‘Sixty Shades of Green’ now available for purchase

Dear Readers,

Thank you for your overwhelming response to the pre-order of ‘Sixty Shades of Green: Musings on Sustainability’. It is a pleasure to know that so many of you have expressed interest in buying the book.

The book is now available for purchase @ Rs. 500 (inclusive of courier charges in India). Please click here to make an online payment through Debit/Credit card or netbanking. If you are buying more than one copy,  you are entitled to a discount of Rs. 50 per copy. To avail the discount, use the discount code 0050 while making the payment and ensure that you are ordering more than one copy.

Alternatively, you can also send a cheque of the requisite amount in favor of ‘Prasad Modak’ to the following address. 

Dr Prasad Modak
301/302 Godrej La Vista
Dr M B Raut Road
Shivaji-Park, Dadar
Mumbai – 400028 – India

Your copy/copies will be couriered to you within 7 days of making the payment.

The book will come in an eco-friendly packaging as in the picture below. It will also be autographed by the author.


For those who are not residing in India, the book is now  available for purchase on Amazon.com. Click here

And for those who want to buy the eBook version, it will also be available on for purchase on Kindle. We will notify you once the Kindle edition is available.

Few words about the book

The book is written in the style of stories on a variety of themes related to sustainability. These stories are driven by humor and satire.

One of the characteristics of this book is that knowledge is embedded 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 potentially be 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.

Take a look at the Table of Contents.

Offer for Corporate Purchase

Employee sensitization on sustainability is the need of the hour. A number of Corporate CXOs have expressed interest in the bulk purchase of ‘Sixty Shades of Green’ for the senior employees. They believe that the book provides an orientation towards sustainability in a subtle and humorous way. Indeed the book therefore makes a great gift to the corporate employees.

If you are interested in making a bulk purchase of the book (minimum 100 copies), then we can give you a special price at a much reduced rate. Please write to sonal.alvares@emcentre.com for more details. We can also organize a book reading session at your offices of you are interested where Dr Modak will be present and take questions.


A Few Glimpses of ‘Sixty Shades of Green’

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What readers have to say  

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”


A System Dynamics Approach to Discourage Smoking



  • Nearly 80% of the world’s 1 billion smokers live in low- and middle-income countries.
  • Tobacco kills around 6 million people each year. More than 5 million of those deaths are the result of direct tobacco use while more than 600 000 are the result of non-smokers being exposed to second-hand smoke.
  • Second-hand smoke is the smoke that fills restaurants, offices or other enclosed spaces when people burn tobacco products such as cigarettes, bidis and hookah (water-pipes).  
  • In adults, second-hand smoke causes serious cardiovascular and respiratory diseases, including coronary heart disease and lung cancer. In infants, it causes sudden death. In pregnant women, it causes low birth weight.
  • Smoking should be therefore banned where people agglomerate and should be discouraged at the personal level.


“Tobacco is universally regarded as one of the major public health hazards and is responsible directly or indirectly for an estimated eight lakh deaths annually in the country. It has also been found that treatment of tobacco related diseases and the loss of productivity caused therein cost the country almost Rs. 130,500 million annually, which more than offsets all the benefits accruing in the form of revenue and employment generated by tobacco industry”.

— Supreme Court of India, Murli S. Deora vs Union of India and Ors on 2 November 2001

[This observation is valid even today with perhaps a stronger statistics to support]


The Union Health Minister of India J P Nadda (JP) was fed up with the tactics of the opposition and the lobbying of the Tobacco Czars (like ITC, Godfrey Phillips) to stall his proposed amendments to the bill on Cigarettes and Other Tobacco Products (Prohibition of Advertisement and Regulation of Trade and Commerce, Production, Supply and Distribution) or simple called COTPA.

The amendments suggested to the bill were very well intended and were proposed after a lot of internal discussions and stakeholder consultation. The bill proposed raising of fine to Rs 1000 from Rs 200 on smoking in public places as well as recommended removal of designated smoking zones in hotels and restaurants.

A ban was also proposed on sale of loose cigarettes and raising the minimum age of a person buying tobacco products to 21 years from existing 18. This was expected to reduce consumption of illicit cigarettes. (The age group between 18-21 years was found to be 83 % of the first time smokers)

The Finance Minister in the 2015-2016 budget raised excise duty on cigarettes by a whopping 15%. The idea was to discourage smoking and certainly not build a revenue stream (I suppose)

JP’s secretary called me for a discussion on the COTPA “problem” and get my Professor friend along. “I have heard a lot of good things about your Professor Friend from the PMO. Let us see how he can help me” He told me when the secretary connected me on the phone.

Fortunately, Professor agreed to join (though he himself is a cigar smoker) and we took a flight from Mumbai to Delhi the very next day. As we were getting out of the airport, we bumped into Y C Deveshwar (YC), Chairman of ITC.


(Y C Deveshwar, Chairman of ITC)

“Where you heading YC?” I asked.

YC spoke in a hush hush voice” London. I better rush. It seems the Union Health Minister has appointed some high level Consultant to advise him on how to ban smoking in India. If this really happens, then the business of ITC will be severely hit. Will have to make alternate arrangements as I am answerable to my British investors. Just the announcement of proposed COTPA led to a fall in ITC’s share price by 7% at Bombay Stock Exchange so if the new bill actually works, then we will lose even more”

I couldn’t disagree. Good that YC did not know that the high level Consultant was standing right next to me, i.e. the Professor.

“Good Bye Dr Modak. Incidentally I am going by the same flight as taken by my friend Dr Vijay Mallya – i.e. Jet Airways departing at 12 10 pm to London. This will perhaps give some “fuel for the News hour” to our dear friend Arnab Goswami of Times Now. He will wonder why this particular flight gets chosen for any escape”


(Dr Vijay Mallya)

“You are right YC – but there is nothing common between you and Dr Mallya. You are a very respectable person – except that both of you are devils in disguise – one sells cigarettes with the mask of “Sustainability” (ITC has bagged several sustainability awards) and the other one sells “liquor” like a “King” and “fishes” around with the Banks.

But YC did not have any appetite to listen to my observations. He swiftly left and mingled in the crowd.

While we were driving to JP’s office, I briefed the Professor on the laws and regulations related to smoking in India and fed him with some interesting statistics.

There are approximately 120 million smokers in India. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), India is home to 12% of the world’s smokers. Approximately 900,000 people die every year in India due to smoking as of 2009. This figure could well be now close to 1500,000 or 1.5 million.

Anti-smoking advertisements are now screened at the beginning of the movie and during the interval. In addition, a disclaimer must be displayed on-screen during each scene where smoking is present. This requirement is well taken by the Bollywood and the Theater Owners.

According to the latest data on cigarette consumption given by the health ministry in Parliament, the consumption in 2014-15 was 93.2 billion sticks — 10 billion less than in 2012-13. But the production of cigarettes too fell from 117 billion to 105.3 billion sticks in the same period.

A nationwide smoke-free law pertaining to public places came into effect from 2 October 2008. Places where smoking is restricted include auditoriums, movie theaters, hospitals, public transport (aircraft, buses, trains, metros, monorails, taxis, autos) and their related facilities (airports, bus stands/stations, railway stations), restaurants, hotels, bars, pubs, amusement centres, offices (government and private), libraries, courts, post offices, markets, shopping malls, canteens, refreshment rooms, banquet halls, discothèques, coffee houses, educational institutions and parks.

Smoking is allowed on roads, inside one’s home or vehicle. Professor said that this was terrible as it would lead to secondary or passive smoking. The proposed amendment by Naddi addressed this concern.

Smoking was permitted in airports, restaurants, bars, pubs, discothèques and some other enclosed workplaces if they provide designated separate smoking areas. Professor said that these areas look like “gas chambers” of Nazis except here people volunteered to get in and were not there on the gun-point. The amendment to COTPA asked for a ban of such areas.

Anybody violating this law is charged with a fine of ₹200. The sale of tobacco products within 100 yards of educational institutions is banned – something difficult to enforce. The Cable Television Network (Regulation) Amendment Bill, in force since 8 September 2000, completely prohibited cigarette and alcohol advertisements. The proposed amendment is asking for increase in the fine from Rs 200 to Rs 1000.  

Today more than 60 per cent of the total tobacco crop produce is used for making cigarettes. Rest is exported and used to make the bidis. India earns around Rs 300,000 million as excise duty on cigarettes. We will in fact earn more money as the Finance Minister in the new budget as increased the excise duty by 15%. The per capita consumption of cigarette in India is 96 per annum which is one of the lowest in the world. Some smokers said that we have a lot of scope to improve! 

There is a significant export of unprocessed Tobacco from India. The Government collects good revenue out of this export. More than 6 million people in India are employed in farming Tobacco. 

When we reached JP’s office, after some preliminaries, JP asked the Professor to give his reactions and suggestions on the proposed amendments.

On the ban and enforcement, Professor told JP that the “Statistics from Global Adult Tobacco Survey (GATS) indicates that 60% of the smokers are not affected by the ban on consumption of cigarettes in public places. So no matter how pervasive are the bans on smoking since the turn of the century, global cigarette volume sales have increased by about 8%. This trend will continue”

JP was rather disappointed with this “opening” remark.

He retorted “Professor, are you not aware that Tobacco alone is the leading cause of 90% of the diseases affecting the mouth, 80% of the chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, 60% of heart diseases, 50% of cancers and 20% of all deaths. According to the Tata Memorial Centre in Mumbai, tobacco use is linked to 85% of head and neck squamous cell cancer cases”

I supported JP further saying that “There are more than 4000 chemicals in tobacco smoke, of which at least 250 are known to be harmful and more than 50 are known to cause cancer. There is no safe level of exposure to second-hand tobacco smoke.”

Although a single cigarette is small in size and typically weighs less than 1 gram, a cigarette typically emits between 7 and 23 milligrams (mg) of PM2.5 when it is smoked, depending on the manner of smoking and the brand (see References 1 and 2 on the reference citation list). When people congregate in an airport baggage area or enter a smoking lounge where many brands are smoked, the average amount of PM2.5 mass emitted per cigarette is about 14 mg. Although 14 mg may not seem like a lot of mass emitted, each cigarette weighs only about 0.9 grams total, making it an extremely potent source of air pollution for its weight.  

“Shouldn’t we then promote the Electronic or E-Cigarettes?” I asked the Professor

“On the Contrary”. The Professor said

“The E-cigarettes may be smokeless but are essentially the Trojan horses, capable of a wreaking havoc as an addictive device. E-cigarettes help to maintain the habit, not quit it. Flavoring agents used in the E-cigarettes or the Electronic Nicotine Delivery Systems (ENDS) is just another way of luring young potential clients. The nicotine contained in these cartridges is much more than the legal threshold of 30 mg. Adverse effect of nicotine on the cardiovascular system and foetal brain impairment are also well documented. Also, propylene glycol, which is the main solvent in e-cigarettes is used as an industrial poison. It will de-normalize many of the tobacco-control rules”


JP’s Secretary butted in “The State-run Food and Drug Administration has declared selling of e-cigarettes illegal in Maharashtra. But the national laws on these slender Electronic Nicotine Delivery Systems (ENDS) remain hazy. Maharashtra is the second state after Punjab to crackdown on e-cigarettes. Unfortunately, they are freely available for sale online”

“Sir, I would highly recommend you to introduce a ban on E-cigarettes in the proposed amendment of COTPA” Professor said this rather strongly and in a high pitch to JP

“Oh don’t give me another new point to battle” JP exclaimed and continued his point on the adverse impact of cigarettes on the environment. “Smoke is not the only culprit but the Cigarette butts are the worst” he said “they dot sidewalks, clog gutters, and soil our breaches. Cigarettes contain toxins that, when littered, leak into the surrounding environment. It only takes a single cigarette butt to contaminate a liter of water. Animals can also mistake littered butts for food”

Here the Professor had interesting information to share “Many cigarette filters are made of cellulose acetate, a high-grade plastic that’s also used in sunglasses. The plastic from the cigarette buts can be recovered to make plastic products. You should invite  companies like TerraCycle who have found a way to recycle these unwelcome discards. The program is known as Cigarette Waste Brigade. The program has gone global. To date in the United States alone, TerraCycle has set up over 7,000 cigarette recycling bins and more than 38 million butts having been collected. Visit https://www.terracycle.com/en-US/”

“That is truly inspiring Sir”, I said.

As usual Professor had another point of view. He said that while framing policies on banning or discouraging smoking of cigarettes, we must look at the economics and employment of theperipheral industries” that thrive on smoking. “You have to protect them too as much as Public Health” he said.

“Today, cigarette lighters represent a multi-billion dollar industry on a global basis and are growing annually at 3-4%. Region-wise, Asia Pacific represents the world’s biggest market for cigarette lighters followed by Eastern and Western Europe. But more than 80% of the world’s lighters are made in Wenzhou, a town that has built unbeatable moulding, tooling capabilities for mass producing the product. Following the message from the PM of “Make in India”, we should be boosting the production of cigarette lighters and take on China”

“What about cigarette ash tray makers? Most belong to informal sector and handicraft industry. And there are even more stakeholders like home air purifier makers, medical counselors, chest physicians, drug and chewing gum makers who are essentially thrive on the smoking business. So “a bit” of smoking of cigarettes must continue” I added another dimension.

JP was completely lost after listening to us. Both of us had quoted the  “pros” and “cons” of discouraging smoking with data and statistics. JP asked for a service of strong coffee.

While I spoke to JP on other matters and moved to his desk, the Professor continued to sit on the conference table and was busy doing some sketching. As usual, he had started smoking his pipe for the interest of his “inspiration”.

In just 10 minutes, he walked across to us and presented a complex diagram. I am pasting this diagram below.

SMOKING - Systems Dynamics

“This is the depiction of Smoking of Cigarettes in India in the style of System Dynamics. See the various linkages we talked about, complexities such as “delays” and “switches” and the “step functions”, positives and the negatives that affect smoking while considering interests of various stakeholders. The reforms we are talking will essentially drive the “system” and must be set in a judicious “combination”. We need to simulate the possibilities and scenarios upfront to come up with something realistic, doable or practical. Ad-hoc decisions will not work. If you are interested then I can code this diagram in VenSIM (a software that is used in SD applications)”

With this proposal, typically put in his trademark smokers voice, the Professor went to the loo.

JP took a close look at Professor’s “system dynamics” representation.

“I think this Professor Friend of yours has made a very interesting diagram –telling us how complex is making amendments to the existing policies. And I like his approach on the “systems thinking” but shouldn’t lead to “policy paralysis”.

“However, I just hate the guy. He had the guts to smoke his cigar in my room and put both of us under the risk of passive smoking and ironically so when we were talking about discouraging smoking. I don’t think I will hire him for this job. Wish him good luck on my behalf”

We took the evening return flight to Mumbai with no conversation between us during the flight.

Systems Dynamics (SD) is an invaluable and exciting tool to introduce and train environmental scientists, engineers, planners and economists of understanding “systems”. I did three courses on SD  during my doctoral research and thoroughly enjoyed.

Very few post graduate programs in India have SD in the curriculum.

If you are interested in knowing more about SD,   then don’t miss reading the monumental work done by Professor Jay Forester of MIT (see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jay_Wright_Forrester)

To students: Note that Professors Systems Diagram was done in a hurry. See if you can improve and send me a “proper” version at prasad.modak@emcentre.com

Professor Om Damani of IIT Bombay recommends a “tutorial” at http://jsterman.scripts.mit.edu/docs/Sterman%20Sustaining%20Sustainability%2010-2.pdf


Take a look

Image of E-cigarette sourced from http://shlyahoviva.blogspot.in/2013/07/cost-of-1-pack-of-cigarettes-in.html

Disclaimer – The story of the consultation meeting with the Union Health Minister and bumping into Y C Deveshwar, Chairman of ITC at the Delhi airport is not real. No offences made or implied. I hope their mention is taken in good spirit & humor. The data and statistics presented in the post are however real.

Keys to the Office of Dr Deepak Kantawala


When we were completing our Masters at IIT Bombay in Environmental Science and Engineering, we all wanted to become “Environmental Consultants”. It was the period of 1980 and the environmental consulting market wasn’t much established in India.

In 1976, I remember, I was doing my internship with Hindustan Dorr Oliver (HDO) in Mumbai. I was at the laboratory doing some wastewater treatability studies. My seniors A D Kini and S L Nayak were discussing how to translate the results of the treatability into the plant design. “We will have to ask Dr” said A D Kini.

Who is the Doctor? I asked (a dumb question). Kini said “Dr Deepak Kantawala, our Consultant. He is an authority in the treatment of industrial wastewaters. He did his doctoral at Wash U in the United States”.

I saw Dr Deepak Kantawala in the next week at the HDO in his trademark Quadra jeans, long whiskers, a white shirt with cufflinks and a red tie. He was walking around smoking a pipe that had a unique aroma of tobacco. I learnt that he ran a company called Environmental Engineering Consultants (EEC) at the Nariman Point.


(Dr Deepak Kantawala – A recent photograph)

Dr Deepak Kantawala (or Doctor) became our hero, or someone to follow in making our careers. One of my colleague and a close friend, Shirish Naik joined EEC after completion of his Masters. He used to say that Doctors library was a real treasure. It had all the consulting reports he did for the industries, many of them were multinationals. The library had full collection of Purdue University’s Annual Industrial Waste Conferences. One could spend hours browsing through these reports and conference volumes.

One day, Shirish and I thought that the best way to become a Consultant would be to steal Doctors treasures. We thought of photocopying all his important consulting reports. Once armed with this “knowledge” we thought we will be able not just compete with Dr Kantawala but even surpass him and become the most sought after Consultants in India.

But the problem was how to do the photocopying of the consulting reports discretely. It had to be done after the office hours and not noticed by Doctor or other seniors in the office. The only way was to get access to his office on the weekend.

I thought of an idea of approaching Doctor as IIT MTech students and request him for the use of his library over a weekend. We were sure that given Dr Kantawala’s love towards students (he was a Professor at MS University in Vadodara prior becoming a Consultant), he would allow us to use the office on the weekend.

We met him in his office and made this request. He was very pleased to know that we were interested to spend our “precious” weekends in his library and with his reports and the books. He took a deep puff from his pipe and thought about how to get us the access to his office on the weekend.

“Where do you stay Prasad?” He asked. I said “Shivaji-Park”.

“Oh then it is pretty easy and straight forward. On this Friday evening stand outside the Sanman restaurant on the Cadel Road around 7 pm. I live in Juhu so will be passing over the Cadel Road. I will pass you my office key at the Sanman spot. You and Shirish can use my office and be in our Library over the weekend to your heart’s content. On Monday morning, stand opposite to Sanman at 8 00 am sharp with my office keys. I will get the keys picked up from you on my way to the office”

We were shocked to see the ease in which he made this proposition. Clearly, the poor Professor cum Consultant didn’t see the devil in us. We readily agreed to Doctor’s proposal.

We went to a photocopying shop at Nariman Point next to Dr Kantawala’s office. We negotiated and booked the photocopying job for getting us good quality prints in the shortest time possible. We estimated photocopying of some 1000 pages each day. The photocopying cost of Rs 1000 was worth for the “knowledge acquisition”

As agreed, I picked up the office key from Doctor on the next Friday evening at Sanman restaurant. On Saturday morning, Shirish and I reached the office of Environmental Engineering Consultants (EEC) on the 9th floor of the Mittal Chambers at Nariman Point. We opened the office and rushed to the library of treasures.

We first picked up report prepared for Ciba-Geigy, then Park Davis and then Pfizer and so on. We ensured that we had both the treatability studies as well as the design reports. We included in our heap, structural designs of the treatment plants prepared by Dr Kantawala’ s cousin Mahendra Shah, a wizard in this subject.

Within two hours of hard work, we were able to pile an impressive heap of “knowledge” on the desk of the library. The next task was to lift the heap and reach to the photocopying shop, give him the “job” and then go for lunch at the Woodlands  (a famous south Indian restaurant on the ground floor that served a great grape juice). Once photocopying was done, all we were to do was take back the books to the office of EEC and place them in the original sequence they used to be.

We were about to begin our secret mission.

But, something was in the thin air. We looked at each other before embarking our adventure. Both of us suddenly felt that we were doing something wrong, indeed unethical and something shameful to us and our families.

We realized that Dr Kantawala had trusted in us fully and handed over the office keys so that we use this library to read and learn. It was wrong on our part to cheat and steal his Consulting reports. We were clearly misusing his kindness and generosity. We paused and decided not to…

Within next half hour, we put back all the reports, the Ciba Giegy, Park Davis and the likes where they originally were. We did not speak while this “reverse operation” was going on.  We skipped lunch at the Woodlands and went home,

I met Dr Kantawala on Monday morning at the Sanman spot as earlier decided. While handing over the keys, I said “Doctor, can I get a ride till Worli Naka”. “Sure” Dr Kantawala said.

In the journey between Shivaji-Park to Worli, I did a confession and told Dr Kantawala everything, about our ulterior motives, the plan and the failure or abortion of the plan. He listened to me patiently, puffing in between his pipe with the unique tobacco aroma.

He then smiled and said “I knew you and your friend were up to something – but what it was I wasn’t sure. I had however a confidence that both of you won’t do anything that will be unethical, tarnish your souls and damage reputation of your families”.

He then patted on my back, and said “Prasad, if knowledge was so simple to acquire then universities and such halls of knowledge would be have been long replaced by the photocopying machines!”

I understood what he meant.

There was a difference between having documents and possessing the knowledge. Most think the former.

Years later, while at IIT Bombay, I was developing water quality modelling software for application on river Ganga. The project was funded by the Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF). The models we were developing were unique, Ganga relevant and complex – meant for optimizing investments on the wastewater treatment plants along the river. There was another “rival” research group at an institution of national importance working on water quality modeling.

I got a call one evening from a close friend at the MoEF alerting me that one of my Team members was quitting and he was “stealing” the source code of our models on a Mag Tape and joining the “rival group”. “Stop this Guy, Dr Modak and don’t let him take away the source code” My friend said in all my interest and earnestly.


(Thieves of two kinds)

I thought for a while and remembered the story of the office keys of Dr Deepak Kantawala.

I then simply let go this Team member without any questioning. “Won’t harm me at all” I told my friend at MoEF.

Indeed, our modelling software was “stolen”.

In a short time however, I could build far superior water quality models by working with two brilliant masters’ students – Rakesh Kumar Gelda and C Clement Prabhakar. Our models solved coupled DO-BOD equations in two dimensional space factoring transverse dispersion for the first time using Crank-Nicholson algorithm. The model calibration used advanced techniques of non-linear optimization with heuristics. The MoEF topped up our funding as we were found to be way ahead!


Rakesh Kumar Gelda (Rakesh Gelda is now a renowned lake modeler at the Freshwater Institute in the United States)


Clement Prabhakar (Clement did outstanding work of developing the famous MODFLOW and RT3D codes for ground water quality modelling for the US EPA)

You cannot steal knowledge. In fact, knowledge sharing helps one to grow.

Only those who are insecure, hide and try to “lock” the knowledge.

Today, the whole era of Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) has brought in the barriers, led to distortions and given great business to the lawyers.

Sometimes, want or quest of personal recognition affects the free flow of knowledge. Recognition or taking the credit is I believe most a difficult thing to conquer that prevents free knowledge sharing.

You may know that Jagadish Chandra Bose was the first one to invent a wireless coherer and an instrument for indicating the refraction of electric waves. However, instead of trying to gain commercial benefit from this invention, Bose made his inventions public in order to allow others to further develop his research. He later turned his attention from the inorganic to the organic world. His revolutionary discoveries as a plant physiologist outpace even his radical achievements as a physicist. Although Bose filed for a patent for one of his inventions because of peer pressure, his reluctance to any form of patenting was well known.

I salute his ability to go beyond the quest of personal recognition and enjoy the discoveries of science and make them public for the interest of social good.

[Bose’s place in history has now been re-evaluated. He is now officially credited with inventing the first wireless detection device, discovering millimetre length electromagnetic waves, and being a pioneer in the field of biophysics]

So you don’t work or look for recognition. Recognition comes to you.

Every day I take a walk over Shivaji-Park and pass over the restaurant Sanman on Cadel Road. I remember the keys of Dr Deepak Kantawala – keys that opened up my mind to be what I am today and will always be.


(Picture on “thieves” taken from



One day early in Hong Kong


This is one of my posts sharing some sentimental experiences of my life. As usual, the story is a blend, crafted carefully, altering the names and the locations. It’s hard even for me today to figure out what is real and what is not. But is it worth knowing?

I don’t know why I feel like sharing such stories with you – is it to vent me out? Or to make you jealous? Or strike similar chords in your personal lives?

I am sure you would like to have a friend like Byke in your life. And if you don’t then do look for her. Don’t ever lose the envelope in case you get one!


I met Byke for the first time in the Chemistry Laboratory of Environmental Engineering Program at the Asian Institute of Technology (AIT) in Bangkok. She was a new student. It was 10 pm at night. She was doing a titration that was needed for some analyses. She was all alone as she had missed the regular laboratory session. I was in the lab reading a book. The air in the lab was chilly with a sweet aroma of chemicals.

Somehow Byke was missing the “end point” of the titration. “Shit, not again” she used to scream when a miss would happen. She had to redo then the entire set up of solutions once again. That was quite a pain. When this miss happened for the third time, she looked around helplessly and found me (smiling).

In the utter frustration that she had, Byke looked really cute. With her straight short hair, a dimple on the cheeks, a bright red Tee shirt and white shorts, she looked like a pretty doll. I walked across and stood close to her, removed the earphones she was wearing and pulled out the Sony Walkman that she had belted on her waist. I said “My Dear Friend, You look like a true Music Lover”, I then put the earphones on me and heard the song she was playing – “Simply the Best” a hit song by Tina Turner

“Come on, how can you strike the “end point” with such a great Tina Turner song going around” – I tapped on her head lightly.  “Now do the titration without your Walkman – you are not going to miss the end point this time”

And she did not.

“I am Byke! And you?” She said in her Pilipino accent in an excited tone.

“Me Prasad, and I love Tina Turner too”, I said

With this short introduction, we became best friends thereafter.

Byke was from the Philippines. Byke was not her real name. Philippino names are as complicated like our south Indian names. Everybody called her Byke and I never asked her full name.

I taught Byke engineering design and Byke taught me how to dance. She used to take me to town with her Philippino friends and after all the dancing around, we used to land at Niu’s on Silom road. Niu’s (closed now) was a famous Jazz Club & Italian Restaurant with great choice of wines.


(Singing at the Niu’s)

Byke had a good voice. Sometimes she used to sing on the stage. “Inspire me Prasad”, she used to box me on my chest with her fists. I used to play the keyboards and so there were occasions when I accompanied her for some soulful numbers, especially by Carole King. “Now it’s too late” was one of her favorite songs.

Byke always wanted to learn keyboards from me. So we used be in the Piano room of the AIT Center in the evenings. Although she made a serious attempt, she could never pick up the keyboards. “You are wasting your time my dear friend” I used to say and she used to retort “no wasting of time when I am with you Prasad. I enjoy every moment we spend together in this Piano room”.


(Byke took this picture of mine in the Piano Room)

I knew Byke was friendly with several like me. And that is how her nature was. Her friendliness was not to be confused. Some did and suffered in the process! In fact there was a rumor that she had a rich boyfriend whom she was going to marry after returning to Manila.  Once I coaxed her to show me his picture and she was very upset with me. She didn’t speak to me for the entire day! “I don’t like such questions Prasad – especially coming from you” she said this when we patched up again.

When we graduated, there was a graduation party. Byke and all our “music friends” had reserved a table to dine together. We really had a ball during the dinner and we remembered all the good times. Most knew that we may not be meeting again and so we exchanged addresses with a promise that we will meet once again after 25 years! This was 1983.

“Prasad, you lousy friend – I am going to be tracking you” Byke said this while pulling me out of the dining hall under a tree outside the foyer. “As I still need to learn keyboards from you” she was panting and gasping for breath. It was nearly 12 at night.

She stared at me for a while and then inserted an envelope in the front pocket of my shirt. She gave me a good long hug and kissed on my cheeks. There was a jasmine fragrance. “So long Prasad”. She whispered and then went on running to disappear –in a manner so surgical – cutting me from her life.

When I reached my room, I opened the envelope. All it had was a short note. It said “Ask me before you marry”.

I returned to Mumbai and got into the mess of my career. I met Kiran as introduced by the families and we got married soon.

I had misplaced Byke’s envelop and the note by then. The fond memories of our close friendship however remained. I would remember her especially when I would get to listen to Tina Turner or Carole King.

I did check about Byke’s whereabouts through my friends. Last I had heard that she had moved out of Manila.

Years passed by. One day I received a letter of invitation from the Hong Kong Productivity Council (HKPC) to help them conduct a 5 day training program on Green Productivity as Chief Resource Person. When I communicated my acceptance, I was told that one Ms.  Rodora S. Natividad from HKPC will be contacting me for all the travel logistics as well as about the technical details.

Ms. Rodora was quite efficient in all the arrangements. Her response to my emails (queries) was quick. My flights got booked and the hotel that was picked up was an excellent choice, L’hotel Causeway Bay Harbor.

I got into Hong Kong early morning by Cathay Pacific. I checked in, took a shower and came down to the reception as instructed by Ms. Rodora. Ms. Rodora had sent me the full program. We were to start meeting of the resource persons right in the morning on Floor 3, the Mandarin room; followed by Days 2 to 4 of lecture sessions ending with a field trip on Day 5. Day 6 was reserved for the wrap up. I was carrying all the papers for the opening meeting with the Resource Persons.

When I reached the reception, I was shocked to see Byke standing there. Dressed in a smart skirt, Chinese style top and a silk scarf, she looked so magnificent. A woman in her mid-thirties confusing you with her charming youth and at the same time the maturity. I was simply floored.

When Byke saw me, she came running and hugged me and said “So, I got you here Prasad”

And before I could ask her how she landed in Hong Kong as Ms. Rodora, she said “Now shut up. I am going to tell you everything later– but the most important thing I want you to know is that there is no resource person session today. The program actually starts tomorrow. I got you one day early in Hong Kong just to spend the day together. The program I sent you was cooked up – the real action starts tomorrow and the resource persons will arrive only tonight”

I was zapped. What a woman this Byke! – I said to myself

“So?” I tapped on her head lightly – like I used to “What’s then today?”

Byke had worked out the entire day for us – and so very meticulously. Everything was planned well in advance.

We drove first to the Lover’s Rock.

Situated on Bowen Road, this rock stands close to 30 feet high and is said to possess magical powers. It is decorated with oriental red and beautifully crafted drapes especially during the Maiden’s Festival that is held in August each year. It was already August and the annual festival was on. During the festival, young unmarried girls pray for good fortune in their forthcoming lives as well as a suitable husband.


(The Lovers Rock)

When we were at the rock, Byke softly said “Prasad I made my wish at this rock that I will see you one more time again –See my wish got fulfilled and there you are in front of me today”. I was really touched and did not know what to say. “I too remembered you Byke so many times” I said this but in a voice that seemed faded and miles away.


(The Sundaram Tagore Gallery)

We lunched on the street-side remembering the good old times. Byke then drove me to the Sundaram Tagore Gallery. Sundaram Tagore Gallery is devoted to examining the exchange of ideas between Western and non-Western cultures. The Gallery focuses on developing exhibitions and hosting not-for-profit events that encourage spiritual, social and aesthetic dialogues.

When we reached the Gallery, we found that the exhibition of mystic paintings of the world was on. As we walked around, Byke stopped in front of a painting that showed an angel like girl sitting on the branch of a barren tree The grey blue of the sky with a contrasting mat of green leaves under the tree was something deep and magical. The angel looked lost and a bit sad – longing for the earth.


“I know this artist” Byke said. “Don’t remember the name though”.

“Many a times I feel that the angel is me” Byke said this while staring at the painting that was hung on the wall.

Then she turned around and looked into my eyes and slowly said

“Prasad, when I returned to Manila, I married Rudy – who was part of one of the wealthy and influential families of Manila. But in a year, we split as we had differences. Then I decided to leave the Philippines and look for a job elsewhere. And that is how I landed at the HKPC” Her voice was broken. Her eyes were moist. I could feel the pain. “Sorry to know this Byke” I said. “Oh don’t feel Sorry Prasad – I am now alright”, Byke said this in a voice that was kind of matter of fact.

We stepped out of the Sundaram Tagore Gallery quietly.

Byke had some errands to do for the next day – i.e. the first official day of the training event. So she dropped me back to the Hotel and went to the nearby Supermarket. “Take a shower and come down in 30 minutes – we are going to the Wanch tonight” She warned

Historic, friendly, unpretentious and international, The Wanch is quite simply a Hong Kong institution. It has been the home of live music in Hong Kong since 1987, offering original music showcase nights, the top local covers bands and jam sessions. There is live music every night. The Walls are decorated with a mixture of very old photographs of Hong Kong and music posters that reflect Wanch’s iconic status at the heart of Hong Kong’s music scene.


(The Wanch)

We were greeted very warmly by the owner of the Wanch. Byke seems to know him well and we got the best seats. When the band started playing music of the 80’s, Byke really got excited. “Let us do one number together – I will sing and you take on the keyboard. Let me speak to Wong. Wong was managing live music. It was around 12 30 am that Wong let us come on the dais. Byke sang her old time favorite “Now it’s too late” by Carole King and I supported her on the keyboards. We did pretty well as someone shouted “Encore” when we finished.  I felt that I was re-living my earlier life.

Byke drove me to the hotel. As we stopped in front of the entrance, she hugged me once again, brushed her lips on my cheeks lightly and said “So I was able to steal you from your wife at least for a day. We had a wonderful time today Prasad”

I got down from the car, stepped aside and stood to say good night. Then all of sudden, Byke left the wheel, opened the door and walked towards me. Punching blows on my chest with her fists (like she used to do), she held me close and said “You never reached me before marrying – You scoundrel” and before even I could attempt saying some excuse, she said “How could you? I never wrote down my telephone nos for you Prasad. I should have. My mistake”.

And then almost like stabbing me with a knife – she said, rather sharply “But that was quite a disappointment Prasad”. She turned back to the car and drove home.

The next day morning we met officially at the Mandarin room on third floor. Byke was reading out short introduction of the resource persons. It appeared that she could not locate my profile. “Dr Modak, will you please introduce yourself” she said.

“Well, Ms.  Rodora, I think you know me well enough to introduce” I said

“Not really Dr Modak, I don’t know you that well enough. May I request you once again to introduce yourself please” I saw Byke’s face and the tone different.

I realized that one day before in Hong Kong was over.


I had told my wife Kiran, who is a ceramic potter, about Byke. So when I returned home, I told her about my encounter with her in Hong Kong. She had a good laugh. “You fool, you never understood Byke, and I feel sorry for you both” She said. And she continued her work on her pottery wheel.

In 2007, when I had my first angioplasty, and when we were home Kiran said “I guess this stent belongs to your long lost friend Byke”. I looked at the mischief in her eyes but saw the deep trust in me at the same time – that was so comforting. “You know everything – what can I say?” I said this moving to my shining Rolland Keyboard.



Cover page sourced from http://snippetstudios.com/2015/01/12/netflix-one-day-review/

Painting of the Angel taken from https://in.pinterest.com/bjohnsonvabch/fantasy-and-mystical-art/)



Virtual Impact Assessment of the Coastal Road Project in Mumbai


It is not still too late to reconsider

A 35.6-km Coastal Road has been planned along the west coastline of Mumbai to provide a freeway linking south Mumbai with western suburbs. It is expected to reduce traffic congestion in the western suburbs of Mumbai. Today, the Western Express Highway (WEH) carries over 60% of the city’s traffic. The Coastal Road project will take this load off the WEH.

The nodal agency for this Project is the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC). BMC has proposed a 10-km long underground tunnel at two locations starting from Nariman Point to Priyadarshani Park and from Juhu to Versova. The road will include 22 interchanges, entry and exit points, and lanes dedicated to Bus Rapid Transit System (BRTS). The road is estimated to cost Rs 120,000 million. The Project will be implemented in phases.

Lately, I have been reading and following up the discussions related to this Project.  As an environmental professional, I have been always hounded at the Page 3 Parties with a question “Dr Modak, Is this Coastal Project any Good for Mumbai?” I have been having a tough time to skirt my way through as there is no such answer like “Yes” or “No” to this complex Project. The best is to give an ambiguous response like “It depends” and that’s what I have been saying in all these parties.

Statements made by the Chief Minister of the Government of Maharashtra, Commissioner of BMC and the Project Consultants have been very positive, emphasizing Project’s need and the benefits it would lead to. Apart from reducing traffic congestion, the argument is made on reduction in air pollution and thereby protecting Mumbaikar’s health. The Environmental NGOs and professionals, especially architects and nature lovers are however very upset with the very project concept – and its configuration. On the issue of air pollution, many are convinced that we need to worry more about the air emissions resulting from the open burning of the garbage and fires at the dumping ground in Deonar. As most cars are fitted with AC today, air emissions from the traffic should not be of much concern.

The Coastal Road project has received Environmental Clearance (EC) from the Ministry of Environment and Forests and Climate Change (MoEFCC). In this process, BMC received more than 700 suggestions and objections from citizens, activists and fishermen. I believe that the project consultants have made every attempt to minimize issues related to land restoration, flooding, mangroves and extent of visual intrusion. I don’t know whether answers to the 700 + questions are posted on BMC’s website.

But indeed all these impacts cannot be fully neutralized. Citizens will have to compromise between these impacts against the benefit of efficient transportation in the north-south corridor saving a considerable travel time, reducing consumption of fuel and thus air emissions to the environment. The choice is therefore so hard to make and is as difficult to decide whether to continue to stay in Mumbai!

The stretch of the Coastal Road that passes through the suburban areas of Khar, Juhu, and Versova are the problem areas for the BMC. In these areas, there are a lot of mangroves. There is also a stiff opposition from the fishermen community of the fishing villages of Khar Danda and Mora. The MoEFCC in its EC has mandated that if there is any destruction of mangroves, then the agency will have to replant three times the number of mangroves lost. Is three an appropriate number? And will such a kind of “off-set” compensation really help? These are questions that will remain unanswered.

I thought of meeting my Professor friend on a Sunday morning for a coffee and get his views on the Coastal Road project. Professor however had another idea. “Let us drive on the Coastal Road itself and you will experience the change” he said.

I was shocked.

“Sir, it will take next 6 years to complete the Project. Are you aware that the Project includes reclamation and tunneling components that are not easy to implement. I am sure there will be “Project Roko Andolans” as well that will stall or delay some of the sensitive sections of the Project”

The Professor smiled.

“I am going to take you in my special simulator van that has an ability to do Virtual Impact Assessment (VIA). As we will drive along the proposed route of the Coastal Road Project, the Simulator based on VIA will show us the future i.e. how will the environment be during construction and operation phase of the Project”

I was astonished. “That is unbelievable! What is this VIA you talking about?”

“It’s a new and emerging technique” Professor said briefly.

I reached at the MLA Hostel at the Nariman Point at 9 am. A large size Van was parked at the Gate and Professor with his Cigar was waiting outside for me.


(Professors Van with VIA – sourced from http://psipunk.com/category/future-trucks/page/4/)

“Get in” he said with all the excitement while extinguishing his Cigar

The interior of the Van was like a spacecraft with a large screen and a dashboard. Professor gave me special pair of spectacles to wear that had the ability of 3D vision but more importantly had the “power” to view the Present and the “Future”.  The dashboard had buttons to generate scenarios.

We began the journey and soon entered the tunnel underneath the Marine Drive that went all the way through the Malabar Hill reservoir. I heard a symphony of violins. The Professor said that this is the music coming from one of the concerts at the NCPA. “When anyone will pass through the Tunnel, the music as live at the NCPA will be relayed – of course if you want to – just to entertain. Professor said

“So soothing and so thoughtful of you” I said. The tunnel journey was great with bright illumination of lights reflecting on the sheets of water on the wall, flowing due to the unstoppable leaks formed in the Malabar Hill reservoir during construction.

We reached Haji Ali in no time.  In the maze of flyovers constructed there I couldn’t figure out where the Mosque was. Professor was quiet “Cannot do much” He said “We are aware of this problem and we have apologized in writing for the visual intrusion we have created. But you see this affects only a small fraction of city’s population. We must see benefit to the city as a whole. Note that we have also impacted the Mahalaxmi temple, equally – so it’s all fair in that sense.

There was hardly any traffic on the Coastal Road. The cars I could see were saloon type not within the reach of a common person. I guess the common person was still hanging outside the packed local railway compartment. Professor said that the toll to use the Coastal Road was rather expensive – and it had to be as there was nearly 50% cost overrun from the original budget of Rs. 120,000 million. There was also an imposition to use Dutch consultants and Japanese contractors as Government of Maharashtra had mobilized funding from the Netherlands and JICA. That had turned out to be a bad deal – rather costly. Besides very few were really interested to travel from MLA hostel to Malad

I saw a car overtaking us near Worli and saw a politician looking like person sitting in the front seat. “He is Mr. Shaikh, MLA from Malad (West)”, Professor said. Mr. Shaikh is a regular user of the Coastal Road. It takes him now only 35 minutes to reach from residence to MLA Hostel so that he can wake up late in the morning. Mr. Shaikh is a very happy commuter of the Coastal Road” Professor was substantiating. Apparently this was one of the important factors of motivation for Mr. Shaikh to support the Coastal Road Project and help BMC to resolve the protests from the fishermen. I am very sure that this was not true.

When we were reaching Bandra, we crossed over the Mahim Fort. Mahim Fort is a magnificent island fort of historical importance built by the Portuguese some 900 years ago.


The Mahim Fort

“Aha, here you will see the power of technology”. Professor said triumphantly.

We took a diversion and exited the Coastal Road and reached the Mahim Fort. The Coastal Road on stilt was just in the proximity blocking the magnificent sea view that we used to see.

When we entered the Fort, I saw several “kiosks” put around. The Professor took me to one of “kiosks” and pressed few buttons. A huge screen got created that showed me an uninterrupted view of the sea, the rocks with young couples sitting and smooching around and the “khare dane walas” (those selling roasted groundnuts) – an aroma of a mix of sea spray and untreated sewage also came around! And there was a gusty wind – perhaps through a clever wind generator. The outcome was just like the situation as it “used to be”!

“Well we kind of recorded the baseline scenario around the Mahim Fort – did meters of digital photography – then used laser technology to create the baseline virtually in the sky so that you can get the same experience as before (the sound, wind, light and smell blended together)” – Professor was explaining.

“This is just amazing – first of all half the population of Mumbai does not know much about the Mahim Fort, then a very small percentage of people visit – majority of them are not monument lovers but are just lovers who are looking for a place to hide – and its so thoughtful of you that you created this virtual world just to keep your promise to minimize the adverse impacts of visual intrusion. Hats off to you Professor and you have given  fitting response to objections by Shweta Wagh and Hussain Indorewala” I couldn’t resist but say this in all emotions.

We got back on the Coastal Road and were soon passing over the stretches of Khar danda and Juhu. This was supposed to be the mangrove affected area. We were on the elevated or stilt section barricaded by the noise barriers (may be intentionally so that we don’t see the degraded and depleted patches of the mangroves) and so I could not understand the status of the mangroves. Before the Professor could stop me, I pressed the button on the simulator dashboard and commanded the scene under the stilt road in the Monsoon of 2021. I saw a picture on the big screen of cars weeding through the floods, sea ingresing with severe coastal erosion happening on the Juhu beach. Well Professor said “We did the best we could. Some of our climate related predictions were not accurate and three times plantation idea was not effective”


Mangroves in the Coffins

A car is submerged amidst water-logged houses in a rain-hit area of Chennai on November 17, 2015. India has deployed the army and air force to rescue flood-hit residents in the southern state of Tamil Nadu, where at least 71 people have died in around a week of torrential rains. AFP PHOTO / AFP / STR

Cars in the Floods 


I was silent

When we finished our journey at Malad, I asked the Professor “So Professor – is the Coastal Road Project any good?”

Professor lit his cigar and said “Dr Modak, It all depends


In India, we continue to focus on Project level Environmental Impact Assessments. When we talk about area wide interventions, we need to elevate our thinking from Project level to Regional Impact Assessment (REA).

The REAs need to be triggered through a comprehensive Environmental and Social Policy Framework (ESPF). Agencies like BMC and MMRDA or MSRTC need to come together and establish ESPF that guides infrastructure development in a 3600 and sustainable perspective.  The Projects get identified only when all alternatives are examined (both strategic and operational) and Project EIAs are conducted downstream guided by an overarching ESPF that is developed through stakeholder consultation. What we need to demand is the creation and operation of a regional ESPF.

I spoke at S.D.VAIDYA Lecture Series organized by Indian Society of Landscape Architects (ISOLA) titled ‘MUMBAI: ON A ROAD TO KNOW WHERE?’ on 28th of November, 2015. You may like to view this presentation related to the Coastal Road project and the ESPF at http://www.slideshare.net/EkonnectKnowledgeFoundation

(cover image sourced from http://www.azquotes.com/quote/1447055)


The Secret Life of Dr Modak


This post is based on “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty” – a short story by James Thurber. It first appeared in The New Yorker on March 18, 1939.

The story is considered one of Thurber’s acknowledged masterpieces. It was made into a 1947 movie on the same name, though the movie is very different from the original story. It was also adapted into a 2013 film, which is again very different from the original.

The name Walter Mitty and the derivative word “Mittyesque” have entered the English language, denoting an ineffectual person who spends more time in heroic daydreams than paying attention to the real world.

I have been a great fan of James Thurber and especially the story of Walter Mitty. The post below is my attempt to share with you my own secret life on the similar lines. I am sure that in this process you will see the messages I would like to flag with some salt and pepper of satire and humor  – as always!

You get to read the original story on-line at http://www.fraumuenster.ch/wp-content/uploads/2013/09/The-Secret-Life-of-Walter-Mitty.pdf. Please don’t miss. Salute to James Thurber!


My Professor friend called me in the morning asking for a car ride to the office of the Ministry of Environment and Forests and Climate Change (MoEFCC). He was called to chair a meeting on the Review of Research Proposals for MoEFCC’s funding.

Professors’ car plate was odd-numbered and on the day of the meeting odd numbered vehicles were on the ban. So he wanted that I pick him up from his house (as my car was even numbered) and drop him at MoEFCC. But to make my time worth, he said that he had spoken to the concerned Joint Secretary and got me included as an Observer on the Committee. “Your gate pass will be ready along with me”. He assured. Sometimes getting a gate pass to MoEFCC takes much more time than the time for the meeting itself! I agreed to be the Observer as there was nothing to be done.

I was leaving my home to head to Professors bungalow in Noida. My wife warned me “Please pay attention when you drive. Lately, I see that you have become a day dreamer and you don’t concentrate”. I thought that she was right. Indeed, I had become a kind of “addicted” to day dreaming when I was doing nothing or even anything. This day dreaming would often take me to my “secret world”.

The Professor was waiting at the Gate of his bungalow. We started driving towards the MoEFCC office at Jor Baugh. There was not much congestion on the streets – thanks to Kejariwal’s Odd-Even vehicle policy. Professor wasn’t speaking as he was busy reading the Research Proposals that were submitted for review. Apparently, he always read the proposals in the car while going for meeting – Not worth spending too much time on such stuff, he used to say.

I overtook a tanker that was blocking us for a while near the IGL CNG Station. I could now catch up the speed. While overtaking, the HazChem signage on the truck caught my attention. And I entered my secret world.

“There was a huge commotion at UniChem India’s tank farm near Ghaziabad. The tank farm had a storage tank of Ethylene Oxide (EO) of 100 MT.  EO is highly toxic and flammable. It has to be stored in steel vessels maintaining temperature in the range of 100 to 150C. If this temperature exceeds then polymerization happens that is exothermic leading to fire and explosion.

One of the junior engineers who was on his routine rounds at the tank farm noticed that the temperature gauge on the EO Tank was showing 18oC and in fact the gauge moved to 19 oC within no time. Immediately, he relayed an alarm of emergency.

I was sitting at the office of MD when the siren started hooting. The HSE Head Chopra rushed to the Tank Farm with his team. Everyone understood the gravity of the situation but nobody was  clear what action to take. Guidebooks or manuals were not very useful (as always!). Perhaps this was one of first such instances to face. The fireball if resulted from a 100 MT EO Tank was impossible to handle and would put people in 2 km radius into a zone of acute toxicity. By that time, MD and I also reached the spot. No one dared to go close to the EO Tank.

Chopra was an experienced HSE Head with 20 years of experience in handling chemicals. But he looked all scared and helpless at that time with beads of sweat on this forehead. He looked at me with a sigh of relief “Dr Modak, Good to see you here. Guess the runway reactions are already setting in”.  (Only Chopra knew that I was one of the most regarded Safety Expert in the Asia-Pacific region)

I decided to step in. There wasn’t any option. I looked at the pressure gauge and volume indicators of the tank, watched the oscillating needles of gauges on temperature, pressure and volume over two minutes. Did quick calculations on the iPhone I was holding and looked at the ambient temperature on my iPhone App.

I then took slow and steady steps towards the Tank. Everybody was tensed and stood frozen watching me taking such a risk. MD of UniChem said in a low and cracked voice “No Dr Modak, please don’t go close”.

I reached the temperature gauge of the Tank and screwed it off and tossed to Chopra. “No worries friend, this gauge is defective. Please replace with a new one on calibration”.

Everybody was shocked. They could not figure out how I could detect an error in the temperature Gauge. Chopra almost screamed, turned to his Team and said to the MD “Only he could do this Sir, Only Dr Modak”. There was a great applause and the MD patted on my back.

I suddenly realized that someone was tapping my shoulders. It was my Professor friend. He seemed very perturbed.


“Dr Modak, please slow down the car. See your speedometer gauge. You are driving beyond the speed of 140 km/hr. – Do you want to be caught by the traffic cops, get held up and pay fine. Besides we could land into a situation of tyre burst on this not so well done a road. And I have never seen you driving so recklessly before. What is wrong with you today? Please watch the gauge.”

Professor’s warning made me come out of my secret world. “Sorry Professor, my mistake” I said this nervously with my mouth running dry. I was no more that Ethylene Oxide Storage Tank hero.

We drove a few kilometers silently. When we were close to the shopping mall of the Great India place, Professor asked me to take the car on the service road “I need to buy some fruits for my wife from the Shopping Mall. Why don’t you park the car and wait for me? I will not take more than 10 minutes”

I knew he would take more than 10 minutes. Finding a parking place in the shopping mall was not easy but I found one on the second stage ramp. I had to negotiate a place next to a fish van. The workers were pulling out large trays of king fish, black Pomfret and the Emperor fish. There was quite some stink and so I rolled up the windows and put on the AC. Having secured the parking place and settled, I strolled back into my secret world.

Divers on the ship Vijayanta were visiting an isolated site some 300 miles south west of the Gujarat coast to survey marine floors for an Oil Exploration company. The team consisted of 12 divers.

I was with Subra Iyer – the Captain of the ship. I was to do some monitoring to understand relationship between marine iron concentration and the phytoplankton.

It was noon that the Team discovered an injured whale shark. The divers saw a thick metal rope wrapped around the shark, cutting into her skin and threatening the pregnant female’s life and that of her unborn pup. The divers made two trips down to the whale shark to check the condition and tried to remove the rope. All their attempts failed.

When we heard screaming from the divers, we rushed to the deck. When some of the senior divers saw me, there were whispers “Oh, Dr Duck is on board – one of the world famous marine divers who has taken animal rescue as his mission” (I was affectionately called as Dr Duck by the diver community) “Dr Duck is also an internationally acclaimed campaigner against marine debris” One senior diver told this to his junior.

I sensed that there wasn’t much time to think. We needed to act immediately.

“Subra – what kind of diver suit you have on the board” I snapped.

“We have ADS 2000” Subra said. I turned to one of the divers “What depth are we talking”. “200 meters Sir” said he.

“Then ADS is just fine. Get me in. I dropped my T-shirt and the trousers and spread my hands wide.

Aye Aye Sir, said the divers and two divers helped me to get into ADS 2000.

“And get me a set of Scuba Deep Sea Hammerhead Stainless Steel Diving Knife”. I instructed

“Get Doc one “Subra shouted”, “Getting one Sir”, said one of the divers and rushed.

I dived with two divers to guide me to the “spot”.

When I saw the Whale, it broke my heart to see the poor and helpless animal. Indeed it was going to be too difficult and dangerous to rescue her but I felt compelled to help and risking my life.

I moved around the struggling animal and found a thinner section of the rope where I could cut through using my Hammerhead knife. I succeeded. I then unwrapped the rope from each side of the whale shark and finally she was free. The two divers along with me raised their thumbs for “victory”. I knew they must be saying “Only Dr Duck could do it!”

I suddenly heard a number of knocks on my side window. It was the Professor. I lowered the window. “Where the hell were you Dr Modak? The Professor was very angry. “It took me 15 minutes for me to find you. And why did you hide behind this fish van?” Professor was obviously not happy with the stink! “Open the dickey I say and let me put there my sack of fruits” I noticed that Professor’s carry bag was looking like a fish net. Instead of the Whale Shark there were fruits.


We drove out of the Parking lot. I was no more that famous Dr Duck.

We were now close to Lajpat Nagar and got blocked by a crowd of young students making a protest. Initially I thought that the protest was about the incidence that took place on the campus of the JNU, however to my surprise the protest was about why the universities have not implemented the Supreme Court directive on compulsory environmental education (EVS).

Just to give you a background – The failure of universities and colleges in starting environmental studies modules for undergraduate courses despite repeated reminders prompted the University Grants Commission (UGC) to issue a notice. According to the notice, the UGC had prepared and provided a six month EVS module for all under graduate courses in 2003. This was a follow up of the Supreme Court order that was in 1999 directing that appropriate steps be taken to introduce EVS in all universities and affiliated colleges.

The students on the street were demanding action on this lapse given the precarious condition of India’s environment. They were carrying banners that said “Hame Chahiye Paryavaran ke Shiksha – Wahi dega Deshko Suraksha” – Ab Aur Deri Nahi Challegi” (meaning “Environmental Education will provide security to India and its Resources. We don’t want any further delay in imparting environmental education”). One young college student was giving a talk on a loudspeaker lashing the UGC, MHRD and the NGT.

I was overwhelmed to see the love to learn about environment by the new generation. “There is some hope” I said to myself. I wanted to tell about this to the Professor but he brushed me off – saying that he is now busy in totaling the evaluation scores of the research proposals and would not like to get disturbed. He simply said “don’t take these protests seriously”

I asked the traffic Cop on the street about the traffic jam. He said “Sir, relax on the wheel now for the next 20 minutes. The roads are blocked by the students over another kilometer”. So I decided to return to my secret world.

A public hearing was taking place of a Coal Fired Thermal Power Plant project in the State of Orissa. This hearing was conducted by the Orissa State Pollution Control Board as a part of the Environmental Clearance. Nearly 1000 people had gathered and a pendall was erected with a number of standing fans to beat the heat. The Collector was presiding and a Consultant representing the Project Proponent was making a presentation. The crowd consisted local people, some tribes who were to lose their land, environmental NGOs and a large technical team that was brought to answer questions. Media and local police were also present.

There were hoardings around that described the benefits of the project and handouts were circulated in Oriya to everybody. There was a food stall set up to eat, a place to get water and wash face and hands. The arrangement resembled a wedding reception.

I was sitting in the second row in front of the pendall. In this large crowd and all the “hulla-gulla” my presence was not noticed – even by the presiding Collector.  

I saw that the Consultant making presentation was simply lying and giving wrong facts. Those asking questions were demanding something unreasonable. There was no transparency or feeling of trust on “either side”. Allegations were made freely without much basis. I could also sense presence of lobbyist on the payroll of rival industrial houses and activists who were mainly interested in milking the proponent. The Collector was sitting more as his duty or a ritual that was to be followed. The situation was worsening with voices getting louder with possibilities of assault and even a riot.

I decided to rise and go to the stage. When the Collector saw me come up, he got up and said “Sirji, I did not realize that you were present. It’s our great honor to have you here”. The industry proponent came forward and called his cronies to garland me on the stage. Most knew that I was the Ramon Magsaysay Award winner of 2015. This annual award was established to perpetuate former Philippine President Ramon Magsaysay’s example of integrity in governance, courageous service to the people, and pragmatic idealism within a democratic society. This award is considered as the “Asian Nobel Prize”.

I spoke extempore about the project, its need and the benefits. Then elaborated on the impacts and the risks, touching on the concerns related to land acquisition. I summarized at the end that we are here to know how the project proponent is going to address the “downside” while ensuring economic development and livelihoods of the locals. The audience was quiet. Everybody was listening. When I stopped, there was silence for 30 seconds. And then was the applause….


“Move boss, move” It was the Cop I was talking to earlier. The traffic was moving already as students were dispersed. Those behind my car were honking with vengence. I started the engine apologizing to the Cop. I drove now not as the Ramon Magsaysay Award winner and as someone ordinary.

We reached the gate of MoEFCC. Professor told me to wait as he would go in, sign the register and get our gate passes. He said this will take only 5 minutes but it took longer.

When he returned, he had a red and upset face.” Dr Modak, the instructions to make your gate pass did not reach the entry gate in time. So there is no gate pass made for you. I tried to speak to the Joint Secretary but his cell phone is switched off”. He then made a very apologetic face and said “Sorry Dr Modak, would you mind spending an hour at Khan Market nearby and come back to pick me up? The meeting would not take too long.”

I realized that there was no other option. “Do some book shopping at Bahri’s” Professor gave me the advice and patted me while getting inside the Gate.

Dr Prasad Modak, the invincible, then drove towards the Khan Market, longing once again to get into his Secret world. This world was much more thrilling and enjoyable than the mortal world he lived in.

(Cover image taken from http://www.recruitengineers.in/blog/career-clinic/find-hidden-unadvertised-jobs/)