Oasis Siwa in the Sahara

This post may sound real but it is real only in parts.

I crafted the story based on my encounters in Egypt, Indonesia and Vietnam where I had an opportunity to work with some amazing office secretaries.

To tell you this story, I chose Egypt as the setting but some of the incidents come from Indonesia and Vietnam.

Names and characters in the story are masked and any resemblance if at all – is only incidental and not intentional.

Hope you will enjoy the story.  Life can be full of surprises.


I met Dina in Cairo. She was Office Secretary on a project I was working.

Dina was a copt. Copts are the largest Christian community in Egypt.

Dina was middle aged – must be in late thirties. She had a tanned skin and a great dress sense. She spoke good English compared to others. She had a sweet French accent as her mother held from Morocco. Dina was outspoken, bold and a dashing personality.

In her early twenties she fell in love with Captain Hashim of Egypt Air and married him despite opposition from the family.

Capt. Hashim was smart and handsome. As many feared, he turned out to be quite a flirt. Dina caught him red-handed with an air hostess and it raised a sand storm in their lives. Dina abandoned Hashim and left his house. Since then she raised her only daughter Shani on her own. Past ten years have been a tough living for Dina as she hardly made much money.


Dina made my life in Cairo comfortable

She knew the kind of sandwich I liked during lunch. So, she spoke to the Marriot bakery downstairs and made sure that I got my sandwich that had less cheese and more of greens. In those days, I had to get my passport stamped from the local police station on arrival in Maadi. Dina used to get this done with her influence avoiding my visit to the police station. I was always booked at the room facing Nile at the Sofitel at a discounted price. Driver taking me to the airport was given instructions where to stop on the way to pick up the Egyptian bread, Tahina and Humus – something my friends in Mumbai always looked for.


I once asked Dina about her advice on taking a break in Egypt and travel around.

“Well Dr Modak, you may like to see the “usual” places and even take the celebrated Nile Cruise but if I were you then I will go to the Siwa oasis” She said.

The historic town of Siwa stands on an isolated oasis situated in the Western Desert region of Egypt, approximately 550 km west of the capital Cairo, and some 50 km from the border with Libya. Extending some 80 km in length and 20 km in width, the Siwa oasis is one of the most isolated settlements in the country.

Dina told me that reaching Siwa is a long ten-hour drive, but it is still worth as it presents spiritual tradition of people, amazing land, healing salt lakes and rejuvenating natural springs, set against the centering serenity of the Sahara.

Siwa oasis is one of North Africa‘s best kept secrets.

Have you been there Dina? I asked.

“Not yet Dr Modak. I really want to. One day I will” She sighed. Perhaps her life in the scorching sun was looking for an Oasis like Siwa as a solace.


In one of my travels to Cairo, I was in Abu Dhabi airport on transit. My mobile rang, and it was Dina from Cairo

“Dr Modak, can you please do me a favour” She was breathing heavy.

My daughter Shani is desperate to have new Nokia mobile phone (Gold edition). I knew about Shani (means wonderful woman in Arabic) and how dear she was to Dina.

“I will pay you once you are in Cairo” She said and hung up the phone.

I found the gold edition in the duty free and shopped the mobile phone for Shani.

When I reached Sofitel, Dina was waiting for me in the lobby.

I handed over the box containing the Nokia. “Thank you so much Dr Modak, tomorrow is Shani’s birthday and I want to give her a real surprise” She was very emotional. She hugged me.

When I met Dina next day morning I found her a bit tensed.  She asked me to come out to the elevator lobby. She told me that she is short of money– but will settle somehow before I leave for Mumbai. She was very apologetic.

I said no worries as I was to spend 2 weeks in Egypt for my project.

In the next week, I was sitting in the office of my Project manager Tim. We used to sit late sometimes and go together for a glass of wine in the Sofitel or for some Thai food nearby. As we got out of the office, Tim said “Prasad, something strange has happened. Dina told me that 1000 Egyptian pounds got missing from her drawer today. The drawer was locked but she had inadvertently left the keys on the table top. She had drawn the cash for settling some sundry expenses.

This theft probably happened when she came to my office for a dictation. I really don’t know how to handle this situation.  I have asked Dina not to draw large cash anymore and keep the cash box from now on in my office drawer. This is the first time a theft of this sort has happened in our office.

I could see that Tim was really upset.

Dina was crying. She took leave for two days to get over. She even offered to pay Tim as she said she was responsible. We never found the thief. Dina paid me for the mobile on my last day to return.


On one of the Fridays, Dorothy, my Australian colleague, invited me to her apartment in Zamalek. The apartment had a balcony that faced river Nile. “I am calling Dina too” she said “She can be a good company”. I couldn’t disagree.

Dina came to the apartment with a crate of beer and sheekh touk (chicken tikka). We drank the beer sitting in the balcony and played some cool music. All of us were pretty “high” and Dina was certainly sozzled and started speaking out her mind. She vented out her anger on Hashim (her ex-husband), his betrayal and the broken marriage. She spoke about how different he was when they first met at a coffee shop at Cairo international airport.

“I will never see or speak to this scoundrel” she almost screamed.

“Time to go home Dina” Dorothy said realizing her anguish with rising intake of alcohol.

I offered help Dina reach her down in the basement where she had parked her car.

“Oh, I don’t need anybody – I am just alright” Dina was loud this time when she said this and walked out of the apartment to the elevator.

In the next 10 minutes, we heard a big thud in the basement. Dina had rammed her the car on the wall as the car was parked on the reverse gear. I had to call Shani to come and fetch her. “Oh Mumma, not again!” Shani said. Then she turned to me “Do you know when Mumma drinks she misses Dad and goes just crazy”


In one of my last missions to Cairo, I developed stiffness in my lower Jaw. First, I thought it had something to do with a tooth infection but when I approached the doctor, he suspected a potential cardiac issue and recommended that I return to Mumbai earlier.

Dina checked for the flights and found that the flights were absolutely full.

I told her not to bother and that I will take the flight I had a confirmed reservation.

But Dina refused

“Dr Modak, I don’t want you to take any risk, you must return soonest possible” She was very firm

“I will manage somehow – leave to me” she said in her characteristic confidence.

I don’t know what magic she did or the influence she used, but she secured me a seat to Mumbai the very next day. She picked me from Sofitel and drove to the airport. She insisted that she must come as her presence was needed at the check-in counter.

We reached Cairo International airport. At the check-in, I saw a tall handsome Egyptian and his uniform carried a batch that said Captain Hashim

Dina spoke in Arabic. It was a very brief conversation, but I could sense that Dina was asking a favor.

I got a seat

I thanked Captain Hashim profusely for his help. While praising Dina, I said “She is truly a treasure that one should never lose”

Captain Hashim smiled – was he repenting? – I thought

Dina walked with me to the immigration gate. She hugged me to say good bye. “Take good care Dr Modak” She said.

Capt. Hashim stayed at the check in counter as if waiting for Dina to return. I noticed a coffee shop few meters away.

I wonder what will happen now as I leave – I said to myself.


In next few months, Dina lost her job as the project got closed. I didn’t receive any emails from her thereafter.

But just after Christmas, last year, I received a new year card from Cairo.

It was a family photo from Siwa oasis. In the photo I saw Capt. Hashim standing with his arms around Dina with Shani was standing next to them with a lovely smile

It was so nice to see the reunion at the Siwa Oasis.

And I was happy that I was a part.


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Its Right to Repair

When we think of circularity of material flows, we need to understand “outer” and “inner circle” approaches.

The “outer circle” approach creats a closed loop of materials through recycling. In the case of electronic goods, this means recovering of precious metals lodged in our gadgets, something only feasible with a sophisticated technology, requiring a scale and where large companies profit.

The “inner circle” approach is essentially following route of repair, refurbishing and remanufacturing. It is the inner circle approach where we transform our living from the single-use and throw away culture. When we follow inner circle approach, it helps us to save money, conserve our resources, generate employment and come up with innovations. We extend product’s life cycle through reuse. The inner circle is people centric, it is for citizens and supports small companies.

Unfortunately, the inner circle approach to material circulation does not find much space in both public and scientific discussions. We speak more about recycling or the outer circle approach to achieve circularity. We need both – but former should get a preference.

Repair is restoration of a broken, damaged, or failed device, equipment, part, or property to an acceptable operating or usable condition. Repair can involve replacement. Refurbishing is refinishing and sanitization (beyond repair) to serve the original function with better aesthetics. Repaired and refurbished products, although in good condition, may not be comparable with new or remanufactured products. In remanufacturing, the product is resold with performance and specifications comparable to new products.

How do we know if the repaired, refurbished or remanufactured product is good? Can we certify? The “Remade In Italy” label certifies the use of recycled material / reuse in products. The release of the Remade In Italy ® certification is subject to a verification process by a third-party body (and therefore independent) for the certification of both management and product systems. The Remade in Italy ® label highlights the environmental values ​​of the material / product and is characterized by the assignment of a class, based on the percentage of recycled / reused material present.

I may be wrong, but we don’t have such a certification scheme in India and perhaps in several countries in the world.

Remanufactured or refurbished products can help companies compete at a lower price with cheaper or lower quality competitors, without reducing quality, due to the resource savings realised, allowing firms to secure greater market share. Economic incentives and disincentives as well as enforcement of legislation on Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) play an important role to move the inner circle.

Recent interest on repair, refurbishing and remanufacturing has led to establishment of reverse logistic chains, i.e. collection and transport systems. Several off the shelf or plugin type technology platforms have evolved such as 12return that help create reverse supply chains from consumers to service providers, operated by “aggregators”.

The repair culture did not have much root in the developed economies due to high costs of labour. Realizing the importance of its promotion however, countries in the European Union (EU) have come up with incentives. In Sweden, a tax-refund scheme operates that on the labour segment of household repair bills for white goods and electronics. On similar lines, in Austria, there is a proposal to make repair cheaper by reimbursement of 50% of the labour costs of repair. In France, there are differentiated EPR scheme fees depending on how easily you can dismantle a product for repair, on the availability of spare parts or on whether the information/instructions on how to repair a product are available. These fees are lowered for producers who inform consumers how long spare parts will be available for the product on purchase.

In the United States (US), eighteen States have proposed “Right to Repair” legislation. The Right to Repair bill will make easier for people to repair their broken electronic equipment—like cell phones, computers, appliances, cameras, and even tractors. The legislation would require manufacturers to release repair information to the public and sell spare parts to owners and independent repair shops. It is going to be however a bumpy ride as giants like Apple and Microsoft are gearing up to oppose this legislation in at least one State.

But how do we scale up and build capacities? Restart Project – a London-based social enterprise – encourages and empowers people to use their electronics longer in order to save money and reduce waste. Restart helps people learn to repair their own electronics in community events (parties) and in workplaces and speak publicly about repair and product resilience. Today, Restart is working with 54 people in 10 countries who are planning on replicating and adapting the Restart model.

Conceived as a way to help people reduce waste, social entrepreneur Martine Postma organized the first Repair Café in October 2009 in Amsterdam. Its success prompted her to start the Repair Café Foundation in 2011. Since then, this non-profit organization has helped local groups start their own Repair Cafés. Today, there are more than 1,400 such cafés in 33 countries, from the US to Japan. According to the foundation’s 2016 annual report, repairing prevented about 250,000kg of waste from heading to landfills.

Repair Cafe

Antara Mukherji, co-founded Repair Café Bengaluru in November 2015 with Purna Sarkar. Since its inception, Repair Café Bengaluru has organized 19 workshops where adults pay a programme fee and learn how to repair household things ranging from an iron to an induction top. The organization says it has repaired more than 700 products and saved about 1,300kg of waste from ending up in landfills.

But in India, across the country, there are repair shops that can fix anything and everything. In Delhi’s Nizamuddin Basti area, Javed Husain Khan repairs and sells old Swiss watches, from Favre-Leuba to Rolex; Nehru Place in Delhi thrives on the economics of repair; brothers Muhammad Moinuddin and Muhammad Mujeebuddin claim their 80-year-old shop in Chatta Bazaar Road in Hyderabad’s Old City is the ultimate repair destination for vintage radios, record players and cassette decks—the list goes on. Chor Bazars or Thieves market are hubs of innovation when it comes to repair, refurbish and remanufacturing.

The skill of repairing, refurbishing and remanufacturing is dying slowly. Repairing is often considered as a vocation for the uneducated/underprivileged or a mere hobby.  In large cities, you would not see repairwalas going from street to street, offering to fix broken items. We now have web-based repair services – but these companies need to quantify, record and communicate the environmental and social benefits, Enterprises in the developed countries know very well how to do so and hence get cited in the international news, conferences and the like! We need a research group in India to take on such a project.

I spoke to my Professor friend about the importance of inner circle approach especially the repair, refurbish and remanufacturing. “There is too much emphasis or hype on recycling alone and most think that circular economy means recycling” I said.

Professor was busy repairing his bicycle. He looked up to me and said “You are right Dr Modak, repair for reuse is the right thing to do. And we need product designs that are repair friendly. We should frame  incentives and disincentives. We also need recycled product standards, smart reverse logistics and schemes on skill building. The inner circle will then operate on a scale it deserves and will resonate well with the outer circle approaches”

I couldn’t disagree.

Professor continued while handling a spanner and fixing a bolt “But to me Dr Modak, our engineering curriculums must include a course on repair, refurbish and remanufacturing with a workshop. It will help the students to look for alternatives, think out of the box and innovate”. We should leverage on India’s Make in India, Zero defect and Skill India programs.

He then smiled and said “Don’t you know that repairing with your own hands reduces the risk of Alzheimer? –I spend half of my Sunday every week repairing something or other. It sharpens my brain and improves my reflexes”

I thought that Professor was absolutely “Right”. That was yet another benefit in the asking for “Right to Repair”!


Cover image sourced from https://www.keeprite.com/en/us/buying-guide/repair-or-replace/


Useful reading

Promoting Remanufacturing, Refurbishment, Repair, and Direct Reuse

Indian examples with text sourced from

Year-End Special: Repair economy 2.0 by Gayatri Jayaraman and Year-End Special: The ministry of broken things

I will highly recommend that you see these references


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Plastic, Pollution and Politics

 

Many of my readers know about my friend who lives on the 104th floor in a Tower in Mumbai. He is the richest person in the world today. He is undoubtedly one of the most influential personalities and yet not known due to his sheer humility and discreteness.


I went to see my friend on 104th floor on this Sunday morning. He was having a breakfast.

“I am just returning from China” he said – while picking an Arabian date from a silver bowl.

“I made a deal to start a plastic manufacturing facility near Aurangabad in Maharashtra with Chi Mei Corporation in Tainan City.  This facility will be the largest in the world and will meet India’s plastic products related demand till 2030. We will produce plastic bags, plastic cutlery and plastic bottles”. He said.

He continued

“Do you know that plastic processing is the pillar of economy in most of the advanced nation? Per capita consumption of the world is 28 kg whereas India’s 11 kg and China 38 kg and Brazil 32 kgs. In USA, Germany, UK, Italy, Spain, Australia, Japan, Korea, Taiwan it is more than 100 kg.  This means India has big potential to grow, improve quality of life of its citizens and seize many opportunities.

Plastic helps to reduce weight of products (and so the GHG emissions), increases durability of the product and hence results into lower impacts and reduces food loss during distribution. These are only few benefits of plastic to cite. India’s per capita consumption is one of the lowest in Asia so there is so much opportunity to grow.”

I was surprised with his argument. Probably, my friend did not see the “down side” of plastic.

India generates around 5.6 million tons of plastic waste annually, where Delhi alone accounts for 9,600 metric tons per day. The uncollected plastic chokes our drains causing flooding and fills our landfills forever as the plastic does not readily degrade.

We need to reduce consumption of plastic in our daily lives and increase the recycling rate. This will require use of alternatives to plastic, segregation of plastic at source, collection/reverse logistics for used plastic, discovering/using new materials and practicing innovative business models. In India, we haven’t done much on all these fronts.

So, I kept quiet. My friend continued.

“My new facility alone will create 5000 direct jobs and 50000 indirect jobs in its supply and distribution systems” He added

I said “Oh, then the PM must be happy”

“He indeed is”, my friend beamed while taking a gulp of pomegranate juice from an intricately carved Putter mug.

I don’t think my friend knew that Government of Maharashtra just banned plastic flags, banners, flex material, disposable containers, non-woven polypropylene bags along with all kinds of plastic bags irrespective of thickness. The ban list included disposable utensils made of plastic and thermocol, plastic plates, bowls, cups, straws, cutlery, glass, bowls, forks, spoons, straw, non-woven polypropylene bags, plastic sheets and plastic pouches — and all kinds of plastic films. Use, sale, production, stock and distribution of these plastic products is now prohibited.

Some say that this plastic ban was a political move as most plastic manufacturers belonged to the opposition party.  Of course, who would believe such a hoax “breaking news”?

I explained this new development to my friend.

He showed some surprise while applying marmite, imported from London, on a well toasted wheat grain bread.

I continued

“The only plastic items exempt from the ban are milk pouches, wrappers for processed food, dustbin liners, packs for medicines, solid waste and agricultural products, and polyethylene terephthalate or PET bottles of certain capacities. Plantation bags made up of compostable plastic are not banned”

I knew that this plastic ban will be affecting financial viability of my Friend’s mega project.

“Well Dr Modak, I will make what Government wants, will allow and support” He said calmly. He did not seem to be perturbed.

Perhaps my friend could sense that decision taken by the Government of Maharashtra on plastic ban was not on rational grounds. There was least preparedness on monitoring and enforcement of the ban and alternatives were not provided or facilitated that were feasible and acceptable.  And the ban was not well orchestrated with regard to economic instruments. There wasn’t any concerted effort on raising public awareness either.

Maharashtra is now the 18th state in India to enforce a complete ban on plastic bags. The experience on the ban in other States has not been satisfactory. “When you cannot ban a corrupt Politician to stand for elections, how can you be successful in banning a plastic bag. Both cause equal menace, don’t they?” I said to myself while sipping a Java coffee.

I thought of giving my friend more information.

“All these details are dynamic and evolving – including list of plastic items banned. There is utter confusion. Plastic manufactures have appealed to the High Court protesting this unilateral decision. Office of the Chief Minister is looking for advisers who can help the Government to wriggle out of the mess”

Just then my Professor Friend walked in. He got on the breakfast table and asked for two egg whites tossed with herbs.

Professor told us that several countries and cities have attempted plastic ban in the past. Ireland was one of the pioneering countries in banning plastic.  In 2002, the country passed a plastic bag tax under which consumers would have to purchase bags. The law was tremendously successful as within weeks of its implementation there was a reduction of 94 percent in plastic bag use. Recently, in Africa, Rwanda and Kenya went ahead and placed plastic bans. France was the first country to pass a law banning all kinds of plastic – plates, cups, and utensils (in addition to the plastic bags). As per the Plastic Ban law passed in 2016, replacements made with the plastic items must be bio-degradable that can be further composted. Figure below gives a global picture on plastic bans.

  

Plastic ban- global highlights 

“So, what’s your view Professor on this Maharashtra Plastic Ban”, my friend asked

Professor said “Well, it is great move. To me the era of circular economy has begun. Banning of various forms of plastic is going to change the material and energy flows, spur innovation for alternatives, attract green investments and create green jobs.”

Professor had this style of speaking as if he is reading a PowerPoint slide –something he was most used to do. And I knew that Professor was both theatrical and theoretical in many occasions.

To me circularity in India was more known in the party politics – where you see politicians changing there stand and keep moving in circles.

But I thought that this time Professor was right. Globally, an average of eight million tons of plastic escapes collection systems, winding up in the environment and eventually the ocean. According to a study by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, five trillion pieces of plastic already exist in the world’s oceans. We don’t realize seriousness of the situation as we live on the land mass.

Recycling alone is not going to be a solution and besides recycling is not cheap. Producers need to invest in new material designs, drastically reduce and substitute use of plastic packaging and take physical and/or financial responsibility for needed infrastructure, collection and recycling of essential materials.

Professor spoke about alternatives such as biodegradable and oxy-degradable plastic, edible cutlery, “leash-the-lid” technology that allows recycling of both bottle and cap and then elaborated on plastic to fuel projects and use of plastic in asphalting of roads. He gave several examples.

Wow, I exclaimed. I wish Niti Ayog in India had thought of launching a Plastic Nirmulan Mission to support these bans. Certainly, you need a mission approach.

My friend was surprised with this information. He however had questions. He asked whether the edible cutlery was gluten free. He also wondered whether the term biodegradability was defined in India.  He further asked whether there were quality, safety and health standards with the BIS for plastic recycled products – be it fuel or a recycled plastic bag.  We did not have answers.

“All this must be looked into” He said in a serious tone.

Just then, he received a call on his phone from TOMRA. TOMRA is the world leader in the field of reverse vending, with over 82,000 installations across more than 60 markets across the world. TOMRA provides best machines for collecting and recycling aluminum cans and glass and plastic bottles. Around 35 billion used beverage containers are captured every year by TOMRAs reverse vending machines.

After a brief conversation, my friend put the phone down and said

“Well I have changed my business plan. Instead of working with Chi Mei, I will now invest in making low cost reverse vending machines to gobble up plastic bottles, bags and even cutlery and pay a handsome amount. These machines will be give me cheap source of plastic that I can use to make products what market needs and what Government will allow. I will install these machines in malls, movie theaters, airports, gardens, railway platforms etc.”

Oh, what a shift of business I exclaimed

Professor nodded. He then said in a friendly tone  “One piece of advice. Why don’t you let these Machines play videos to make people understand the menace of plastic and how returning banned or used plastic will make them a responsible citizen and at the same time make money?”

“Good idea Professor” My friend said. “This will certainly enhance my company image and help raise awareness”

He then paused for a while and looked outside the window.

“Maybe I will also put a small clip showing the PM and the CM in between”. He said as if an afterthought.

I saw that was a smart move given the election times connecting plastic, pollution and politics. These vending machines will surely enjoy substantial subsidies with clips of PM and CM shown.

No wonder my friend was the richest man in the world living on the 104th floor.

 


Cover image sourced from

https://egyptinnovate.com/en/%D8%A8%D9%86%D9%83-%D8%A7%D9%84%D8%A3%D9%81%D9%83%D8%A7%D8%B1/recycling-vending-machine


You may like to read my post in 2014 on Plastic, Paper or Reusable Shopping Bag.

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Tall Man at the Iron Gate


A story hard to believe but indeed true


In 1985 I went to Civil Engineering Department at University of Newcastle Upon Tyne under British Council’s Academic Link program. It was month of November. The weather in Newcastle was windy and it was biting cold. I wasn’t much prepared. Professor Sam James was my contact. A Teacher par excellence, a warm and kind personality.

Sam worked on water quality modelling of rivers and estuaries along with David Elliot. At that time, I was attempting a two-dimensional water quality model using Yotsukura and Sayre’s Stream Tube concept. I was inspired by Prof T P H Gowda’s work on Canadian rivers. The application of two-dimensional model was to be made on river Ganga. Idea of the Link program was to exchange our experiences in these areas. I eventually made this application and developed STREAM-II model.

Tees estuary modelling was Sam’s focus. He used compartment or box modelling concept that was tried on river Thames. Here, the estuary was construed as consisting of layered boxes – stacked on and next to each other with exchange coefficients and reaction mechanisms. This model seemed to work and corroborate well with the field data. (Later, I realized that the same approach was used in Box modelling of air pollution in cities. Here Akula Venkatram made some inspiring publications).

In the course of day, I used to read some of Sam’s unpublished work, join discussion meetings with his Ph D students and sometimes attend his lectures. We used to meet up all faculty in the coffee room in the late afternoon. I loved these get togethers. The coffee used to be great – in both taste and aroma.

I was staying at Hotel Avenue on Manor House Road. This B&B hotel was in Jesmond and at a walking distance from the Casse building of the Civil Engineering Department. Sam used to drop me by his car to save me from the cold winds.

Hotel Avenue

One day, Sam had to leave early as he was not feeling well. “Will you manage going walking today Prasad?” He asked. I nodded as the distance wasn’t too far.  Sam explained how to and recommended a short cut.

I got out a bit late as I was engrossed reading one of Sam’s research notes on Tees Estuary modelling. It was 5 pm and the evening was already set with streets getting dark. I tied to follow Sam’s instructions of walking along Clayton road but missed and instead took route via Jesmond road and reached Osbonne road instead of the Osbonne avenue. There was no one to ask in the street.

Road from Civil Engg Department

I reached a point where I came across a majestic iron gate with a dim light outside. There was a Tall Man standing there – perhaps waiting for somebody. I stopped by and asked him. “Sir, how to reach Hotel Avenue? I think I am a bit lost. Can you please guide?”

The Tall Man smiled. He said, “You are not too far away Sir, continue on this road another 5 minutes, reach Rosebery cres and then take a left, then first right, and then second left. You should reach then the Avenue Hotel”.  I was now confused – not just because his complex instructions but because of his Northumberland accent.

The Entrance with Iron Gate

The Man saw me give up.

“Well sir, there is an easy and shorter way too. You can get inside this Gate and head straight through the inside road. A 5-minute walk and you will hit a similar rear Gate. Get out of the Gate and another 200 m ahead is Hotel Avenue”

I thought this option was better. But I was a bit hesitant.

When the Man noticed my discomfort. He said “Sir, this is a public property and so you can enter with no inhibition whatsoever”

He thought for a while and added

“I can walk with you through Sir and give you company This may help”

The Inner Road

I thanked him for his generosity.

We started walking together.

The road inside was narrow with tall grass around. I couldn’t see much as it was already dark. All I noticed was an unusual silence. Leaves made noise as we walked.

“Sir, what brings you to New Castle? You don’t look like a local” The Tall Man asked.

“Well, I am here to do some joint research at the Civil Engineering Department of University” I answered. I wanted to be brief as I didn’t want to be technical. Besides the weather was getting now real windy.

“What research?” The Man seemed to be curious.

I explained to him the work we were doing on mathematical modelling of Dissolved Oxygen on Tees estuary in as simple terms as possible. I think I did well as the Man asked more questions that were meaningful and relevant. I elaborated.

“So, will your modelling work help the fish in the estuary? Will it improve the income of the fishermen?” The man asked me this question as we were coming close to the rear Gate of the property.

I had not thought about this question. I was only thinking that we could publish our work in a good refereed Journal and we could “produce” two Ph Ds.

“Honestly our work should” I answered.

But then I wasn’t sure. “Must speak to Sam” I said to myself. This Man is asking good questions.

The Tall Man continued

“Sir, did you ever visit Tees estuary?”

I nodded negative.

“Did you listen to the sound of its high and low tide? And did you meet any of the fishermen? And did you take a ride on the boats and spoke to them about fish?” He asked

I realized that I was away from the reality. I was attempting modelling with no real purpose.

“Well, I haven’t done this yet. I have been kind of glued to the computer and research papers” I said apologetically.

“I see – this is generally the case” The Tall Man whispered.

We had reached by then the rear Iron Gate, and so our conversation ended.

In this 5-minute walk, I realized that I needed to completely change my perspective on environmental modelling.

The Man shook my hands, walked back and disappeared.

When I exited, I noticed the board at the Gate that was dimly lit.

It said “All Saints Cemetery, Jesmond”

All Saints Cemetery, Jesmond

When I reached hotel Avenue and the Bar, Tim, the bar tender got me a Bitter with froth and served with chips. He saw me with sweat on the forehead

“Sir, how come you are sweating in such a cold and windy weather” Tim asked

I explained Tim about my experience of walking through All Saints Cemetery with the Tall Man.

“Oh, did you actually see this Tall Man and walked with him?” The bar tenders voice had a lot of concern.

“The Man you met is a famous person of the fishermen community of the Gates Head. There are so many stories about him – few true but most untrue. Very few see him”

“Well Tim, I spoke to him, and he said a few things that were simple but very relevant to my work. Now how do I get hold of him for another round of conversation?” I took a large gulp of the Bitter

“Sir, the Man you met, and I was referring to – died a 100 years ago. His grave is the first one as you enter the Cemetery from Osborne Road” Tim said while topping my Bitter.

I did not visit Newcastle university after 1987. I plan to visit and walk through the All Saints Cemetery once again for a friendly advice from the Tall Man


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Up in the Air

According to the International Air Transport Association (IATA), airline passengers generated 5.2 million tonnes of waste in 2016, most of which went to landfill or incineration. This figure is expected to double over the next 15 years.

Once a plane has landed, huge volumes of disposable items are thrown away. Apart from plastic waste (including cutlery), toilet waste is included in the waste stream –  so are the miniature wine bottles, half-eaten lunch trays, unused toothbrushes, empty plastic water bottles, napkins, discarded packaging. Airline waste management is now an area of great concern.

Iberia Airlines in partnership with Ferrovial Services prepared a scheme that could recover 80% of cabin waste coming into Madrid’s Barajas airport by mid-2020. The scheme will explore low-packaging meals and reusable cutlery. Designing cabin products with waste minimization will be another strategy. Qantas, for example, is combining its charity donation envelope with its headset package, cutting one polythene bag per passenger per flight. America’s United Airlines has switched to compostable paper cups and last year began donating unused amenity kits to homeless and women’s shelters. Virgin Airlines has set up a system for recycling all parts of its headsets, including ear sponges, that are now used as flooring for equestrian centers.

IATA’s head of environment feels that unrealistic and unreasonable waste related regulation is a major challenge. The EU animal health legislation, drawn up as a reaction to diseases like foot and mouth, dictates that all catering waste arriving from outside EU borders be treated as high-risk and incinerated or buried in deep landfill. A coffee cup from the US, for example, will be treated as hazardous waste because it might have had milk in it. Donating uneaten food to charity is impossible. A more rational approach is needed, one which identifies elements of cabin waste that pose a risk to health and considers the stringent hygiene standards airlines are already subject to.

Another challenge is getting cabin crew’s buy-in for waste segregation right in the aircraft. Iberia Airlines has introduced recycling bins attached to service trolleys — so that in-flight waste can be easily sorted. About 2,500 cabin crew members will be trained in the basics of waste separation as part of the push. Emirates has also introduced segregation facilities on board, for easy sorting of glass, plastic, aluminum, and paper products.

But environment is not the only concern. According to IATA, cabin waste costs the airline industry $500 million plus each and the costs will rise steeply thanks to growing fees to be paid to landfills for disposal. The airlines are therefore focusing on a product’s full life cost, rather than unit price, and invest in more durable headsets or blankets and ditching disposable products. This can be a game changer.

Flexible catering is one-way airlines could curb waste.  Airlines are now “predicting” likely meal preference of the passenger based on the frequent flyer and other behavioral data such as spending habits and consumption. This is the future where big data analytics and artificial intelligence will be used.

Another solution is the pay-as-you-go approach, where travelers order meals before a flight as followed in most low-cost carriers (LCCs) around the world. By providing this system — where passengers buy meals using an app or website — airlines can simultaneously meet demand and minimize waste. This approach is now followed by full-service international airlines as well, with the likes of SAS, Japan Airlines, Singapore Airlines and Qantas.

Reliance on plastic and paper also contribute to the issue, but some airlines are experimenting with recycling solutions and packaging alternatives to minimize waste. Qantas has begun to use recycled materials for its packaging as well as plastic-free headsets. Emirates has introduced eco-friendly blankets, made from recycled plastic bottles. The airline expects this amenity to rescue more than 12,000 tons of bottles from landfills by 2019. There is a huge benefit of such upcycling.

Back on the ground, several airports have installed waste management systems that are innovative and effective.  Waste Management Best Practice in the Global Aviation Sector Leading international airports are now targeting and achieving diversion rates as high as 80%. This is achieved through on-Site Materials Recovery Facilities (MRF) and Waste to Energy Plants.  Uptake of MRFs is high where the prohibitive cost of landfill supports commercial viability. To reduce transportation and landfill space and harness energy, Gatwick airport in London opened an on-site waste-to-energy plant.  Bengaluru’s Kempegowda International Airport (KIA) is in the process of installing an in-house integrated solid waste management facility based on biomethanation to deal with the 20 tonnes of organic and inorganic waste generated every day. KIA also plans to reach out to stakeholders such as concessionaries, F&B and retail outlets and persuade them to use recycled products made out of the inorganic waste. The airport will sell the recyclable material such as glass and plates to other manufacturers as raw material. This will make KIA the first airport in Asia to initiate in-house integrated solid waste management.


I took a flight to New Delhi today on economy class. When food was served, there was no option – Veg or Non-Veg. “All food is Veg Sir”, said the air-hostess – We want to minimize the waste generation sir”. I was anyway going to opt for a veg meal.

My co-passengers tray had a Gulab jamun, but my tray didn’t. When asked, she smiled and said, “Sir, we use big data analytics and expertise of companies like Cambridge with backing (or hacking?) of databases like Facebook. This helps us to diagnose passenger food preference before boarding the flight”. I was surprised to learn that these sophisticated techniques were not anymore limited to politics and elections. The air hostess continued.

“We found out that you are diabetic type II person with H1bAC of 7.5 around, so there is no point to serve you the Gulab jamun”. She gave a sweet smile that did not raise my blood sugar but only the heart beats raced!

I thought she was right. If served, I wouldn’t have had the Gulab jamun and hence it could have been a waste. The airline was clearly waste-wise.

I noticed that the cutlery provided was not of plastic but looked very different. Just then the flight supervisor made an announcement

Edible Cutlery from Bakeys 

“Ladies and Gentlemen, you may be aware that the Government of Maharashtra has banned plastic disposable utensils made of plastic and thermocol, plastic plates, bowls, cups, straws etc. with effect from March 18, 2018. In order to be compliant, our Airline has introduced edible cutlery that is sorghum based. Once you finish your meal, we encourage you to eat the cutlery as it is nutritionally good as well as delicious.  And if you don’t eat, please don’t worry. This cutlery easily biodegrades in any outside environment within 10 days. In any case, we use this cutlery as animal feed”

I thought that this was impressive.

I took a good bite of the edible spoon after relishing the idli Sambhar.

What a transformation! I said to myself. “I must tell my wife about this edible substitute. This will eliminate the work of cleaning plates, spoons and forks.”

We had another hour to go to reach Delhi.

“Will this transformation sustain?” I wondered.

But I decided not to think about the ground realities while 30000 ft up in the air.


Cover image and statistics sourced from Watch your waste: The problem with airline food and packaging

Read The ridiculous story of airline food and why so much ends up in landfill

 


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Who “Drives” India’s Agenda on Sustainability?

Other day, I took a good review of all economic, environmental and social initiatives (and in that priority) of the ruling NDA Government. I was pleasantly surprised to see that a significant progress was made in terms of launching missions, signing of (vibrant or “vibrating”) MOUs and reforms on identity (Aadhar), demonetization and the GST, just to cite a few.

I was in full praise of the Government when I met the Professor, right outside the Parliament house. It was Monday morning. The Air Quality Index was moderate, and we could do conversations without wearing masks.

I asked “Professor, the Government, I mean the Ministers of this Government, are real visionary and are contributing so much to the progress of the country. Without saying anything explicitly, the Government seems to be moving towards Sustainability.  For example. Make in India mission is going to increase the productivity and the jobs, National Skill Development Corporation will do the skilling, Programs like Smart Cities and Nanami Gange programs will bring in investment flows, innovation and partnerships.  The PMO has asked Niti Ayog (earlier Planning Commission) to take charge of reporting on the Sustainability Development Goals (SDGs). I know that Niti Ayog has all the expertise and the might to roll out numbers that the PMO would want to see on the attainment of the SDGs. Everything is so perfect”

Professor smiled. He said “I presume you are not sarcastic as usual and for a change you are accepting the good performance or at least good intentions of this Government.  But do you know the secret? Its not the Ministers who are driving India’s agenda on Sustainability. The car drivers who take the Ministers around are the real visionaries. They discuss between each other and give suggestions to the Ministers when they drive them and when alone. The Ministers simply steal these ideas and present to the PMO and get them endorsed for implementation”

“You mean, the car drivers run this Government?” I was simply astonished.

“Of course, Dr Modak, and don’t treat these drivers as people who know only how to drive. These drivers are MBAs from Harvard and London School of Economics, or D Sc from institutions like MIT and Berkeley and few come from some of the world famous liberal arts schools from Finland and France. Some come from the Ibaraki prefecture of Japan and Hello Berlin that are hubs of innovation. So even if PM shuffles the Ministers, the strategy of the Ministry does not change. Selecting these drivers is one of my important functions designated by the PM himself. China did this long ago and President Trump is following this model of modern governance”. Professor said in a proud voice and as a matter of fact.

I was astonished to learn about this top secret. I knew the importance of car driver from the epic Mahabharata. Arjuna’s driver or sarathi of the chariot was none but Lord Krishna. While Arjuna sent the arrows, it was Lord Krishna who did brilliant advisory and stole the show.

“Now let me walk you to the parking lot of the Parliament House where you would meet the real drivers to India’s growth” Professor made me walk a few hundred meters.

The drivers of the Ministers cars had assembled under a tree. They were busy chatting.

Driver of the Minister of Power. Piyush Goel was explaining the scheme for promotion of electric vehicles. It seems he was the real architect and the brain. But he was not happy as Mr. Goel himself was not using an electric vehicle. “Oh, I have been telling him again and again, that he should be the first one to shift from petrol to electric. These Ministers don’t set an example”.

“One day I am sure he will, said the driver to Mr. Nitin Gadkari, Minister of Road Transport and Highways.  “My Minister checks every day the kilometers completed at the highways against the promise made and compares them with the kilometers we drive. We always win. Minister is informed about the “meta data” such as the number of trees felled, and number of people displaced etc. I have advised him not to bother about this statistic however as it does not affect the sustainability that much at least for the next 2 years. Access to voters in rural areas is perhaps more important as it will improve sustainability of the government in the coming up elections”.

I thought the driver was smart and made a valid point. He came from the London School of Economics.

The driver of Arun Jaitley’s car had something important to share. “Well, I just advised and convinced Mr. Jaitley to waive income tax for annual incomes less than 10 lakhs. In any case only 1% of India’s population pays the income tax. Raising the slab of income tax from 3 lakhs to 10 lakhs will increase the popularity of this Government only at a marginal “loss”. He was not wrong.

The driver of the Minister of Environment, Forests and Climate Change wasn’t speaking. When asked why he is keeping quiet, he said that there was no use in speaking. “Nothing changes in this Ministry”. He sighed. He was a PhD from Yale University.

There were lighter conversations as well. A news was exchanged that Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Aditya Nath’s driver was fined Rs 500 for chewing tobacco on government duty. The joke was this very driver had convinced the CM to institute a ban on chewing tobacco! Driver of the Minister of Communication Manoj Sinha said.

As the drivers  were telling us how they were driving the agenda of various Ministries, a stiff, aloof but impressive driver walked in. He was one of the highly trained elite official who looked like a SPG commando!

“Who is this?” I asked the Professor. Oh, he is the driver of our PM. PM has made sure that he is not as educated like others; knows only how to drive and he will protect him in case of emergency. He has knowledge of many languages, knows using arms in case of emergency and is equipped with latest communication gadgets and is well trained for their use. He is “muted” i.e. not allowed to speak.

I said “I understand. This PM does not need a drivers advice like the other Ministers. PM clearly knows how to drive India’s (political) sustainability agenda – all by himself”

“Are you sarcastic this time again Dr Modak” Professor retorted closing the conversion. I kept shut.

When we reached his car, I noticed that Professor’s driver was wearing a cap with an emblem of the Stanford University!

Wow. now I understand! – I said to myself.


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Shall We Dance?

This post is about some of the great and inspirational dances that we must watch on the movie screen.    I have placed few video clips as examples for your audio-visual experience. These videos and the stories behind have made my life interesting. I have picked some  statistics from the Web and especially from WikiPedia and edited to provide you some fascinating information.

Don’t read this blog in a hurry. You must take time to immerse in these videos and appreciate the dances.

Sit with a glass of your favorite drink and sip along while you enjoy this post, watching the videos as they appear.

A little longish post but I hope you will have a wonderful time!


 

One of the most influencing movies that hit the style of disco dancing was Saturday Night Fever. The movie was released in 1977. I was in the 4th year of BTech at IIT Bombay then. The movie was directed by John Badham. It starred John Travolta as Tony Manero, a working-class young man who spends his weekends dancing and drinking at a local Brooklyn discothèque. While in the disco, Tony was the champion dancer and ruled the dance floor. His circle of friends and weekend dancing helped him to cope with the harsh realities of his life. He had clashes with his unsupportive and squabbling parents and there were racial tensions in the local community. The movie had thus a very interesting social dimension apart from watching John Travolta perform.

A huge commercial success, the film significantly helped to popularize disco music around the world and made Travolta, a household name. The Saturday Night Fever sound track, featured disco songs by the famous Bee Gees and that made a huge difference. In 2010, Saturday Night Fever was deemed “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant” by the Library of Congress and was selected for preservation in the National Film Registry.

Film critic Gene Siskel said “Travolta on the dance floor is like a peacock on amphetamines. He struts like crazy.” Siskel even bought Travolta’s famous white suit from the film at a charity auction. “You Should be Dancing” is a video clip that shows Travolta’s amazing talent.

 

Year of 1983 was the release of the Flash Dance featuring Jennifer Beals (Alex in the movie) who was shown as an eighteen-year-old welder at a steel mill in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania in a converted warehouse. Although she aspired to become a professional dancer, she had no formal dance training, and worked as an “exotic dancer” by night at the nearby Mawby’s bar.

After seeking counsel from her mentor, a retired ballerina, Alex attempts to apply to the Pittsburgh Conservatory of Dance and Repertory. She however gets intimidated by the scope of the application process, which includes listing all prior dance experience and education, and she leaves without applying.

Later she gains the courage to apply for entrance to the Conservatory and gets an opportunity for an audition with the Arts Council. At the audition, Alex initially falters, but begins again, and successfully completes a dance number composed of various aspects of dance she has studied and practiced, including break-dancing which she has seen on the streets of Pittsburgh. The board responds favorably, and Alex is seen joyously emerging from the Conservatory. Feel the pace in this video and the beats that will race your heart.

After the success of the Flash Dance, one of the most popular dance piece that everybody enjoyed was the Time of Life in the movie Dirty Dancing.

“(I’ve had) The Time of My Life” was a 1987 song composed by Franke Previte, John DeNicola, and Donald Markowitz. This song won a number of awards, including an Academy Award for “Best Original Song”, a Golden Globe Award for “Best Original Song”, and a Grammy Award for Best Pop Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocals.

Director Ardolino was adamant that he chooses dancers who could also act, as he did not want to use the “stand-in” method that had been used earlier with Flash dance. Jennifer Beals was not an Actor. For the female lead Ardolino chose the 26-year-old Jennifer Grey, daughter of the Oscar-winning actor and dancer Joel Grey, who, like her father, was a trained dancer. He then sought a male lead and after checking with a few, choice was 34-year-old Patrick Swayze, a seasoned dancer, with experience from the Joffrey Ballet. In the beginning Jennifer and Patrick did not get along very well.

Filming started on September 5, 1986 but was plagued by not so friendly weather, that ranged from pouring rain to sweltering heat. Patrick Swayze required a hospital visit; as he was insisting on doing his own stunts. See in the video the “balancing” scene with Grey. Patrick repeatedly fell off while balancing and injured his knee so badly that he had to have fluid drained from the swelling. The shooting was wrapped on October 27, 1986, both on-time and on-budget.

After the initial “not so great impression”, the film drew adult audiences instead of the teens, with viewers rating the film highly. The film’s popularity continued to grow after its initial release. It was the number one video rental of 1988 and became the first film to sell a million copies on video. When the film was re-released in 1997, ten years after its original release, Swayze received his own star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame,

A May 2007 survey by Britain’s Sky Movies listed Dirty Dancing as number one on “Women’s most-watched films”, above the Star Wars trilogy, Grease, The Sound of Music, and Pretty Woman. Of course, the film’s music has also had considerable impact. The closing song, “(I’ve Had) The Time of My Life”, took the glory.

Today Patrick Swayze is no more. In mid-January 2008, he was diagnosed with stage IV pancreatic cancer and he died on September 14, 2009 at age 57 after fighting 20 months after his cancer diagnosis. His wife Lisa Niemi Swayze wrote a book on his life along with him, aptly called “Time of My Life” – a book I will recommend all of you to read.

Let us go back a bit in time or rewind. You must have watched the movie Fiddler on the Roof. Fiddler on the Roof was a 1971 American musical comedy-drama film. The movie featured the famous “Bottle Dance”. This dance is not a traditional Jewish folk dance but creation of director-choreographer Jerome Robbins. Robbins did “field research” for Fiddler by attending Orthodox Jewish weddings and festivals where he was thrilled with the men’s dancing.  He  elaborated this experience and got four dancers performing precise and electrifying moves. This famous bottle dance got re-planted in the United States and today there are amazing bottle dancers who burst into special events (especially weddings) and perform the sensational “bottle dance”. For a grand finale, they lead the whole crowd into frenzy.  I just love the amazing synchronous moves of the dancers while balancing the bottles on their heads.

In 2004, move “Shall We Dance” was produced that featured Jennifer Lopez and Richard Gere.  In the movie there is a very sensuous dance with the song “Santa Maria (del Buen Ayre)” from the album La Revancha del Tango played by the Gotan Project.

The movie shows life of John Clark who is a lawyer with a charming wife, Beverly. He feels that something is missing in his life as he makes his way every day through the city by a train. He gets hooked to idea of learning dancing while following Paulina (Jenifer Lopez) who is a dancer. As his lessons continue, John falls in love with dancing. Keeping his new obsession from his family and co-workers, John feverishly trains for Chicago’s biggest dance competition. He loses and quits dancing, to everyone’s dismay after an argument with his wife Beverly. The dance with the song Santa Maria is simply haunting. A must to watch.

Now let us watch something more contemporary like Bachata.

Bachata, is essentially a slow style of dancing that emerged in the ’60s. Bachata is performed only in closed position, like the bolero, often in close embrace and the basic steps are confined within a small square. The hand placement in Bachata can vary according to the position of the dances, which can range from very close to open to completely open.

The authentic version is still danced today in the Caribbean and all over the world. It is increasingly danced now to faster music, adding more footwork, with soft hip movements and a tap or syncopation. Yet, it follows simple turns and rhythmic free-styling and with alternation between close (romantic) and open position. Watching a good bachata dance can be mesmerizing.

Tanja La Alemana is one of the best-known Bachata dancer. She and her partner Ataca Jorgie performed a sexy Bachata routine by Xtreme “Te Extraño” at DWF in Singapore. I thought of presenting this video to you.


I was working on writing a textbook on Air Pollution for UNESCO with several contributing authors. An authors meet was called in Barcelona that was hosted by Professor Valentina of the Technical University of Catalonia. Valentina was an established expert in numerical modelling of air pollution but was a talented artist (oil paintings) and a dancer of repute, especially the Salsa.

When she spoke to me about her interest in dance during one of dinners we had, I told her how much I love to watch dancing and narrated some of the great dances that one must follow– and highlighted a few just like I did in this blog. I elaborated on the Bachata and the subtle differences with Salsa.

“Oh Prasad, great to know that you love dancing. You seem to be really knowledgeable”  Valentina exclaimed. “Do come with me tomorrow at  the Mojito Club to watch the Salsa, Bachata and listen to some Latin music.

When we arrived, the place was crowded. The music was spinning and so was the crowd. We took a place to sit as the discs were to change. There were many folks waiting for the next chance to get on to the floor and dance.

The music stopped, and neon signs flashed with the words “Now Bachata”. “Wow, Valentina said – “What a timing Prasad, Shall We Dance?” She passed her hand to me and stood up with a charming smile.

I froze. I said sheepishly “Valentina, I only know the theory but don’t know how to dance”. I wished I could be like Ataca Jorgie, Tanja’s Partner (you probably just watched). And I wished some Angel did this instant transformation, just for me, today and right now!)

“Oh, don’t worry Prasad”, Valentina said while gyrating her hips “I see that you are a typical Professor, Most Professors know only the theory and not the practice and you are not an exception!”

I think Valentina  was absolutely right!! She was clearly an exception.


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