Arrivals of the Departed

Airplane landing with sunrise

On a Sunday morning, my Professor Friend visited my house. He seemed a bit exasperated.

“I have to receive Erin Brockovich at the international airport. She is arriving tonight at 1 30 am from New York. I am unable to pick her up as I am in Delhi for a meeting with the Prime Minister. Can you please do me a favor. Pick her up and drop at the ITC Grand at Lower Parel.

Many of your know Erin was instrumental in building a case against the Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E) of California in 1993. Her successful lawsuit was the subject of a 2000 film, Erin Brockovich, which starred Julia Roberts. Erin is now the president of Brockovich Research & Consulting.

When I did not answer, Professor patted me and said “I know you were expecting to receive Julia Roberts when I mentioned Erin Brockovich. If Julia was to be received, then I would have never come to you with such a request and cancelled appointment with the Primate Minister”. I thought the Professor was right.

But with some reluctance, I agreed to Professor’s request. Well, I hadn’t received anyone lately from the international airport. Receiving folks at the airports is really a pain. It may require sometimes hours of wait especially if are receiving someone flying Air India. I decided to help my Friend.

Professor seemed to have read my mind. Dr Modak, don’t worry. I have two offerings for you. One is the Airport Receivers Guidance Manual. I prepared this Manual when I was young and had to receive international guests every other week. This Manual illustrates how to handle 26 different scenarios e.g. what if the flight is late, what if the power supply at the airport is suddenly cut off and what if the mobile phone runs out of power etc. just to illustrate a few. This Manual will put you in peace and help you to deal with any uncanny situation”

I glanced through the Manual. The Manual was very comprehensive. A job – well done. I knew Professor always looked for perfection.

“I have one more interesting item for you”. Professor said this in a rather mysterious tone. He handed over to me a small box. “Open the box when you feel bored or frustrated at the airport. But not otherwise”. He almost warned me. “And Dr Modak, you will return this box to me tomorrow”. Professor left.

I reached the Mumbai International Airport at 1 30 am. I estimated that Erina will come out of the immigration and customs by 2 15 or so. I was carrying a placard flashing her name in large capital letters.

There must be arrivals of several flights nearly at the same time as there was a flux of passengers streaming out of the gate. Nearly 70 to 80% looked like Indians – but some were clearly Indians with foreign passports. They looked different and walked out as if aliens.

I saw some seasoned travelers. They carried one piece of luggage with 4 wheels (that worked) and glided through the gate swiftly. They knew where to get the taxi and carried Rupees.

Then there were gulf based passengers who carried big boxes with Sony Television and such electronics. The big boxes were tied with a rope and had their names and addresses written in ink with large size letters. There were spelling mistakes.

Like me there were several hanging in the arrival area. Many were carrying flowers to greet. When met, there were hugs, smooching and touching of feet. When a couple would arrive, the man would push his wife to bend down and touch feet of the Mom (or the mother in law). And it was touching sometimes to see a daughter hugging her dad – may be after parting for a year or more. The sons appeared a bit stiff and looked confused with poor body language.

The foreigners were looking for the banners to locate the pick-up drivers. They seemed worried and a bit lost. When connected, I could see an expression of relief on their faces.

During the first half hour that I was waiting for Erina, I saw arrivals of Sadhus or equivalent, Politicians (in power and out of the power) and Corporate Honchos. They arrived in style with a contingent following them with the “tamasha” of garlanding and then getting escorted to the VIP exits.

I think I saw some Bollywood celebrities when Swiss Air arrived –  Some old flames wearing dark goggles with large frames and some young one’s sporting shorts. They carried with them a cloud of sophisticated perfume.

And then I saw the airline crew arriving. I saw the Singapore Airlines crew that sailed out of the arrival gate in grace like swans.

It was now nearly 2 30 am and my arriving passenger Erina was not in the sight. Did I lose her? My banner was prominent and she couldn’t have missed. I got worried. I decided to refer to Professor’s Guidance Manual on the 26 scenarios. However, none of the scenarios were of relevance. The flight arrived on time. There was power at the airport and my mobile phone was 90% charged!

I pulled out the printout of the ticket that was given to me by the Professor and decided to approach the information desk. The desk was right in the arrival area.  “Sir let me check for you about your flight” The girl at the desk said in an assuring tone. She was eating a chewing gum to pass her time.

“Well Sir, the flight you are looking for is to arrive tomorrow. You have come a day early. All other details remain the same i.e. 1 30 am arrival”

I was shell shocked.

No wonder why the Professors are called absent minded souls. He had simply missed the date because of 1 30 am.

So, this was the 27th scenario that was not thought of by the Professor! I was really upset with this mess. I thought of calling him up right away and give him a piece of my mind – but then I refrained as I knew that this was something unintentional and now nothing could be done!

I then remembered the box Professor had given me with a tip that open the box when you feel frustrated at the airport.

The box contained a pair of spectacles – routine stuff I thought but it had an emblem “Ultra Vision”

So, I wore the spectacles for amusement.  And wow, what did I see.

I saw Mr JRD Tata walking out with Homi Bhabha. All know who JRD is and many would also know Sir Homi Bhabha.

In 1937, together with W. Heitler, a German physicist, Bhabha solved the riddle about cosmic rays. Cosmic rays are fast moving, extremely small particles coming from outer space. When these particles enter the earth’s atmosphere, they collide with the atoms of air and create a shower of electrons. Bhabha’s discovery of the presence of nuclear particles (which he called mesons) in these showers was used to validate Einstein’s theory of relativity making him world famous. Bhabha soon realized the need for an institute fully devoted to fundamental research, and wrote to J.R.D. Tata for funding. This resulted in the establishment of the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research (TIFR) in Mumbai in 1945, with Bhabha as the Director, a position he held until his death. In 1948, Homi Bhabha was appointed the Chairman of the International Atomic Energy Commission. Under his guidance, nuclear reactors like the Apsara, Cirus and Zerlina were built. A multi-faceted personality, Bhabha was immensely fond of music, painting and writing. Some of his paintings are displayed in the British Art Galleries and the TIFR art collection today is rated as one of the best collections of contemporary Indian art in the country. He died when Air India Flight 101 crashed near Mont Blanc on 24 January 1966

I stopped JRD and Homi Bhabha “Sirs, how come I see you here?” I was astonished to see these wonderful people after their death years ago.

“Well God tells us sometimes to visit the Earth and help him. We get into the aircraft and take empty seats when passing through the clouds. Nobody knows how we do it. Homi says that it is all courtesy the cosmic rays. But I don’t understand the physics as much as he does”. JRD said this with a warm and kind smile.

I was simply dazed to hear this. Tata and Sir Bhabha left the airport.

My attention then went to two gentlemen behind. One was John Jacob and second was Vasant Takalkar. Both famous environmentalists who devoted their life for protection of nature, forests and biodiversity.

When I waived at them, they asked “How did you “see” us? We never get noticed when we arrive. God asks us to arrive whenever He notices that there is need to push the agenda on sustainability”.

The third man behind them was Anupam Mishra Noted Gandhian, journalist, environmentalist, and water conservationist who recently passed away. While joining Jacob and Takalkar he said “I know him – he is our Professor’s Friend and today he is wearing the Ultra Vision spectacles”

No wonder I realized why the Professor was so secretive and protective about these spectacles.

John C Jacob (1936 – 11 October 2008) was one of the pioneers of the environmental movement in Kerala, India. Jacob was born at Nattakam in Kottayam. At Payyanur, in 1972 he started a zoology club that would form the genesis of campus-based nature conservation activities. The club also became involved in protesting threats to the environment. Jacobs also started a few “green” magazines stressing the need to preserve nature. He also set up the Society for Environment Education, Kerala (SEEK), which published an environment-focused magazine Soochimukhi. Additionally, Jacob led the movement against the Silent Valley project in South Kerala. In recognition of his contributions to the environment, he was awarded the Kerala Biodiversity Board’s Haritham Award and the state government’s Vana Mithra Award.

Environmentalist Vasant Takalkar is famous for the ‘Takalkar Pattern’ of continuous contour trenching, passed away on Saturday morning following a heart attack when he was guiding youths at a tree plantation drive on the Chatuhshrungi hill. For the past 37 years, Takalkar worked for the cause of forestation, carried out soil and moisture conservation activities through continuous contour trenching, spanning about 700 villages in five districts of the state and generated employment worth five million man days for transient and casual labour. The central government had noticed his work and awarded him Indira Priyadarshini Vrikshamitra Award. On Saturday, he had gone to Chatuhshrungi hill to participate in a two-day tree plantation drive organized by Youth to Youth, an NGO. He collapsed while working with the youths and was hospitalised. He died during treatment.

Environmentalist Anupam Mishra Noted Gandhian, journalist, environmentalist, and water conservationist. He had been awarded the 1996 Indira Gandhi Paryavaran Puraskar (IGPP) award instituted by the Ministry of Environment and Forests, Government of India. He travelled to villages across India describing the value of time-tested systems of water harvesting. He advocated conservation of traditional water structures in India as well as abroad. He wrote books, like, Aaj Bhi Khare Hain Talaab (Lakes are still Standing, 1993) and Rajasthan Ki Rajat Boondein (Radiant Raindrops of Rajasthan, 1995), — landmark works in the field of water conservation.

I really appreciated God’s strategy to send these noble souls back to the Earth at least for a while to help the humanity. These arrivals of the departed were indeed encouraging. Our humanity and especially in India we need such people once again.

As I was lost in these thoughts, I heard a loud noise and then saw a bunch of three people fighting amongst themselves and making a scene that only I could “see”.

These people included Idi Amin, Adolf Hitler and Stalin.


I didn’t quite like these arrivals – and did not understand the game God wanted to play.

I removed the spectacles, packed them in the box and returned home.

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Sustainability Literacy


Sustainability education is essential today. It is required at all levels but more so in schools, colleges and at the institutions with higher learning. We also need continuing education programs on sustainability for professionals, regulators and bankers.

In India, we are not yet focusing on sustainability education.

But let us first start with the basics. Everyone should be sustainability literate.

What does Sustainability Literacy means? I asked my Professor Friend

“Well there is no formal universally accepted definition” he said. The Sustainability Literacy Test (SuLitest) defines “Sustainability Literacy” as the knowledge, skills and mindsets that help compel an individual to become deeply committed to building a sustainable future and allow him or her to make informed and effective decisions to this end”.

(Hearing this kind of definition, I thought I was attending some UN Conference)

Then Professor said with a smirk “Dr Modak, don’t you think we need to focus on the basic literacy first? According to me this Sustainability Literacy is a luxury and all humbug. A 1990 study estimated that it would take until 2060 for India to achieve universal literacy from the present 74.4%. We better work on achieving this target”

“But then we are simply missing the boat. What is the use of making people literate – as by 2060, if we don’t change our lifestyles the warming of the planet will cross 4 0C. I said in despair “I expect Sustainability Literacy will help us to bring in the behavioral change and at least delay the global warming”

What is definition of literacy? I asked the Professor

Professor said that the National Literacy Mission defines literacy as acquiring the skills of reading, writing and arithmetic and the ability to apply them to one’s day-to-day life. The achievement of functional literacy includes (i) awareness of the causes of deprivation and the ability to move towards amelioration of their condition by participating in the process of development, (ii) acquiring skills to improve economic status and general well-being, and (iii) imbibing values such as national integration, conservation of environment, women’s equality, observance of small family norms. So, we do include aspects such as conservation of environment”. He lit his cigar.

“Oh” I said. I did not know that the National Literacy Mission addressed environmental perspective in the very definition of literacy. “Not many may know” I muttered to myself.

“I hope that those who implement the Mission know this environmental perspective” I said. I must have sounded sarcastic or unsure but the Professor continued.

So we are fine when it comes to inclusion of environmental aspects in the definition of literacy. To move on however I suggest that we focus on the English Language Literacy” He said this rather emphatically.

English language literacy in India is “estimated” around 10%. But the people who speak, read and write it well enough to be considered acceptable in England and USA are probably only about 2 percent of the population. The rest (8 %) can merely understand simple English and speak broken English with an amazing variety of accents. We need to escalate this percentage to at least 50% by 2060. Remember Dr Modak, much of the sustainability related seminars we hold, reports we write and read are essentially in English. 90% of India’s population that is not English literate and so will never get involved in Sustainability.

“Well Professor – I don’t buy this argument. If this was the case, then the Americans would not have led this planet to a situation so unsustainable – and they wouldn’t have elected Donald Trump as their President.” This was now my turn to checkmate the Professor. Professor smiled.

OK, let us look at the global initiative on Sustainability Literacy. Professor said. The Natural Step has launched a program on Sustainability Literacy at 2 levels complemented by E-learning

Under the efforts to reach Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), we have Sustainability Literacy Test (SULITEST) of the Higher Education Sustainability Initiative (HESI)

The Sustainability Literacy test (SULITEST) is an online multiple choice question assessment. It assesses, in 30 minutes, the minimum level of knowledge in economic, social and environmental responsibility, applicable all over the world, in any kind of higher education institution (HEI), in any country, for students from any kind of tertiary-level course (bachelors, masters, MBAs, PhD).

All the questions in this assessment will ensure that future graduates have basic knowledge on sustainable development and both individual and organizational sustainability and responsibility. For this purpose, the scope of this assessment covers 2 types of questions: Questions on challenges facing society and the planet i.e. general knowledge on social, environmental and economic issues, basic understanding of the earth e.g. water and carbon cycles, greenhouse effect, etc. And questions on the organization’s responsibility in general and on corporate responsibility i.e. questions on practices for integrating social responsibility throughout an organization and questions on the responsibility of individuals as employees and citizens.

The target by 2030 is that 200,000 tests get carried out per year, out of which 50,000 are done by professionals.

There is now a Handbook of Sustainability Literacy: A Multimedia version edited by Poppy Villiers-Stuart and Arran Stibbe. This two-part Handbook has several interesting topics. You can browse this Handbook online resource by chapters from the paperback, additional chapters as well as Video interviews.

In this ground-breaking book, leading sustainability educators are joined by literary critics, permaculturalists, ecologists, artists, journalists, engineers, mathematicians and philosophers in a deep reflection on the skills people need to survive and thrive in the challenging conditions of the 21st century. Responding to the threats of climate change, peak oil, resource depletion, economic uncertainty and energy insecurity demands the utmost in creativity, ingenuity and new ways of thinking in order to reinvent both self and society. The book covers a wide range of skills and attributes from technology appraisal to ecological intelligence, and includes active learning exercises to help develop those skills.

“This sounds rather too sophisticated or elevated – whom are we making sustaibility literate – those already converted or an uneducated slum dweller or a farmer?” I wasn’t happy with the topics covered in the Handbook. Perhaps, for India, we will need to address the rural and urban segments separately for introducing Sustainability Literacy capturing their lifestyles

Professor lit his second cigar and took a deep puff

I think we need to think differently. You should read paper by Dr. John J. Kineman, University of Colorado, USA and Dr. Deepak Anand, Sri Sathya Sai Institute of Higher Learning, India – titled Roots of Sustainability in Ancient India 

In this paper, the Authors quote and interpret as follows

“Most ancient cultures have grown in the lap of Nature with reverence for nature in which all of its elements, mountains, rivers, forests, animals, etc., may be considered sacred. The Hindu scriptures like the Upanishads, Srimad Bhagavatam, Puranas, Vedas, and Bhagavad Geeta have also expressed the sacredness of various aspects of the environment and its conservation. Ancient texts like Kautilya’s Arthasastra have an immense amount of information on environment, natural resource management and prevention of pollution. The realization of this fundamental and ultimate Truth is that there is unity of all life and existence and the goal of human life is to merge one’s little self in the Divine to experience this unity.

The Vedas are the primary sources of not only moral enhancement for the economic progress but also guide to address ecology to achieve a true sustainability. The Vedas view human perfection and happiness from integrated perspectives, which embraces both material and spiritual values in individual and harmonious unity. The Vedas provide guidance to enlighten the inner human soul in order to preserve moral values, true purpose of life and care for Nature.”

I thought the Professor was right. We in India already had sustainability embedded in our culture – we need to revisit, unfold and recommunicate.

Integration of sustainability concepts with spirituality – anchored with the culture will make us understand the true Sustainability Literacy. Sustainability Literacy explained in the Handbooks or assessed through on-line tests is not going help– all we will get there is just the “information” but not the “messages and realization” that will bring in the behavioral change.

So are you Sustainability Literate in this perspective?

Professor asked me this question, extinguished his cigar and left.


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Blending Strategy, Design and Operations


In the university education, we are taught engineering designs with first principles.

In practice, we rarely attempt to design units applying these principles that we learn from the textbooks. This is probably because we know that there are stark differences between the principle based design and the design we put in practice.

Stoke’s law is customarily taught when we teach our students the theory of sedimentation. Stokes’ law makes the following assumptions for the behaviour of a particle in a fluid:

  • Laminar Flow
  • Spherical particles
  • Homogeneous (uniform in composition) material
  • Smooth surfaces
  • That particles do not interfere with each other.

We do not therefore design a sedimentation tank following Stoke’s law. We know its limitations. Instead, we use design criteria such as overflow rate, weir loading rate and retention time to size and arrive at the diameter and depth of the sedimentation tank. But remember that these design criteria make use of the first principles taught in our textbooks as the foundation.

We estimate the likely removal of Suspended Solids (SS) and the Biochemical Oxygen Demand (BOD) based on “performance equations” or “design graphs” where we link performance with overflow rates and retention time. For sewage treatment, these graphs are developed based on actual experience of removals of SS and BOD in practice from data pooled from several installations. So, we tend to believe them and rightly so. (Pity it is that we still do not have in India our “home-grown” national performance equations for designing sewage treatment plants)


Graph indicating BOD and SS Removal for Raw Sewage in a Sedimentation Tank as a function of Overflow  Rates and Retention Times

The design of the sedimentation tank is however not complete as all we now have are the outline dimensions of the tank based on design overflow rates and retention time.

For the design that we can implement, we need much more details. We need to decide on the type of influent well, hopper slope, type of scraper mechanism (single or double arm, straight or helical), skimmer, positioning of the motor drive (e.g. at the center or at the periphery) etc. These details are with the manufacturer/supplier of the mechanism or the equipment. Based on the outline dimensions, the manufacturer provides these details along with General Assembly drawings and preliminary cost estimates. The cost estimates include mechanical, civil and electrical works with specifications.


Typical Equipment in the Sedimentation Tank

You learn about these essential elements of design only when you reach the stage of implementation or practice and not in the classroom at the university. We however need to make student understand this important extension.

When I worked with Dorr-Oliver, we were shown videos of installation of equipment for the sedimentation tank (Dorr-Oliver Clarifiers). This made us understand both design features and the procedure of installation – including commissioning. This kind of training helped me to understand link between principles and practice.  

To increase the efficiency of sedimentation, chemical assist sedimentation is practiced. Designing chemical assist sedimentation tank requires laboratory studies where we attempt to use different chemicals and arrive at an optimum recipe. The recipe is often a concoction of alum, lime and polyelectrolytes. Based on observations made in the laboratory in a settling column, we come up with the dose of chemicals, estimate the generation of chemical sludge (specially to work out “K factor” (resistance) of the scraper arm, volume of the sludge hopper and the desludging schedule). We then guestimate improved efficiency of SS and BOD based on laboratory experience.

This “base design” however needs to be tweaked in the operational phase, as the experiments made on the settling column do not mimic the hydraulics of the real sedimentation tank. With a “reasonable” base design we adjust the recipe of chemicals during operation. The design process thus extends from first principles (e.g. stoichiometry, understanding flocculation and coagulation), to laboratory trials and finally arrives at the operational design. The students at the university do not get exposed to such a process where principles and operational designs are developed as a logical sequence.

There are situations when it is not possible to arrive at the outline dimensions – especially when designs are proprietary.  The textbooks we use do not contain the proprietary information. So, if we want to design a lamella separator instead of a circular sedimentation tank, then we need to reach out to the suppliers of the lamella separator, examine the catalogues, talk to the users or clients and gather the operational experience. Sometimes we need to invite the technology provider or equipment supplier to set up a pilot on the site and demonstrate the performance as Proof of Concept (PoC). With the advent of several types of proprietary equipment, we often land up with discussions with commercial vendors to take final decision. We try to open the “black box” as much possible through questions (based on first principles) and by checking the operational experience.

In all above, we often overlook or underplay the strategy part that should ideally precede the design. We limit ourselves to the engineering design. In the strategy, we need to ask questions such as

  • Why do we generate so much wastewater in the first place?
  • What is the source of SS?
  • Do we need a separate unit for removal of SS at all?
  • If yes, then do we use sedimentation or flotation?
  • If we use sedimentation, then do we adopt a circular tank or a rectangular tank?
  • How will we be addressing situations of increased flows or increased SS concentration?
  • How do we handle the sludge?

These questions require a discussion and making of scenarios. We need case studies and a dialogue with the “client”, potential vendor and the practioners. If we follow “flip method” of teaching, then strategy should form the core of the class room sessions.

How should we teach then the engineering design to make it interesting as well as effective?

We clearly need to blend strategy with design and operations. The subject needs to cover the process starting from first principles, laboratory work, outline designs, detailed design (focusing on equipment) followed by tweaks needed based on the operational experience. We need to “teach” in a narrative style.

The lectures will need to include case studies, videos and field visits with faculty drawn from both academia and practice. This is a difficult task and needs good planning and coordination.

I would propose that we conduct Winter/Summer schools of say 2 weeks on engineering design for pollution control following a blended approach. This school may do the necessary blending. I used in this post, illustration of design of sedimentation tank – but indeed we need to cover gamut of major unit operations especially those that have emerged in the last decade where the practice experience has still to mature in India. Examples could be membrane based processes and processes using nano-technology and those operations which use advanced biological processes.

These Winter/Summer schools may not limit to university students but also include professionals. If undertaken as a campaign say across 4 locations in the country, we will be able to train 250 students/professionals every year. A couple of years of experience of running such schools will guide us on how to replicate and scale up.

I wanted to speak with my Professor Friend about my point on blending strategy, design and operations. Professor was at a Sewage Treatment Plant that he frequently visits and conducts field research on what he calls as “operational optimization”.

Professor heard me while we walked towards the aeration tank. He seemed to agree but I saw him not listening to me very attentively.

He inhaled a deep breath near the aeration tank (like a sniff) and turned to the Supervisor “Avinash, I think you need to ramp a bit on the sludge recycling pump, the odor tells me that we are falling short on the MLSS (Mixed Liquor Suspended Solids)”. “Yes Sir” said Avinash.

With this instruction, Professor turned to me.

I decided to block the dates of my proposed Winter/Summer school based on the availability and convenience of my Professor Friend.

Let me know if you are interested to join me.

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Close Encounter of Papandayan Kind


Hotel Papandayan in Bandung

I worked as an international consultant on behalf of GTZ (now GIZ) for few years in Indonesia. I used to make several missions spread over a week and spaced over couple of months. The project was called Produksi Bersih (Cleaner Production). Idea was to build capacity of the Ministry (BAPEDAL), develop demonstration projects on Cleaner Production in industries, set up counseling clubs to provide advice and prepare Guidance Manuals. I liked the project.

City of Bandung was one of the focal cities for the Produksi Bersih project. Bandung, as many of you know, is one of the hubs of Indonesian textile industries. It made a sense to introduce project Produksi Bersih in Bandung.

I used to fly into Jakarta via Singapore, land by afternoon and then take a train to Bandung that had a picturesque route with a climb.


Train from Jakarta to Bandung

I remember the first time I visited Bandung. My colleagues in BAPDEAL had specifically asked me to book Hotel Papandayan. “You will love this hotel – it serves good Indian food”, one of the senior officers at the BAPEDAL advised.

I checked into hotel Papandayan on Saturday. The train was a bit late so it was already 6 pm in the evening. As the check in formalities were getting completed, the Lobby Manager Tim, a Chinese Indonesian, ushered me to the Bar.

“Sir, a welcome drink for you”. Tim introduced me to the Bar Tender “Susilo, please offer Sir the best – but as per his choice. He is going to be our regular guest from now on and this time he will be with us for 2 weeks”.

Susilo was a medium height gentleman with a warm smile. He was smart. He looked at my hand bag tag. “Dr Prasad Modak, Welcome to Papandayan. Let me propose you our signature cocktail”.

“Oh, thanks Susilo” I said.


A look a like of Susilo

Susilo got into action. He poured some 50ml vodka into a tall glass and seasoned with a good squeeze of fresh lemon juice, freshly ground black pepper, a good few slugs of Worcestershire sauce, a dash of Tabasco, a pinch of cayenne and of celery salt. His face looked like a magician. Susilo stirred everything together, then topped up the glass with ice and presented to me with a stirrer.

“Here you are Sir”

I took a sip and felt like a fire blasting to my belly. The drink was certainly like a fireball!  But nice!!

“What you call this mix Susilo?” I asked.

“Well Sir, it’s called Papandayan. Everybody loves this drink before the sunset” Susilo said this with a smile.

Some of you may know – Mount Papandayan is a complex stratovolcano, located in Garut Regency, to the southeast of the city of Bandung. At the summit, there are four large craters which contain active fumarole fields. An eruption in 1772 caused the northeast flank to collapse producing a catastrophic debris avalanche that destroyed 40 villages and killed nearly 3,000 people. The eruption truncated the volcano into a broad shape with two peaks and a flat area 1.1 km wide with Alun-Alun crater in the middle, making the mountain appear as a twin volcano; one of the peaks is called Papandayan and the other Mount Puntang.

No wonder Susilo’ s mix was a “volcano” drink.

I started my work on the Produksi BersiH project – I used to be mostly in the field with the textile industries and return late evening by around 7 pm and hit the bar with Susilo.

My usual drink was a glass of Bintang Beer. Susilo used to serve chilled Bintang in a putter glass with garlic flavored “Garuda” make peanuts.

Susilo himself was a non-alcoholic “I will drink only when I get shattered! And it will be my signature drink Papandayan” he told me

On the second day, Susilo walked to me and asked “Sir, Tim, the lobby manager tells me that you love listening to music. Is this true?” I nodded.

Well, is it OK if I ask my girlfriend Dewi to sit along and give you a company?  Dewi is a music freak and loves to talk. I am allergic to music and don’t understand a bit” Susilo said this to me like a confession. “Dewi always complains “

Dewi was the reason for Susilo’s heart-aches. She was a singer at a nearby café called – Atmosphere Resort and used to perform there between 8 to 10 pm every other night. Dewi used to come to the bar at Papandayan by 7 pm to have a shot of virgin bloody merry with Susilo on the counter and then swing to the Cafe. She would return back to Papandayan by 10 30 pm and get back with Susilo home after a dinner together. This was the routine.

Susilo introduced me to Dewi. Dewi was a beautiful and elegant Indonesian woman in late twenties. Her eyes were rather deep and mysterious. She made an impression as she spoke to me in the voice of a singer. I could sense the “power” in her voice.

Dewi liked to talk and dominate the conversations. So, we got along very well as I was a good listener.

The first thing Dewi asked me was about the women singers I admire. I said Madonna. She nodded. Then I said Celine Dion – she said OK – but wasn’t very enthusiastic. She is too formal she said. When I mentioned Lauren Wood, she was excited. I love Lauren’s “Fallen” she said and ended the conversation rather thoughtfully “You have pretty decent choice to start our conversations”

She must have enjoyed my company – as Susilo told me that Dewi really likes me and wants to come a bit early for our music conversations.

Dewi had researched a lot and had stories to tell.

According to Dewi, Madonna’s first attempts at songwriting were perceived as an important self-revelation. Most critics admired Madonna’s talent for developing “incredible” hooks that allowed the lyrics to capture the attention of the audience, even without the influence of the music.



One of Dewi’s Madonna favorite was “Rain”. Lyrically the song communicates rain to the empowering effect of love, and as describes water’s ability to clean and wash away the pain.

Rain was perceived as an exceptional ballad. It peaked at number 14 on the Billboard Hot 100 in the United States, while becoming a top-ten hit in Australia, Canada, Ireland, Italy, Japan, and the United Kingdom.

The song’s arrangement captures turbulent elements associated with rain (such as thunder), orchestral stabs that invokes crisp lightning bolts, and a surging bridge segue driven by what sounds like electric guitar snarls. I was really impressed with Dewi’s articulation.

Having said this Dewi got rather technical. “You know Prasad,  key change happens towards the end from B♭ major to C major, followed by two spoken parts and a harmony alongside it. The coda has another melody with it, and the song ends in a group chorus without the harmonies”

I did not understand this part at all so I gulped some Bintang. “Hmm Interesting” I said


Madonna and her backup singers, Niki Haris (right) and Donna De Lory (left), performing “Rain” during The Girlie Show World Tour in 1993

In one of our discussion session, I asked Dewi about Celine Dion’s famous song A New Day has Come.

Dewi said that this song  was a new chapter in Dion’s life and career. “The song represents her child that was just born then. The song also expresses Dion’s sorrow for the 9/11 episode. Many critics say that in such mixed feelings, the song comes off like a gentle exhale against the world’s ills”.


Celine Dion

I did not know this background to the song and was amazed with Dewi’s research. Dewi continued

“Did you know Prasad that Dion was a founder of Nickels Restaurant food chain and later in association with Andre Agassi, Steffi Graf and Shaquille O’Neal she opened a popular night club called Pure. And In 2003, Dion signed a deal with Coty, Inc. to release Celine Dion Parfums.  Since its inception, Celine Dion Parfums has grossed over $850 million in retail sales”

To me this was a new dimension to Dion’s personality.

Our conversations were getting more engaging and interesting. Dewi started coming to the bar by 6 30 pm and I started wrapping my Produksi BersiH work in time.

It was the Friday of my first week at Papadayan. Dewi invited me to join her at the Atmosphere Resort Café. “I am doing a very special number today and I want you to come with me to listen” She was panting when she said.

I left along with Dewi but forgot to tell Susilo that I was going along with her.

Dewi was outstanding at the Atmosphere Resort Café. We were at the terrace – with a slight chill in the air and amidst the lights that were romantic.


Terrace of Atmosphere Resort Cafe

After rolling out a few “usual” songs, Dewi spoke into the mike and said “This song is very special – and I am going to sing for my dear friend Prasad”.  Many in the Café looked at me as the spot light moved to the table I was sitting.

Dewi sang Lauren Wood’s Fallen – song that featured in the film Pretty Woman, starring Julia Roberts and Richard Gere. The soundtrack for the movie exceeded eighteen million copies in sales, largely fueled by Lauren’s song, which rocked the North American and European charts.


Lauren Wood

I saw Dewi very emotional while singing “Fallen”. The lyrics and the tone of her vocals mingled – and the combination was really special.


A Look-alike of Dewi

Dewi held my hand after the song ended and asked the waiter to set a table for us for dinner. “The Ayam Betutu here is simply outstanding” – Dewi said

We however had a rather quite dinner. Dewi did not speak much. Her eyes were moist.

When we got back to Papandayan, it was nearly 11 pm. At the reception, Tim, the Lobby Manager stopped us. “Where were you Dewi? Susilo has been waiting for you for so long”.

We went to the bar and saw Susilo sitting alone on the stool with his back towards us. “He is having a drink” Tim said

Dewi walked to bar and hugged him from behind.

I could sense that Susilo was terribly upset. It was odd to see him drink. And I knew that the drink had to be the signature one – the “Papandayan”.

I turned to Tim and asked him to check me out in the morning

“I am shifting to the Holiday Inn for the next week” I said.

Tim did not protest and neither questioned me why.

I checked out the next day.

It was a close encounter of the Papandayan kind.

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