Circle of Cleaner Production


It was 1987. Stephen Paulus who worked at the New Delhi office of Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung (FES) had commissioned a project to me and Professor P Khanna at IIT Bombay. The project was to investigate Innovative Strength of Indian Industry – Case of Low or Non Waste Technologies (LNWT). This project was my first exposure to LNWT, and it gave me an opportunity to outreach a huge cross section of Indian industry. In 1988, we brought out a report that was released by FES. The report was sent across to several institutions in India as well as overseas.

[Stephen lived in Jorbagh in Delhi in an apartment and used to play box guitar. I remember spending with him late nights savoring chicken tikka with German beer, listening to his music and soft voice and taking a late night taxi to IIT Delhi Guest House. Today, Dr Stephen Paulus heads the Department Environment and Climate Change, GIZ, Germany]

Perhaps our publication with FES reached the office of UNEP DTIE (Division of Technology, Industry and Economics) in Paris. Dr Fritz Balkau who was then Senior Programme Officer visited me at IIT Bombay while he was at the Hindustan Organic Chemicals Ltd (HOCL) for a project. At that time, UNEP DTIE was actively considering to develop a program on the basis of win-win between industry and environment. Perhaps in this context, my work became of interest to DTIE. Fritz invited me for a two day workshop that was to take place in Paris. I remember that I received a two page long telex invitation from Jacqueline Aloisi de Larderel, Director UNEP DTIE. An express Visa was granted to me based on this telex invitation by the French Consulate in Mumbai. Getting a French Visa was otherwise not easy in a short time.

Dr Fritz Balkau

This meeting at DTIE was a turning point for my career. Everyone needs one such turning point. And I will thank both Stephen and Fritz for opening the doors.

In this workshop, the term Cleaner Production was coined after a marathon discussion. Later I got involved and spent next 20 years working with UNEP DTIE as a consultant. I got opportunity to work in several countries advising and implementing Cleaner Production. Cleaner Production in many ways is the “grandfather” of the term “Circular Economy” – a buzz word we use today.

[Fritz retired as Deputy Director and is still active organizing schools on Life Cycle Thinking and Management in Europe connecting with the concept of Circular Economy. We are in touch]

The lesson I learnt was that in your young age work on projects that make an impact not necessarily money. Produce good quality outputs and Publish. If you do a good job, people will find you!

In the Paris workshop, I met Donald Huisingh, an American Professor who was teaching at the Lund University. Later, Don became the founder editor of the well-known Journal of Cleaner Production. When he relinquished his position few years ago as the Chief Editor, a World Conference on Cleaner Production was held in Sitges near Barcelona. Don invited me to speak reminiscing Cleaner Production.

Prof Donald Huisingh

I met several other stalwarts like Thomas Lindquist (perhaps one of the first researchers on the subject of Extended Producer Responsibility), Prof Sam El Kholy, VC of Cairo University and Robert Glaser who was Queens Inspector at the Ministry of Environment and Physical Planning in the Netherlands. I also met interesting personalities such as Olav Nedenes from Norway, Prof Novak who was passionate about the NIF/NOT program on capacity building in Poland and Czech republic, David Pounder from Department of Environment, UK, Dr Ralph (Skip) Lueken, UNIDO, Jim Gallup of US AID and of course Director Jacqueline Aloisi de Larderel.

I became a frequent visitor to Paris and used to be at DTIE once in four months for a week for several years. I used to stay nearby at Hotel Alize Grennel and walk to Tour Mirabeau where UNEP DTIE’s office was located. Norah, girl at the registration desk of Alize Grennel took liking for me (and perhaps for my loyalty) and introduced me to some of the street musicians who played at subways of Gare Montparnasse metro station. The deal was that she learns conversational English from me and I pick up some basic French. But I could never learn any French. Who would learn, if you are walking with a beautiful French girl on the street of Montparnasse?

Hotel Alize Grennel

A Street Musician in a Subway

The office of UNEP DTIE was located on a higher floor in a tall building overlooking river Seine. It was a wonderful office with a great view and sporting a sunshine in the summer. Later, the office was shifted to cut down the costs, but it lost its original charm and inspiration.   





Montparnasse Tower 

Jaqueline was a visionary. To promote Cleaner Production, she partnered with several Governments to hold bi-annual High Level meetings. The first such event was held in Canterbury, UK followed by Paris, Warsaw, Melbourne etc. There were also side events in places such as Lisbon and Mauritius. I used to be a speaker in all these events. This enriched my learning, experience and networking.

Jacqueline Aloisi de Larderel

I did several publications and developed products for UNEP DTIE and UNIDO. This included Global Status Report on Cleaner Production, Web version of the International Cleaner Production Information Clearinghouse, A multimedia CD-ROM – called Cleaner Production Companion and Guidance Manuals for National Cleaner Production Centers. Working with the team at DTIE was always a pleasure. We often exceeded the agreed Terms of Reference! Today, most of the team members on Cleaner Production (now called as division of Sustainable Consumption and Production) have left and the only person I know there is Garrette Clark. A wonderful person to work with.

Garrette Clark

During my stay in Paris, I never missed to spend an evening on the Avenue des Champs-Élysées. Our Cleaner Production “gang” used to assemble there for some cool beers with chips and a baguette ham sandwich. On this crowded but still romantic and mesmerizing avenue, the discussions used to be so  lively ending late in the evening.

Restaurent on Avenue des Champs-Élysées

But a must was to go to the Jazz at Duc Lombards located on 42 Rue des Lombards. This Jazz club is not big but is designed for very premium sound quality effect and stage and ceilings that make audience feel like sitting in small opera house. You sit so close to the stage in a cosy atmosphere watching the artists performing. The club has a great menu and a friendly service – and of course all at a price! I have been to Duc Lombards more than a dozen times and each visit has been an unforgettable experience.

Duc Lombards

Jacqueline after her retirement moved to Italy where she runs with her husband Corso, a Hotel resort called Villa Le Barone. Villa Le Barone lies in the heart of the Chianti hills, thought by many as the loveliest countryside in Italy.  I have been in touch with Jacqueline and visiting Villa Le Barone is on my bucket list! May be that will be a turning point in my life once again!!

Villa Le Barone

In my email communications, I once wrote to Jacqueline about Jazz at Duc Lombards. “Oh Prasad, I did not know that you love Jazz so much” she responded.

And then She wrote. “You may not know but I hold some stake there”.

Wow, I said to myself. What a  great place to invest. I wish I had the money to do so.

Everything then fell in place and connected the dots.

I thought with connect to Duc Lombards I completed my Circle of Cleaner Production in Paris.

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Elections Manifestos and My Friend on 104th Floor

Many of you may know about my Friend who lives on 104th floor in Mumbai. For those who don’t,  he is one of the richest person today. He is the most powerful “mover and shaker” of the world of politics,  business and investments. My Friend however prefers to operate in a background. He could achieve this simply because he owns all the major media houses across the world.

My Friend invites me often for a breakfast and occasionally with my Professor Friend. On Monday, his secretary called me and invited for a breakfast on Tuesday morning. “Sorry for this short notice Dr Modak, but Boss wants you to join him for an important meeting. And please don’t forget to bring along Professor.  His presence is very important” She said in a husky voice.

We reached my Friends place at sharp 8 am as requested. In the lounge, we saw two people waiting. One of them looked like Mr. Narendra Modi (NaMo) and other like Mr. Rahul Gandhi (RaGa). “How can these to heads of the Parties  be here during the election time?” I said to Professor “ Both of them must be busy whirling around the country, giving speeches and making promises”.

“Husssh Dr Modak, you don’t know what is real. Technology of humanoid robots is already in place. May be the NaMo and RaGa you see here are real and those who are campaigning are the clones in the interest of security. Besides, speeches delivered by the clones can be consistent and programmed real time to add local flavor and accommodate changing circumstances”.

I thought for a while. I kept shut.

Soon we were ushered to the breakfast room where my Friend was waiting. His secretary requested NaMo and RaGa look alike to wait.

“Dr Modak, you know that elections in India are set in another week. Both BJP and Congress are facing a major crunch of money. BJP has overspent and wants to spend more while funds with the Congress are getting seized and frozen by the Income Tax Officers and Enforcement Directorate” My Friend said.

“Chiefs of these two parties called me yesterday for help and requested 5 billion dollars in cash in the next two days. I told them that 5 billion dollars is not a big money to me, and my accountant can handle the payment in the next 24 hours. But then I realized that I should check their manifestos before approving the funds. I don’t want my reputational risk at stake” I thought my Friend was right.

He continued

“You very well know that Mr. Trump is a good friend of mine. He told me to check whether the manifestos of the Parties address environment and to what extent the agenda in the manifestos are green. Unfortunately, my phone line with Mr. Trump wasn’t clear and so I could not understand whether Trump was recommending the Party with a greener manifesto or otherwise! You know sometimes mainstreaming environment in policies can badly affect the economic development”

We were a bit confused.  My Friend continued

“ On the other hand, someone told me that talking about environment in the manifesto is a good idea, its also contemporary and fashionable. There is nothing much to worry as one does not have to actually implement promises made but I am unable to take a decision due to these diverse opinions. I therefore called you and Professor on a short notice for help”

We decided that we will invite NaMo and RaGa alike to the breakfast room one by one and listen to the green agenda of their manifestos. So, RaGa was invited first he being younger. An Italian coffee was served with Focaccia Bread topped with Methi (not from Amethi).

RaGa started his pitch.

He said  that the Congress manifesto recognizes air pollution as public health emergency.

All of us looked outside to see the massive blanket of smog across Mumbai. Given this grim situation,  RaGa’s opening statement made an impact.

RaGa said that the National Clean Air Programme (NCAP) will be strengthened targeting all major sources of air emissions to mitigate and reduce emissions to acceptable levels. Section 3, point 5 of the Congress manifesto, has promised to formulate a policy on clean energy in power plants that use fossil fuels

We were impressed.

RaGa continued.

“Congress will revisit setting up of the National Environmental Appraisal and Monitoring Authority (NEAMA)—a professional agency to conduct rigorous and time-bound environmental appraisals and recommend environmental clearances, where appropriate, in a time-bound and transparent manner”.

[NEAMA was mooted way back in 2010 during congress minister Jairam Ramesh’s tenure as environment minister and was said to have been inspired by the US Environment Protection Agency (EPA). Knowing that Mr. Trump wasn’t happy with the EPA experience and was in fact shutting down the EPA, I wondered whether NEAMA in India will be a good idea]

RaGa said that his Party will put water conservation at the heart of the programmes for agriculture, rural and urban development. “This will be done by focusing all current programmes on augmenting water through decentralized systems, conserving water through all means and promoting recycling and reuse of water in all sectors. Water is a public right, but also a public responsibility. We believe that while pricing of water must ensure that users internalize ethics of conservation, it is also imperative that it be sustainable and affordable. We will promote these principles in all our programmes for water and waste management,” He read out a paragraph from the manifesto. This sounded like a keynote address in an international water conference

RaGa picked up few almonds from the silver bowl placed on the breakfast table and continued. He said that the Congress party has promised a special purpose vehicle for transparent, equitable and judicious development and allocation of natural resources in the country. “We will ensure that an independent regulator monitors the process of natural resource allocation in a manner that best serves the nation’s interest. The Congress promises to protect the coastal zones of the country. Recent steps that diluted the coastal zone regulations will be reversed. The coasts will be preserved without affecting the livelihood opportunities of fishing communities,” RaGa said.

I saw RaGa’s face was glowing like Lord Vishnu who looks after the protection of Earth.

My Friend did not understand the idea of the independent regulator and how could the allocation of natural resources be decided.

He simply asked “Mr. RaGa, your idea is very laudable and impressive. But let me ask you a simple question, I am investing in a large industrial complex next to a port in the Konkan belt of Maharashtra. Will your Party allocate adequate natural resources for my project?”

“Of course, Sir, you will get whatever you will ask. We make exceptions to the rule when needed” RaGa responded immediately unlike he generally takes some time to think.

My Friend was satisfied. He took a large gulp of the pomegranate juice.

RaGa continued.

One major step that the party has promised to take towards environmental protection is to launch a Green National Accounts. The manifesto will have a scheme that would ensure that the cost of the environmental degradation. It also promises to develop indicators on the state of natural resources.

[I was reminded of the two blogs I wrote in the past viz. India’s True GDP and Game of Indicators . May be consultant to the Congress Party read these blogs]

“Although we missed the target of providing one unit electricity to every household by 2012 under RGGVY, we are once again making this commitment and promise to accelerate implementation of flagship programmes like the Jawaharlal Nehru National Solar Mission which has now entered its second phase, and National Mission of Energy Efficiency. We will also launch of the much-awaited National Wind Energy Mission. The manifesto also promises to provide access to clean cooking fuel to people across the country to decrease their dependence on biomass-based fuel.  All these initiatives will help reduce Greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and combat climate change”

These commitments sounded music to us.

RaGa got up as he saw my Friend looking into his Rolex watch. He summed up saying (this time almost sounding like a well-trained parrot) “ The Congress manifesto promises to give “highest priority” to environmental protection. The Party is “committed to sustainable development in its true spirit”.

He left.

My Friend’s secretary then ushered NaMo to the breakfast room. NaMo was wearing a smart Jacket matching to the color of the wall. How did NaMo know the color? I appreciated NaMo’s style of using India’s Intelligence Bureau to the fullest extent.

NaMo started his pitch highlighting that he will take up the controversial river-interlinking project on priority. BJP Manifest also proposed to launch a people’s participation programme for cleaning rivers like the Ganga under a countrywide “clean river programme”.

“The National Ganga River Basin Authority has already been a success at least in spirit. We will use similar models of creating empowered, well-funded agencies to clean other major rivers in the country. There will be a new water ministry” NaMO sounded all bullish.

Professor Whatsapped me “Dr Modak, was NGRBA really successful that it could be considered as a “model”? River cleaning must be looked at the “basin level” requiring restoration as eco-system and not just limited to cleaning of the dirty drains” I sent him a smiley in response

NaMo continued

The manifesto also promises a national mission on irrigation for providing water to every field and also setting up of drinking water supply grid in water-scarce areas and also provide piped water to all households.

The lack of access to clean drinking water is an Indian reality, with several pockets of the country lacking proper drinking water facilities. With the aim to address this issue, we will take up the Sujal Program and will also implement the Swachhata se Sampannata program, that will ensure the 100% disposal of liquid waste water and reuse of waste water.

All this sounded rather ambitious to us.

NaMo continued

BJP manifesto will turn the  National Clean Air Plan into a Mission, focusing on 102 most polluted cities in the country. This will lead to reduction of overall air pollution in all the mission cities by at least 35 per cent in the coming five years.

[We wondered how did BJP come up with this number of 35%. It looked rather meagre if compared to the 200% (and even more) exceedance of the pollution that exists today]

NaMo picked up a plate of Dhokala and sipped some Masala Chai

He asked, “Have you heard about Green Bonus?”

Obviously, we hadn’t  and so we were jinxed by his question. This is typical NaMo habit I thought.

“We will introduce ‘Green Bonus’ that has been a long-pending demand. There will be special help to Himalayan States in the form of ‘Green Bonus’ that will finance forest conservation”

We avoided asking him the operational or implementation details to avoid confrontation.

NaMo continued but later part of his pitch wasn’t interesting as it overlapped with what RaGa had earlier said. He tom-tommed figures on increase in the forest covers that could be disputed and gave statistics on fair and speedy environmental clearance for improving ease of business.

If we had decided to believe in what he said, then the BJP manifesto looked very promising as compared to Congress on the green counts.

Professor whispered, “I think the consultants the Parties used were perhaps common!”. I kept shut.

When NaMo left, it was already 1030.

I asked my Friend about his decision.

“Well Dr Modak and Professor, I think I will give equal amounts to both Parties as I see overlaps and a similar rhetoric. Clearly there is going to be a stiff competition in this election and so funding only one Party will be a risk proposition to me. Extent of greening will not count and is no reputational risk to me as I see no real substance and commitment in either of the manifestos”

He then paused and said in closing

“The big assumption we make is that we all are environmentally literate, sensitive and are interested to demand action and justice for the protection of environment. While a large number of voting population is affected by the state of environment today, the risks of its neglect on quality of life, safety, resource security and the livelihoods are not fully understood. So very few care.

Manifestos of the either Parties – whether painted green or otherwise – wont perhaps make a difference as they will remain only as a smart word play!”

I thought that it was a great summing up

No wonder why my Friend was the richest person in the world.

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Have you heard about Civil Engineering Plus?

Be Part of It. Be Proud to Be

[On Friday, March 29 I was invited to speak at the ASCE India Region Student Conference organized by Mukesh Patel School of Technology Management & Engineering. I introduced in my presentation the idea of “Civil Engineering Plus”. This post summarizes my presentation. Write to me if you want a copy]

I am a civil engineer by training. My father M V Modak was a civil engineer. He built several water and sewage treatment plants across the country. My uncle N V Modak was an outstanding civil engineer. He built the Vaitarana dam (now known as Modak sagar) for Mumbai, founded Central Public Health and Environmental Research Institute CPHERI (now known as National Environmental Engineering Research Institute NEERI) and developed a Master Plan for Mumbai in 1960s. I am proud to be a civil engineer and part of the Modak Engineer Family! My son Pranav is a chemical engineer specializing in energy and environmental engineering.

American Society for Civil Engineers (ASCE) aptly describes civil engineering -see quote below

“Civil engineers are changing the world. They dream up creative, practical solutions that benefit the everyday lives of people and the communities in which we live. They work with smart and inspiring people to invent, design and build things that matter.”

Civil engineering is a diverse field. It consists of branches such as Structural, Geotechnical, Water Resources, Transportation, Construction, Urban Planning and Environmental. In the undergraduate studies, one must not forget to take advantage of this diversity. Even while specializing in any of the branches, we should not remain in a silo and understand the interconnections. Only then you are a complete civil engineer.

The world today is facing numerous challenges . We are concerned about growing water stress, rising air pollution in our cities, contaminated lands, threat to biodiversity, food security and global warming just to name a few.

Recognizing the scale and complexity of the problem, nations came together and set forth 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Civil engineers have a lot to contribute towards the SDGs. Every civil engineer should be exposed to the targets set under each SDG.  But then have we restructured our curricula to reflect what we need to learn?

We need to transform to survive. We have to mainstream sustainability in our education, practice and policies to achieve the targets under SDGs and more so in civil engineering.

Take the transportation sector for instance. Can we think of roads not just to transport but to generate electricity? Prototypes were constructed in the Netherlands for a cycle lane and for vehicles in France with some success. After these initial pilots, solar roads are making a headway where solar panels are embedded on the road surface to generate electricity. Solar Roadways® (SR)in the US has developed a modular system of specially engineered solar panels that can be walked and driven upon. SR panels are made of specifically formulated tempered glass, which can support the weight of semi-trucks. Questions are however raised on the overall economics (investment and returns) as well the robustness of the glass. But I am sure we will tide over.

Solar Road Source

China has come up with intelligent highways that could speed the transformation of the global transportation industry. A 1,080-meter-long stretch of road in the eastern city of Jinan has been built  where the technologies are embedded underneath transparent concrete. This intelligent highway can withstand 10 times more pressure than the normal asphalt variety and solves the problem with glass. About 45,000 vehicles will use the section every day, and the solar panels inside will generate enough electricity to power highway lights and 800 homes. It is now proposed to charge electric vehicles that will ply on the road. What a smart move!

Just like the solar roads, “plastic roads” have now come up and getting popular. India alone has laid more than 15000 kms of roads gobbling plastic waste. KWS, a VolkerWessels company, Wavin and Total are working on the development of plastic roads, also known as the PlasticRoad. Every component of the PlasticRoad is designed to make its application completely circular, with the goal of using recycled plastic as much as possible. The PlasticRoad consists of a prefabricated, modular and hollow road structure that makes road construction faster with practically zero maintenance compared to traditional road structures. Our transportation engineers need to learn about such innovations.

Plastic Road Source

Contaminated lands are increasing across the world due to unabated pollution. A geotechnical engineer needs to understand Contaminated Soil Engineering and learn how to remediate contaminated lands – a subject not generally taught in conventional geotechnical engineering. Soil erosion prevention and control has also assumed importance, especially in catchment area treatment of degraded watersheds, employing techniques of bioengineering.  Do we cover such topics in our curricula?

Lately, engineers and planners have started recognizing the importance of understanding of urban metabolism. Cities over period of time “decay” and retrofit, reconstruction and redevelopment of infrastructure becomes necessary raising a challenge to manage the (contaminated) debris and objectionable materials (e.g. cables, asbestos). Use of chemicals in construction has therefore come under the lens. A civil engineering student needs to know more about objectionable and banned construction chemicals.

Building “green” is a strategy thinking “upstream” considering the life cycle of infrastructure. In the green buildings, the form, design, choice of materials and fixtures become important where principles of 3R (Reduce, Reuse, Recycle) are applied. Several Green Building rating schemes have come up (e.g. LEED and GRIHA in India) that present a guiding framework. There are incentives to go green, but the cost differential between “conventional” and “green” buildings is fast decreasing. So, by default we should always build green! Materials like bamboo are now revisited with composite construction (using waste plastic) with products made out of recycling of construction waste such as bricks, paver blocks etc. are getting a preference.  Waste is no more a waste. How do we conceive and “design” such buildings?

Green Walls Source

In countries such as US, Canada, UK and Sweden,  retrofitting and reconstruction guidelines have been developed keeping focus on demand side energy management, energy storage and energy efficiency. So, you not only build green but live green by transforming existing structures. Concepts such as Green Roofs, Urban Forestry and Agriculture and Green Walls are getting implemented with proven benefits, The building management systems now address indoor environmental quality with automation deployed to ensure comfort, health and safety of the residents. Our civil engineering students must know.

Bamboo house Source

In the arena of water, water use reduction is getting priority by implementing low flow plumbing fixtures. Water retention through rainwater harvesting and wastewater recycling are becoming de facto practices in large housing complexes. Water Sensitive Urban Design (WSUD) matured in Australia and in the US retains stormwater to percolate to the ground or and get diverted to the storage areas for later use. Wastewater on a city scale is treated for secondary use and supplied via “purple “lines. Many of these interventions are struck based on public private partnerships.

WSUD for a highway Source

Purple pipes carrying treated wastewater for reuse Source

I spoke to my Professor Friend about a need to develop a course at undergrad level for civil engineers. I thought that it is important that students get a systematic exposure to these new transformations. I called the course as “Civil Engineering Plus”

As usual, Professor listened to me patiently. He lighted his cigar and said

“Dr Modak, all good but don’t forget to introduce the subject of climate change”

Professor had a point. We all know that climate change is real. Civil engineers need to build infrastructure that can cope with the changing climate. Important structures falling in the climate vulnerable zones will need to be  “climate proofed”, just the way we do earthquake resistant designs.

“I wish Deans of the Civil Engineering departments realize the relevance of introducing the course  “Civil Engineering Plus”. It will not only make the engineering contextual, but the civil engineers will think out of the box, learn to be interdisciplinary, environmentally responsible and socially sensitive” I said

“Well Dr Modak”, Professor extinguished his cigar. “Your plus idea is not just for civil engineers but  also  to other fields of engineering as well. Think of developing  an institute elective”

Then he paused. He said slowly and in a serious tone

“But what is important is dedication, integrity, self-esteem and a compassion – qualities that are so hard to teach and are missing with most engineers! These four qualities are essential if you want to be a true civil engineer with a Plus. Only then can we dream to make this planet future ready”

I couldn’t disagree.

Who would?

[My not for profit organization Ekonnect Knowledge Foundation will be most happy to partner with interested universities and civil engineering departments to develop the course or a finishing school on Civil Engineering Plus. Do contact me if interested]

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Professors novel course to teach design and operation of wastewater treatment plants


Teaching the subject of wastewater treatment plant design has always excited me. I recall the textbooks by Metcalf and Eddy, Benefield and Randall, Sayed Qasim and those by S J Arceivala. Amongst these books, Metcalf and Eddy appealed because of the large number of “solved problems”. I was such a fan of this book that I engaged a summer undergrad student at IIT. He coded for me all the solved problems of Metcalf and Eddy in “VisiCalc” (Excel’s grandfather!) way back in 1986. I had kept these VisiCalc codes on a 8” floppy disk then but  these floppies had little “shelf life”. We lost everything that we had built within a year. Alas!

[Metcalf Eddy’s book is now in 4th edition with nearly 1900 pages covering not just treatment but reuse. I wish I get another summer student to work with me to prepare a suit of Excel codes for all the solved problems with some smart VBA programming. Anyone interested? Let me know]

Todays designs of wastewater treatment plants are however rarely done with the classical approach as in the design books like Metcalf and Eddy. Imagine an Activated Sludge Process (ASP) design with Lawrence and McCarty equation or sizing of a trickling filter using Gallar and Gotas equation or the NRC formula!

The gap between a theoretical design and design in practice is widening. How do we “design” a lamella separator and how do we size a fluidized bed ASP with plastic media? Each vendor is now modifying the basic process, and adding new features to distinguish from others. These modified or improved processes are backed by research in laboratory and based on pilots. You see treatment unit more like a “black box” with less transparency on the mechanism than desired. “Sizing” of the unit is done using company catalogues and to convince, the vendor produces results of the pilot studies in the style “before” and “after”.

Indeed, for developing design for wastewater treatment plant, you need carefully planned laboratory experiments and conduct of pilot studies.  There is no one size that fits for all. Each wastewater is different, and you need a customized approach, especially while working with industrial effluents. In the early days, conducting “treatability studies” was always the first step and consultants like Dr Deepak Kantawala and Prof S J Arceivala never ventured to prepare design without such studies.  Today, who has the time or patience?

The idea of treatability studies was to scale up the experience of lab and pilots to design in reality. One of the rare and perhaps the only book of this kind was by Eckenfelder W W and Davis Ford. This book written in 1970 in Texas (not available anymore -and sadly someone “stole” my copy!) ) provides an approach to unit process design based on laboratory and pilot-plant studies. The intent of these two distinguished  authors was threefold: first, to assist the design engineer in establishing laboratory and pilot plant programs necessary in formulating design criteria; second, to serve as a guide for sanitary engineering graduate courses in unit operations; and finally, to provide a training reference for practitioners in the field.  I simply loved this book.

[Another book that needs a mention is by Imre Horvath of Hungary titled “Modelling in the Technology of Wastewater Treatment”. This book was written in 1984 and introduces how to use non-dimensional numbers to scale up of results of wastewater treatability studies. The book is however more mathematical and not an easy read. But do take a look]

Given the “invasion” of proprietary designs, you need to focus now more on treatment plant operations. We need to understand how to tweak operating parameters of a treatment plant (e.g. return sludge in the ASP). The idea is how to run the plant efficiently to address variability in the wastewater flow and characteristics and debottleneck some of the operational issues (e.g. foaming in aeration tanks, bulking sludge in secondary settling unit) to ensure compliance. Sometimes I feel that real learning happens in operations and that is how one should be teaching the subject of wastewater treatment plant. Professors are not effective as they seldom visit or know how to operate treatment plants!

I asked my Professor friend for his views he has been a Professor of Practice unlike others.

“Dr Modak, you are quite right” Professor said. “In fact, I am developing a course on understanding design and operation of a wastewater treatment plant”

“Please tell me more” I was quite excited.

“Well, the course will run over two weeks at a wastewater treatment plant. I would like to work on a plant where there is a good laboratory and a little conference room that can accommodate say 12  “students”.

The plant will have pretty basic units like screens, neutralization tank, primary sed unit that is chemical assist (i.e. clarifloculator), aeration tank with floating aerators, secondary sed unit followed by a pressure sand filter, activated carbon column and disinfection to allow treated water reuse.  Sludge is thickened and then taken through a belt filter on sludge drying beds”

“Good choice Professor” I said

Professor lit his cigar and continued

“The course will essentially blend “some essential theory” and more practice experience in understanding the design and learn more through operations. A batch of 12 students will be divided into a team of four (three each) and each team will be “allotted” units to manage over 3 days. There will be rotation i.e. team of 3 students working on screens, equalization tank and clarifloculator will shift on 4th day to aeration tank and secondary sed unit. Each team will essentially “manage” the units assigned, do required sampling and analysis in the lab, do maintenance checks like oil in the gear box etc. and ensure compliance to “outputs” that I have prescribed (e.g. Suspended Solids and BOD in the clarifloculator overflow)”

“Great Professor” I liked this idea of allocation and rotation of teams to units and take on responsibilities.

“Dr Modak, each day will end by sharing the operational experience – challenges faced, strategies taken to resolve, what worked what didn’t and provide a feedback on the design. Do you remember Bob Hegg’s work on Composite Correction Program? I am giving a copy to each student”.

[I remembered the outstanding book of 1983 written by Bob Hegg of US EPA titled “Improving POTW Performance Using the Composite Correction Program”. Do grab a soft copy till it is on the web!

“And on the last two days, I  will ask all the 12 students to take a “design challenge” for different scenarios i.e. how to upgrade the existing plant for 25% increase in hydraulic load or how to address high concentrations of Total Dissolved Solids or how to modify the design to meet stricter effluent standards? Answering these questions would blend the design and operational understanding of the students. I will of course customize the course depending on the plant and the profile of participants”

Wow, I was simply floored by this novel method of teaching wastewater treatment plant. Two weeks practical course could perfectly fit as a summer or winter course for students as well as young professionals.

Professor extinguished his cigar and said

“This course will benefit the “host” wastewater treatment plant as in this process not only their operators will get trained but they will receive a “free” report from us on plant upgradation strategies”

Oh Yes, I realized the importance of these important side benefits

“So, when would you announce this course Professor? And may I join?”  I asked in all excitement

“Well Dr Modak, Sadly, I am unable to find a willing host. No one seems to be interested or serious to improve operations of their wastewater treatment plant to ensure compliance. Industries I have been asking say that everything is perfect (“all is well”) and they don’t need this kind of training cum advisory”

I understood that such a novel course of Professor was never going to run!

My related blogs

Read my blogs Operations without Certification and Blending Strategy, Design and Operations

Also read for your fun blog on wastewater treatment plants that speak!


Manuals have been developed by Central Public Health and Environmental Engg Organization (CPHEEO) that can be downloaded. Water Environment Federation (WEF) in the US has published several Manuals of Practice (MOP) that are available to purchase.

One of the Indian classic to have is the manual written by Dr A S Kodavasal on STP Design, Operation and Maintenance under support of the Karnataka State Pollution Control Board (KSPCB). This manual can be downloaded at no cost. Dr Kodavasal was student of Prof W W Eckenfelder

In 2017, my organization Environmental Management Centre LLP prepared a training manual for wastewater treatment plant operators under support of GIZ for SCGJ (Skill Council for Green Jobs), This manual is used in the training programs for operators of wastewater treatment plans.

You can obtain hard copy of the manual (soft copy not available) from Rachna Sagar Pvt Ltd, Delhi. It is 339 page color copy priced at only 180 Indian Rs

Phone 011 4358 5858, 011 2328 5568

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Arrhythmia, Professor and Me

I have been suffering from a heart disorder called arrhythmia over the last two years. An arrhythmia is a problem with the rate or rhythm of your heartbeat. It means that your heart beats too quickly, too slowly, or with an irregular pattern. Over a year, my problem of arrhythmia worsened. Last month I suffered dizziness and had even a fall couple of times.

While cardiologists were examining me to address the root cause of the problem, I thought of meeting my Professor friend and take his advice. Professor has been always helpful to me when in crisis.

We met at our usual coffee shop. We occupied a round table in the foyer with a marble top and an ash tray. We ordered some Ethiopian coffee with ginger biscuits.

“Dr Modak, the real reason for your arrhythmia is not the imbalance in the electric field, but your nature of getting excited in every bit you see or do in your life”. Professor lit his cigar.

He saw me surprised so he continued to elaborate.

“ I have seen you now over 30 years. Your heart seems to be racing up when you deliver a talk, especially to the students. or when you attend a musical concert or meet a beautiful and intelligent lady – I know that latter has always been your weakness” (I couldn’t disagree)

Probably, your heart beats slow down when you get depressed to see inaction and apathy towards environment, poverty and injustice.  And then after a while you become angry and your heart beats start racing up. These ups and downs of heart beats over several years have disturbed the rhythm of the heart.

Your doctors may change your medication, but nothing will change until you learn to live life like most of us do – i.e. stay calm, not emotional and remain indifferent”. He sounded like Lord Krishna in Bhagavad-Gita.

“But how can I Professor?” I protested.

I told him that in my school days, our teacher used to write on the blackboard names of the first ranking student in the late evening, one week after the examination. All of us used to flock around the blackboard, be tensed and wait for the “disclosure” of the top ranker’s name.

There were occasions that I got the first rank. And when I saw my name being written on the blackboard by our teacher Shri Dabholkar, as the top ranker, my heart raced up with all the excitement. My heart must be beating at that time well above 120 beats per minute (BPM).

“Oh, so silly of you. Top ranks in school days have no great significance. Topping in the class has nothing to do with your later career. I have seen so many school toppers doing badly in college and subsequent studies. You should have understood this truth and remained quiet. Your heart should have been rock steady at the standard beat of 70 BPM”. Professor said calmly. He sounded indifferent.

“But what about this memory Professor?” I did not give up

“While at IIT Powai, me and a group of my friends climbed the hill behind Hostel 4 to get to the top. Not a tall climb at all, but getting on the top of that 1500 ft hill mattered to us. We reached the top of the hill that had a small Shiva temple with no pujari. We were aghast to see spread of Powai and Vihar lakes on both sides of the hill. Vihar lake with islands at the center looked mystic as the sun was about to set. The breeze was strong. An eagle took off from the overhanging rock noticing we the strangers. Wow, my heart had raced then as I stood near the rock with my friends. I breathed deep, smelling the grass and enjoying natures glory. We climbed down without saying a word”

Professor took a deep puff.

“Well Dr Modak, you are exaggerating too much from this mundane experience. Hill and the lakes is a commonly seen setting. Nothing unusual or exciting” He paused and said sarcastically “You don’t have to climb now anymore as most of the hills in and around cities have been mined by the builders or are denuded. Watching a lake is no more a pleasure as the lakes have been polluted, infested by weeds and mosquitoes and in some cases even full of foams”

I realized that Professor was indifferent to my exciting story. I imagined him standing on the top of the hill watching Powai and Vihar lakes with heart rate rock steady at 70 BPM.

May be he was right. You don’t have to actually visit the places – there are now good documentaries on Netflix that show the Great China Wall, Grand Canyon and the Whales in Alaska. You can watch these documentaries your bedroom at rock steady heart beat of 70 BPM. But standing on the top of the Alpes at Mont Blanc, clad in snow, with your heart racing at 120 BPM is an altogether different experience. I now thought that Professor could be wrong.

I started remembering occasions when me and my father visited some of the poor families in the villages that were hit by a famine. We camped there to provide food and water to people and working to find solutions that could help them to combat the repeated spells of the famine. My father spent his personal money to help. He wasn’t rich enough to afford such spending, but it was the spirit and the compassion that led him to be generous while he was disadvantaged. I probably returned with considerably irregular heartbeats – especially when I saw the people suffer, my father’s gesture to help and the tears of gratitude I saw in the eyes of the people.

I did not narrate this experience to the Professor as I knew what he would say. “handling famines is governments job. What difference can one individual make? So be practical, stay calm and wait for the government to take action. Now a days corporates under CSR also contribute and help. One doesn’t have to be so personal.”

I asked him – doesn’t he get agitated to listen to speeches made by politicians and bureaucrats at the environmental conferences? Same rhetoric, same play of words, false promises and manipulated data! I stopped attending the inaugural speeches of such meetings to avoid getting irregular heartbeats.

Professor replied that I was perhaps expecting too much from these meetings. “You have to understand that after all holding conferences is a type of business or a networking game that most play.  Content of the speech is irrelevant, just the conduct matters” Professor extinguished his cigar.

“You may like to join me next Sunday at the Sea lounge of Taj Gateway for an evening snack. A friend you know will be joining. But let us chat on a topic other than your arrythmia. Be there at sharp 6 pm” Professor got up after settling the bill.

“And in this week, don’t attend the Buddy Guy’s concert at the NCPA. You will unnecessarily race up your heart” With this practical advice, Professor left with these parting words of wisdom.

I reached ten minutes earlier and Oscar the head waiter escorted me to the table Professor had booked. As usual,  the table was on window side where you can watch the ships sail – a truly romantic place.

Window side table at the Sea Lounge, the Taj Gateway of India 

A lady with a familiar face was already at the table. “Oh Elma, how come you?” I exclaimed.

Elma was Professors old friend from his college days. Her father was Indian and mother Swedish. She had lovely blond hair, a sweet face, an Swenglish accent. Elma lived in Budapest and was visiting Mumbai for work.  I had met her several times before with Professor.

“Oh Prasad, great to see you – what a surprise? ” said Elma. “Your Professor friend is delayed as usual. He will reach in next 15 minutes”

My heart beats were already racing after seeing Elma. I asked for one plate of dahi batata puri and one plate of (not so spicy) special bhel, the signature dishes at the Sea Lounge. Elma suggested a pitcher of Kingfisher Draft to go along. Good choice! I said to myself.

Since there was some time, I told Elma about my problem of Arrythmia. I ended telling her Professor’s solution – that is stay calm and indifferent at a rock steady heart rate of 70 BPM. I praised Professor saying that he has a great control on his mind and the heart beats.

Elma had a good laugh.

“Prasad, do you really believe in what your friend said?. I still remember feeling  his racing heart beats (must be at 120 BPM) when I first hugged him and kissed as a surprise”

I could understand as I had myself gone through such an experience.

When she saw my stunned face, she said

“Well well, perhaps things have changed now after he implanted a pacemaker some 10 years ago. His heart now beats at a rock steady rate of 70 BPM, despite what he sees, listens or does”

I wanted to ask more on this to Elma, but I had to cut the conversation on this delicate topic as I saw Oscar ushering the Professor to our table.

While driving home I was wondering. Perhaps Professor did this pacemaker implant when there was a massive pacemaker program launched by the Government for all senior advisers, administrators and politicians (existing and “potential”). It was contended that with pacemakers installed the Government machinery will run with no emotions, always stay calm (i.e. stay passive), indifferent and at a rock steady heart rate of 70 BPM.

No wonder the state of India’s Governance we have seen over years!

I thought of calling my cardiologist to recommend a pacemaker – but then I wondered whether this was the way to live life?

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A Dossier on Assessing Water Quality in our Rivers  

[More of a technical post, but I hope that it will interest our water quality professionals]

Today we are concerned about the problem of water pollution on a scale never before. All of us want to know the status on our water quality and whether the measures taken to protect or improve have been effective. Unfortunately, the picture so far has been rather dismal. But are we collecting, analyzing and reporting data correctly?

We have been monitoring India’s water quality in estuaries, coastal areas, rivers, lakes and ground water wells for years. At these monitoring stations, we have been analyzing a large number of water quality parameters ranging from simple measurements of pH, temperature and dissolved solids to dissolved oxygen, biochemical oxygen demand and in many instances checking presence of toxic substances such as pesticide residues. Biomonitoring surveys are also carried out on few stretches that can be compared with the results based on physico-chemical parameters.

Number of water quality monitoring stations at a national level have progressively increased. Few years ago, we started deploying automated water quality monitoring instruments that could report as many as 16 parameters at high frequency such as 15 min.  A considerable data on the status of water quality has got built in this process. High frequency water quality monitoring stations provide better insight to dynamic behavior of water quality as against limited and sometimes misleading information arising from manual sampling that is generally carried out only once a month and in many instances on grab basis. But remember that automated stations if not operated correctly can give voluminous but “garbage” data.

Choosing location of water quality monitoring station is a very important step. Stations are to be selected based on the purpose e.g. where the station to be cited is to serve as a baseline or to detect trends or to detect violations over standards especially in the mixing zones where wastewaters are discharged into the river. The latter category of the stations is called as “impact” monitoring stations. We cannot use for instance data from impact stations to infer long term water quality trends.

To answer the question whether the water quality status is improving or not, the water quality data needs to be processed with rigor. Ideally these computations should include detection of  trends on quantitative basis and assessment  of the extent of violations.

Computation of water quality trends is best done using tests such as Man Kendall’s (MK) statistic. MK has been applied extensively by regulators across the world to detect water quality trends. It is not presently used by India’s Pollution Control Boards (PCBs). MK statistic (that is non-parametric or distribution free), provides the direction, magnitude and significance of trend. On application of MK statistic on the data say for 5 years on BOD (i.e. 60 values), one can arrive at a conclusion whether the water quality trend is positive (showing deterioration) and significant (say at 95% significance). When shown on a map, we can spot stations showing significant improvement or deterioration for a parameter and investigate the reasons why. More sophisticated applications of MK test are also possible where we assess trend of a “system” of parameters such as DO and BOD, done simultaneously. Where the trends are found statistically insignificant, MK can be used to compute revised sampling frequencies. This feature is one of the additional major benefits of quantitative detection of trends.

See below a typical representation of “arrow-head” map of water quality trends for a river. S denotes significant trend and NS indicates Not Significant trend.

We have to be careful that for detection of trends, we do not process data from stations lying in the mixing zones of dominant wastewater discharges (typically 50 to 100 times of the width of the river at the point of wastewater discharge).  It is also important that we also assess the trends in flow as measured at the location of water quality monitoring station to understand the influence of flow on concentrations of water quality parameters. Carrying out seasonal MK statistics and/or “de-trending flow” and calculating trend of “residues” can provide better insight to answer the question “what is dominating the trend?”. These deductions help in coming up with more rounded water quality improvement plans by maintaining “environmental flows” in addition to the treatment of wastewaters. Unfortunately, PCBs do not measure flows and locations of flow measurements of CWC do not coincide with those of CPCB.

To understand the extent of violations, we should be computing the following

  1. Percentage of the times the prescribed water quality standard is violated
  2. The magnitude or extent of violations (calculated based on summation of the squares of the deviations around the standard; square capturing the severity)
  3. Percentage of contiguous violations with a specified period. (Such a computation is possible for high frequency water quality monitoring stations. If we specify our interest as 4 hours for dissolved oxygen, then the algorithm computes number of instances where dissolved oxygen has dipped contiguously over 4 hours below 6 mg/l, and reports the “total length of such as data train” as a percentage. This percentage provides understanding of the extent of undesirable exposure.

Figure below shows a conceptual representation of WQVI.

All the above attributes when pooled together can provide the criticality of violation or non-compliance at the water quality monitoring station. We can call this aggregation as the Water Quality Violation Index (WQVI) for a chosen parameter e.g. DO or BOD. WQVI can be calculated for more than one parameters as well. We can also use a surrogate as Water Quality Index (WQI). WQVI can be reported at all the hundreds of our water quality monitoring stations to prioritize for taking actions. Over the years number of water quality monitoring stations with high WQVI should reduce showing the progress made on enforcement and compliance. Concept of WQVI is my own innovation.

Presenting arrow-head maps of trends and changes in WQVI over years provide a robust way to communicate the progress made on water quality management. Importantly such an analysis and reporting assists in diagnosis and take appropriate actions.

In all above, we have to ensure that the water quality data we collect is of acceptable quality. This is possible only when we site monitoring stations correctly, strictly adhere to the water quality monitoring protocol (that we already have) and have trained teams for sampling and analyses. The laboratories should be well equipped and ideally holding NABL/ISO 17001 certifications. A lot needs to be done in these areas.

And there are additional challenges to address such as role of non-point pollution discharges influencing water quality trends and violations. Non point pollution discharges typically include agricultural return waters, storm water run offs, clusters of wastewater drains etc. that are difficult to measure and require estimations. Sadly, little work has been done on this subject in India.

For high frequency automated water quality monitors, we need to develop artificial intelligence (AI) based machine learning algorithms that can detect anomalies and outliers in the data and reject or assign “lower weights” while processing. Developing short term forecasting routines (e.g. using Artificial Neural Networks) will also be useful and worth especially to act in advance during any accidental spills of toxic substances upstream. Water intake works downstream could be issued warnings accordingly.

In 1985, I wrote a manual for Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) on Analyses and Interpretation of Water Quality Data. Then came a phase between 1986-1990, where I developed one dimensional and two dimensional water quality models (STREAM series) for application on Ganga for decision making. We used the water quality monitoring data available at that time, information on flows and wastewater discharges and included estimate of non-point wastewater loads. In 2014, I analyzed 7 year water quality data on river Godavari in Maharashtra with interesting conclusions for actioning. This work remained as an isolated activity at MPCB. Currently, I am advising CPCB on processing the water quality data collected on river Ganga using several of the tools I cited in this dossier. This task simply excites me. Me and my team are developing a Tableau based application for CPCB and will train the CPCB team.

Many readers of this blog from the academia will realize that there are immense opportunities to carry out research on water quality data analytics. We need masters and doctoral students to take up such applied problems as dissertations to add rigor to water quality inferencing.  Needless to state that such opportunities exist for managing air quality and noise data. I will be most happy to help.

In 1990, I conducted a 5 day training program for water pollution engineers and statistical officers of PCBs in New Delhi on the subject of water quality data analytics.  I wish that I get an opportunity to conduct such a program once again and re-write the little manual I wrote in 1984. Once shown the power of these tools, especially to the younger and newly inducted team, I am sure that a magic will happen, and the data will dance – presenting an insightful show to the decision makers.

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Cover image sourced from





Story Very Scary


Last week, I was on a vacation in Goa. I was staying in the old quarters of Panaji known as Fontainhas. This area is situated between Altinho and Ourem creeks. It mirrors the Portuguese influence through its architecture, narrow winding streets and picturesque buildings in beautiful hues of pastel colors. Most bungalows in this area are more than 150 years old.

In 1984, UNESCO recognized Fontainhas as a Heritage Zone.

I had rented a room at a guest house that was nearly 250 years old.

It was late in the evening and the sun was about to set. I was strolling outside the guest house planning to go for a quiet dinner at the nearby boutique restaurant Viva Panaji. Just then I saw an old man standing at the gate of a bungalow bang opposite the guest house.

The old man waved at me and smiled. He said “Frank Briganza (owner of my guest house) tells me that you are the new guest from Mumbai. And you are globe trotter I was told”. The old man seemed very keen to converse and learn more about me. So we spoke. Indeed, I have been a globe trotter and have visited more than sixty countries across the world.  My friends say that I am a good story teller.

“You know something?” The old man said.  “My son Larry loves to travel and go to places around the world. He would love to meet you an listen to your travel stories. Why don’t you come up and have a chat with him? He has been in bed for last 10 years due to a paralytic stroke. It’s the evenings that he gets very lonely and depressed. Perhaps your stories will cheer him up. Have a cup of tea with us”

I couldn’t refuse his invitation.

We went up to the first floor using a wooden staircase. The staircase was dimly lit and made  squeaky sounds as we climbed up the steps. We reached the drawing room on the first floor that had chandeliers, a long table, large windows with glass and antique furniture.

I noticed that all the furniture was three legged –I thought this was a bit odd. Three has been an unlucky number for me.

I also noticed an unusual carpet on the floor. Unusual because it had a face of a dog at the center. For a while, I thought the dog looked at me moving his eyes. I also heard the old man whisper “Tommy, he is our guest. Keep shut”.

“Be comfortable my friend” said the old man “I will get you some tea”.

I nodded and sat on a cane chair. The old man went inside the kitchen.

I inspected the drawing room in the meanwhile. The room was spacious. There was a cute library shelf and a tall cupboard displaying glasses of wine. The room had a wall with several sign boards such as, “do not spit”, “please keep silence”, “no smoking”. There was nothing special in these sign boards to display. The boards in a drawing room were certainly out of place – I thought. One sign board was in Portuguese.

The old man came back in five minutes with a tray carrying two cups of tea and some biscuits.

He noticed me staring at this unusual wall. “Larry used to collect all kinds of sign boards as a hobby” The old man said.  He continued “you must be wondering about that sign board in Portuguese. It is one of Larry’s favorite. It means ”goods once taken are not returned”

This signboard sounded rather strange to me. Generally, in the shops you see the board “ goods once sold are not taken back”.  I was a bit puzzled what this Portuguese board was trying to convey.

The old man served me tea.

For a while, I thought that he had three hands – with one hand he was holding the tea pot and with other he was holding the cup. And he probably used a third hand simultaneously to put biscuits in the plate from the glass jar.

I must be hallucinating now. The sunset, that queer atmosphere, the mystic carpet with the dog and the three legged furniture had perhaps made me very nervous. Besides that Portuguese sign board ”goods once taken are not returned”  sounded rather ire to me.

We had some tea. The old man asked me about my profession and family. He said that he retired as a pastor from a Church. Larry’s mother passed away right after he was born. The old man took care of Larry. Unfortunately, when he was 25 year old, Larry suffered from a paralytic stroke and could not walk. He always wanted to be a sailor and wander around the world but now he is mostly bed ridden and confined to the house.

I felt sorry for Larry.

“Oh, let me take you to Larry’s room” The old man said.

Larry’s room was small. It had a roll top desk with a cuckoo clock on the wall. Larry was perhaps expecting a visitor. The old man introduced us, and we said hello. I noticed a scar on Larry’s cheek. Must be some accident I said to myself.

I sat on a stool next to his bed. I told him about myself. The old man added that I am a globe trotter.

“Uncle, I would really love to listen to your travel experiences “Larry requested me. His voice was deep. He had an intense gaze as he looked into my eyes.

I described Larry about my travels. The exciting road journey between Casablanca to Rabat, the boat trip between Ho Chi Minh to Vung Tau, the stay at the penguin islands near Melbourne, the rainforests of Brazil and the glittering snow peaks of Himalayas from Dalhousie. I must have done a good narrative because I saw Larry excited and was listening to me attentively without any interruption. He was perhaps imagining that he was in my place and was seeing the world through my eyes. His intense gaze and attention made me a bit uncomfortable.

I saw that the old man was happy that I met Larry.

“Where is your next travel Uncle?” Larry asked as I was about to leave. “Well next month I will be in Austria and in another three months later a travel to China is due”. I did not want to get in further details.

Larry was impressed. “I am so jealous Uncle. Wish I could come along” he sounded serious.

I could understand his feelings.

The old man walked me down to the gate. The dog on the carpet moved his eyes noticing me leave the house.

You made Larry so happy today Mr. The old man said while opening the gate.

I crossed the street and reached my room in the guest house. I went to the bathroom for a shower and looked into the mirror

I saw Larry’s face instead of mine. What happened? Was I hallucinating again?

I went close to the mirror to see my (or Larry’s?) face.

I noticed that scar.

I thought of running back to the old man for the explanation and ask back my face.

Then I remembered the significance of the Portuguese sign board

“ goods once taken are not returned”

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And friends – Don’t get scared. Its all imagination