Change the Lens and the Climate will change


World leaders are meeting this week in Paris (COP21) to discuss and agree on collective  actions to be taken to combat Climate Change. I don’t know whether the 10oC weather in Paris is going to be conducive to the discussions on the 2oC plus issue, especially to the  warm and warming country like India

The UN Environment Programme (UNEP) published a report showing that global emissions levels should not exceed 48 gigatonnes (GT) of carbon dioxide equivalent by  2025, and 42 GT by 2030 to avoid crossing the change of 2oC on average above pre-industrial temperatures. The 2oC threshold is regarded by scientists as the limit of  safety, beyond which the ravages of climate change – such as droughts, floods, heat waves  and sea level rise – are likely to become catastrophic and irreversible.

Think about rise in our body temperature by 20C – isn’t it enough to feel feverish? So for the planet earth a 20C rise is like an influenza hit by viral infection that may not be easy to handle through conventional medications such as a crocin or metacin. Perhaps even the antibiotics may not work!

One of the medicines to combat the ‘Planet Carbon Fever’ is taking pledges, known as Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs). INDCs are likely to lead to emissions of 53 to 58 GT of carbon dioxide equivalent in 2025, and between 54 and 59 GT in 2030. The task in Paris will be to convert these INDCs into harder commitments. Idea is to get the 2030 projected aggregate to 50 billion tonnes or lower, and then set the world on a trajectory to net zero carbon emissions by 2100.

Afforestation has been one of the commonly expressed commitments across the INDCs. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) estimates that sequestration through afforestation would require up to twice the landmass of Africa to stay below 20C. That is just not possible. We therefore need multiple interventions. The National  Governments will have to go much further in their pledges to limit future carbon dioxide emissions.


But the root, we all know, is overconsumption and that is more about a self-pledge and not about INDC.

I wonder how much will the carbon footprint be of the Paris COP21 itself. I am sure someone not attending the meeting is calculating!

I don’t particularly like the term INDC as it is difficult to pronounce. It is even more difficult to remember its expansion. And the terms ‘intended’ and ‘determined’ are complex to comprehend and communicate to a lay person


Clearly, the INDCs will require regular re-appraisals, probably every five years, to know  the progress. This would be a new departure, as the history of UN-brokered deals on climate change to date has been a stop-start process, with major conferences – such as  Kyoto in 1997 and Copenhagen in 2009. The GHG accounting business will certainly flourish if not the actions.

You should carefully read India’s submission of INDC. It’s a 38-page report that outlines  projects, programs and policy measures that India intends to implement along with  climate-related financing. While all key aspects such as renewable energy, energy  efficiency, green infrastructure, sustainable mobility, smart cities and climate finance are detailed, the section on pollution abatement is rather poor and not stated in context. It  appears a bit out-of-place showing the weakness of Environment Ministry as against other Ministries, especially the Ministry of Power. You will also see that most actions proposed are ‘obvious’ or already committed or initiated in the country, independent of the call on climate change. The drivers for these actions are economic, taking into account the status of national and world resources, addressing poor infrastructure (transport, energy and infrastructure in cities) and political priorities. Our climate change related commitments are thus essentially like old wine in new bottle! INDCs of other countries  also follow the same pattern. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing assuming that a ‘laundry list’ of interventions will now get integrated and will be operated in a mission mode.

We must not forget that business has been and will be influencing the national  governments during the negotiations. Nexus between energy, socio-economic development and climate change is rather complex and business is bound to play a rather
slippery and changing role. One does see therefore that most of the intentions expressed by business are cosmetic commitments. The oil industry for instance is emphasizing that natural gas – fracked or otherwise – is the future of clean energy, despite evidence showing that methane leakage during the extraction process can cause more damage to the atmosphere than coal. ExxonMobil has put an internal price on carbon, between $60 and $80 a tonne but they’re still investing in the use of fossil fuels. Response from multinational business houses is going to be like a chameleon changing colors, given the unevenness in the INDC and the skewed geopolitical context. I agree that I sound rather skeptical here.

The business implications of climate change have reached the level of grass-root farmers.  The Global Alliance for Climate Smart Agriculture in Paris for instance is supposed to help small farmers adapt to climate change while reducing emissions. The Alliance has defined ‘climate smart agriculture’ to add a new green tint to business as usual, promoting the same practices that have led to deforestation, land grabs, biodiversity loss and soaring emissions. The Alliance seems to be hijacked however, by synthetic fertilizer companies  like Yara and Monsanto. More than 350 civil society groups are calling on COP21 to reject the concept and the Alliance, labelling it ‘green-washed false solutions’.

So the COP21 in Paris is not just a discussion between the political leaders of governments  but a complex maze of hidden forces triggered by the business of the powerful, mighty NGOs and researchers/academicians who often provide conflicting information.

There is a lot for the business to win and lose due to actions on climate change. The  renewable energy sector will particularly be on the rise and pressure on fossil fuel based  energy generation is expected to increase closer to 2030. Investors are showing their preferences too, especially towards renewable energy.

Innovation to address climate change is a hope. Here we will see emergence of special  funds and long-term partnerships being struck between the academia and the industry in  the form of business models. In India we have more than 40 research parks today but none of these parks are looking at producing low-carbon materials, goods/products and services, with combating Climate Change as the umbrella theme. We will certainly need to work on capitalizing innovation while meeting the emission reduction targets. Make in India is therefore very relevant and critical.


spoke to my Professor friend about my concerns and observations and asked him whether he was attending the COP21 on behalf of the Government of India. He said indeed he is but this time he has a major role to play as he has been appointed by the UNFCC. I was excited to know more, so we met at our usual coffee shop.

“First of all, on the logistics front,” said the Professor. “All COP21 participants will be staying at hotels with lowest carbon footprints. These hotels have been identified through the application of a comprehensive software application provided by the World Resources Institute followed by site visits conducted by KPMG. To prepare for the event, all staff at these hotels are given an orientation program on Climate Change by Winrock International so that they can understand and converse with the participants in the  ‘carbon language’. The hotel menus have been decarbonized (low-carb diet essentially) by experts from the FAO. All participants will use public transport. Taxi drivers have been instructed not to take any participants to the conference venue. The idea is to lower the  carbon footprint of the event to the extent possible. These are all my ideas,” the Professor paused to light his cigar.

Oh, you are really looking at all the details I said

There are many such details that I have worked on as regards the venue, but I would rather tell you about the major step that we have taken. It’s a secret that will guarantee success  in the negotiations – of course all in the interest of this planet.

The Professor was now speaking in a serious tone. So I asked for a second round of coffee.

“One of the major reasons for conflicts and arguments at such meetings is the lack of  common vision. Further some leaders are either short-sighted and remain so – causing an  obstacle to the long-term thinking and understanding of climate change. Some leaders  have a blurred vision and some have color blindness so what they often see is not real!  Their suggestions and arguments remain irrelevant.

To correct this situation, we have opened a state-of-the-art eye clinic at the COP21 venue  right at the registration counter. Services of the clinic are free and those who use these  services will get a free pass to some of the best cabarets in Paris such as Lido, Crazy Horse  etc. This is an added attraction.

(I started imagining Lido full of climate-sensitive people attending the second show.)


(Eye Clinic at COP21 for Vision Correction)

The Professor continued

“In the clinic, we will examine the eyes of every participant, see his/her nationality and  INDC and provide or change the lenses to correct his/her vision. Visions of all participants  with myopia (shortsightedness) will be corrected with appropriate lenses. Participants  who wear trifocals or bifocals will be given a progressive lens. Progressive lenses have a smooth progression of power, enabling the wearer to see at intermediate distances as well as near and far. We expect that after changing the lens the participants will take progressive steps towards implementation of their INDCs. Essentially, these participants  will take a balanced position for 2030, 2050 and 2100 scenarios and not just focus on 2030.

For business honchos, we will be offering photochromic lenses that automatically darken  when exposed to sunlight, eliminating the need for separate sunglasses. Using these lenses, the business tycoons will be able to manage their transition to different  geographies, while meeting their personal or business pursuits.

I suspect most influential NGOs are color blind so I will be providing them Enchroma Red-Green lenses.

For economies in transition, I have proposed polarized lenses with antireflective coating  or blue light protection that reduces glare reflected off surfaces, making images appear sharper and clearer. Participants from transitional economies often suffer from a blurred  vision due to astigmatism.

For troubled economies, I have recommended polycarbonate lenses that are resilient and  impact-resistant. These leaders need such a lens as they are really on a roller coaster of
internal conflicts and wars that are unnecessary.

Then there will be an eye surgery unit that will fix problems of Presbyopia (age-related  long sight), Cataracts and Glaucoma. Again no charges will be levied and the vision will be restored or corrected.

This is wonderful Professor. I said “by changing the lens and restoring the vision of the  participants to what it should be, you will certainly influence the outcome of COP21.”

“Keep this a secret,” the Professor extinguished his cigar and said.

“Well, so far so good. I wanted however, your advice. What lenses should I recommend for  Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Environment Minister Prakash Javadekar?”

I decided to settle the bill as perhaps this was an easier option than answering the question.

(cover image sourced from )


Green Washing: A Step towards Sustainability


Mayor of Mumbai called me urgently on a Sunday morning. His interview was scheduled in the evening with Times Now. This interview was to be a big breaking news.

In the interview, Mayor was to make a major announcement regarding actioning sustainability for the city of Mumbai. The proposed action was a secret and no one knew Mayors mind. Before giving the interview however, Mayor wanted to consult me. After all he was to face Times Now’s Arnab Goswami.

After the initial pleasantries, Mayor asked “Dr Modak, do you have a washing machine at home?” I said “Yes, I do but it’s rather old now. I need to buy a new one”.

Mayor asked “In that case which washing machine would you buy?” I did not understand the relevance of this question to the interview or to Arnab Goswami.

I said “I would buy the cheapest. Or the one that gives a deal or a discount e.g. Buy a Samsung washing machine and get 50% discount on a microwave”

The Mayor wasn’t pleased with my (practical) answer. He looked a bit disappointed.

“What if were to ask you to choose between a Top loading and Front-loading washing machine?

Given my problem of back pain and bending difficulty due to spondylitis, I said that I will prefer to buy a Top loading washing machine. But I wondered how come the Mayor picked up these technical terms. May be a LG salesman visited him recently

Mayor continued “Do you know that Front Loading Washing Machines use 40 to 60% less water, 30 to 50% less energy and 50 to 70% less detergent than the top-loaders! These machines cost a bit more but if you considered “life cycle costs” then the front loading  machines will be cheaper and environment & energy friendly”

I told the Mayor that this fact is well known, In Europe, more than 90% of washing machines are front-loaders, compared with less than 5% in the U.S. Americans are essentially dumb or insensitive or consumptive people. Europeans are not because they simply cannot afford to be ignorant. Indian’s are everything of the above.

Currently, the washing machine market in India is estimated to be about 30% of the total Rs 16,000-crore home appliances market, which is of about Rs 5,000 crore.  An estimated 2.5 million new washing machines are sold in the market every year. The front loading washing machine category contributes only10% of the overall washing machine market.

Mayor read out this statistics from a flyer that was on his table by IFB. IFB is one of the major manufacturer of front loading washing machines

Imagine if all washing machines were of Front loading type in Mumbai. Mumbai has some 5 million families. Let us assume that 20% of these families have washing machines. If used every day, this would amount to a water consumption of 50 m3 a year per family. Now instead of a top loading machine if front loading machines are used, then this would amount to a reduction of at least 10 m3 of water consumption a year. This would lead  to saving of at least 10 million m3 of fresh water and a reduction of 8 million mof wastewater. Incidentally, we supply 250 million mof water every year Mumbai, then there will be at least  4% water use reduction. If front loaders are promoted or made mandatory then this saving could easily reach a double digit figure crossing 10%.

Mayor was ready with such calculations.  Impressive I thought.

I told him that he should highlight the energy benefits as well. Front loading machines consume 30 to 50% less energy per load. So there will be less consumption of electricity, lower emissions of Greenhouse Gases (GHG) and more importantly saving in moneys.

The typical top-loader machine spins at about 600 rpm (revolutions per minute). Many front-loading machines spin faster -1000 rpm to 1600 rpm. This forces more water out of the washing. Therefore, front loaders reduce drying time and energy input needed for drying. Of course natural drying should be preferred to save electricity

“So what’s going to be the breaking news Mr. Mayor” I asked

Well, I am proposing the following. For the next 6 months, front loading washing machines will be promoted. Taxes on these machines will be lower than top loaders. In the next six months, I will organize a ban on the top loading machines. No retail white goods shop will be able to stock a top loading machine. There will be surprise raids and if a top loader is found, then there will be heavy fines levied. In a year, you would find that 80% of the washing machine users will be front loading category. Instead preaching sustainability on the concept, I would rather like to be focused and specific

That’s amazing move Mr. Mayor I said. And it’s rather bold. No city in the world has such an action plan. Tell Arnab that Green Washing should be the first step towards Mumbai’s Sustainability.

Mayor was pleased with my statement – he liked it and noted it down. “I will say exactly this – and you phrased it very well for me.” He thanked me profusely.

I left Mayors bungalow and was driving home. On my way, I saw an outlet of Vijay Sales – one of the large white goods retail chains in Mumbai. I stopped by to see how people select washing machines.

In the section of washing machines, I saw mostly women. Men were somewhere else – in the TV, mobile phone and computer sections – watching TV programs for their entertainment and asking some stupid questions to the salesmen.

I asked the woman who had decided to buy a front loading machine. “Madam, what is the advantage of this machine? “ The woman first looked at me suspiciously and when convinced of my innocence said “Only this model fits into the space I have in my “passage” between the kitchen and the toilet. No other model fits! I was disappointed as I thought she would tell me the advantage of reduced water and energy consumption and her commitment to sustainability

I reached home and called my Professor Friend. As usual he had a new point to make.

It’s just not the machine, but a lot depends on how you use the machine. Professor said. This matters significantly in machine’s “use phase”. Men in the house in particular need to be trained. A recent study reveals that more than half (58 %) of British men ‘can’t use a washing machine properly’ because they find the panel of the machine ‘confusing’. According to this research, 16 to 24 year olds are most reluctant to do their own laundry, the most popular excuse being not knowing what buttons to press (40%). So even the best washing machines with good water and energy efficiency do not get optimally used! Tell me how many of us, read the book of instructions (that is written in six languages) or ask for a demo of the washing machine – whether top loading or front loading. (See

We often make a wrong choice of the capacity of the machine, forgetting family size and requirements. We tend to underload or overload the machine and generally latter.  Overloading damages the drum bearings and belt. An overloaded washing machine fails to clean fabric properly because there is not enough room for movement in washer and so detergent and water cannot reach evenly to every garment.

I thought Professor made an important point. We need to learn how to use the washing machines properly – mere technology perspective is not enough to practice sustainability

The Professor continued

And did you know that the type of detergent is different for front load and top load. Wrong detergent choice can lead to multiple wash cycles to wash clothes properly leading to wastage of water and electricity. Always use the manufacturer recommended detergent to wash clothes.

Conventional detergents are comprised of a concoction of fragrances, endocrine disruptors, neurotoxins and potent cancer-causing chemicals. Most detergents have signature fragrances which are designed to impregnate and stay in clothes. The so called “aroma” of the washing chemicals can be hazardous.  According to research by the University of Washington, when scented laundry detergents and fabric softeners are used, dryer vents emit more than 25 volatile organic compounds (VOCs) per load, many of which are classified as hazardous air pollutants. Oddly, detergents with less hazardous chemicals have lower cleaning efficiency (See Comparative Study of Detergents in India-A Step towards More Sustainable Laundry Meena Khetrapala et al at .

I was amazed with Professor’s inputs. I decided to call up the Mayor and update him immediately with this information so that he can make interesting points in the interview. But by then the interview had already begun.

Arnab was asking questions to the Mayor on the water and energy related woes in the Mumbai city. The threat to city’s sustainability was brought out. Mr. Mayor fielded all these questions. He then  elaborated about his idea of focusing on the washing machines, reasons why front loading machines were important and how the switch could help to achieve major reduction in water and energy consumption with the co-benefit of reduction in the GHGs. He made a strong environmental and business case. Finally, he rolled out his one year plan of the “phase out”. He even made a case that his suggestion should be included as a part of India’s INDC (Intended Nationally Determined Contributions) that will be discussed in the COP meeting in Paris. I was really impressed with Mayors extrapolation of the idea to the national and international scales.

He ended with a statement Green  Washing should be the first action step towards Mumbai’s Sustainability.

I however saw that Arnab Goswami was not impressed. He said he does not like impositions to the public on which washing machine to use. “That’s utter infringement of consumers freedom” he said. Sustainability cannot be forced upon or legislated.

Then with his characteristic pause, he asked “May I ask you Sir what happens to the top loading washing machines that you will phase out? Where will they go? Will they find a place in Mumbai’s slums or suburbs or at the landfill? Do you have an end of use of washing machine plan in place?”

The Mayor was really uncomfortable with this question and was not able to answer. He looked stunned with this “googly”

As if this was not enough, Arnab asked the Mayor in his high pitch voice. “And what about the fact that your son-in-law is on the Board of Directors of front loader washing machine maker – IFB, Are you not hand in glow to promote IFB’s front loading machines on the garb of sustainability? This is not green wash –but indeed  a hog wash. The Nation would like to know” He demanded

Mr. Mayor’s face turned white with sweat on his forehead. He muttered “there is something wrong in the transmission of sound ” He  opted to exit the interview.

And that turned out to be the real big breaking news!


Zero, Positive or Negative?




Most Pollution Control Boards in India are now insisting that industries meet the directive on Zero Liquid Discharge (ZLD). So is the judiciary.

The idea of ZLD is to not let polluting liquids be discharged into the environment.

ZLD is directed to industries in locations where there is no receiving water body for evacuating the effluents or the receiving water bodies are already severely polluted. We ask for ZLD here as we don’t want to burden these water bodies anymore!

ZLD implies that effluents are ‘contained’ within the plant itself and intake of freshwater for production is minimal or near zero. Hence ZLD is often imposed on industries at locations where there is poor water availability or the neighborhood is a water-stressed area. In most cases, ZLD leads to 90- 92% water recovery, which reduces input water required by industrial processes by as much as 80%.

Sometimes, ZLD is directed as a part of River Action Plans. For example, under the Clean  Ganga Action Plan, industries located in the critical stretches of the river have been asked to be ZLD compliant. All effluents must be recycled to 100%. But is this the right solution? We need to ask.

Normally one would expect that for a ZLD compliant industry, no liquid discharge will emanate from its premises. So if you walked around the compound wall of the industry or
viewed the industry on Google Earth then you should not ideally see any drain flowing out except the storm water drainage which cannot be intercepted. Essentially, the sewage and effluent generated at the industrial plot cannot be released if the industry wants to be ZLD
compliant. Can this be achieved by deep and secured injection of effluents underground? Some industries do that. Should this be permitted?

Unfortunately, there is no operational definition of what is meant by ZLD. If you know one, I will be keen to know.

I have been asking some of the industries in Gujarat about their experience with implementing ZLD systems. Most of them say that ZLD systems were very expensive to  invest in and operate. Accordingly to Sustainability Outlook, a ZLD plant operating at 5 Million Liters per day will incur between INR 500-600 million (USD 4-5mn) in CAPEX and spend INR 15,000-25,000 (USD 250- 400) as OPEX per day. Thus, the treated and recycled water costs will work out to approximately INR 200/kl, while the cost of water extractionfrom the ground or from the municipality would be between INR 30-60 per kiloliter. Consequently you will often see compromises being made in the material specs of the ZLD units to save capital costs. This results in problems of early corrosion, lower life of membranes etc. leading to poor performance, non-compliance and high operating  costs. For ZLD, short cuts on cutting costs don’t seem to work.

The technologies commonly used in ZLD systems such as Reverse Osmosis (RO) and Multiple Effect Evaporators (MEE) are the main energy guzzlers. If we accounted for the consumption of fossil fuels and air emissions arising from pumping, heating and combustion, then on a 3600 evaluation, the ZLD solutions may not be environmentally sound and in fact could lead to high carbon footprints. Further, we cannot forget the challenge of the management of residues (salt and sludges) – costs of residue management (destruction/transport) for a ZLD plant are exorbitantly high!

In this case, it will be interesting to carry out material and energy balance calculations for the ZLD plants. Such evaluations, I am sure must, have been done by industries internally but there is a need for these assessments to be conducted in the style of environmental accounting following a life cycle framework.

These independent assessments should ideally be sponsored by the Pollution Control Boards with outcomes discussed with industries in workshops. Indeed, there is a need to
demystify the ‘good and ugly’ part of the ZLD solutions (You may want to read article by Rajakumari, S.P. / Kanmani, S. titled Environmental life cycle assessment of zero liquid discharge treatment technologies for textile industries, Tirupur – A case study in Journal of Scientific and Industrial Research; 67, 6; 461-467)

Whether ZLD is applicable and relevant for Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) is a question. While on individual basis, ZLD for an SME may be almost impossible to achieve, but on a collective basis, SMEs could achieve ZLD. ZLD at the Common Effluent Treatment Plants (CETPs) of Tirupur in Tamil Nadu is an example where effluents are recycled from the CETP back to the member SMEs.

To develop an economical ZLD solution, key strategies are– segregation, chemical/material substitution, process optimization/change for reduction in effluent loads, followed by  selective reuse, recycling and recovery operations. It’s the ‘systems approach’ that is needed. If implemented in the right spirit and rigor, an imposition of ZLD could trigger cleaner production opportunities for the industry resulting into profitability and proactive compliance. In all of the above, the choice of technology (in process in particular) and economics (especially on chemical and water recovery) plays an important role.

Innovations are possible through ZLD. But then these possibilities are not commonly  observed and reported across industries for the purpose of guidance and inspiration. ZLD is often limited as an add-on or a ‘tertiary’ treatment unit. This perception must change  as ‘end of pipe’ driven ZLD systems are often seen as economically unviable over the long run. Unfortunately, most ZLD solution providers focus on the end of pipe approach and so does the industry. Process optimization and process changes followed by recovery &  recycling should be the focus of ZLD systems.

Many a times, we see that the economics of ZLD is not favorable because of the use of certain ‘dirty’ processes and chemicals (salts) and because of the ‘scale’ on which the industry operates. If ZLD is imposed on such industries then the industries would rather shut down instead of attempting implementation of ZLD. When backed by the judiciary, such closures do happen. Some argue that in this process, we achieve the goal of ‘ecological modernization’ to benefit the environment over the long term with the  negative of loss of jobs to the workers! So there is something to gain (positive) and something to lose (negative)

Should a central financing scheme be put in place for implementation of ZLD plants is therefore a question to ponder over. And should such a scheme have components of grants and subsidized loans, especially for SMEs? But will this not go against the ‘polluter pays’ principle?

We badly need a national workshop on ZLD to get all key stakeholders involved. We do see conferences where the focus is ZLD technologies but the policy, economics and the total cost (environmental) accounting perspective are rarely discussed. We need to know  whether in achieving the ‘zero’ in the ZLD, we are creating something negative or positive for the industry, environment and the society.

Cover image sourced from

For an insightful reading on ZLD visit


Everybody should do an Angioplasty


(sourced from

In 2007, after I suffered from a cardiac angina, my cardiologist Dr Rajani said “Well Dr Modak, you have a problem but you don’t need to do angioplasty right now. It’s not an emergency situation. However if you are not going to change your life style, and continue to follow the same mess you are in, then I recommend you an angioplasty. It will be a day’s stay at Hinduja Hospital and I will perform for you the “radial artery access” method, something most recent. I agreed as I knew I won’t be changing my lifestyle just for the sake of my heart!

The surgery was performed the very next day. I was wheeled into the Operation Theater (OT) in the morning.  There were stories around how something went wrong to someone while ballooning and how the stent did not work eventually and how an emergency bye-pass surgery had to be performed. My wife and children stayed outside the OT – all tensed.

While entering the OT, I understood that finally I have to face the reality of life all alone – and all by myself. My wife and children are not going to be around for those crucial moments. This was a great realization to me and it changed my outlook to life.

I enjoyed the angioplasty procedure. It was a great exposure to the technology and I was simply amazed! Dr Rajani and his team had a great sense of humor as we chatted. The anesthetist asked me some stupid questions and the needle got in from my wrist without any pain. The stent was placed on ballooning in just 10 minutes and I was out of the OT in a total time of just 25 minutes, back to my world. “You are fine for the next 8 years” – Dr Rajani said. “We will put another stent later if required”

When I got home, a number of my friends came to see me. Surya Chandak, a good friend, working with UNEP called me from Osaka. He had gone through two angioplasties and one by-pass surgery. Quite a seasoned guy he was. “Welcome to the club Sir’ he said – and then ended the conversation with an advice “Prasad, now onwards listen to your body. Do exactly what your body tells you”. I decided to follow his advice.  But, as I thought more, I realized that I should do what my mind tells and not just the body.

For years, I have been a circular face person (read the subject of PSYCHO-GEOMETRICS if you are interested to know about the shapes of the faces)– I never wanted to be outspoken, I would always try to “adjust”, be as much friendly and considerate as possible, and never say anything or do that’s on top of my mind. After the angioplasty, I realized that there wasn’t much time left for me, and if this is what’s going to be then what the heck – why shouldn’t I do what my mind tells? Why waste time in the diplomacies?

I started speaking my mind. I would now tell a student “what rubbish are you saying?” right in the first five minutes of presentation rather than telling over an hour “good work, interesting, could have been better, why don’t you consider ….” etc. When chairing sessions in the conferences, I would now stop the speaker bluntly and ring the bell when he/she would cross the allotted time, despite the seniority or having titles such as IAS. While negotiating projects and fees with clients who used to be nasty, petty and most of the times thick headed, I would simply get up and walk out saying “not interested”.

I bought two large A2 size sheets. On one sheet I wrote in CAPS what I like and on the other what I don’t. I placed these sheets on the walls of my office and home as a constant reminder to me and others. (Believe me – This is not easy. Try out to experience how difficult it is!)

Through exposition of these two sheets, I stood fearless and stark naked in the eyes of the society. Life got simplified.

So many times in our life we hold our emotions, don’t express our aspirations as clearly possible or don’t vent out what we want to say – candidly so – that you love someone or hate something. Instead we say contrary, out of sheer politeness; or stay unspoken or don’t action timely. We don’t live free.

Later we say “Wish I could…”

We then repent. But most of the times, it’s too late.

I realized that despite my angioplasty, I wasn’t still able to reach the top most stage of free expression, courage and outspokenness. It’s like I wasn’t able to fly over the lake.

Some forty years ago, I had written a stupid letter of adoration to a classmate who had immensely charmed me. I thought she would have long junked my letter and forgotten about – as she chose to marry someone else and has been living happily.

Very recently, to my surprise, she sent me a scanned copy of this very letter asking whether I still remembered this mischief. So, she had indeed preserved that letter! Was it just as a “record to keep” or was it a “treasure of a fond memory”? I felt like calling her up to ask  – but I didn’t have courage enough. I remained shut.

I told Dr Rajani that angioplasty was not that very effective. He jokingly said that the next time he will place in my heart a new chemical stent that will do the required magic with its chemicals and take me to the final stage of courage and Nirvana! (My eight years of angioplasty are just over – may be time for that stent)

I was in Stockholm a few months ago for a conference. I was walking along with a Swedish Professor friend of mine. We have been old friends for years. It was early morning near the port. The sun was rising in the sky with cool breeze around. Weather was great. As we were walking, a Swedish girl, in the mid-twenties showed up in shorts jogging towards us. “Oh hello Professor, so good to see you after such a long time” she stopped and greeted us. She was Professors ex-PhD student.

Professor first hugged her, then held her firmly in his arms and all of a sudden gave her a deep kiss. The girl was shocked. This kiss was serious – showing more relationship than just a student. It took some moments. I wished someone was around to play a cool piece of music on a violin to match the grace of that kiss. I stood next to the two – simply dazed.


When they were done, they exchanged a few words warmly in Swedish and the girl left.

I couldn’t resist but ask my friend “When did you do your angioplasty?”.

It was now his turn to get shocked. “How did you know?” He exclaimed

I only smiled.

Sitting in the Aircraft


Southwest is the launch Customer for the new seats represented here on the new Boeing 737 MAX aircraft.

(cover image sourced from

You can judge a person based on the seat he or she chooses in the aircraft.

Some travelers choose window seat – because they want to be aloof and private and look outside the window during take-off and landing. Some take window seat because they want to take pictures two thousand feet above and put on the Facebook.

Those who choose aisle seat want to stretch their legs in the galley and visit the loo more often.

Some choose a window seat mainly to work. They work on their laptops without any disturbance. These are typical business executives who are finishing their PowerPoint before reaching the next destination.

And there are some letches who want to take aisle seat just to brush their shoulders with the air hostesses who are busy walking around. The girls do their best to avoid these kind of aisle seat passengers but it’s so difficult at times, especially when the travelers consider this lugging as part of the price of the ticket.  You see them pretending that they are sleeping. With their eyes closed and bodies leaning towards the galley, they look like crocodiles.

Those passengers in the middle seat are clearly not the frequent travelers. They get these seats because they don’t book the seat in advance or don’t know that booking a seat in advance is possible. So when they check in late, they get the middle seat allotted and travel with passengers on both sides. They sit with elbows squeezed. For long haul flights, middle seat can be a pain and requires a mind-set that can accept the situation.

Then there are passengers who like to take the first row. This has some advantage of getting out early, have a bit more leg space and face no inconvenience when you dine. Sometimes, you land up with someone insensitive in the front row who reclines the seat when you are eating, jamming the tray on your stomach. For people with big tummy like me, this is rather irritating and you have to make request to the front seat passenger by tapping on the shoulder.

But smartest are those who book the emergency row. This row provides the maximum leg room space. Passengers sitting in the emergency row look most seasoned and professional travelers. The only pain is that they have to listen to the one minute talk by the air hostess on how to open the door during emergency.  It’s a pity that most of the times, these passengers don’t listen to the instructions.

Seats in today’s modern aircrafts can be pretty sophisticated. It takes a while sometimes to figure out what happens when you press a button as something contrary happens especially while handling the footrest.  You feel stupid when you have to ask for help from the air hostess, especially to make your bed flat. You see experienced business and first class passengers who seem to know everything about the secret of maneuvering the seat.

The exciting part of the travel is however the passenger sitting next to you. That makes your travel interesting and sometimes memorable.

I recall I was travelling from Bangkok to Mumbai on Air India. I got into the aircraft, took my seat and was immersed reading the reports that I was to review. I didn’t even look around and bother who is sitting next to me.

I soon realized that many passengers were queuing next to my seat and were kind of peeping. I wondered why. It was bit annoying too. I turned to my fellow passenger sitting on the next seat and asked what was happening. The man said “Indians love cricket”. I looked at the passenger again – It was Sir Vivian Richards!! No wonder. Sir Richards smiled and said “You don’t seem to be the cricket type”

As we got into conversation, it so happened that our aircraft engine developed a snag (typical of Air India!) and we were asked to deport and move to a hotel  As Sir Vivian Richards and I got into the bus, all passengers stood up and gave him a standing ovation. That was really touching and so warm to experience! Sir Richards and I were allotted a room to share for few hours during this wait. Sir Richards educated me on the subject of cricket and did so gladly!

I remember a flight to Delhi. I was on a window seat.  The aisle seat next to me was not occupied and the aircraft was about to depart. And just then the last passenger entered. He was Amitabh Bachhan in a white kurta and red tripunda on his forehead that we typically put after a pooja. He looked amazing.

He then reached me and spoke in his trademark voice if I could switch the seat due to security reasons. Of course I gladly did and we switched the seats.

We chatted then during the two hour journey. I gave him a bit of a discourse on environment. And poor him listened to me attentively and showed a lot of interest. Don’t know whether it was part of his acting skills or his genuine interest! but he was extremely warm, polite and sophisticated.

Sophistication reminds me of my ride with Mr. Ratan Tata. I was on a flight from Zurich to Mumbai and was booked on business class. Due to some hitch in the booking, I got upgraded to the first class with a seat next to Mr. Ratan Tata. When Mr. Tata asked me what do I do – I answered that I work as an environmental consultant. He exclaimed ‘An environmental consultant flying first class – you must be doing very well”.  (I wish that was true)

The Swiss airhostess came with a trolley with some of the rare wines with platter of cheese. I was thinking of making best of this upgrade by sampling some of these wines. Just then Mr. Tata said to the airhostess “Oh, not for us, Dr Modak and I are really tired of the wining in the flights and we would rather have some still water instead”. I was speechless, shocked and frustrated with this kind of sophistication.

After half hour, Mr. Tata went to sleep. I promptly called the airhostess and said that I have changed my mind! And the airhostess obliged – generously.

I was in the lounge at the Bahrain airport, on my way from Cairo, heading towards Mumbai on Gulf Air. I saw a very handsome tall person in the lounge with a lady on the wheelchair next to him. Both were noticeable. I was wondering where they were heading to. I was just curious. I left the lounge early to do some shopping.

When I got into the aircraft, I saw that the man and the lady were already there. I had a window seat and in fact the tall handsome man had a seat right next to me.  The lady was sitting in the aisle seat in the middle row.

As soon as I sat, the Man held my hand and said “Nothing like sitting next to the Doctor – I am so relieved”.  I was surprised and was about to clarify that I am Doctor of Engineering and not Doctor of Medicine! The Man however continued “I insisted to the Gulf Air that we get a seat next to a Doctor and they found you in the passenger list. My sister who is sitting next to me is suffering from a brain blood clot. She fell down from the stool while drying clothes and the fall led to a head injury. She now needs to be operated on emergency as the Gamma Knife facility is available at the Hinduja Hospital in Mumbai.

I understood the gravity of the situation.

“Doctor, do you think my sister should raise her feet?“The Man asked. I did not know what to say!

“Let her do whatever is comfortable” I muttered. And the lady obeyed and raised her feet

The aircraft took off. We chatted for a while and the Man told me more about the accident. I was simply counting time to Mumbai and praying that no emergency takes place.

I tried to sleep. The Man wouldn’t let me. Please Doctor, can you stay awake for me? For my sister. He urged.

He then said “I suppose you know who I am”. When I said No he was surprised. All know me he said. I am Captain Raju.

[Captain Raju is one of the famous and successful Malayalam actors in India. I don’t speak Malayalam and nor see Malayalam movies. I later learnt that Captain Raju saw my name in the passenger list as Dr M. Prasad (not Dr Prasad Modak) and thought that I was a Malyali]

We landed Mumbai without any untoward happening. I rushed out of the airport and saw banners of welcome to Captain Raju. Hundreds of his fans waiting to see him…

After this episode, I gave strict instructions to my travel agent not to put my name as Dr Prasad Modak while booking. I thought – Prasad Modak was just enough!