Story of a Mysterious Artist on the Chapel Road in Bandra

marypoppins_jump_2

Most of you must have seen the movie Mary Poppins with unforgettable roles played by Julie Andrews (Mary) and Dick Van Dyke (Bert).

In the movie, Mary takes Mr. Bank’s children out for a walk in the park, and they come upon the funny and multifaceted Bert. At the entrance to the park, they stop to see some chalk paintings. The children admire the drawings and then, magically, at Bert’s urging and Mary’s magic, they jump inside the paintings.

mary-poppins_chalk-drawing_2

Mary (Julie Andrews), Burt (Dick Van Dyke) and the Penguins

The scenes that follow are some of the most entrancing ones in the entire film. After jumping inside, the actors interact with the animated characters and sing songs with them such as “Jolly Holiday” and “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious”. Eventually, it begins to rain and the drawings in the real world begins to “melt”. The characters are forced back into reality by jumping out.

The artist who did those magnificent chalk drawings such as one above was Albert Gaynor. Salutes to this creative artist who today is no more.

Do you think “jumping inside a painting” is possible? I never believed this until my Professor friend  took me to a studio of a mysterious artist on the Chapel Road in Bandra. Here goes the story.

Call it a fiction if you like!


On a Sunday morning, Professor dropped in my house at Shivaji-Park. “I am going to the Chapel Road in Bandra. Would you like to join me?” He asked while lighting his cigar. He was wearing a long sleeves grey sweater and a braided cap (like a retired Major in the Army). It was a week before Christmas and the weather was windy with some chill in the air by the Mumbai standards! The dry leaves under the trees in the Park were circling lazily and making faint noises. The sky was a bit cloudy.

I knew that this invitation was extremely rare to get. Some had told me that Professor occasionally visits the Chapel Road in Bandra, typically on a Sunday morning, but never takes anyone to accompany him. He treats his visit like a secret mission and nobody has ever found out what he exactly does on the Chapel Road.

Chapel Road connects Mount Carmel Church to Hill Road in Bandra. It is a narrow and winding road that runs through what was once the independent Runwar Village. It is also a road that is used as a short-cut by many residents of Bandra travelling to or from the Bandra-Worli Sea link. But most importantly it is also a road that is world-famous, thanks to the graffiti and street art there.

We took a rickshaw (three wheeler) from the Bandra station. Professor shopped a bouche of red roses from a flower shop outside the station. When we reached the Chapel Road, Professor let the rickshaw go and preferred to walk. After getting on the road, we could see the quaint and charming houses of Runwar with interesting graffiti on the walls.

rickshaw

The Chapel Road, Street Graffiti and the Rickshaw

Professor stopped in front of a strange looking house that had a balcony with wrought iron railing and old style large windows. A large tree was blocking the view of the ground floor. This house must be 100+ years old, I said to myself. We knocked the door. The door was opened by a very frail old man with wrinkles on his face, a typical artist style hair – a grey pony tail, a loosely fitting boutique shirt and long shorts. He smelt of stale cigarettes and cheap alcohol.

ranwarhouse

The old house on the Chapel Road

He and Professor must be old friends. “You are coming here after a long time my friend” He said this while removing dust from the sofa and making us sit.

“Oh yes”, Professor said and he introduced me to the Artist.

“Must be your very close pal, Professor” The artist said. “Never seen anyone accompany you all these years”. The Artist stared at me to gauge – I noticed that he had sharp and beady eyes with a rather penetrating gaze.

Well, shall we go to the basement? Professor asked “any new paintings of my kind?’

I didn’t realize that the house had a basement with a secret staircase. The Artist opened the flap that was under the carpet placed in the drawing room. We descended down carefully as the sunlight inside was pretty dim and the air was a bit damp. I was a bit nervous.

The Artist put on the lights. The basement had a number of paintings stacked and wrapped under cloth. There was a lot of dust on the floor with few broken chairs around. The place seemed to be in a mess.

The Artist looked at the Professor and said. “I have a new painting to show you.  And you would like me to take out the usual one I suppose”

“Yes”, said the Professor while sitting down on a stool. “Show us both” he said in a husky voice.  The artist took out two large size paintings from the stack.

The first painting showed a woman standing on the railing of a bridge. It appeared that she is committing a suicide. Must be due to some deep frustration I thought.

girl_suicide

“I wish someone helped this woman” I said to myself in a low voice– but it was loud enough for the Professor and the Artist to hear.

“Why don’t you get in the picture and convince her not to” Professor said this rather casually.

I did not know what to say. There was a silence in the air.

The Artist then got up from his stool. He held my hand and made me walk close to the painting. He asked me to close my eyes. He said “Dr Modak, let me take you inside. Please help her. You can be there for twenty minutes”.

Next I heard was a sound like a storm, a gush and a push. I was inside the painting

The woman on the deck of the bridge was surprised to see me. I walked across the bridge. I could see her shocked when I reached close to her. The weather was chilly and there was considerable wind. The water below the bridge was gushing and looked rather scary.

I started my conversation with her. In the beginning, she did not open up and had a resistance to share. But slowly, she loosened up and told me about her boyfriend who had ditched her blatantly for a reason flimsy and had treated her rudely and indifferently. She thought to end her life by jumping over the bridge.

I spent the next ten minutes to convince her not to. I spoke about how devastating I had felt when I went through a similar situation in my life. Then I talked about how she could tide over and may be all that happened was good so that she would meet a much better person as her true companion to life.

She was convinced and she stepped down from the railing. I walked with her to the other end of the bridge where she had parked her car. She drove home.

The twenty minutes were over and I was back – jumping out of the painting.

“You did a great job Dr Modak” said the Artist. “Take a look at the painting now”

When I looked at the painting, I saw that the woman had disappeared.

no-suicide

Well, let me do now my own bit, said the Professor

He was referring to the second painting.

old_couple

This painting showed an old couple taking a walk.

The old man in the painting looked a bit like the Professor. In fact, the man was wearing a long sleeves grey sweater and a braided soldier cap just like the Professor was wearing.

Was he the Professor? And the woman besides him – was she his late wife? I could not make out as both were facing their backs to us.

“Excuse me Dr Modak”, said the Professor. He stared at the painting and then jumped inside the picture with the bouche of red roses in his hand. Looked like he had done this in the past – several times.

I held my breath. The Artist got busy in stacking the remaining paintings.

After twenty minutes, the Professor reappeared like a breeze.

We looked at the painting after his return. The bouche of the red roses was in the hand of the woman.

oldcouplewithroses

Clearly, Professor had presented the red roses to the Woman in the painting. He must have had some conversations. I recalled that it was Professors wife death anniversary that day.  I didn’t say a word or ask any questions to the Professor. All seemed to be so graciously emotional.

We left the Artist’s place soon after.

This experience was so mysterious. I was really tempted to visit the Chapel Road again. So I decided to go next Sunday to see the Artist. I wanted to go alone this time and not with the Professor and find how this jumping into the painting happens.  And how does the Artist make these paintings and for what purpose? I had so many questions to ask.

I reached the old house on the Chapel Road.

The door of the house was locked. The lock seemed real old with a junk like it was not opened for years! The door was also chained as if the house had treasures to protect. I decided to ask someone around. I found an old man standing at the gate of the neighboring bungalow. “Do you know the person living in this house? The house is locked – has he gone on vacation?” I enquired. “I was here last Sunday with him”

The old man was confused. He stared at me and said slowly “My friend, this is impossible. This house is deserted over last 50 years due to disputes. It has been locked all these years and no one lives. Years ago, it is said that a strange artist lived here with a studio in the basement”. He looked at my shocked and shattered face, but didn’t seem much surprised

I tried to call Professor right away on his cell phone.

But the phone was out of the reach.


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Games of Tomorrow – Play them Now!

games_parlor

My Professor Friend was asking “Dr Modak, have you recently played any of the computer games on your iPad or iPhone lately?”

“Well Professor, I am not that game type person” I responded – disappointing the Professor.

“You must have tried the Angry Birds at least” Professor asked. “And you must have played Flight Simulator for sure”. When he saw my face blank with no response, he was simply amazed. “Oh almost everyone who owns an iPhone or iPad know these games. You will see people playing these games when the flights are delayed or when they are in the aircraft or when they are trying to reach their destinations on arrival and are stuck with a traffic jam”

I said I don’t fly that much and if I fly then I don’t take Jet Airways where flights are often delayed (while paying a premium price) or I don’t  go to Delhi where time taken from airport to Noida is more than the flying time between Mumbai to New Delhi.

Professor was not amused with my explanation. He continued

“My friend’s son has opened up a Game Parlor at Shivaji Park. Today is the inaugural. Why don’t you join me and take a look at some of the latest games he is offering, be at least a game-literate

I was reluctant but agreed when Professor told me that Preity Zinta is inaugurating the Games Parlor. She has been rather out of the games lately (I mean IPL) for various reasons. I like Preity Zinta and her acting

Vikram, Professors friend’s son greeted us at the entrance of the Parlor that had a neon sign “Games of Tomorrow – Play Today!” The Parlor was really well designed with hi-tech consoles fitted with gadgets such as peddles, wheels, levers, gears, track balls and the like. It gave a feeling of the future or the outer space. All consoles were occupied by the guests who had come for the inaugural. There was a lot of noise around, gurrs.. & blips !! & poops ?? from the machines; yelling and screaming dotted by shouts like “Oh Shit”, “You Smuck”, “I Got you” etc. Vikram asked me to “tour around” and see the kind of games that were being played. I had to weed through the people who were watching and waiting for their turns. I noticed some NSG or commandos. They were at the Parlor in disguise as apparently games of tomorrow had a potential to become a source of inspiration to the amateur terrorists. The NSGs had a special console with games of different kind.

I saw on the first gaming console, a friend who works as the Head (Environment) of a major Chemical industry operating in Vapi Industrial Estate.

“Hey, Patel bhai”, I tapped on his shoulder and asked “what’s the game you are playing?”

“Oh Dr Modak, didn’t know you are here. I am playing a simply fascinating game” Patel exclaimed. I saw that the screen of Patel’s console showed a complicated maze of streets with buildings, nallahs or drains, open spaces etc.  with a huge tanker and several blue colored little wagons racing around.

Patel turned around and explained “Look, I am here with a tanker full of hazardous waste and my job is to dump this waste illegally at some place without getting caught by the environmental crimes department or get under the scanner of the CCTVs placed at locations unknown. See these blue colored police vans chasing me all over? The game allows me to jump the traffic signals, take one way streets in any direction, hide under a flyover, cross speed limits and even clone as an ambulance (but allowed only twice). My objective is to dump the hazardous waste somehow and if I can do this within the time allotted (10 minutes) without getting caught or confronted then I win!! “Patel winked and said “Real case isn’t it?” I couldn’t disagree.  Vikram told me later that this game (called “Run to dump”) was going to be one of the most popular games in the Parlor.

I moved ahead and found another friend on the gaming console who was doing a great business with municipal corporations on solid waste. “Hey, Reddy – Dr Modak here. How come you are here and what kind of game are you playing?” I asked Reddy who was fully concentrating on the screen with his hands firmly on the track ball. He did not even turn around to talk to me

He screamed (as there was already too much of noise) “Dr Modak, This game is called “Dig for the Gold”. See these waste heaps on the screen? You have a vehicle to reach these waste heaps and are given “tools” to dig (amount of waste you can scoop at one time) and extract any “gold” that you may get to make money. To illustrate, Reddy reached a waste heap, “applied” his extraction tool that could mine 1 ton of waste. In return, he got only the muck and not the gold. Reddy  then attempted second time a scoop of 3 tons and in this attempt managed 1 kg of gold. He got points or was rewarded raising his score

” Oh, why don’t you scoop 10 tons at a time then you will have more chance to get gold?” I asked a stupid question. Reddy laughed and said, “Well you try scooping more then you have to pay more (you lose points) plus  you have to pay for the muck as well as the “tipping fee”.  If you scoop less then you have less chances of such liabilities but then you may not get that much of gold – so it’s more like risk taking – something I do in my real life!” I understood the complexity of the game now. “Are there any levels in this game” I asked. This question was answered by Vikram. He said that higher levels of this game present you more number of waste heaps, shorter time and with more complex composition of metals like aluminum. “This game must be making folks real waste-hungry, I guess” I mused. You would like to see waste heaps everywhere as an opportunity. I was convinced that people who will become master of this game will certainly hate Swatch Bharat Abhiyan 

I saw many such novel games or games of the future running on other consoles. There was a new SIMS Version for managing flash floods in a city due to climate change and a new version of the Farming Simulator was around where it was found that spurious pesticides were used contaminated with metals in farming. All these games were very challenging and looked pretty real to prepare us for tomorrow.

In this while, the Professor was looking for me as Preity Zinta had arrived. She was asked to inaugurate one of the latest games called “Water Wars”. She inaugurated the game by pressing the “start” key. (I don’t know how many of you know but Preity Zinta did something commendable for drought-hit villages in Nashik during the IPL matches by funding a new well in Nirhale-Phattepur. Apart from providing water to the village via water tankers, Preity put in a lot of efforts to address the village water scarcity. So I thought that she was the right person to be asked to inaugurate the game “Water Wars”. She seemed like an actor who “acts”)

This game was to be played by two people at the same time. On the screen was an interstate river crossing two States (I thought the river was Cauvery but Vikram vehemently denied). There was a menu of options for water use or for water withdrawal for a player to exercise in the interest of the State the “player” belonged. The flow and quality of the river would change whenever a choice was made affecting the State downstream. In the gaming period of 10 minutes, a player could take a maximum of 10 decisions, but sequentially. (I thought that this was not a good idea – fundamentally!)

The underlying “model” of the game must be real complex (and I could see Professor’s hand there) as it accounted for variations in the rainfall. It had the “groundwater connection”, it factored the impact of cropping patterns, accounted for drinking, cattle and industrial water requirements. River use for waste assimilation and impact on river biodiversity were also addressed.

The player in the upstream of the river was making life miserable for the player downstream who was expected to use “coping tools”, political response and take support of the judiciary for fairness and justice. The judiciary in some cases would stop the player upstream and “penalize” for the unfair decision and lower the score. This “water war” would thus continue and at the end of the 10 minutes, winner would be the player who will meet interest (economic, social and environmental) of both the States in an amicable manner.

As we watched the game, we realized that this was not going to be true. Both the players were doing their best to meet their own State’s interest and kept exploiting the river in a manner that seemed reckless.

When nine minutes crossed and the last option or decision was to be exercised by the player upstream, a loud and screechy sound came from the console and the screen started blinking like a malfunctioned traffic light. Everybody was stunned as game had halted.

“Oh my mistake” Professor said sheepishly. “I never thought that in the gaming process there will be a situation of no water in the Cauvery – I will need to refix my simulation model Vikram”

So the beans got spilled. It was indeed the river Cauvery.

But was this only a game or a reality? I said to myself after getting an autograph from Preity Zinta.

I got home with a membership form for the Parlor that Vikram tucked in my pocket


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Chance and the Destiny

destiny

Many of us live interesting moments in our lives that have no scientific explanation. These moments or events happen just by a “chance”. In this post I am narrating to you some of my “chance experiences” and then ending the post with a story on chance and destiny.

The first event is during my school days at Balmohan Vidyamandir in Shivaji-Park, Mumbai. I was in the 9th grade following the Scouts movement.


Scouting was founded in India in 1909 as an overseas branch of the Scout Association and became a member of the World Organization of the Scout Movement in 1938. The mission of Scouting was to contribute to the education of young people, through a value system based on the Scout Promise and Law to help build a better world where people are self-fulfilled as individuals and play a constructive role in society.

Looking back I feel that Scouts movement influenced me a lot. I do not know the current national status. Could there be a Green Scout and Guide movement in the schools? A new orientation to the changing and challenging times. This will really help introducing responsible behavior right in the formative years of education and at a national scale. Well just a thought to ponder.


As a part of the Scouts program, we had to appear for various written exams, carry out volunteering, especially to elders in the neighborhood, attend the “jamborees” (camps) etc. One of the interesting requirements was to appear for the “entertainment examination”. The entertainment exam for my “unit” was carried out by a senior Parsi Gentleman, Mr. Wadia in his house at the Parsi Colony in Dadar. Mr. Wadia was a very senior Scout, with lots of labels and decorative medals on his shirt and special purple scarf wrapped around his neck. He was known to be very strict but with a great sense of humor. I was asked to report to Mr. Wadia at 10 am sharp on a Sunday for the “entertainment examination”.

Mr. Wadia made me sit on a lovely antique sofa in his drawing room. There was an upright piano pushed against the wall and a set of Teapoys around that had some music books stacked up. “Sir, I don’t know the piano” I said. “Oh no worries” said Mr. Wadia “Do what you can” and as he said he yelled out “Zareen and Ruksana – come – the Scout boy has arrived”. And two daughters appeared. They looked like (naughty) twins and of my age. Both seemed to be waiting just for me to get entertained. They were giggling and that worried me a bit and made me uncomfortable.

I told Mr. Wadia that I will show them some card magic. I asked Mr. Wadia to choose any card from the pack that he did after some thought. I then placed his card at the bottom of the pack and started shuffling. In this process, I quickly peeped into the card and I thought I did this cleverly as I spoke to Mr. Wadia while diverting his attention. I knew that the card was Queen of the Hearts. The girls were watching.

chance

I shuffled the deck for a while to Mr. Wadia‘s satisfaction and even let him mix. Then, I started asking him stupid questions as which color he likes, whether spade or hearts and whether he likes a card belonging to the royal family. The questions led finally to his choice that was Queen of the Hearts. When I produced this card for him – he was very impressed. “You are a wizard my son” He said this with a large smile and turned to Zareen and Ruksana with admiration for the Scout.

But Zareen and Ruksana had other plans. They asked me to repeat the magic and this time wanted to choose a card. Looking at the mischievous twinkle in their eyes I understood that they knew my “magic”. After I let them pick up their card from the pack, Zareen said that she will place the card herself and mix the pack giving no chance to me to “peep” like before.

When I got the pack of cards back in my end, I realized that my “game of magic” was over. There was a strange silence. The two girls were controlling their (evil) giggle. Mr. Wadia was anxious – he had no clue on what was happening.

I decided to take chance. I shuffled the deck for a while. Then placed the deck in front of the girls and lifted the first card right on the top of the deck, turned it around and said “It’s the spade of ten”. And wow, indeed it was!! The girls simply screamed and jumped from their seats. This was so unbelievable to them (and to me) and I turned out to be the “Super Card Magician”. “Oh Dad, he deserves not just pass certificate but with a star with your signature” Ruksana said this to Mr. Wadia. I left Mr. Wadia‘s house with a Star certificate of entertainment after walloping a good caramel custard prepared for the Sunday by Mrs Wadia.

(What was the probability of me hitting the right card? I leave this question to my readers with background on statistics)

I remember I was conducting a 2 days training program for the Member Secretaries/Chairmen of the Pollution Control Boards in India on the subject of Water Quality Management. The course was unique and was supported by the then Chairman of the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) Mr. Paritosh Tyagi. The heat on the Ganga Action Plan was on and many States were interested to formulate such plans focusing on the polluted river stretches. The course tool place in Hyderabad. Incidentally it was the first training program of the Environmental Projection Training and Research Institute (EPTRI) that was just established.

As a part of the training program, I was running a “modelling laboratory” where each participant was provided a desktop and a water quality modeling software STREAM-I that I had developed. The model allowed simulation of DO-BOD (Dissolved oxygen and Biochemical Oxygen Demand), compare with the observations (calibrate), build scenarios and allocate waste loads optimally to meet the required DO-BOD standards. I had set up a DEMO data file so that the participants could easily understand the science of water quality management.

Mr. N S Tiwana, then Member Secretary of the Punjab Pollution Control Board (who later became the Chairman of CPCB) was amongst the participants. A very impatient man as he was (or is even today), he had strong reservations on the credence of water quality models. He was negative.

He watched me show the DEMO file and the participants getting impressed. He stood up and stopped me. He said “Dr Modak, this is all artificial data you are using to “convince” us. I have with me right now the Sutlej river data with flows, waste discharges and monitoring observations. Let us input this “real data” in your model and test its “accuracy” first. Let us not fool around”

And then in all seriousness he said, well, your model predictions of DO and BOD must match with the observations taken and if they don’t, I would say that there is no point wasting time to learn this modeling gimmick. I would rather like to drop this “modeling lab” and go to visit the Birla Temple”. The participants supported Mr. Tiwana’s challenge to me. They wouldn’t listen to my plea that models are after all approximations and are to be used with care and maturity to come up with scenarios that prepare us better for reaching solutions that are pragmatic.

The lab atmosphere suddenly changed to a War Room against Water Quality Modelling. Mr. Tiwana opened a diary that had data for a 10 km stretch on Sutlej. The data was entered in STREAM-I after some processing and checking. Everybody was involved. I knew I had to be prepared for a disaster as the data quality was poor and not representative. Further, my model was a poor emulation of the river Sutlej.

riverwaterquality

“Tell me, which menu option to Press now” Mr. Tiwana asked me in a tone of the Examiner or an Auditor or like a judge in the Court Room. “Press the button Simulate Sir” I said sheepishly. Everyone in the room was tensed to see the results of simulation and how well they compare with the observed DO and BOD. I was prepared for the explanation as I knew that the results were not to match.

And Lo and Behold!!  The graph of DO-BOD produced by STREAM-I was within 5% of the observed DO-BOD concentrations the monitoring station. The intersection was unbelieving close as if someone manipulated! This result was shocking to all (and especially to me!).

“Oh your model works “Mr. Tiwana shouted. And as impatient man he was, he asked me to serve as a consultant to Punjab Pollution Control Board right away and develop model based water quality management plans for rivers in Punjab. I became an instant Hero.

(What was the probability that my model could reproduce the observed DO-BOD concentrations against all data and model uncertainties? I leave this question again to my readers who specialize in modelling and data science)

I was attending one of UNEP’s Cleaner Production conferences in Melbourne in Australia. The Conference was held at Yara Hotel Abbotsford overlooking river Yara. It had around 200 participants mainly coming from Australasia. When the concluding session ended, I and some of the Cleaner Production colleagues decided to have a chat in the coffee shop of the hotel. The coffee shop was on first floor, with large windows opening to the street junction. We could watch the pedestrians crossing at the signal.

One of the participants from Hanoi joined in our chat. “I like to watch the street” he said while choosing his seat on the round table. We got introduced. His name was Phien. Phien did not speak great English but could communicate to us with all his “animated” style. “Tell me your story friend” I asked him. And Phien had a very interesting story.

During the Vietnam War, Phien’s family split and his mother and sister fled Vietnam in another boat with no trace later to find. Only thing Phien found out that the boat had drifted to islands of Indonesia beyond Papua New Guinea and perhaps landed to the coast of Australia. This was years ago, Phien said this in a slightly chocked voice “Whenever I come to Australia, I hope I will see my sister one day” he looked at the street junction with pedestrians waiting for the signal. We asked for another around of coffee. This was so touching to hear.

And suddenly, we saw Phien standing up, screaming aloud “my sister – I see my sister” and rushing down to the traffic signal outside hotel Yara. We saw Phien stopping a woman with large purse standing at the traffic signal. There seemed to be animated conversation first and later a long long hug. We also saw people on the street flocking around the two.

It was just a few minutes that Phien returned to our round table with his gorgeous looking sister. She lived in Melbourne longing one day she will see her brother and connect with the family. (Its complicated to reconnect once you deserted Vietnam during the war times – as those who left were like traitors). That night we had a dinner to celebrate the brother and sister reunion with a bottle of Champaign.

(What was the probability for Phien to hit on his dear sister in the population of Australia? And what a chance finding it was. Or was it a destiny? I leave my readers to decide)

destiny


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My dreams

dreambig

Today, the number of graduates (MSc’s, Planning/ME/MTechs and MBA’s) in environmental science, planning and engineering is growing. Specializations such as MBA in environmental management and environmental economics have come up.

I receive on an average five emails a day asking for a job at the consulting company I run. I ensure that me or my colleague Sonal Alvares respond. Responding timely, either way, is a matter of showing respect.

In most cases, I find that the CVs are generally weak (and not well written too) showing lack of “experience” and “poor” qualifications. Most applicants come from mediocre institutions that you may not even know. We regret these applicants but with some guidance. I however wonder and worry how these young students and professionals can get the jobs that can inspire and train to help build their careers. We need a large number of professionals in the field of environmental management today – professionals with a vision having a “systems perspective” (no silo thinking) and most importantly work with ethics. The latter to me is the biggest challenge. Teachers have an important role here to play.

At my consulting company we have been conducting an environmental internship program over the past 15 years. A good internship not only provides “practice training” but also opens job opportunities. So far we have trained around 70+ interns. My colleague Sonal Kaushik manages this activity and does it very diligently and with a passion.

Each year we receive a huge number of applicants from top institutions in India and overseas. We go through the drill of assessing the CVs, reviewing Statements of Purpose, asking for writing assignments to select the “best” and the “most appropriate” interns. The internship program runs over a minimum of 2 months where the intern works on some of our “live” projects. The intern makes a weekly work plan. We coach accordingly and track the progress. There are interim and final presentations and the final report is reviewed. Most of the times the outputs produced are of high quality deserving a publication. That adds a credibility to the interns work (and also to the “mentor”!). Box below shows a sample of internship projects completed in my company.


Green Building Assessment Systems, Sustainability Reporting: Mapping GRI Guidelines with NVGs, Carbon Footprint in the Industrial & Regional Context, Development of Framework to assess Status of Environmental Compliance in Industries, Creation of Knowledge base on Resource and Emission Benchmarks for Industries, Environmental and Social Governance at Financial Institutions, Development of Framework for Sustainability Assessment of Mobile Phones, Directory on Green Office Supplies ……

The feedback that we have received on our Internship Program has been extremely positive and encouraging. But there is a limit, how much we can do. We feel sad to turn down a deserving internship application just because of shortage of space in our office or due to our limited bandwidth for coaching.

I wish I could develop something “huge” on a nationwide scale to handle 1000 young environmental students every year across say 30 academic institutions “feeding them” as interns to corporations, corporates, NGOs and R&D institutions in the environmental and social arena.

My dream is to set up an Environmental Internship Portal that will allow institutions to place their requirements and interested students to place their CVs, durations and interests. We will then do a “match making” and coach the intern on-line through a specially designed e-learning module to “prepare” for the internship. Coaching may be extended during the internship program – again through a web/mobile platform – as a support. As a sequel, the “portal” will also provide placement service and an opportunity to update for a “lifelong environmental education”. So you “log in” as an intern and “grow to be a mentor” and later lead as a “job provider”.

That’s going to be my next BIG step – if I succeed the first one!!

Anyone from my blog readers interested to steer this initiative with me or partner? I am simply not able to “see” someone with “fire in the belly” for last several years. I get sleepless nights – one of the reasons I guess for my sleep apnea!

And any angle investors to support this Portal? I have a decent business model with me for the investors “comfort”.

Several years ago I ran a 4 day “Finishing School” in Environmental Management at NITIE, Powai, Mumbai. A second such school was run at NIIT, Suratkal over 2 days. DISHA, a 1 day flagship program on Career Counseling on Environmental Management was conducted as a series in Mumbai and Pune.

You will be able to read the reports on these events at www.ekonnect.net.

All these programs were received very enthusiastically. There is great need that we organize such programs at multiple locations in the country and on the campus of academic institutions. Will be great if under the proposed Portal we establish a “network” of academic institutions who offer DISHA on their campuses on an annual basis.

I have always been either a “free radical” or an entrepreneur. I love to see when folks working with me start up independent “business” in the environmental arena. To me this is a performance indicator of my business.

I see a great need that we “populate” the environmental manufacturing and services market with bright environmental professionals who mean quality and bring on board the innovation. I dream of someone like a JRD or Murthy or Premji or Darbari Seth equivalent to lead the environmental business in India. Oh, what a transformational change it will be? Today most of the environmental business organizations we see in India are either small, more of trading agencies representing technologies/equipment of overseas suppliers, delivering services like consents/clearances with “appropriate expertise” and conducting kind of environmental monitoring (that is as good as generating random numbers!). And then there are some very “respectable” and “intellectual” international ones, who specialize in making documents that look pretty as they carry the right font and the visuals.

I am looking therefore towards some “fizz” coming in our sector and people/organizations who do things differently with “innovation” and “confidence” on the scale we need. My dream is to excite youth and build their capacities to become entrepreneurs with mentors/investors standing behind them (like tall shadows). We need to build this community badly who could provide drinking water solutions and sanitation infrastructure on a “scale” for India’s villages; come up with inexpensive outdoor and indoor air quality monitors, provide smart grids for energy delivery, establish waste to resource plants or provide services that can help us to restore, conserve and even monetize our bio-resources. The possibilities are simply endless across the country. I would say that each one of us should pledge to “create” at least one environmental entrepreneur every year. Is that too much to ask?

I will be conducting first program on Coaching Environmental Entrepreneurs in October this year over 2 days. Essentially a new form of DISHA. The course will have to be residential. Location will most likely be Pune. I am putting all my thoughts and experience in the course “design”. I will be most happy to receive your inputs and guidance to make this first event a success.

If I could train 20 bright minds and get at least 5 startups ongoing (with support extended), I will be the most happy person.

A yet another dream I guess.


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Escape from Japan

Escape

I stepped inside iBrew – one of the most frequented craft-beer pub in the Ginza area of Tokyo. The beer at iBrew is all Japanese and comes from across Japan. iBrew is located about ten minutes from the Kyobashi exit of Yurakucho station on the JR Yamanote line. Its is a seriously tiny place. It can accommodate a maximum of 12 normal sized people inside and that is sitting shoulder to shoulder. I always like to sit on stool next to the bar counter. But then you must book this seat in advance. The concierge of my hotel had done the booking for me. He gave me a tag that had my name written in Japanese. “Show this card to the girl at the door” he said.

iBrew

The iBrew 

The girl who ushered me to the counter  had a smiling face and looked busy and efficient. She spoke some “Jinglish” while getting me a stool and asked the barman to give me the “catalogue”. The barman asked me “Sir, Do you want a weizenbock? A pilsner? A wheat beer? Or an IPA? I was lost. All I knew is that the place was cheap. Too cheap for craft beer in Tokyo. Regular glasses, about 220ml, are ¥421 that included tax, and large glasses, about 450ml, are ¥745 with tax.

iBrewTaps

So many taps of Craft Beer

When she saw my confused face, she asked me to start with Iwate-kura. This old ale is like the symphony of hops. It is perhaps the bitterest ale in the world once voyaged from England to India and now brewed in Japan. The Barman said that my last glass should be Tazawako to end with something mild and sweet. I nodded.

iBrewCounter

iBrew sported more women than men

The Japanese woman sitting next to me was having a wheat beer. She was having an animated conversation with the Barman. She seemed to be alone and looked real tired of the long work day.  I could only see her face in the dim lights. The face looked pretty. She sported dimples. The woman finished the first regular glass and asked for one more – this time a large one. She turned to me and said something in Japanese pointing to the Iwate-Kura I was having. Obviously I did not understand but perhaps she was appreciating my choice as I saw expressions on her face. I said “well, not my choice – it’s a recommendation from the girl”. The woman said “No Understand English!” with an expression of helplessness.

But the woman carried on. She opened her purse and took out a family photograph. I could see her in the photograph, with her husband and two children – a boy and a girl in the age of 25 to 30 years. Looked like a recently taken photo. She pointed to the man in the photo standing next to her and said something in Japanese. And I said “Husband?”, “Aha – she said and spoke at length about him in Japanese. I didn’t understand a bit, but just from her animated talk and expressions of love on her face I guessed that she probably said “See how handsome he is, so loving and I love him too!” I may have been right.

She had a large gulp of the wheat beer and then pointed at the girl in the photograph. “She America”, the woman said with a face how she is missing her daughter. I told her “my daughter also America and I miss her too”. She held my hand and smiled. “And this my Son”, so the last member of the photograph was introduced. “He study in Miyako”. She said this proudly. I had heard about Miyako city in the Iwate Prefecture. The woman touched my glass of beer and said “Iwate.. Iwate-Kura”. Oh now I understood why she liked “my choice” of the craft beer.

We continued our “conversation” thereafter. I wish I had my family photograph with me to show her. It was about 11 pm and I decided to leave. When I got up from the bar stool to say good bye, the woman got up and said “domo arigatou” (means thank you). I then realized how pretty this woman was. She had an elegant body between the age of 45 to 50 (but could be more as you cannot easily tell the age of a Japanese woman). She then called the bar girl and spoke to her for couple of minutes in an exciting tone. Once she finished, the bar girl spoke to me in Jinglish “She go to Miyako tomorrow morning with Husband. Her son Jim study there. She wants you to wish well for Jim”.    I said “Oh Yes – very much – I wish him all the success”. And I could see happiness on the face of the woman. I left iBrew and reached back to the hotel.

The next day I had a meeting at the office of Asian Productivity Organization (APO) on Strategic Planning for the Green Productivity Program. There were 15 of us. The meeting was good. I was staying in a nearby hotel – just a walking distance.

On the first day night, there was a tremor. I was on the thirteenth floor of the hotel. There were strong vibrations. The alarm clock on the shelf in my room fell down. The bed quivered. I was worried and called the reception. The man in the reception said “Don’t worry. This happens in Japan”. I wasn’t very much convinced but managed to sleep.

The next day evening, we decided to go out for the dinner and I chose to go to “Ishoto”– the famous vegan restaurant in azabujuban in Minato. My good friends at APO Setsuko Miyakawa and K D Bharadwaj (KD) had earlier introduced me to this wonderful small two room restaurant. Three participants of the APO meeting joined me.

Itosho

The Ishoto

Ishoto offers cooking found at Zen temples in Japan. It’s a cross between home and a small temple, and is beautifully decorated with old furniture and screens. Food is served in several small portions at a time. Food items include a riff on tempura with vegetables dipped in mochi rice instead of a dough. Asparagus wrapped in yuba. Tofu and maccha jelly (kanten) mixed together in the bowl. A broth (kombu base, I assume) with yuzu and yamaimo. It’s a beautiful, tasty and gentle food.

Itosho2

The owner of the restaurant was very kind and calm like someone coming from a Zen school. He offered me a low level stool to sit like he did last time as I am not comfortable to sit on the ground cross legged. He chose the food for us as everything was in Japanese! We were served around 8 dishes, the most interesting was the tempura with mochi rice.

When we finished, he came to see us off at the door. He looked into my eyes and said in broken English “My friend, thanks for coming again. I wish you all the blessings from the mountains. You sure need one”. He then bent down in the Japanese style and whispered “itte kimasu”. We returned to the hotel.

The next day early morning at 6 30 am I received a call from Thai Airways. I was to fly in the afternoon at 3 30 pm on Thai Airways from Tokyo to Mumbai via Bangkok. The lady said “Dr Modak, there has been some mess in the reservation system. You were to fly by the 3 30 pm flight but now you have been pushed to the 11 30 am flight. This flight will go Tokyo-Phuket-Bangkok-Mumbai”. I was raged. Not that I had any business or meetings to do in the morning, but I did not quite like this “dumping” of me. The new route would put me for 4 more extra hours in the journey. So I strongly protested and brought to her notice that I was a Gold Flyer on Thai Airways and flying business class. “How can you treat me like this?” I almost screamed at her. The lady at the other end was calm. She said “I fully understand your anguish, but there is nothing I can do for you as of now. You will have to take the 11 30 am flight today or 3 30 pm flight tomorrow. I can confirm your seat for tomorrows 3 30 pm flight if you wish”. Under these circumstances, I decided to take the 1130 am flight. It was Friday March 11 and I wanted to be home on the weekend.

I checked out of the hotel at 8 am and took the Narita Bus. The sun was shining with cool breeze around. It seemed a very pleasant day. I checked in at the Thai Airways counter, completed the immigration formalities and boarded. The flight seemed to be quite light. I requested for a champagne after the take off.

When we landed Phuket, we were asked to deplane as there was a change in the aircraft.

The Phuket airport was in chaos with TV screens showing a disaster in Japan. There was a severe earthquake that struck Japan off the Pacific Coast of Tōhoku on the scale of 9.0 (Mw). The island of Phuket was given a Tsunami warning.

The earthquake occurred at 14:46 JST on March 11, with the epicenter approximately 70 kilometers east of the Oshika Peninsula of Tōhoku and the hypocenter at an underwater depth of approximately 30 km. It was the most powerful earthquake ever recorded to have hit Japan, and the fourth most powerful earthquake in the world since modern record-keeping began in 1900.  The earthquake moved Honshu (the main island of Japan) 2.4 m  east, shifted the Earth on its axis by estimates of between 10 cm  and 25 cm, and generated infrasound waves detected in perturbations of the low-orbiting GOCE satellite.

The first thing I did was calling home. All at home and office were simply panicked as they knew that I was to take the 3 30 pm flight. They were trying to reach me desperately and had found my mobile phone “unreachable”. To them this was a sure sign that something terribly gone wrong with me. Actually, my mobile phone was unreachable as I was in the aircraft. When I spoke to Kiran my wife and Sunil in my office, all were relived.

The Newsreader on the TV screen at the Phuket Airport was speaking. “The earthquake triggered powerful tsunami waves that reached heights of up to 40.5 meters in Miyako in Tōhoku’s Iwate Prefecture, and which, in the Sendai area, traveled up to 10 km (6 mi) inland. Miyako city stands devastated”

Miyako? I remembered the woman I met at the IBrew. And her loving face and picture she showed me of the family. She and her husband were to leave for Miyako the next day to see their son. I also remembered the Zen looking owner of Ishoto restaurant and his words of parting “itte kimasu” that literally means “go and come back.” And he was absolutely right. I visited Japan later several times.


This story is hard to believe but true. I still wonder what would have happened to me if I were to board the 330 pm Thai Airways flight on March 11. If not the earthquake, the sheer inability to access my daily blood pressure and cardiac medicines would have killed me. I survived.

It was a miraculous escape from Japan.


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The Intersections


gde-color-intersections

1990s was an era where many leading institutions across the world were interested to launch programs where interests of business/profitability could be integrated with the protection of the environment/sustainability. These institutions perhaps realized that unless such an integration was pitched, there was not going to be much interest or “buy in” by the business.

UNEP’s Cleaner Production was one such “smart” Program. The concept of Cleaner Production was established by the UNEP’s Division of Technology, Industry and Economics (DTIE) in Paris.

I feel excited even today that I was part of that small team of “experts” who worked together in one of the late evenings at the office of DTIE and coined the term Cleaner Production. Jaqueline Alosi Larderel was the director then and Donald (Don) Huisingh (who was a Professor at the Lund University) was the Facilitator. We were struggling and attempted several options of shall I say the “word play” and the “terms and definitions” to arrive finally at “What is Cleaner Production?”

We defined Cleaner Production as: “The continuous application of an integrated environmental strategy to processes, products and services to increase efficiency and reduce risks to humans and the environment”. This definition was pretty deep yet expansive.

I recall that after the term and definition was sorted out, we walked near Rue Saint-James to a small Lebanese restaurant (Fleur de cèdrerun? I don’t exactly recollect the name now) that was run by two brothers (one used to cook and other used to play keyboard) and had a three hour long dinner and wonderful conversations. Cleaner Production was born.

I spent nearly 15 years later in the area of Cleaner Production. In 2002 I prepared the Global Status Report on Cleaner Production for UNEP DTIE , later a multimedia CDROM “Cleaner Production Companion” and Training & Guidance Manuals how to set up and operate National Cleaner Production Centers, amongst other publications.

In 1992, the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBSCD) came with the concept of Eco-Efficiency. The concept was based on creating more goods and services while using fewer resources and creating less waste and pollution. Eco-efficiency was measured as the ratio between the (added) values of what has been produced (e.g. GDP) and the (added) environment impacts of the product or service (e.g. SO2 emissions).  WBSCD in its 1992 publication “Changing Course,” introduced this term and at the 1992 Earth Summit, eco-efficiency was endorsed as a new business concept and means for companies to implement Agenda 21 in the private sector. The term has become synonymous today with a management philosophy geared towards sustainability and combining ecological and economic efficiency.

I was one of the contributors to the book Changing Course  courtesy my good friend Nick Robbins and was involved in the discussions on Eco-efficiency. I could therefore see the “intersections”. Both Cleaner Production and Eco-Efficiency had origins primarily from the experience of countries in the European Union. In the United States, the term Pollution Prevention prevailed.

In 1994, Yuji Yamada of Asian Productivity Organization (APO) approached me. “Dr Modak, APO has been in the productivity business for long and we recognize the importance of integrating productivity and environment as “Green Productivity” but we don’t have a definition. Can you help? Please come as a resource person to a workshop of experts I am organizing in Taipei”

I asked Yamada-san, why do you want a yet another term? Go ahead use terms like Cleaner Production or Eco-efficiency. Yamada-san said “This won’t work. We need our own definition”

So I joined Yamada-san in Taipei. Over a two days of deliberation we came up with a definition of Green Productivity. Green Productivity was defined as a strategy for enhancing productivity and environmental performance for overall socio-economic development. Green Productivity was considered as the application of appropriate productivity and environmental management policies, tools, techniques, and technologies in order to reduce the environmental impact of an organization’s activities.

In 2006, I wrote for the APO the Green Productivity Training Manual. My association with APO continues even today. I attempted to bring UNEP DTIE and APO together and we did few common meetings/conferences but the real harmonization was impossible to achieve in the Program operations. The industry used to be confused “Are you referring to CP (Cleaner Production) or GP (Green Productivity). A pity isn’t it? And as if this confusion was not enough we now have another term – Resource Efficient Cleaner Production (RECP). UNEP along with UNIDO defined RECP as continuous application of preventive environmental strategies to processes, products, and services to increase efficiency and reduce risks to humans and the environment. RECP works specifically to advance production efficiency, management of environment and human development. So RECP was a “concoction” of CP and GP! Indeed, it’s a maze of terms and intersections today on the canvas of Productivity, Environment and Interest of Communities.

Each of the above programs made dent in their own way. Some led to more outreach, acceptance and impact. The early definitions of these terms were tweaked during the course and re-interpreted especially to reflect on the Millennium Development Goals (and now the Sustainability Development Goals).

In the early phase of these programs, the business was asking for the “evidence” that would prove that it was profitable to integrate business with environmental and social considerations. I remember I created for the UNEP DTIE International Cleaner Production Information Clearinghouse (ICPIC)  and came up with an edited version of 400+ international case studies across more than 20 industrial sectors covering medium and large scale industries. These case studies did the job of convincing and were used in the outreach and  the training programs. Today, we don’t  need any more convincing. We want to know more about “how to”.

Unfortunately, the concepts of CP, Eco-Efficiency, GP and RECP have not yet penetrated in the graduate level education programs, especially in the developing world. The ocean of resources created and the practice experience documented have not yet reached the student and community of young professionals.  We need to run continuing education programs on these topics especially for the mid-level industry professionals. Those on the top layer are generally aware of the benefits of integration. But sure, we have a long way to go for mainstreaming sustainability in the business.

Few years ago, three bright and smart looking specialists from the International Finance Corporation (IFC) came to see me in my office. They were quite snappy and a bit arrogant (perhaps because they were working for IFC) and looked at me as an “environmental consultant”. One of them said “Mr. Modak, you folks (he meant consultants) should read up and practice some of the paradigm shifts in environmental management – such as Cleaner Production. Most of you think only of “end of the pipe” solutions and that’s the problem”. The other two also chipped in.

I was simply amused and I said “How exciting? Never heard of this term Cleaner Production. Could you elaborate?” And they obliged me and expanded CP to introduce terms like Eco-efficiency and Green Productivity as well. And I heard my own words!

Later, my friend from IFC called me – who was their boss and said “Dr Modak, when will you give up this habit of telling that you know nothing and have a good laugh later – I apologize on behalf of my staff for getting you through Course-101 on Cleaner Production”.

I told her – it’s not their fault – but indeed discussions with them made me re-think about the intersections. Intersections are alright if they help in better integration.

 

Integration

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