here her untried/discarded ideas. They might trigger fresh thoughts in someone else. And then there are aspects of an idea others pick up and adopt to fit in with their own innovative thoughts. In a sense, visiting our site is like browsing a used-books shop or at garage sales.

I don’t know if Ananya has been to Moore Market in Madras, before the city became Chennai. That was the place for people with flair for old books, gramophone records, old china, radio cabinet of WW-II vintage, and things. Most items discarded by others and found their way to Moore market found buyers who saw value in the discards.

We would like to think of this blog as the Moore Market for Ideas - unformed,untried and discarded. The ones Ananya shot down without even trying may interest some of our readers. Ananya Mukherjee Reed, with four others, runs an online panel that argues out happenings, issues and concerns Indian. She is 'passionate about arguing'. Amartya Sen’s The Argumentative Indian appears to have inspired this lot to set up their blog – Arguing India.

How to improve percentage of voting?

There's so much said about poor turnout in ongoing elections in Karnataka.Many reasons are attributed such as being 'fedup' with the system, corruption etc.These may be true , still a little effort could go a long way in getting the urban voters to the polling booths. Wait. In this age of emails, sms is there a need to get the voter to the booths at all? Day in and Day out we have the networks asking voters to sms 'yes' or 'no' to questions like 'Do you think Shah Rukh Khan's left dimple is sexy?' or is 'Rahul all that gutsy?' It could be Dravid or the Yuvraj kumar of Indian Politics.If the Election Comission could get people to vote thro' sms/ computers, urban votes would easily double. Of course, our techies should be given the job of making it tamper -proof.Why does EC plan an election on a Saturday? It's all fine to say'For democracy, you have to take that much trouble'.Weekend is a prized possession and not many would like that to be tampered with. Some of my friends don't go to Rly station or Airport to fetch their Mother-in -law if she lands up on a week end..We must have an election on a Wednesday always.Wednesdays are sentinels and cannot be clubbed to a Monday or a Friday.And in one day, you can't go out of town and dash back.Finally why give a holiday at all ? Make the voting time from 6 a.m. to 11p.m.. This will easily swell the numbers.Office -goers can vote before they lave for work or after they come back.
Small adjustments will help reap better results.We must make it easier for people to vote..And again not too easy lest they run away for a short vacation!

Monday, May 12, 2008

Maa’s Day – time for bouquets (and saplings?)

Hundreds of NRI sons/daughters who sent flowers to India on Mother’s Day, May 11, could have been persuaded to say it with saplings as well, if green-minded greetings card makers and florists market the idea. A Bangalore florist who received online an order from our son in San Francisco could have sold him (my son) the idea of including a sapling to go with the bouquet.

So that, along with the bouquet the florist could have delivered ‘a tree-gift’ card that we can trade for a sapling of our choice at a local nursery in Mysore. Tree-gift cards, to go with all occasions, can be sold at Archies outlets. The company joint-MD Pramod Arora saya in a Bangalore Mirror interview that they have a 50-member creative team. Maybe, they can have a stab at some green ideas.

According to Mr Arora, there are a number of greeting-card dealers in the unorganized sector. They account for an annual turnover of Rs.75 crores. Mysore’s Sapgreen, a tree-plant start-up which is into promoting tree-gifts, can think of a marketing tie-up with greeting-cards makers and online florists.

If every other NRI were to add a touch a green with her/his order of bouquets, Mysore would get greener with every special Day – Mother’s, Father’s, Valentine, and Daughter's Day (an Archie invention). Saplings, delivered as tee-gift cards and exchanged for plants at neighbourhood nursery, could be planted in people’s backyard, roadsides and parks.

Now, a word about the Maa Day bouquet that was delivered at our place in Mysore. Shortly after 1 p m, Sunday, a lady phoned to get, what she termed, ‘the landmark’ to our Dewan’s Rd. residence. She said she was speaking from Vontikoppal and that they had a bouquet for delivery. It took them another hour and a half to deliver.

2.30 p m (snooze time for senior citizens) isn’t the ideal time to receive a bouquet, even from one’s dearest ones. Any online service provider ought to ensure that his ‘last-mile’ link is client-sensitive, taking care of conducive delivery time, bouquet’s shelf-life and other nitty-gritty.
This was our Rs.700 bouquet, on delivery; and this is how it looked (below) the very next day.

Trees Vs Foundation Stones

Many defence campuses date to pre-independence times, like the one in Sulur, near Coimbatore. Such self-contained residence-cum-office complexes are pretty green oases in cities and elsewhere. I have seen that the IISc campus is a welcome 2 degrees cooler than the areas outside its peripheral boundary. Traffic is never dense, most staff cycle to work and children can really walk to school.
Yes, the campus is green. However, at every turn, the presence of a 'foundation stone' is at odds with the ambience. There are nearly as many such plaques as - hold your breath - the number of heads of organization(s) over the years, visiting VIP's and their spouses. Imagine the accumulated concrete and granite over the seven decades of the campus's existence. Understandably, the stones have been 'planted' to mark the inauguration of parks and sports courts, construction of building X and subway Y and achievement Z. You may even find two stones per landmark event (when the task was seen through by more than one person at the helm).
It's not too impractical, or idealistic, to dream of an even greener campus, is it? In the place of each stone, why not plant a sapling of a local tree variety? Within campuses also, but more so at the venues of much-tom-tom'ed public inaugurations by political, bureaucratic and industrial bigwigs.
A couple of years ago someone asked me to check out the presence of such a stone dating to 1982. I did, it was in place, albeit well-weathered. I hope to happily reply to such queries henceforth: 'Oh, yes, under that tree the local children attend regular evening classes'...

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Bringing Bikes Back on Road

When the Mandeveli duo - Dr R Madhavan and Mr V Subramaniam – used to go round Chennai streets on a tricycle, to plant the saplings on vacant space, they were looked upon as objects of public curiosity, even ridicule. The sight of your family doctor and his banker friend taking to tricycle didn’t fit in with our class perception. Bicycle was(and still is)seen as poor man’s transport. This was over two decades back.

More recently,I suggested to Sapgreen’s Ashwin that they could take to tricycle for transporting saplings. The three-wheeler should be painted in company colour with a green message. Visualising Anil-Ashwin riding a tricycle on Mysore streets with a bunch of saplings for planting,I thought it to be a marketing idea worth a try. Besides being cheaper than power-driven light-cargo vehicles use of the green tricycle would give Sapgreen much needed visibility. Ashwin gave me a polite hearing and a disarming smile.Perhaps, we need to work more to promote the humble bicycle as a ‘cool’, green option. The pedal-powered bike needs to be re-invented to make a social statement. There is, perhaps, case for an ad. campaign, showing M S Dhoni going on a bike to have a haircut in his native Ranchi. Those organizing fund-raising runs for varied causes could encourage participants to do it on bicycles.

Blogger Tanay Bahera in a recent post referred to a tricycle devised to carry-and-purify water as you ride it. The model, in its current form designed by its California-based innovators, may be expensive for adoption in poorer countries that need it most.But the California design for a tricyle looks slick and stylish; and can be modified as ‘pizza’-carrier. Home-delivery pizza joints in Mysore and other smaller towns can replace delivery motor-bikes with fiber-glass finish tricycles. Food-World and other big stores can customize tricycles to suit their home-delivery requirement.

Friday, May 9, 2008

A bus-ride to Chamundi Hills

A KSRTC bus I took from the Mysore city bus-stand to Chamundi Hills had no conductor. Its driver was doubling up as one. A smart staff-cutting move by transport authorities. The snag was that we got held up at an intermediary point, while the driver left his seat to issue tickets to passengers. The vehicle had its engine running, as the driver-conductor took his time collecting ticket money, and returning the change. People usually carried tenners, and expected the conductor to produce the change. He got into a tiff with an odd passenger who produced a 50 or 100-rupee note for the ticket, priced Rs.6.50. More crowded the bus, longer the hold-up for issuing tickets. We were held up a good ten minutes.

Wouldn't it help if they rationaliised the fare? Lower it to Rs.5, which no one would do, with spiralling oil prices; or raise the fare to Rs.10, a round figure. Open a money-changer kiosk at the city bus terminals to help passengers keep proper change before boarding a bus.

To cut down paper consumption KSRTC could replace paper ticketing with plastic boarding cards, to be dropped in a box as passengers get off the bus.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

The ‘why’ and ‘how’ of GIAS

Kristina Libby, who is associated with the Global Entrepreneurship Week slated for this November, e-mailed the other day asking if volunteering locally for promoting the GEW would interest me. On my acceptance Kristina realized her brief was to deal with only those based in the US; and she, helpfully, suggested I contact our ‘country host’ for information on how we could participate in GEW activities in India. A web check revealed no one in India has till date offered to host GEW.

This prompted a few of us to do our own thing. We borrowed the idea for this blog from the GEW website.