Three Interesting Interviews

ThreeInterviews

[This post narrates my interview experiences. I am penning these experiences for the interest of young professionals. A little long post, but I hope you will enjoy this narration]

I was about to clear my Master’s degree in Environmental Science and Engineering at IIT Bombay. It was November, 1980.

I decided to start looking for jobs.

My Father was a Public Health Engineer and had built several water and sewage treatment plants across the country. He had a pretty low opinion about IIT Professors. He used to say that all you are getting there is a degree of IIT brand and a great learning from the hostel experience but no understanding related to practice and the “real” technology. He used to have a great laugh when I used to tell him that I will design an Activated Sludge Sewage Treatment Plant with Lawrence-McCarty equations and optimize size of the treatment plant using Dynamic Programming.

So when I asked my Father about his advice for the job, he said, go to S P Unwala of Candy Filters (Patterson Candy) or R Natarajan of Dorr Oliver (Hindustan Dorr Oliver) and talk to them.

S P Unwala was one of the top experts in the field of Water Treatment and a wizard of Declining Rate Filters. I met him in his Mahalaxmi Chambers office. Unwala said “So you are M V Modak’s son and N V Modak’s (NVM) Nephew (N V Modak was my uncle who built the Vaitarana Dam that supplies water to the city of Mumbai – now called the Modak Sagar. NVM also founded CPHERI or NEERI). So, you have the job and I will coach you personally”

I didn’t like his mentioning of the family connection. I had carried a copy of my Masters dissertation “Optimal Design of Wastewater Treatment Plants under Uncertainty” that I was very proud about. I said “Sir, would you like to see my dissertation?”. SP Unwala smiled and said in all politeness “It’s not really relevant. By the way, your salary will be Rs 750 a month, but only as a special case as we generally pay Rs 700. Let me know when can you join?”

The interview ended but I was not very happy with the salary.

I decided to meet R Natarajan at Hindustan Dorr Oliver (HDO). When I spoke to him through his Secretary Wilma for an appointment, he said “So you are M V Modak’ son right? Come on Tuesday next week and we will do all your interviews”.

“Sir, will there be more than one interview?” I got worried and asked Mr. Natarajan.

“Of course, there will be several. At HDO we are very selective” said Mr. Natarajan

I liked this compared to the 5 minutes of chat I had with Mr. S P Unwala. Oh this company is serious about their recruitment – I said to myself.

R Natarajan was busy when I went to see him. In fact he had forgotten that he was to take my interview. He turned few pages of my dissertation.

Well, I don’t want to get into the details – he said this with a friendly grin “I hope you know how to size a surface aerator?” he asked this like a snap question. As I was about to tell him the formulae I would use to size, he interrupted me and showed the HDO catalogue of aerator selection– “Modak, this is how you would size!”

(When I joined HDO, I learnt that Natarajan was an amazing marketing person of those times. He could sell an aerator even without blades and convince the client that blades are moving so fast that you cannot see! I learnt a lot of marketing “tricks” from this warm and friendly person. He is no more today)

R Natarajan

(R Natarajan. When I met him he had already lost half of his hair))

“Well Modak, I am kind of busy right now so let me take you to S R Kotwal of the Sugar Division” Natarajan ushered me to another cabin where a handsome, fair and short person was sitting in a grey suit.

“Boss Kotwal, here is the candidate I was telling you about. Will you please deal with him?” With this introduction, Natarajan disappeared.

I was wondering what would the Head of HDO’s Sugar division ask me about wastewater treatment. And why am I facing this interview with a sugar specialist!

I got shocked however when Mr. Kotwal started asking me all the technical questions and in detail. He discussed with me fundamentals of anaerobiosis, impact of wastewater toxicity on methane generation, typical gas yields and the economics of anaerobic digestion etc. At the end of an hour of grilling, he seemed to be satisfied.

“Your next interview is on the second floor with our Marketing Director, K P Mohandas (KPM) Rao. All the best “– Mr. Kotwal asked his Secretary to show me to KPM’s cabin.

KPM Rao was a vibrant personality, a smart and savvy person with an American accent wearing trendy “half spectacles”.

K P Mohandas Rao

(K P Mohandas Rao – without his half spectacles! He now lives in Santacruz in Mumbai)

When I sat in the chair in front of KPM, he started speaking. He spoke about the environmental pollution control market in India, HDOs market share and how distinct is HDOs equipment and process technology compared to the competitors. This was a long discourse and it went on over 10 minutes

Then he stopped abruptly, stared at me with disappointment, and buzzed Natarajan on the phone “Who is this dumb guy you sent to me? For the last 10 minutes, I have been speaking to him and he never even interrupted me once – how will this guy market HDO? Please don’t show me such raw stuff again”

As he slammed the phone down, he looked at me through his half spectacles treating me like an insect and said “You have a long way to go my friend! Now go and meet TRK”

T R Krishna Rao (TRK) was the Managing Director of HDO. Very smart, intelligent and a terror to everybody. I went to his office and told his Secretary “Mr. K P Mohandas Rao has asked me to see Mr. T R Krishna Rao”. Secretary was eating a sandwich. She said push the door and get in.

I pushed the door and got into TRK’s cabin. It was real cold inside. TRK had his feet on the table with shining black shoes like you see in the Prem Chopra or Ajit movies. He was wearing an expensive tie. He was on an international phone.

T R Krishnarao

(T R Krishna Rao, Last I saw him was 8 years back  jogging at the Priyadarshini Park, Napean Sea Road in Mumbai)

“No, I am not selling my clarifloculators to Cairo” He was almost shouting. “And I don’t like the price offered” He growled. This “conversation” on the phone continued for 5 minutes and I was standing in the chill holding copy of my Masters dissertation.

When he finished, TRK slammed the phone and looked down to me and said “Who the hell are you to get into my cabin without an appointment?”

I was flabbergasted. I told him that I was with KPM for interview and on his asking came to his cabin and the Secretary said that I could get in.

TRK was frowning and I saw him boiling with anger “If my Secretary tells you right now to jump from this window, will you jump?” I was speechless and didn’t know what to say.

He then sternly said. “I am the MD of HDO and I don’t interview kids like you. Anyway, I give you 2 minutes – Sell yourself”

I spoke about myself as much I could in those 2 minutes – of course not mentioning that my Masters dissertation was on Optimal Design of Wastewater Treatment Plants under Uncertainty.

TRK was listening. “Have you finished?” He said this sarcastically and in a tone that I did not like.

“Well, its Natarajan’s business whether to hire you or not. But as you stand today in front of me, you value nothing to us. I don’t think HDO should pay you any salary for the first three months. In fact, I would be asking you to pay us as you know nothing and you will be trained here to learn”

“Now, my Secretary will show you the way out”.

I saw that the Secretary was standing behind me all this time. She had a devilish grin.

I was appointed by HDO the very next week on a salary of Rs 800. I was paid 50 Rs more so that I don’t accept S P Unwala’s offer! I thought that 50 Rs made a huge difference. But S P Unwala was extremely unhappy with my short sightedness. “Wearing a tie and selling equipment? – is this what you want to do?” He told me on the phone. (In the following years I worked closely with Unwala at the Indian Water Works Association. He is now no more but his finesse in the articulation and his great sense of (Parsi) humor is never forgotten)

I later learnt that my Father and TRK were close friends. TRK very much knew that I was to meet him for an interview. In fact, he called my Father at night after the “so called interview” saying that he had “bounced” me off to simply break my IIT ego. He promised my Father that HDO will groom me and teach me technology, commercials and the practice! And HDO indeed did.

During my tenure at the HDO, I managed to sell two 50HP High Speed Floating Aerators. This was HDOs first sale in India. Getting this deal was very important to get pre-qualified for the bid on aerated lagoons of Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai (MCGM) that required more than 100 such aerators. In this deal, I had to put together all the skills such as aggressive marketing, using “knowledge” or technicalities judiciously, do price negotiations and finally use the “influence”.   After the deal was done, I remember TRK called me to his cabin and said how happy he was to see my “transformation”. My salary was doubled to 1600 Rs.

Within 8 months at HDO, I was feeling restless. Marketing as a career did not interest me. I once again spoke to my Father. He asked me to move to consulting (engineering) career and see S V Natu, Retired Chief Engineer of Irrigation at the Government of Maharashtra. Mr. Natu was working as a Consultant with Shah Technical Consultants (STC) post retirement. STC was the design consultant for the water supply and sewerage systems project for the six townships outside Mumbai city and 104 villages. The project had received loan from the World Bank and so all Bank procedures were to be followed, especially on the procurement. Mr. Natu told me to meet the MD of STC, Mahavir Shah (MS).

My colleague Shirish Naik, who was working with Dr Deepak Kantawala’s consulting firm was also looking for a change. So both of us took Mr. Shah’s appointment to get interviewed. Apparently Mr. Natu had spoken good about us and so we were called for the interview right away.

Before the interview, Shirish and I, discussed the salary package we should be asking. Our salaries were around 1600 Rs then. We decided to ask for a minimum of 1800 Rs. and stay absolutely firm.

MS called both of us to his cabin. There were no technical questions asked. There was only a general talk. So we did not get chance to show off our talent, knowledge or experience.  Finally, showing his satisfaction to both of us, MS said in his typical soft and calm voice “The last thing left now is fixing your salaries”. He opened drawer of his table and took out two blank chits of paper and passed on to both of us. “Just put here the number you will be happy with”.  To us this was a strange move, but we knew what to write. Both of us wrote 1800 and returned the chits to MS.

MS took a look at the numbers. We were holding our breath and were ready to “fight”. He pulled out his pen from his pocket and scratched out the numbers 1800 we wrote. Instead he wrote 2000 and passed the chits to us once again. With a warm smile on his face, he said “First learn to understand your market value. You underrated yourselves. You deserve to get more than what you are asking”

We were simply shocked. By offering additional 200 Rs Mr. Shah had simply “bought us”. I think we gave best of our services to STC during our stay. I never forget this strategic countermove of MS in fixing salaries!

At STC, we were put on multiple and varied tasks. We used to be in the field for two days with the Team of surveyors to lay the L-sections of the sewers and locate sites of the water reservoirs. Two days we worked on tender documents of sewage treatment plants and pumping stations with British Consultants from John Taylors. For the remaining two days we worked on DEC-10 Main Frame computer at TIFR to do computer based simulation of water distribution networks (using A G Fowlers well-known FLOW program), prepare bill of quantities and drawings. This required working closely with the draftsmen. So it was a great learning opportunity and gave us a rich experience.

I remember one day MS called me to his cabin and said that I should start working on the design and tender document for the 310 MLD raw water pumping station at Shahad at the outskirts of Kalyan. While handing over a big stack of documents and roll of ammonia print drawings, he said “Modak, you just have 3 weeks for this work”

I had absolutely no clue on how to design pumping stations of this sort and size. While going home, I went to the bookshop I used to buy technical books and purchased the famous Pump Handbook of Karassik. Next week, I visited Mr. Iyer’s office at Voltas, who looked after Vertical Turbine pumps that I thought was the appropriate choice. I knew Iyer from my HDO days. I also met some seniors of MCGM and visited some of the operating Pumping Stations. Everyone was very helpful. And I worked very hard including the weekends.

I walked into MS’s cabin with all my “outputs” – in exactly 3 weeks.  One Mr. Dawyer from Jon Taylors of UK was sitting there. MS introduced me to Mr. Dawyer “Meet Mr. Modak, he is our Mechanical Engineer. He has just completed the first cut design, drawings and draft tender documents for the 310 MLD Shahad Raw Water Pumping Station. Please review”.

I did not know what to say – As soon as Dawyer walked out of MS’s cabin with my “outputs”, I rushed to tell MS “Sir, You know I am not a Mechanical Engineer. I am a Civil Engineer”

There was stone silence in the room.   MS stood up from his chair as if he got an electric shock! “But I always thought that I recruited you as a Mechanical Engineer – didn’t get that you are Civil Engineer in the Interview”. He said this not so much in the same calm tone that he would generally do. I could see some panic and discomfort on this face. “Modak, When I asked you to do this job, you should have told me that doing a pumping station is not your cup of tea” (Looking back I feel that MS was absolutely right)

Next week, Dawyer came back to STC’s office. I was called to MS’s cabin. “Good work Modak” Dawyer said. I think we are pretty close to the final version. Looks like you have designed such Pumping stations before…” He winked and patted me on my back. MS smiled.

While going home that day, MS gave me a lift in his car. He was obviously happy. “I like that you love to take challenges Modak – Do keep it up – but cautiously”, he presented me an expensive pen as a token of appreciation. I have still kept this pen with me as a memory.

I faced my third and last interview of my life at IIT Bombay for the position of Lecturer at the Centre for Environmental Science and Engineering. The panel consisted of 8 experts who bombarded me with several questions. I recall most of the questions were not relevant and were more to show off what they knew.  In front of these experts I was just like a kid. But I did my best in responding while keeping my cool.

In closing, one of the Professors (TK Ghosh of IIT Delhi) pointed out that I was having only 2 years of experience against the requirement of 3 years.

Director A K De asked me “Dr Modak, do you have anything to say?”

I took few seconds to answer.

I said firmly and calmly measuring every word “Sir, are you looking for Integer number of years of experience or the Real number of years of experience? In my two integer years of experience, I think I have managed four real years of experience.  There may be applicants here with six years of integer years of experience for instance but may have only two years of real experience

Director De smiled. The panelists were quiet including Prof TK Ghosh.

In a weeks’ time, I was appointed at IIT Bombay as a Lecturer. I also received a counter offer of interest from IIT Delhi – courtesy Professor T K Ghosh. He had simply loved my response on integer and real.

Well, after these three interviews, I never got interviewed again as I became an entrepreneur myself and a Corporate Head. Today, each time when I take interviews, especially of the youngsters, I still recall my three interviews. And I get amused as I see some form of “Prasad Modak” in these youngsters – but of course in a different form and style!

(Cover image taken from http://www.pace2race.com/finance-interview-questions/)

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Those Magical Days of GMDH

gmdh-network.jpg

It was 1982. On a Friday, one of my Japanese Professors T Omura asked me to see him after dinner in his office. I was doing that time my doctoral research with Dr Bindu Lohani at the Asian Institute of Technology (AIT) in Bangkok. My research was on Optimum Siting of Air Quality Monitors.

Professor Omura had just returned from Tokyo. He greeted me and after some preliminaries, opened a case and took out a listing of a computer program. In those days we worked on Main Frame computers and Line Printers. The listing of the computer program was on a “132 column” paper and the code was written in FORTRAN.

In his typical Japanese English or Jinglish, Professor Omura said “Modak, this is the computer program I got from a Professor from Japan. It’s on Group Method of Data Handling (GMDH)”

“GMDH? Never heard about it before Professor. What is this technique about? “I asked

Professor Omura made an attempt explain to me the GMDH.  Clearly he had difficulty in explaining what GMDH was about – and I only understood that GMDH was a “cybernetic” technique for building mathematical models based on data and for making accurate short term and long term predictions.

The technique used concept of self-organization, followed a layered process of model building and variable sifting. The layering process  was essentially “prediction of predictions” using a reference function (typically a Kolmogorov-Gabor polynomial) and would stop at an “optimal complexity” judged by an external criteria (like Mean Square Error). The data requirements for building and operating a GMDH model were minimalistic. That was something attractive.

GMDH performed much better than the contemporary statistical (data driven) as well as “causal” models.

Professor Omura then passed on to me two papers to read. He said that these two papers will help me to understand the foundation of GMDH.

  • A. G. Ivakhnenko. Heuristic Self-Organization in Problems of Engineering Cybernetics. Automatica 6: pp. 207–219, 1970.
  • A. G. Ivakhnenko. Polynomial Theory of Complex System. IEEE Trans. on Systems, Man and Cybernetics, Vol. SMC-1, No. 4, Oct. 1971, pp. 364–378.

A Russian author? I exclaimed. I found even the titles of the papers rather scary!

Passing me a copy of the FORTRAN listing,  Professor Omura said “Yes Modak, This listing is very confidential and not to be shared. I want you to understand the FORTRAN code, implement it on our Main Frame computer. Once it starts running, we will play with the program for few applications on forecasting river water quality. This code originates from Russia, the Kiev School”

He then paused, gazed  at me and said slowly and in all seriousness  “I am aware that GMDH algorithm has nothing to do with your doctoral research, but it’s an opportunity for you to learn something new – and something very exciting. I would like you to give a serious try”. I told Professor Omura that let me read and digest the two papers over the weekend and then meet on him Monday evening. He agreed.

I started reading the two papers by A G Ivakhnenko and realized I would probably need another full week to understand them. Both the papers were simply “loaded” with ideas, postulations, evidence and the theory that was something outstanding. The text was in Ringlish, not easy to comprehend and there were several hidden messages for the reader. As I went through the papers several times and consulted some “surround” literature, I realized that I was into something very advanced, a technique on the fringe of artificial intelligence and robotics. Actually, I was getting introduced to a technique of modelling most suitable for complex, fuzzy (unsure and uncertain) dynamic situations – most relevant to the “environmental systems”.


 

Photo_of_Prof._Alexey_G._Ivakhnenko (1)

A G Ivakhnenko (wish I could meet him in person)


 

I met Professor Omura on Monday evening and told him that I am game to work on GMDH with him. “I will take a bit more time though to get a grip, but I will start working on the FORTRAN code immediately”. I decided to use WATFIV, or WATerloo FORTRAN IV, developed at the University of Waterloo, Canada.

Professor Omura was very pleased about my interest, commitment and enthusiasm. He ended our conversation with a very frank statement “Modak, I know nothing about how GMDH works so I won’t be able to help you. I am only interested in its application, so good luck. But let us keep meeting every Friday night”.

I spoke to my Ph. D guide Dr Bindu Lohani about my “encounter” with GMDH. He readily supported me and said. “Do not let your work on GMDH affect your PhD research. But there could well be possibilities of application of GMDH to your research problem on optimum siting of air monitors”. Dr Lohani had worked extensively on stochastic modelling and optimization and loved advanced mathematical applications on environmental systems.

I started my work. I remember the night when I cracked the GMDH code in WATFIV and could reproduce outputs of some of the case examples cited by A G Ivakhenko. It was 3 AM in the morning and I was the lone student working at AIT’s Regional Computer Centre (RCC). This was a moment of great achievement to me.

I left RCC and walked to the “Pub” outside the campus (we called the pub as Papa’s shop. Papa was a retired Thai Army soldier). I picked up a bottle of Beer Singha, sat on a wooden bench all  alone (Papa and his wife Mamma were sleeping and there was nobody else in the “pub”) . I drank beer watching the traffic on the highway. There was only the sound of the rolling wheels and moving of lights from the trail of the trucks.

“I am now in world of GMDH” I said to myself

With this progress, we decided that I take on GMDH related work as “Special Studies” and drop some of the environmental courses that I was supposed to do. That was very kind of Dr Lohani. I ended up doing three Special Studies on GMDH over 8 months while pushing hard my own doctoral research simultaneously.

Dr Lohani set up a committee to oversee my Special Studies. The Committee consisted Professor H N Phien and Professor Kiyoshi Hoshi, both outstanding hydrologists and mathematicians. When I gave my seminar on GMDH in the first Special Study, describing the basic form of GMDH, its variants in Russia, Japan and in the US at MIT, both the Professors were very excited. I still recall the numerous “black board based discussion sessions” I used to have with them, floating new ideas and thinking tweaking  the GMDH algorithm, and specific to complex environmental systems.


 

KiyoshiHoshi

(Professor Kiyoshi Hoshi, Hokkaido University, expired in 2006 due to Cancer)

phien02

 

(Professor H N Phien, at the Center of the photograph – retired from AIT as Dean of School of Advanced Technologies)

Lohani

(Dr B N Lohani, retired as Vice President of Asian Development Bank)

I made several applications of GMDH e.g. on river flows, river water quality, air quality and eco-systems. Compared to other models and tools available at that time, GMDH performed far better and much superior in all these applications. Importantly it revealed new vistas of pattern recognition and the power of mining of data. Its ability to surprise the modeler in deciding the optimal complexity (in terms of both variables and structure) was something that fascinated me. Even today. And that’s GMDH’s feature of artificial intelligence.

GS-data-mining-software

(Illustration of Predictive Power of GMDH)

Today GMDH has become one of the top tools in the family of Artificial Neural Networks(ANN). It is applied across all domains, especially in business and financial modelling. Oddly, research and applications of GMDH in the field of environment have been rather scant. One the reasons is that courses on Environmental Data Analytics are not offered at the Universities and that’s  a pity.

When I returned from AIT and joined Centre for Environmental Science and Engineering at IIT Bombay, I tried to find students who could take up work based on GMDH. But I simply couldn’t find anyone  who would show interest or take up as a challenge. After I left IIT and started by own consulting company – Environmental Management Centre LLP – I got busy in the consulting work.

EMC runs an internship program, that is today really well sought after – and it was only in 2007 (25 years later!) that I hit upon an Intern from Delhi College of Engineering, Neeraj Kumar. Neeraj worked with me on GMDH and in a period of just one month, we could publish some interesting environmental applications in the Prague Conference on GMDH. We presented  the idea and application of “Adaptive GMDH”. I was extremely delighted to see the talent in Neeraj. He hardly spoke to the Team at EMC – and was kind of a loner!

With the pressure of continuous monitoring of emission, effluent and ambient concentrations in India, a considerable on-line data is getting generated by the industries and the regulatory bodies. Unfortunately, this BIG data is hardly used the way it should be. Possibilities of effective use are enormous based on tools such as GMDH.

I have now set up a Team at EMC on Environmental Modeling & Data Analytics and been fortunate to have some bright youngsters to work with me. We have developed “environmental dashboards” to handle real time data and will be plugging in some of the smart and most relevant GMDH algorithms. This will help in pattern recognition, understanding  source influences and importantly do reliable short term as well as long term predictions for management & control. I am looking forward to adding more bright minds to my Team. So anyone interested with skills and appetite, do write to me.

I told my Professor Friend about GMDH. As usual he was a patient listener. He lighted his cigar and pointed me at the book lying on his desk. The book was by J. Scott Armstrong titled Long-Range Forecasting: From Crystal Ball to Computer, printed in 1985.

What about it? I asked. I know this book, it’s a must read for all modelers.

Professor opened the book and showed me a  cartoon as below under the section of Planning Vs Forecasting. He said “See -the kid selling shoe shine service knew exactly what to do when it would rain – i.e. he must now offer the waxing service. He did not need a rainfall forecasting model!”

Exhibit I-4

(This cartoon is by the world famous  Morrie Turner – Source -The Registration and Tribune Syndicate –  Wee Pals Comic Strip – I have reproduced the cartoon  from Armstrong’s book)

Professor  took a deep puff and said “Forecasting is often difficult, and may be your GMDH algorithms predict outcomes close to real. To be practical however, don’t you think that we should be ready with what to do for say scenario A and for scenario B and so on – instead of focusing only or too much on predictions? Many a times, this aspect of management is often forgotten!

I thought the Professor made a good point (as he always did).

I left his office borrowing Armstrong’s book for a second good read!

(Cover image sourced from

http://scialert.net/fulltext/?doi=jai.2011.89.99&org=11

Message for Environmental Students  

Don’t stick to conventional environmental domains all the time. Take up something beyond and it will certainly give you dividend!.

So if you meet equivalent of Professor T Omura, then don’t ever say no.


 

A bit more on GMDH (drawn from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Group_method_of_data_handling)

Group method of data handling (GMDH) is a family of inductive algorithms for computer-based mathematical modeling of multi-parametric datasets. GMDH is used today for data miningknowledge discoverypredictioncomplex systems modeling, optimization and pattern recognition.

The most popular base function used in GMDH is the gradually complicated Kolmogorov-Gabor (K-G) polynomial:

The resulting models are also known as polynomial neural networksJürgen Schmidhuber cites GDMH as one of the earliest deep learning methods.

The method was originated in 1968 by Prof. Alexey G. Ivakhnenko in the Institute of Cybernetics in Kiev (then in the Ukrainian SSR). Thanks to the author’s policy of open code sharing the method was quickly settled in the large number of scientific laboratories worldwide. At that time code sharing was quite a physical action since the Internet is at least 5 years younger than GMDH. Despite this fact the first investigation of GMDH outside the Soviet Union had been made soon by R.Shankar in 1972. Later, different GMDH variants were published by Japanese and Polish scientists.

External criterion is one of the key features of GMDH. Criterion describes requirements to the model, for example minimization of Least squares. It is always calculated with a separate part of data sample that have not been used for estimation of coefficients.

Combinatorial_GMDH_optimal_complexity (1)

GMDH approach can be useful because:

  • Optimal complexity of the model structure is found, adequate to the level of noise in data sample. For real problems, with noised or short data, a simplified optimal models are more accurate.
  • The number of layers and neurons in hidden layers, model structure and other optimal neural networks parameters are determined automatically.
  • It automatically finds interpretable relationships in data and selects effective input variables accordingly.
  • It guarantees that the most accurate or unbiased models will be found – method does not miss the best solution during sorting of all variants (in the given class of functions).

I would recommend most recent book “GMDH-Methodology and Implementation in C (With CD-ROM)” 2014, by Godfrey Onwubolu (See http://www.amazon.com/GMDH-Methodology-Implementation-C-With-CD-ROM/dp/1848166109

Reading Faces – Scanning of Minds

MindReading

It was 1993. I got into a flight from Lucknow to New Delhi along with my friend Chris Messner. The flight was Indian Airlines that hopped from Kolkata over to Patna, and then to Lucknow and finally moving to Delhi. We did not have seat numbers and it was a free seating arrangement.

Chris and I were looking for a place to sit next to each other. As there were already passengers sitting on the seats from Kolkata and Patna, we were not able to find two seats together.

As I reached almost half of the galley of the aircraft, and was looking around, I suddenly realized a gaze at me. It was an alarming sensation as if I was getting scanned. It made me uncomfortable and also curious at the same time.

I looked around and found a white bearded person in a kurta and pyjama with shining and powerful eyes. He had a magnetic personality – and there was something special in him that I could see.

I told Chris to go ahead and find a place for himself and chose to sit next to this mysterious man. He was sitting in the aisle seat, the middle seat was vacant and the window seat was occupied by a Sardarji (Turban headed), who later turned out to be the Deputy Governor of the Reserve Bank of India.

As soon as I took the seat, the man held my hand and said very warmly – “So you got my invitation?” I was an amateur student of reading faces then and so attempted to read this man. The aircraft was moving already. The Man said “Trying to read me?” I realized that this Man was really gifted. So I simply gave up my attempt to read.

The Man took the air sickness bag that was in the front pouch, took out his pen, drew a circle, made quadrants, gazed at me once again and did few scribbling over the quadrants. This was something strange to me.

He then spoke to me in a matter of fact tone and told me why was I travelling, what was my education and profession, then spoke about my family, wife & children and the three sisters. He essentially told me my story that was all true. He did not ask me whether what he said was right or wrong. It probably did not matter to him as he was so confident. Whatever he said “had to be” true.

By that time, the aircraft had taken off and we were cruising. The sign of fasten seat belts was switched off. The Man got up and went to the loo. I was simply dazed. I turned to the Sardarji next to me and said “Sir, do you know what this person said? Everything he told me was true. It is just shocking!” The Sardarji smiled and said “Well, before you there was someone from Patna and earlier somebody else sat here from Kolkata. They experienced exactly the same thing that you did. What do you expect when you are sitting next to Anil Sharma (name changed)?”

As a student of face reading (known as phrenology), I used to follow Anil Sharma’s books. His books were based on work of Samudrika Lakshana written by the Samudra Raja (King of the sea). It was thrilling to know that Anil Sharma was sitting right next to me and in fact had read my mind.


 

Phrenology is one of the most traditional techniques of predicting a person’s character, personality, behavior their attitude and their success in life. All our future, present or past may well be defined and determined by our own facial structure. Face is the index of the mind. It tells all about our character, our destiny and your future. Comparing the human face with that of animals and birds is one method in which the reading is done. Watching the walk of the person helps greatly in identifying the ruling animal or the bird.

सामुद्रिक

There are a few blessed souls who by merely looking at people can predict with high levels of accuracy. To some, it comes as a siddhi (power), and for a few it comes out of experience. The art or science of face reading is an age-old method of predicting human lives, and has been used by people as a reliable method of astrology.


 

When Anil Sharma returned to his seat, I introduced myself. I told him about my interest in face reading. “I have just started with your books Sir” I said. I also told him that I was his great fan and felt so honored sitting next to him. Anil Sharma smiled.

During the flight, Sharma spoke about several aspects of face reading that are generally not in the books. I wished the flight took much longer to reach Delhi–something not difficult for Indian Airlines if so wished!

As the aircraft was descending into Delhi, Anil Sharma suddenly said “I know you don’t have checked in baggage (how did he know? – I wondered) but I have. I want to gift you my book of notes and sketches. This is work unpublished and only for a select few. Would you mind waiting at the luggage belt to pick it up?” I was pleasantly surprised. ”Of course Mr. Sharma, I have all the time for you. I will wait. It will be my great honor” I said

Near the luggage belt, Anil Sharma opened his suitcase and gave me his book with a parting note saying – Don’t share this treasure with others. Just keep with you, study hard and practice”

Since 1993, I simply followed his book and the advice.

I got addicted to face reading. I would keep practicing reading of faces of people around or shall I say do mind scanning all the time – at the meetings, at the airports, at the parties, while teaching students and when I would meet strangers. I used to enjoy when flights used to be delayed to give more opportunities for scanning. Initially, I used to be terribly wrong in my assessments and judgments – it was that fun & learning phase – but I soon realized that I was building the skill alright and doing pretty well. The proof of that learning was at a bizarre incident at the International Airport in Jakarta.

I used to work in Indonesia for a project ProduksiH Bersi (Cleaner Production) as a GTZ consultant. I was in Indonesia almost every two months travelling across the country – developing demonstration projects, holding in company training sessions and advising BAPEDAL – then Ministry of Environment. My face reading hobby and skills became however more known across Indonesian professionals and Academia than my expertise in Cleaner Production!

During one of the trips, I was immigrating at the Soekarno-Hatta International Airport. After clearing the immigration, I was going through the ritual of customs check. When the Customs officer saw my passport, he spoke in Bahasa to his colleague (probably saying – here is the Guy!) and then looked at me sternly. He said “Well, we have to question you Dr Modak, please come with us upstairs for an interrogation. Its part of our routine check”. I was shocked and scared. I tried to tell the Officer that I am all innocent, frequent traveler to Indonesia and you would be wasting your time – checking me out.

The officers were however firm.

I was taken to a lounge upstairs and made to sit. As I sat tense, one of the customs officers (his name I later learnt was Rudy) smiled and said “Oh Dr Modak, Don’t get tensed about the custom check. We are not going to do that. Professor Nurul of University of Indonesia (Nurul was my good friend) met me yesterday for a dinner and told me about you and your amazing skills of face reading. I asked Professor Nurul how to meet you and he said that you are busy. He asked me to try meeting you when you fly out. He gave me your flight details and that’s how we found you! Now, can you read my face Dr Modak, Please?” Rudy said this while ordering for me a glass of beer.

I was shell shocked. Face reading should not be ideally forced upon. It has to be a “natural” process. But I saw that I didn’t have any option or choice and had to make an attempt! I thought of Anil Sharma, his shining eyes, the book of his notes and my few years of “practice learning”. I looked at Rudy for a minute and said “Rudy, you have an elder brother. Your parents live in Yogyakarta. You send money every month to them to help them to look after their health expenses. Your elder brother unfortunately does not help at all. The problem with you is that your parents still love your elder brother much more than you – despite all your good doing”. I said this calmly – and as a matter of fact – just like how Anil Sharma had said to me.

I also realized that saying this was so simple and straightforward – and so easy. I just told him what he already knew! Rudy was shocked. “You are absolutely right Dr Modak, but how do you know? He exclaimed. The girl who got me a glass of beer was watching and listening – How about me Sir” she pleaded. I looked at her and said “My friend, you are in a difficult situation – you have fallen in love with two men at the same time– one lives in Indonesia and the other is outside the country.  That’s your dilemma and the problem” I had not just observed her face but had scanned her walk towards us as well. The girl blushed.

This incident was a kind of a “take off” for me for building all my confidence. I understood that face reading and scanning of the minds is possible – and it does work.

Soon I realized that this skill as essential to make the situation around you easier to deal with as you now understand the minds of people working with you much better. It greatly helps in taking decisions. It also puts you in some advantage if you follow the “rules”.

For example, if I am to meet a stranger to do a contract, then I would reach 10 minutes earlier to see the walk of the person while he/she approaches the meeting table. You get sense about how much can you trust! Walk tells you about the ruling bird and the animal behind the person. You then focus on the eyeballs and the nails – amongst other things!

While teaching, you can construct a face of the entire class (this is a bit of advanced phrenology) through a quick scan and work on the “face of the class” while you communicate. You become a better teacher or more effective communicator in the process. I therefore like to ask people to introduce themselves before speaking so that I get time to construct face of the class.

Does phrenology work for predicting the future? Sure it does – of course with all its limitations. I remember working on the Ho Chi Minh Environmental Improvement project in 1998 in Saigon. My project manager was Bert. He was 76 years old and had fallen in love with a Vietnamese girl of age 22! Bert asked me to have a dinner with them, I was to sit facing the girl and read her mind. I wasn’t keen for this kind of dinner but Bert simply insisted. After the dinner late night, we were walking towards my hotel on the Bon Sen Street and Bert asked me about my “assessment”. I didn’t want say anything  as something weird had come up to my mind. Bert however insisted and he simply wouldn’t let me enter the hotel! So I had to say. I told Bert that this girl was going to kill him. When Bert heard this, he laughed loud and said “Not a good joke Dr Modak but I let you go”. In just three weeks, Bert called me to tell that the girl attacked him with two knives while he was sleeping. He survived miraculously but lost three of his fingers! “How did you know” he asked. “Well it was all there in her eyes”, I told Bert.

For last 20 years, I run my consulting outfit “Environmental Management Centre, LLP” (EMC). Nobody has left EMC so far with any grudges or bad feelings. Those who left us for other reasons are still a part of the EMC Family and the network. Do you think this happened because I used to read the faces and minds of every new entrant?

But it’s also quite a fun when you read the mind and see the person talking to you is speaking something else! One of my colleagues who resigned from EMC told me how her mother in law has been sick and she now needs to get out of the full time job and look after her. I could “see” that she was to join a competitor consulting firm and was feeling awkward to tell me so frankly. I accepted her reason and resignation for her comfort, but was simply amused to see how we pretend in our life and do a “double-show” because of various constraints, uncertainties and risks that we perceive. It’s a mask we wear. Next week after she got reliving letters from us, she informed me that she has joined our competitor firm as someone else has been found to take care of her mother-in-law!

You also meet as you go along other “mind scanners” and come across some “mighty minds”. In the crowds you mingle, you can easily spot similar mind scanners. And when you get into eye contact with them, you often smile to recognize or acknowledge each other. That’s fun. I recall I met a sage – whose age was claimed to be 150+ years – something hard to believe. The sage looked strange as his hands touched his knees like an Ape. The sage looked at me with his shining eyes. I tried to resist but I saw in him such a force of light that I realized that it was best to surrender and let him enter your mind. There was a few minutes of silence between us. I experienced that he opened all doors and windows of my “mind-house” and wandered around to feel and understand me. All this long, he had a warm smile on his face. And that was electrifying!

I told my Professor Friend about my experiences and that we should perhaps introduce phrenology as a course or offer training programs especially for our environmental fraternity. In the environmental field we are constantly connecting with people, meeting folks of diverse backgrounds, resolving conflicts and attempting to align visions for the sustainability of this planet. Armed with phrenology, we could perhaps build more effective communicators and change agents that this world needs! Of course, not everybody can learn this science, and you need the inclination, intuition and the perseverance. But to some extent each one of us holds the phrenology skills. Don’t we? Most however don’t cultivate this power on a systematic and serious basis.

Professor lit his cigar when he heard my recommendation and all the stories “Rather entertaining anecdotes Dr Modak but really hard to believe – I don’t know how much of you said is real and how much is the fiction or your imagination. Well, I must stay that you are a good story teller”

“But I like your idea on coaching our environmental folks on face and mind reading. And why limit to the environmental fraternity – we should keep such courses and discourses open to all.”

While extinguishing his cigar with a deep puff, he added “But please don’t introduce this skill before people fall in love. If you teach face reading earlier, then nobody is going to fall in love. The relationships will be looked rather “analytically” or shall I say “clinically” through the lens of deductive science like phrenology. Love should simply happen and that is how it should be. Reading of face and scanning of mind upfront will interfere this natural process”. He gave me his typical mischievous smile. That was rather charming.

“You are absolutely right Professor” I responded “I learnt phrenology only after marrying my wife Kiran. Not before – and I don’t regret a bit at all!”

 

(cover image sourced from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fIC4FDfCxk0)

Environmental Emissions Market in India –Are We Prepared Enough?

emission-trading-ets-co21

Preamble

Policies on environmental management evolve to address challenges that are critical and issues that still remain to be addressed. Policies are also developed to prepare for the future as a strategy on a proactive basis.

In policy development, sharing of international experiences becomes useful. These learnings help in not to repeat the “mistakes” earlier made.

Policies successful elsewhere however cannot be transposed on “as is” basis. Policies need to be adapted and localized, factoring the institutional capacities, maturity and preparedness of the stakeholders especially industry/business, status on data and technology and of course the extent of political support.

Environmental Governance typically consists of two broad approaches – viz. Monitoring & Enforcement (M&E) and Market based Instruments (MBI). M&E is most commonly followed with the help of laws and regulations and setting up enforcing bodies such as the Pollution Control Boards (PCBs). M&E alone cannot ensure compliance as institutional capacities of PCBs are limited, number and geographical spread of polluters is large and most of the polluters in country like India are Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) who are difficult to chase.

MBI have been practiced in several countries in the world but more so in the developed economies. Typically, MBIs create financial incentives/disincentives to motivate the polluter to make a move (self-primed) that is beneficial to both environment and the business. Generally, it has been found that MBIs provide a cost-effective solution when well supported by M&E. In some cases, however, there have been mixed results as the success cannot be solely attributed to the MBIs alone.

Few applications of MBIs have been made in the developing economies, mainly driven by Development Financing Institutions such as the World Bank and by the Environmental Economists at the Business Schools of MIT & Harvard and the like. As a primer, I will recommend to see the Guidance Note prepared by the World Bank at  http://siteresources.worldbank.org/INTRANETENVIRONMENT/Resources/
GuidanceNoteonMarketBasedInstruments.pdf
. This document though a bit outdated now – may still be useful as a first read.

India is relatively a late entrant in the MBIs and we do not have much experience on designing and operating the MBIs.  In the Environment and Energy market-space, we are operating currently three schemes, the Renewable Energy Certificates (REC); Perform, Achieve and Trade (PAT) and a Pilot Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS).

The REC are managed by the Ministry of New and Renewable Energy with a Registry in place. PAT is managed by Bureau of Energy Efficiency (BEE) and has just completed its Phase I and is yet to establish the market. Both the schemes have not performed well.

The Pilot ETS initiated by the Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) is championed by the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) in the States of Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu and Gujarat. After much fancy, and great PowerPoint presentations, the scheme is practically limping or dead today.

In the quest of building “accurate” database on national basis and create “benchmarks of emission intensities” across the highly polluting industrial sectors, the CPCB has created now a monster of Continuous Emission/Effluent Monitoring System (CEMS). The hope being that if the Pilot ETS gets implemented as planned and becomes successful then the idea could be implemented across the country. ETS focusses on particulate emissions – a bizarre choice made by some of the top researchers from international universities, including  Environment Minister then, Jayaram Ramesh – a savvy IIT Bombay Alumni (and my 3 years senior!)

We know that India is desirous to meet the voluntary GHG emission targets pledged internationally. These targets have been reflected in her Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs) during COP21. Reduction in the GHGs means improved energy efficiency, reduced absolute energy consumption (that is promoted through PAT) and a shift towards renewable sources of energy (as through the REC). All these efforts would lead to reduction in the emissions (not just particulates) that would lead to improvement in the air quality – which is an interest of the ETS. Further, the industrial sectors of focus in the three schemes are pretty much common. So fundamentally, all the three schemes are “interlinked” and can help India to address GHG emissions related targets rather effectively if “unified” or “orchestrated” in a symphony. It is pity that we still operate in silos in the space of energy, environment and climate change markets and sing different songs!

To keep the blog short, I am attaching a PDF of my notes with some useful references that provide details on ETS, PAT and REC. There is also an interesting section on CEMS Vs PEMS (Predictive Emission Monitoring Systems). I would encourage research scholars to take up the task of a comparative assessment of the three schemes using this base note. I will be delighted to help.


 

My Professor Friend was busy in organizing a 3 days residential retreat for the top brass of BEE, MNRE and MoEFCC and CPCB  at Ranikhet. Actually, the destination was kept a secret and care was taken to ensure that mobile phones won’t be able to receive signals. Food menu was meticulously designed to meet the interest of Mehtas, Mathurs, Tripathys and the like as well as Birlas and Shrirams (who represent industry associations). Few consultants were also invited but menu was not customized for them as the consultants are generally not particular about the menu and are used to have a free lunch. Ministers of Power (Goyal) and Environment (Javdekar) were to preside. “Lot of my energy is going in designing this dam food menu” Professor said. That’s what most of these participants are particular about.

But what’s the idea Professor of this Retreat? I asked.

“The idea is to make each other understand what is happening in India’s energy and environment market (and the various MBI proposed) and develop something common, cutting across and synergistic for the benefit of industry/business and national and State governments to meet the GHG emission targets. I want that the commonalities and differences get discussed thread bear, challenges faced are expressed rather candidly and the Team comes up with practical solutions – well coordinated, well communicated, planned in phases and in a transparent manner” Professor said this while lighting his cigar.

“Oh, you are so thoughtful” I said “This three days of brainstorming session will really help, as right now the three schemes seem to follow X-Y-Z axes that are pretty perpendicular and seemingly independent of each other”

Well, as you are in the environmental profession – let us take up this ETS for discussion – Professor ordered for a coffee.

I being on the side of the Government started with my pitch

“Do you know Professor, Officials at CPCB/MoEF claim that the ETS proposed for particulates in India is first of its kind in the world – Don’t you think we should encourage MBIs that have not been ever tried. Shouldn’t we be the first?”

Professor retorted “Dr Modak, particulate emission trading was attempted way back in 1992 in Chile.  An “Emission-Offsets Trading Program” was established by Supreme Decree No. 4 (DS 4) in March 1992 to control total suspended particulate emissions (TSP) from stationary industrial sources in Santiago, Chile. (See https://gupea.ub.gu.se/bitstream/2077/21313/3/gupea_2077_21313_3.pdf)

This emission trading program suffered from serious flaws in design and implementation. Rights to trading were not clarified, as well as the sanctions. Institutions engaged were not efficient and process followed was not transparent. The market created under the program performed poorly due to regulatory uncertainty, high transaction costs, lengthy and uncertain approval processes, and inadequate enforcement. It was unfortunate that in its pursuit of progress toward attaining ambient quality standards, the environmental authority paid insufficient attention to setting up conditions for helping the market to develop. Only benefit of the scheme was creation of a baseline emission inventory. Interestingly, there was an improvement in the air quality – but not because of the MBI, but due to factors exogenous to the program such as the price-based introduction of natural gas. Use of cleaner fuel made the difference to air quality and not emission trading!”

“Understood”, I retreated (wondering that we will probably replicate the Chile “experiment” as our situation is no different!)  “But then why are we focusing on particulates?” I could not resist asking.

“It’s bizarre to understand why the pilot made a choice on particulates as the pollutant to trade – Professor said this with a smirk on his face. “The argument made was that the particulate concentrations in residential areas (cities) are way above the standard, leading to severe health impacts. Indeed this is a fact – but oddly, the industrial clusters where ETS is piloted are essentially industrial zones with mixed land use and relatively less resident population! A typical case of right statistics but used in a wrong place!

Further, Particulate Matter (PM) is a diffused parameter with a very complex profile. ETS for particulate matter would involve number of uncertainties in the measurements. Further, installation of CEMS is expensive for industries, especially to the SMEs.

PM emissions in an industrial cluster comprise not just emissions from industrial stacks, but are contributed by host of other sources such as transport emissions and others (especially open burning) that may play a significant role. Further, there could be distant sources outside the “bubble” (i.e. of 75 kms radius as defined in the ETS) that could contribute as transported by wind. Finally, focus of emission reduction is on point or stack based emissions of particulates whereas many times particulate emissions release in industries is due to fugitive sources like in handling and storage of materials.

Professor continued

“We have to realize that for the success of a combination of M&E and MBI, we need a sustained, long term and a transparent regulatory push while addressing technical glitches and building requisite institutional capacities. Take example of the US. They focused on the utility industries and developed a program addressing various pollutants step by step. E.g. Ozone -2008; SO2-NOX-Visibility 2009-2010;Cross State Air Pollution Rule (CSAPR) 2011-2012, Effluents – 2012-2013, PM/PM2.5 2013-2014, Ash- 2014-2015, MATS 2015-2016 and CO2 – 2017

Idea was to stimulate “innovation” in this process. The focus on particulates alone is not going to lead us much to any innovations

I thought the Professor made a good point. We often operate on a knee-jerk basis, piece meal and that typically happens when our Ministers visit IVY League universities.

I thought of asking the Professor about the CEMS imposition. Most industries are looking today for either cheap or reliable CEMS solution providers. There are challenges on both the fronts. Almost all CEMS are imported into India (there is no Make in India wave in this sector), pretty expensive with not much local support in terms of calibration, operation and maintenance. The on-line results are not very reliable.

Do these CEMS actually work? How accurate are they? And what does the PCB do with the data received? These questions came to my mind and I took a large gulp of the coffee.

Given the poor technical capacities at CPCB and SPCBs on data analytics, these institutions will not adapt their decision-making procedures to take advantage of the new information CEMS will provide. Data will remain in coffins.

The installations of CEMS have become a scam, with overcrowding of overnight equipment suppliers. Professor paused for a while and lighted another cigar.

“Have you heard about Predictive Emission Monitoring Systems (PEMS). PEMS is gaining acceptance worldwide including the EPA at the United States.

Both CEMS and PEMS provide emissions readings on a continuous basis, but by different means. CEMS measure physical or chemical attributes of stack gases directly. With regular maintenance, CEMS can be accurate and reliable, and are necessary to meet federal, state and local regulatory requirements. However, CEMS represent a large expense that does not make processes more efficient or profitable. In addition, CEMS cannot predict the future or the consequences of contemplated process changes. The only way to do these is to use a mathematical model.

These models are developed empirically from sample data collected by CEMS, which are installed in a stack for a trial period and then removed when the PEMS becomes operational. Empirical methods include ordinary least squares, polynomials, and artificial neural networks (ANNs).

A PEMS model gives it the capability to do “what ifs”, that is predicting the consequence of taking a control action to change the course of a process. PEMS model can also be “inverted”, such that for a given set of uncontrolled inputs and a desired output, a search program can iteratively determine values for the controlled inputs to yield the desired output. If variables such as quality, yield, and throughput are also measured, the PEMS can be used to predict and control the process to maximize these parameters to great financial benefit. And compared to CEMS, PEMS are significantly cheap with low O&M hassles

I thought that it’s a high time that CPCB and PCBs start looking at the PEMS approach, involving the industries and PEMS service providers. We seem to be so bogged down only to the CEMS! I wonder if there are any vested interests or simply lack of information!!

“Any final thoughts Professor?”, I asked this question – noticing that Professor was about to extinguish his cigar.

“Well, I am really thinking of organizing a hands on or practice training for experiential learning for some of the top Professors of IVY League Universities to come to India and see the realities before making recommendations to some of our Ministers. For the ETS Pilot Project for instance they should have visited the industries (especially the SMEs), looked at the stacks, met the PCB staff (especially the middle level) and spent a few days with the PCB stack monitoring teams. I don’t like when we get used as a “laboratory” or an “experiment” by these much respected Professors to try out policies – sometimes to secure research grants or sometimes for the interest of a publication!

Well, well Professor – I scorned – that’s a bit too hard and rather harsh to say. I dont like it and I rather disagree – But perhaps you do have a point!


 

Cover image sourced from Image  sourced from http://www.greenreport.it/rubriche/co2-e-mercato-delle-emissioni-quale-futuro-per-lets-dopo-la-cop21/ (I love this image)

Notes to the Post_Environmental_Emissions_Market (do download and read)

Changing the Course

Yaksha

We have a lovely thick tree facing the balcony in the rim of Shivaji Park.

Early morning I was sitting in the balcony and was getting ready to scan my emails on my laptop. Just then face of Yaksha appeared on the tree.

Yaksha is the name of a broad class of nature-spirits, usually benevolent, who are caretakers of the natural treasures hidden in the earth. Yakshas occupy trees, groves, forests and water sources.

Dr Modak, I thought you had decided to change the course of your life. Yaksha spoke to me.

I told Yaksha that yes I really intend to do so, and very seriously, but from tomorrow.

Well, it doesn’t happen that way Yaksha said “You change now and today”

For this, you have to listen to the nature, birds and the animals around you. More importantly, you must understand what they think of you and your life. They will always speak the truth and rather candidly. That will be enough for you to assess yourself, get guided and accordingly change the course

But my dear Yaksha, I smiled and said – do you think I know the language of the birds and animals? To me, they make sometimes interesting and sometimes most irritating sounds. Nothing more.

Yaksha said “You know I can converse not just with birds and animals but also with trees and the insects. I can lend you my powers for a day starting from now till 8 pm of today. Would you like to try this out?”

I thought this proposition for a day was interesting. I agreed.

The Yaksha said “Tathastu” (let it be) and so I was blessed.

Yaksha disappeared.

Two parrots came flying in and perched on the twig of the tree. They saw me working on the laptop checking my emails.

parrot

The male parrot said to his wife “Look at this fool, I see him every day sitting in this balcony looking at these stupid emails. Don’t you think this Man should get out of the house at this time and take a nice walk across the Shivaji-Park? The sun is just about to rise and there is such a lovely breeze out there. Can’t he respond to these stupid emails later?”

I indeed felt like a fool. I got out in my track pants, a smart Tee shirt, wore Reebok shoes (after opening the box) armed with headsets to listen to my favorite Mark Knopfler. The walk was great. I saw few of my old friends who waived at me and some made me stop and asked “how come today? We thought we lost you!” My last round across the Park was perhaps one year before (as I used to read emails every morning and the rush to office). I realized that even after a gap of a year, the “walkers” at the Park were the same. “Shit, these folks seem to be so regular- why can’t I be?” I said to myself.

Shivaji_park

(Shivaji-Park in Mumbai)

My secretary Kermeene called me on my cell phone and reminded of a meeting with Secretary Environment, Government of Maharashtra at the Sachivalaya, down town. I was an invited member of a Committee for Environmental Clearance of Very Sensitive and Controversial Projects. I thought it was quite prestigious to be part of this Committee.

As I stepped out of my car at the “Garden Gate” of the Sachivalaya for my entry pass, I saw a street dog next to the tree looking at me. “Oh my friend, so I see you continue in the same trap again!  The Government invites you on such Committees not just because you have a good professional credence, but simply because they are looking for respectable scape goats like you. You feel great as you can tout about this membership on your CV and get known within professional circles – as someone “important and powerful”. You get quoted in the newspapers sometimes and get invited to speak at Seminars. But is that worth? – as in most cases decisions are political and taken apriori. You simply sign up?”

dog

I thought the dog on the street was right. I decided to abstain from the meeting and instead asked my driver to take me to one of the bye lanes of Fort area. Years ago, when I had the time, I used to visit an old/secondhand book seller on the street and buy strange books like on “face reading” or “Yogi in Himalayas”. I spotted the place I used to visit. The old man who used to be there those days and give all of us good advice was no more. Instead his son was managing. I spoke to the son about my memories about his father (that really touched him) and bought a book on “How to select antique furniture”. The book was a bit yellowed but with golden embossed lettering and was leather bound. I didn’t haggle for the price, so the son gave me a pocket edition of Around the World in Eighty Days, for free. “Keep this Sir, Just for you. It’s a rare one to get”

BookselleronStreet

In the meanwhile, Kermeene, my secretary was chasing me. She sms’ed “Meeting with Overseas Development Corporation (ODC) to start in another 20 minutes at the Taj Chambers”.  Oh, how can I forget, I muttered and asked my driver to take me to the Taj. I was to support my client there to secure long term cheap fund. Key was adherence to ODC’s environmental and social management framework.

horse

As I was about get into the Taj Old wing, a horse cart loaded with tourists was waiting there. The horse looked at me and neighed (of course only I could understand what he was trying to say!). The horse said –Do you know the meeting you are getting into? It is to assess the environmental and social performance of the company you are consultant to.  You know very well that while the company’s top management is fully committed to the environmental and social matters, the honchos below are least sensitive, bothered or committed. The ODC is going to ask questions and I know you will elaborate and defend elegantly to convince them ensuring that the “system” works. That’s where your expertise is. But you know the truth as much I know. How long will you continue prostituting your professional skills?” The horse stopped neighing.  I didn’t quite like the last part of what the horse said, but I realized that he was right – indeed I was selling my soul for a price. I decided to jump the meeting and told Kermeene to say that I am sick and will not able to join.

Instead, I strolled across to Café Mondegar (fondly called as Mondie) which a great place for a draft beer and egg bhurji (Akuri) on pav with musca.  The most interesting part of Mondie are the cartoons done by Mario Miranda on the wall. While I was picking up a table, I spotted an old buddy of mine who had returned from the US after 30 years. That was a great coincidence. We shared the table together and chatted about all the fun we used to do in the past. When I asked him what you are up to now, he said that he has made enough money to do now what he wants. How about you? He asked me. You must be a rich guy as I see you loitering around in the late afternoon of a Working day at the Mondie. He said this as we parted.

CafeMondegar

(Café Mondegar and Marios wall)

I knew I had to be in office in time to supervise and submit a tender for developing a Green City Action Plan for Nasik. Team in my office had prepared all the documentation and I was to review and sign off. As I reached my office, a pigeon perching on the Air conditioner saw me. He said “Are you sure you want to bid? These bids are generally pre-decided but I know you have a high chance of getting selected as your company has good credentials. But think about this a bit more – you will never be paid in time and you will require to grease the officials to get your money out. Secondly your Action Plan will never be implemented and the reports will be stacked somewhere – God only knows”. I thought the pigeon was right. I told my team that we still have some time to think and let me ponder over a bit.

pigeon-wb

I got down from my office and my driver started driving towards Taj Lands End in Bandra. I was to deliver a valedictory address at the National Environmental Association. As the car was approaching Taj Lands End, I realized the futility of speaking at this event. First of all, this address was going to be the last piece of the event, with hardly any people present; and most present ready to take their return flights or trains in time. I was to speak on one of the interesting perspectives on sustainability (in specific is recycling worth an effort?) but I thought the audience may not be truly interested in anything serious at this time or not have an appetite. What would happen is usual of welcome flowers, long introduction and at the end President of the Association thanking me profusely saying “thank you for sparing your valuable time despite your busy schedule etc.”

I noticed we were close to one of the quaint lanes of Bandra that I used to frequent years ago to learn piano from Freddie Braganza. Freddie played music for nobody else but for himself and was a teacher par excellence. I told my driver to take me to his old house – I thought I will see him for old time sake. It was already past 7 30 pm

OldBandra_House

When I rang the bell in the verandah, a woman in mid-forties opened the door. “Cathy, you? I exclaimed” Cathy was Freddie’s daughter who many of us simply adored not just for her fingers on the keyboards but her grace and the looks. I was very fond of her and we used to go for long walks on the Carter road holding hands after Freddie’s piano lessons used be over. So there was Cathy, still looking stunning, but some white and grey in the hair, that in fact added even more grace to her charming personality.

“Oh Prasad, come on in. After such a long time” Cathy said.

I learnt that Freddie passed away last year. Cathy was in Lisbon (her Portuguese family connection) for past 10 years and she returned with her husband after Freddie’s death. Her husband was a Captain on a ship and would be on-shore and off-shore every three months. Right now he was away. Cathy still played the piano.

“Let me get you some wine”, Cathy opened the bar chest. Her kitten (she had named her Dora) jumped around and settled on the cushion of the cane chair, gazing at me.

We chatted and remembered the old times. “You were quite a flirt with me Prasad” Cathy said jokingly. I sure I was – And I said so candidly.

When it was nearly 8 pm, I got up and said “have to go Cathy, why don’t you and I get together one day and play some of the Freddie numbers”. “Sure” said she while reaching me at the gate. Her kitten Dora followed us.

Kitten

I don’t know why but I paused at the gate for a while and asked “Cathy – after all these years, are you really happy?” Cathy did not expect this kind of question. She took a while, gathered herself and said “of course I am”. There was a stone silence in the air. In the dim light of the streetlight however, I saw her eyes moist with tears. “Oh this air pollution now a days – really makes my eyes watery. I better go in”

I thought of checking with kitten Dora the truth. Dora did mew for me but I couldn’t understand. I then realized that it was already past 8 pm and the magical powers bestowed by the Yaksha were just over! Alas. What a pity.

In just one day, I changed my course of life.

 


Many of us don’t have options in life so we live the way others want us to. But some of us who have, should live life differently and if required change the course of life.


 

Sources of images used to create the “setting” all in the order of appearance

Yaksha on the Tree

http://www.mnzencenter.org/newsletter/2012/02/02/three-types-of-triggers-in-bare-awareness-by-tim-burkett/

Parrot

http://www.petandgarden.com.au/birds/birds-for-sale/parrots-for-sale/indian-ringnecks-for-sale-en.html

Shivaji Park

https://www.flickr.com/photos/33383112@N00/1370479253

The street dog

http://craigmanley.com/gallery/travel/2011%20Greece,%20Chios/slides/Avghonima%20street%20dog%20IMG_2703_1024x768.html

Book seller on the Street

http://www.dnaindia.com/mumbai/report-the-unlikely-literati-of-fort-in-mumbai-1856083

Horse and the cart

http://www.escaperience.net/2011/07/india-looking-back/dscn4658/

Café Mondegar

https://yell0wblog.wordpress.com/category/visit-mumbai/

Pigeon

http://www.dover.gov.uk/Environment/Environmental-Health/Pest-Control/Pigeons.aspx

Bandra house

http://maggiemumbaimoments.blogspot.in/2012/10/heritage-walks-in-mumbai-bandra.html

Dora the Kitten

http://dreamatico.com/kitten.html

 

My New Book – ‘Sixty Shades of Green’

Dear Readers,

Responding to suggestions from readers, friends and colleagues, I decided to turn 60 select posts of the blog into a book titled ‘Sixty Shades of Green: Musings on Sustainability‘. Why 60? because this book also marks my 60th birthday.

A Few Glimpses of ‘Sixty Shades of Green’

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Take a look at the Table of Contents.

What readers have to say about the articles 

Can you get anymore tongue in cheek and still have so much to say? I hope those who matter are tapping into your knowledge and capabilities to really address that is needed”

Knew your excellence in teaching, communication, consultation in the field of environment, sustainability; this blog amazes me to know that your expertise is far, far more extensive. Hats off!”

Wonderful simplicity and flow in the language exhibits an excellent teacher! So many things said without saying anything!! Congratulations!!!”

The humor, as usual, is subtle- keeping a thin boundary between satire and criticism”

It is fictitious but really fabulous… what a blog…. all my college friends turned colleagues started  laughing and continued for a few minutes during recitation of the blog by one colleague”

This is the only blog I follow and eagerly wait for every article that you post. I guess many professionals like me are grateful to you for sharing your thoughts, your take on various issues and experiences with an element of humor, which unfortunately is difficult to find these days”

More about the book

One of the characteristics of this book is that knowledge is embedded in the ‘stories’ in an implicit manner. Sometimes references are cited for further reading. Many of the articles in this book could therefore be of educational value to students as well as to teachers. The book could be potentially used as a supplement to a course on environmental management & sustainability. Further, some of the articles could be used to open up group discussions or formulate assignments.

‘Sixty Shades of Green’ will soon be available for sale. If you are interested in buying, please fill out the form below – it will really help me with the decision on the print runs (e.g. 500 or 1000) and associated logistics. Will be grateful for your early response. Estimated cost of paperback edition will be between INR 400 to 600 depending on the number of copies.

A Competition So Funny!

Competition

 

My Professor Friend called me early morning and asked me come to Delhi by the earliest flight. I asked him why? And he said – This is a call from the Union Minister of Environment & Forests & Climate Change (MoEFCC). He is looking for ideas from us on how to improve quality of life of people in Urban India. I told him that together you and I will come up with something innovative – something never done in the World – and help India.

When we reached Union Ministers office, we realized that he was waiting for us rather impatiently.  “I want to bring in a change in Urban India – with all these problems of air pollution, poor drinking water quality and fires at the waste dump sites, the situation is getting simply worse. Despite several orders issued, updating of laws and regulations, there is simply no improvement or a change. The municipal corporations and pollution control boards continue to function as  if their institutions consist of only buildings and with no people inside. Only happening change is that commissioners move out and so the member secretaries. I tried introducing green city/clean city/sustainable cities awards and campaigns to showcase good practice examples. But this has not worked. No one believes in these awards and the claims made by the city heads and data reported is always put in questions. Most City heads say “don’t tell me what Navi Mumbai or Pune city is doing as these things are simply not relevant to us” So I am really frustrated. Please help”

We thought the Minister was right. Good examples often don’t work – although we all feel they should. Generally, same cities continue getting such awards giving no opportunities to others. We told the Minister that we will come up with an innovative plan but on a condition that he will not question us and provide a full support with no budget restrictions. The Minister agreed – though hesitantly.

As soon as we returned to Mumbai, we designed a new form of competition amongst cities in India. The Competition was titled “Cities of Today that Will Lead Future India”.

We were looking for the dirtiest Indian cities of today with most poor management and not the cities that have been performing good or better. There was no point to focus on good ones as there were only handful. It was important to recognize the bad ones who can show what’s possible in future India. Here we thought we will receive a large number of applications.

The criteria for award was formulated accordingly. See Table 1.

[Table 1 is only an illustration and a detailed criteria with more variables and a clear basis of scoring was posted on the website of MoEFCC.  Worse is the city, more scores were to be attached.]

One month was given to e-file the application with attachment of photographs showing examples of callousness, filth, morning haze etc. and a PDF of public complaints received and action not taken

 

Table 1 – Criteria for the Competition “Cities of Today that Will Lead Future India”

Municipal Solid Waste (MSW) Total dumping area per person ; percent increase over last 5 years

Maximum height of the Dump

Number of uncontrolled fire incidences in the dump areas

Other Wastes Biomedical waste not adequately handled and mixed with MSW

C&D Waste that is simply dumped

E-Waste that reaches the landfill

Air Quality Average Air Quality Index and extent of violations over the “Standard”

Specific parameter like PM10 and importantly viable count on the particles reflecting impact of open defecation (something we added to reflect gravity of the situation)

Water Water availability (hours of supply and quantity), Water quality at the taps
Urban Floods Floods managed terribly leading to loss of life, damage to infrastructure and spread of diseases
Natural ecosystems Mangroves destroyed, lakes polluted and infringed upon, Trees felled
Noise Noise profile across the city with Max values Day and Night averages – Exceedence over standards
Public complaints Public complaints received and that remain unattended

 

The award scheme was kept very attractive. The Lead city (actually the worst performer!) with the first rank would get a grant of 1000 million INR from the Center, second in rank will get INR 800 and the third performer will have INR 500 million. The cities could use this fund to plug the gaps and address the infrastructure and institutional deficiencies. Grant was to be provided with no audit requirements to expedite actions. [We later realized that  the interest from city heads was to look at this grant as an opportunity to launder money through innovative contracting mechanisms – hand in glow with equipment suppliers, contractors and NGOs. Well, we suspected this but realized that this also could be an example of another form of leadership!]

An announcement of such a novel award scheme led to a lot of discussion in the city administration. The Chief of Mumbai Corporation was very pleased and told his colleagues – Good timing, we just had this massive fire at the Deonar Dump that we were successful in not managing well. This can be cited as a good example”. The Chief of Delhi Corporation called a meeting of his colleagues at Delhi Pollution Control Committee (DPCC) and asked for last 5 years data on rising air pollution in Delhi. I really want to see graphs that will show a steep rise over the years and that we did nothing. We must show that we lead in this arena”.  Chief of Chennai Corporation was joyous – he said “We have an excellent story to tell about the recent Chennai floods where despite early warning we did nothing and never built adequate storm water management infrastructure”.  Those who listened this felt real proud of this achievement.  Chief of Bangalore city said I think we will be the winner on the count of mess we have done with our lakes – This is something unique but we must give equal credit to the Bangalore builders and our approach to private sector participation.

Everyone was thus keen to highlight the achievements made over past 5 years. All got busy filing the application. Some cities hired management consultants like PwC, KPMG, E&Y, and Delloite etc. who are good to produce elegant reports – nice English and nice fonts. “Let us invest in consultants”, Chief of city of Ahmedabad said in a vibrant tone. Hiring consultants was expected because most cities do not write reports on their own. Someone else writes.

When we received more than 100 applications, I was worried. I called my Professor Friend. He said not to worry – I have already set up a committee of retired IAS officers who used to manage cities (and terribly so) and who have a lot of time to spare.

“But Professor, why such an overwhelming response? I do understand the interest in money laundering but don’t you think that the citizens in these cities should simply bar or dissuade their city heads to even file such an application. It’s a shame if the city you live gets awarded under this scheme” I said.

The Professor smiled. “So you don’t know the real reason for this rush! You missed that in the award the additional incentive I added– The cities that will get awarded, will get a special tour of 15 days to take the “Team” to see various other cities. First prize gets the Americas, Second one Europe and third to Asia-Pacific. The tour will be fully sponsored (with shopping allowance) and designed such that it will appear technical with learning and experience sharing objectives. Compared to going to tours to Andaman or Lakshadweep, such lavish tours will prove to be an incentive of worth to ensure that application is made. The Team will consist of environmental NGOs and media who are otherwise critical to such “learning tours”.

Apologies Dr Modak. I did not tell you this in advance” – Professor lit his cigar and took a deep puff.

I said “I am now really excited to see the results. And I am sure the Union Environmental Minister will be pleased. Indeed, we have a bright future ahead for cities we live in”

(Cover image sourced from http://demosphere.com/2015/07/what-does-it-take-to-be-competitive/)