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September 8, 2010

Cycle Yatra.

I recently joined the Bangalore Bikers Club. And the very first post got me interested. The post spoke about the “Swapathgami Cycle Yatra“. A brief note about the yatra:

it is a week long cycle trip into rural
Rajasthan. What sets this trip apart from a general cycle trip is that
we do not carry any money, electronic gadgets or first aid medicines
with us. We stop at villages along the route and find work to earn our
board and lodge.

The following you tube video is from the yatra in 2006:


June 21, 2010

Concrete development.

Filed under: gandhian principles, market, nature, news, social change — Tags: — neosurya @ 15:37

Visited a “green” venture by a local developer. The guy even asked us tips to make the place greener; they claimed that some folks from Canada had bought a 1 acre property there, and a businessman from Dubai was going to come in a day or two. One of us was an avid byker, The developer asked him for the brand of international bikes that would be appropriate for his brand. He had ducks in artificial ponds, ostriches, turkeys (from turkey)??? The place was guaranteed to develop, would give us great returns, he promised. Wonderful. On the return journey, we mulled over the development that was unfolding about 70 Kms from Bangalore and about 15 Kms from Kanakpura.

As we passed by the concrete pillars built on Outer ring road near Agara Kere, we wondered how “green” these were, and how green would the construction in the village near Kanakpura. BTW, there is no mention of the village on the developer’s website.

And, I also wonder how we became developing nations, and a few other countries became developed nations. Is it because of all the concrete, the air-conditioning, and all the medication that they are getting, or is it because of their obesity. I guess when all toilets in a country get air-conditioning, the nation can be called well-developed.

I remembered an article in the Hindu about how impoverished African refugees were being developed. Or were they?

In Kandikiti, where Jean Lupanga’s family lives, a group of 20 villagers won a $4,000 grant last year to start a pig farm to help orphans. The group bought nine pure-bred hogs, built them a residence nicer than those of most people and posted volunteers to guard it round the clock. They also bought 10 bicycles, vaccines for the pigs and paid their members to attend training sessions.

More than a year later, they have not sold a single one of the white, floppy-eared, European-bred pigs. In a village where scruffy local pigs trot freely among the huts, the group’s leader fell silent when asked who could afford such expensive pork.

And then, this article on corporate, colonial, and now Asian interests in Africa:

About Africa’s role in the world, the old colonial mindset seems to be alive and kicking. Recently a senior French minister called Africa “our El Dorado”, a legendary city of gold. France reportedly wants to ensure broader influence in Africa, seen as “a frontier for profit-making.” Many American, EU and Chinese companies seem to share this perspective.

Will Indian companies be different? Will they give to Africa as much as they receive from it, if not more? This is perhaps what Ratan Tata had in mind when he recently recalled that South Africa had been a victim of “exploitative and extractive enterprise”. He suggested that India and South Africa could have “a different relationship”, one based on mutual benefit and genuine partnership. His advice applies to all Indian companies operating in Africa, not just in South Africa.

September 14, 2009

Coal stories…

“How can we get digital cable and Internet in our homes, but not clean water?”

This was a quote from the mother of a child who was severely effected by the polluted water from a coal slurry. The quote appeared in a NY Times article that can be accessed here. It is easy to miss the innocence of individuals who use technology. Most people are often unable to see that the very lifestyle they want demands the large-scale environmental plunder and pollution (Note, I said lifestyle they want not lifestyle they need). The 400-channel cable network that they so much enjoy, the internet, the 5-star safety rated sedan, and the 4 bedroom “modern” home, all have their parts to play in the pollution game.

Coal slurry is a by-product of mining; coal is apparently not very clean and has to be washed before it can be used. The slurry that comes out of washing is composed of several chemicals, some that are used in the washing process and some that come out from the coal ore. A list of these chemicals can be found here. Many of these chemicals are quite dangerous. Slurry is a regular by-product of several mines; even Uranium mining results in slurry. Imagine the water coming out of your washing machine; it obviously is not palatable. Now consider that you are washing coal, and the water would be much worse. Now, imagine washing radioactive Uranium and similar minerals that power the nuclear energy, and the nuclear defense world. The waste generated while cleaning minerals is hazardous to say the least.

Several mining firms do try to implement controls to contain and re-process these wastes. And we cannot really take chemicals out of our life; the paint on your wall is a chemical, the air that you breathe is a chemical. The problem starts when these mines are used beyond their design limits, and larger than acceptable concentrations of dangerous chemicals are created at a single location.

A reason why most people do not appreciate mining as problematic could be because a majority of their lives are far from mines and the consequent ill-effects. Invariably, they see the benefits of using coal (steam engines, thermal power plants), Uranium (Power plants, nuclear bombs) but do see the true cost of these comforts. Worse still, some users would not even want to see the true price others have to pay, and also do not want to use these resources in moderation.

More such articles on coal, and its complications:

The above spill happened on 10-11-2000; Quotes from the above:

Local people remember the boom years fondly. Anyone who wanted could get a job, and unemployment went from 25 percent to 3 or 4 percent, they say. “First a guy would get a job at the mine, and after that he’d get himself a trailer, a four-wheel drive, and a color TV. After that he’d get either a boat or a wife,” a county resident recalled. Intense gratitude toward the coal companies may be found in the county to this day.


On the scale of spills, it was about thirty times the size of the 10 million gallons from the wreck of the Exxon Valdez. Aside from good local reporting, especially by Ken Ward Jr. in the Charleston (W. V.) Gazette, coverage of the spill had been sparse. Trying to make sense of it from a distance, I wondered mainly about the place: What could it possibly look like after suffering a wastewater-and-coal-slurry spill of 300 million gallons?

At a hearing in March 2001, a resident told Art Smith, the EPA official in charge of monitoring the cleanup, that backhoe operators were merely turning over the earth and burying the sludge underneath.

Greg Preece said that many of those affected by the spill were burned out on talking about it.

(Excerpt from an interesting interview from the above article)

N.: “An independent test had said that there were six heavy metals, including cadmium and arsenic, in the drinking water, and finally the EPA said, ‘We’ll check into it.’ And we still don’t know if our water’s safe or not.”

M.: “An EPA lawyer at that meeting told everybody, ‘Listen, people, coal mining is a dirty business, and you-all better get used to it.'”

N.: “People around here hear you criticizing the coal companies, and they start moaning, ‘But what’ll we do if the mines shut down? What’ll happen to those jobs?’ I sympathize to a certain extent, but I also tell them, ‘Lots of places in America don’t have coal, and don’t have coal companies, and they manage to support themselves OK.'”

M.: “‘Jobs’ is a sacred word. It’s a word like ‘shareholders.’ To some people, I’m the turd in the punchbowl because they think I don’t believe in jobs.”

N.: “And how good a job is it, anyway, if you have to risk the lives of the same people you employ?”

M.: “If people are all scared about jobs, that gives the coal company more power and makes it seem more important than it is already. That’s what happened with this cleanup — the coal company announced what it planned to do, and the government and everybody basically just rolled over and said, ‘OK.'”

His grandfather raised twenty-four children on the farm’s 8-plus acres. His father raised two, and Glenn raised six. The farm’s creek-valley topsoil produced fruits and vegetables that won prizes at the county fair. The soil had hardly a rock in it; but after the spill and the cleanup, the replacement dirt supplied by the coal company was all rocks and clay left over from strip mining, compressed to an impervious hardness by cleanup vehicles.

A video on coal mining in West Virginia Appalachians:

An article on Uranium mining:

July 21, 2009

Proposal for a Dwelling – An ecological gated community in Bangalore

I do not know if this is desperation, or if this is strategic thinking. I am writing this in a bid to gather like-minded people who respect nature and can plan on staying together on a common area along the lines of a gated community. Yes, I know we have the private gated communities and BDA complexes, and oh yes – we also have rental accommodation. But nothing lets us live in a sustainable, ecological, vibrant community that respects nature and enjoys it.

I and Jyostna have been looking for land in Bangalore for quite sometime, and the options are not yet perfect. In too many locations, we have seen that builders focus on “herd mentality”. Land changes hands frequently with people mainly aiming for profit and not really looking at it as a place that can sustain life. Living has become equivalent to spoiling nature and living against it. Gated communities boast facilities like swimming pools which one hardly ever uses; they are too small to be of any value. But most seem to replicate a different place and are totally out of place with our reality (My blog post on Palm meadows in a desert). While even the human species needs to survive like any other, we believe it is possible to organize our own place in this measly planet of ours.

A possible option we are looking at:
Gather together a few like minded folks and obtain property on the fringes of BLR; for example 4 people buy one acre and we have ~10,000 sq foot plots for each family. Each family builds a house on 2000 sq. foot of their land and leaves the rest open. Rely as little as possible on external resources, and share some resources such as wind energy, well, security, ground-water recharging. Not quite Navadarshanam, but regular 9-5 working people who want to be close to nature and lead a calm life. The goal would be to live in harmony with nature, but retain several urban comforts. If it becomes really feasible, we could implement a gobar gas plant and other such, but that would be a stretch goal.

What it would entail:
In terms of money:
One acre of land about 10-15 Kms from Bangalore costs 48 lakhs. I have some options that I can talk about. If four families share one acre, the cost will be 12 lakhs per family. For 1,400 rupees per square feet, it is possible to construct a house that will be ecologically sensitive, and have among other features, it’s own sewage disposal and water harvesting. I have some figures from firms that do ecological designs of homes. For a 2000 square foot home, that would mean about 28 lakhs. The total seems about 40 lakhs. But with registration, electric connection, size of house, delays and other factors minimum-maximum cost could be 45-60 lakhs.

In terms of personal commitment:
Mutual respect that we will not violate building standards and not succumb to selling our respective 10,000 sq. feet of property in the form of parcels when the surrounding areas “develop”.

Best case scenario to make this happen:

20-25 families will participate in this, and we shall have a very vibrant community.
4-5 families will participate in this and they will have a nice place to stay.

BTW, we are not real-estate agents, we do not have experience in doing this. We think this is very difficult, we have a whole bunch of optimism, but we think the outcome is worth the effort. This is a five-hundred foot idea; the exact details can be worked out if and when folks think this is feasible. Comments are welcome.

What are we planning to do if this does not work:
Get a 40×60 plot in a decent locality in Bangalore, have an independent house. We may even have to revert to a gated community :(.

Comments are welcome.

July 17, 2009

Water in the market – bottled water

If there were ever futures trading with water, I would be a millionaire. Several others would be too. I would have a lot of money, and I would be very thirsty too.

I read an article in the TOI, page 14, July 17 2009, Bangalore edition title: “Stamping a new mark for bottled water“. The full article can be accessed at this URL, excerpts are below:

Though the consumption of packaged drinking water in India is just 1.7 litres per month, the packaged drinking water industry sees India as the most booming sector, growing at a rate of 25%. Jeffrey B Smith, general manager, global water business of Underwriters Laboratories (UL), tells TOI about UL’s venture to set up a water certification programme that will supplement the Bureau of Indian Standards (BIS) in India.


We are currently analysing the challenges but according to our studies so far, fluoride and arsenic are huge contaminants here. Pesticide residues also. The issues are different in the West. For instance, in the US, iron levels are very high and there are concerns about aesthetics: the water should not smell, it has to look good…. We are here to add value to the issues of water scarcity and safety. Even though buying power is a problem with the poor here, most of the middle class prefers safer options, and that is huge for us.

Now they see packaged drinking water as a market, and an opportunity. Am I the only one who sees a problem in water, or am I just dumb….

Reminds me of the story “Welcome to the town of Allopath“, by Mike Adams. This was sent by my colleague, Shekhar who has a farm outside BLR. Gist of the article is that Allopath is a city with the problem of accidents. A doctor “Dr West” examines the accidents and concludes that they are linked to “skid marks”. If the skid marks are removed/prevented he concludes, there will not be any accidents. He recommends that the roads be lined with teflon that will prevent all skid marks. The accidents increase exponentially. A hermit comes along and recommends that the teflon be removed and that stop signs be installed to prevent the accidents. He is chided since he is not “qualified” enough to advise. Accidents continue, almost all of the city dies off. Several years later, the hermit is still living on, painting stop signs so that a new generation could use them.

Anyhow, I am also part of the middle class who walks the often trudged path. BTW, folks who got till here would like to read my other post on dry borewells in hyderabad.

July 3, 2009

Taarein Zameen Par?

Filed under: education, nature, personal, social change, times of india — neosurya @ 09:39

Our media is weird – on one end, it says that failure to succeed should not be considered as failure in life. At the other end, it encourages lack of responsibility. I will use a movie and a news article as an example, though my rant is about media in general.

Many folks consider the movie Taarein Zameen Par to have opened the eyes of parents towards  proper rearing of children, and in general how society should be tolerant in its measure of skill. But even in this movie, the boy Ishaan had to “win” a painting competition to become truly accepted by everyone. Some of my friends tell me “This is a movie.”,  “The masala has to be there for the message to go across”, “The movie has to run”. Unfortunately, this is the problem. If a movie would not succeed if it showed a failing hero, a real life individual has no chance. Fact remains that in India, every real-life individual has to win to survive.

And, this expectation of society for successful people is not wrong. Each society defines a guiding standard in order to distribute its resources. For example, there is a price for every product – the good items are expensive and the ordinary ones are cheap. This is not just true of our times, it is true across history. History never had a time where lack of hard work kept you materially rich.

A problem arises when sections of the same society insist on largesse. I recently saw this article in the Times of India (3rd page, Bangalore edition, July 3 2009) about a student who had consumed poison because he was to appear before a disciplinary committee. The article headline says: “a scared and sensitive youth, had been warned earlier, but continued with his reckless ways“. This fellow was a student leader and accused of drinking alcohol on the college campus thrice. I fail to understand how he could be sensitive and scared. Adamant would be a better word. Drinking on campus is also encouraged by most movies I have seen recently, including the incredibly successful “3 Idiots”.

An excerpt from the article:

Education has become a commercial commodity. Neither the giver or receiver of the information is emotionally attached to each. It has become very robotic how we relate to each other in an educational institution. What we need is emotional attachment. Teachers should make an effort to get emotionally attached to the student and vice-versa. Otherwise, it becomes very mechanical. Teachers would think, he is just there because he is paid and student because he has paid for the education, so he can get away with anything. When it comes to suicide, it must be triggered by an over-arching reason. Besides the stress faced in college, the student may have also been going through family problems, and all his pent-up emotions may have triggered the chain of events.


He should have been counselled first. It should not have gone to the extent where he committed suicide. Maybe he had the impression he was going to be dismissed, that’s why the extreme step. What happened was inhuman and too big a price to pay for such a petty offence.

So, if education should not be a commodity, will you be OK if one is not guaranteed to get a job after the education? If education should be also responsible for handling family problems, who would pay for such education? These are questions the popular media chooses to conveniently ignore. A few salient aspects:

  1. Education has been diluted to such an extent that almost every tom, dick and harry can get a degree without batting an eye.
  2. It is becoming very popular to demand guarantees for everything without taking responsibilities: jobs for everyone without hard work, education for everyone without fee, security for everyone but no sense of discipline.
  3. Dilution of individual capacity to work hard and succeed. A “system” should not provide anything beyond allowing you to work to the best of your potential.

May 22, 2009

A dry borewell, water logging elsewhere

Filed under: India, nature — Tags: , , — neosurya @ 01:02

Last Saturday, I got our borewell in Hyderabad tested for water. There had been no water coming through it for the past couple of years. Parents were obviously concerned, and it had to be fixed. Interestingly, it is rather trivial to dismantle your average household bore whose motor is above ground. It is much more difficult to dismantle submersible pumps where the motor is below ground level [1]. In ground level pumps, there is a long pipe going from the motor that is on the ground through a 100-150 feet hole into the earth. The motor pulls the water through this pipe, and a filter at the bottom of the pipe (called “foot fall”) prevents sand and dirt from getting in with the water. The man at the local borewell store said that there could be two issues: The bore went dry as in no groundwater at the footfall, the footfall got damaged with rust or dirt.

Two workers and the borewell store owner got to our house in the afternoon, and removed the motor from its foundation on the ground. They separated the bore pipes from the pump. They then pulled at the pipes like they was playing a game of tug-of-ropes with the earth. The earth lost out without even a decent fight and out came the pipe – all 100 feet of it. As the last end of the pipe came out, the glorious footfall appeared. It looked like a filter made of cloth and metal. There was no rust, and marginal dirt. There was not even a drop of water on the footfall. When one  digs about ten feet into the ground, the soil feels a little damp. The cloth tied at the end of the foot fall was completely dry. It took about half an hour for them to dismantle the entire system and diagnose the problem. At our house, there was no groundwater at 100 feet.

The owner exclaimed that almost everyone in the vicinity of our house had bores going upto 300 feet. It would cost about Rs 70-100K getting such a bore done. We considered our options and decided against it. Besides, in about a couple more years, we would have people digging bores upto a thousand feet. In the evening there was a family discussion about the borewell. Someone joked that we may reach the other end of earth as we dig our bores. Or better still, an enterprising guy could someday find oil in Anand bagh.

Elsewhere in the city, there are water logging problems. When my in-laws were dropping me at the Kacheguda rlwy station, my FIL lamented that certain parts will be water logged when rains hit us, and at the same time our locality does not have water. I noticed that not one person had left any sort of setback in their homes. Setback is a gap of about 5-10 feet between walls of the residential house and the compound walls. It is equivalent to the lawn in front of US homes. Most metros in India have clear rules about keeping setbacks. Setbacks allow rain water to seep back into the ground, replenishing ground water for one, and also preventing water logging by taking away the heavenly downpour to where it needs to go (into the earth) . We have about 5-10 feet of setback on different sides of our house; many people seldom have setbacks in Hyd. In Bangalore, it is even worse. I recently visited a house worth Rs 1.4 crore; the guy there had left about 1.5 foot of setback, and had aptly concertized even that space.

Today, there was flooding in Koramangala. Sure enough; it would be all over the media. The residents would crib hajaar about how the storm drains got stuck and the water was logged. Everyone would lay blame on everyone else. Excellent solutions for rain water harvesting are available [1], and now it is even compulsory [2].

BTW, I also wonder if the loss of ground water in our area is related to the coca-cola plant that is located barely a 2 Kms. away from our house. Further reading by me showed that a deep bore about 2Kms away may reduce water table, but cannot be responsible for completely drying up the ground water.

April 24, 2009

Only primates who need help during childbirth.

Filed under: nature — neosurya @ 23:36

Humans are the only primates who need assisted childbirth. There are several interesting observations about this, and it also seems to be recently gaining the attention of anthropologists: [1] [2] [3]. Despite the claims that we make about advancements, we still are a rather feeble species.

Blog at