The Lonavala Experiment

One day while teaching at the Indian Institute of Technology, Bombay; I received a call from Manjula Rao of the British Council Division. She said “Dr Modak, I have some budget to spare for conducting training on Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA). Would you be interested? We will be able to support travel and stay of two British Professors. And you can design the course the way you deem fit. We won’t micro-manage”

As usual, I was itching to do something different and I thought I must make use of this generous offer from Manjula.

I spoke to my good friend M G Rao (who today is unfortunately no more). MG (as how we used to call him)  was working with Rashtirya Chemicals & Fertilizers in Mumbai managing company’s environmental affairs. MG was a seasoned environmental professional, a passionate personality, a perfectionist and had a great insight to the EIA process. He always looked at EIA beyond mere compliance and more of an opportunity to value-add and de-risking.

MG, me and Manjula sat together in the Nariman Point office of the British Council and discussed to identify targets to train and prepared an outline of the program.

I proposed a case study-based approach to “teach”. At that time, EIA of Mumbai-Pune expressway was in the news. Report prepared by Associated Industrial Consultants (AIC) was under scanner. Erich Bharucha, Professor at Pune had raised concerns about the impact of cutting trees on the flying squirrels that harbored in the forests on the Ghats (hills). Alternate alignment of the expressway was therefore demanded. The State Government had another viewpoint and wasn’t sensitive to the concerns raised by Professor Bharucha.

The Giant Flying Squirrel

In the EIA report, the Consultant AIC did a comparison between the “project” and “no project option” and this comparison showed that over long run, the expressway would certainly be an environmentally sound option to connect Mumbai with Pune. “Business as usual” was no good! The benefits of saving fuel (and so the emissions) and time and reduction of risks during travel were simply enormous given the projected volume of traffic between the two cities.

I thought this case study could be used in the training program. I met Mr. B V Rotkar at the office of AIC who was heading the EIA Team. Mr. Rotkar, a veteran in the subject of Environmental Governance, was earlier Member Secretary of the Maharashtra Pollution Control Board (MPCB) and the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB).  Mr. Rotkar was a Guru and an inspiring personality to many of us.

Rotkar listened to me. He liked my idea of using EIA of Mumbai-Pune as a learning case study. “Well Dr Modak, Go ahead but you would need to “doctor” the details and not lift the sections of our EIA report on as is basis. Make a “new story”, He smiled while handing over the EIA report to me. It was so generous of him.

Manjula asked me about the Venue. And I proposed Lonavala, a little holiday town perched on the hills and lying mid-way between Mumbai and Pune.  We were planning the program in the month of October and that was perhaps the best period to be in Lonavala. I selected Fariyas Resort.

Fariyas Resort is a 5-star hotel located picturesquely at Frichley Hills.  It enjoys proximity to the express highway, main market and several tourist attractions, including Pawna Lake, Lohagad Fort and Karla and Bhaja Caves. It is one of the best resorts in Lonavala.

I did a reiki by visiting Fariyas, inspected the training rooms, met the F&B Manager and saw the facilities as the program was going to be a residential one. We decided to accommodate 40 participants. A two days program on this basis fitted well in Manjula’s budget.

The next task was to identify the British Professors and check their availability. Two names occurred to me – one was Christopher Wood from Manchester University and second was Peter Wathern. Chris taught in University’s EIA Centre and had just published a book titled “Environmental Impact Assessment – A Comparative Review”. Peter taught at Aberystwyth University and had edited an amazing book “Environmental Impact Assessment – Theory and Practice”. I loved both these books and was keen to “teach” along with these two Professors.

(I would highly recommend you to read these two books – its been a while that the books have been written but do good old things ever get outdated? These books are even relevant today.)

When we contacted the Professors, both of them agreed to come and join in my “Lonavala Experiment”.

So, what was the experiment about?

This idea was to introduce a new way of teaching the subject of EIA and do capacity building of training institutions.

The “learning path” was first designed following the “process” of EIA. That led to the program design. For instance, the opening session was on Screening and the last session was Environmental Monitoring for Compliance and for Adapting the Environmental Management Plan. Mumbai-Pune expressway case study was “woven” across all the sessions.

The participants were split into 4 groups. For each work session, the group composition was changed so at the end of 2 days, almost all participants got “connected” to each other.

The method of teaching was not prescriptive. For example, each Group was given one-page brief with another page showing the project location. There were four such “sample” projects. To start with, each participant was asked to apply screening in his/her way and come with a conclusion on – whether an EIA is required? And if Yes then at what level (e.g. Initial Environmental Examination was adequate, or a detailed or comprehensive EIA should be done? And why?).

When groups were formed, a Group opinion was to be presented and this required that each member of the Group had to communicate his/her rationale, defend or critique and learn how to arrive at consensus. Oh, this was the toughest part! When each Group leader presented the Group view on project screening, a discussion followed that was even more enriching.

The session ended with a short discourse on the Screening Criteria followed in India and in other countries. Participants were then encouraged to comment (e.g. on criteria of project type, size/investment and location) and in specific the case of Mumbai-Pune expressway. Each session was thus exciting – both to the participants and the faculty.

Location of Fariyas Resort at the mid-way of the Expressway made a difference. We visited the site of Flying Squirrels to understand the sensitivity better! Session on alternatives was therefore full of ideas and energy and debates! At the end of the course, all participants learnt the practice of EIA, and as MG used to repeated say “its power as a value – add”

But I think the best part of the “Lonavala experiment” was integrating the training program with potential institutions and faculty who could replicate. I invited faculty from 8 renowned institutions in India who taught EIA in their curriculum. We called these faculty members as Observers and they served as Facilitators or Resource Persons during the period of training.

I requested these faculty to stay for one more day after the 2 days course and discuss the course content and pedagogy. The 40 participants had left by then.

The third day was very productive as these 8 faculty members made observations to further improve the training program. We made plans on how could we continue this model of training at their respective universities and what help would they need from us and from the British Council. There was so much positive energy when we closed the session on the third day.

Peter and Chis were amazing. I learnt a lot from these two stalwarts. We did a Training Manual after incorporating suggestions from the 8 “peers”. Peter took the responsibility to edit and finalize. Manjula found money to print the Training Manual.

MG and I spent good time in selecting the 40 participants. We chose participants from different disciplines and practice experience that ranged infrastructure developers, regulators, financiers, academicians, environmental NGOs, media personnel  and of course the EIA consultants. Many of these participants of the Lonavala experiment are still in touch with me today. Its sad that Peter Wathern is no more. He died in 2015. I don’t see any recent “google footprint” of Chris Wood. Last I saw him was at the IAIA Conference in Hongkong.

I would very be interested to repeat my “Lonavala experiment”. It was EIA the last time and this time, the topics could be different – may be Circular Economy? Do write to me if you have any suggestions or need any help.


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You, Me and Mr. Phileas Fogg

During my school days, when I read the book by the French writer Jules Verne “Eighty Days Around the World”, I was most impressed by the character Phileas Fogg. Phileas Fogg was a rich British gentleman living in London and in solitude. Despite his wealth, Fogg lived a modest life with habits carried out with mathematical precision. For instance, Fogg dismissed his former valet, James Forster, for bringing him shaving water at 84 °F (29 °C) instead of 86 °F (30 °C). He hired Frenchman Jean Passepartout as a replacement.

I was fascinated by Fogg’s “perfect” and “precise” life. His adventure of going around the world in 80 days was another inspiration. I started to behave like Phileas Fogg and carried a thermometer when I went to the bathroom and check the temperature of the hot water in the bucket while mixing hot and cold water. I ensured that I bathed with water of 31 0C temperature. I started counting the number of steps I would take to reach my school and remained close to the average number of 887 steps. I wouldn’t cross the road and say hello to friends as this would mean a deviation to what was supposed to be. When in college, I ate food that had a fixed composition of raw and cooked portions, 70:30, to be precise and I ensured that total calorie intake was 1600 on weekdays and 1800 on weekends. My mother and house cook had a tough time due to my insistence on the precise way of eating.

As I grew older I realized that living a precision life like Phileas Fogg was impossible. The real world threw so many challenges and this led to detours and deviations. My life became patchy somewhat with no clear and steady goals and targets set for accomplishment. Life simply rolled on like a wind wheel.

I studied environmental science and engineering (because I was deeply  interested in the subject and had no career rationale), started my career in marketing pollution control equipment (left as I got a bit nauseated) and then moved to engineering consulting that I liked. I decided to take a break for doctoral research however as I discovered some research problems and needed a “pause”. The next step was to join a position for teaching, research and consulting at an academic institution that I did. In few years however, I realized that I wanted to move faster and closer to the real world and the institute I was working had a lot of inertia and a pride in isolating from reality.

I enjoyed international work as I loved to travel. Becoming an entrepreneur was always my dream and so I started my own business while working with the world of Corporates and financing institutions. I did not prepare a business plan for my company.  I set up a not-profit organization focusing on awareness, training and eco-entrepreneurship that had less clarity on the objectives. Nothing was planned like how Phileas Fogg did when he prepared his itinerary to travel across the world.

(My wife says that if I had the clarity and doggedness in planning my life, then I could have become a Vice President of Asian Development Bank enjoying the power, money and retirement benefits! Alas – I missed the boat!)

Few years ago, I met with a smart Sri Lankan bureaucrat in Tokyo who worked for Asian Productivity Organization. She shared with me her plan of life that had clear definition of goals, objectives and targets prepared starting from her graduation till date. “Dr Modak, I planned my life ahead of time” she said while sharing with me a well-articulated document. I saw that this lady had a perfect plan in place to guide and track her life and assess accomplishments. “And where do you stand Ms. today?” I asked. She told me that she was doing extremely well and was two years ahead of her targets.

“ But the plan cannot be static Dr Modak” She explained. “Plans must be dynamic, and you need to check whether goals and objectives are still relevant and whether targets set were realistic. So, I keep adapting my plan every two years based on the new situations”. I thought this made a perfect sense.

I realized that this is exactly happened to Phileas Fogg when he undertook his journey around the earth in 80 days. Initially, he had made a meticulous plan of travel that included destinations, stopovers and modes of travel but then he had to deviate and innovate when he met with several surprises on his way. For instance, he encountered characters like Detective Fix, a young Indian woman Aouda and an Elephant in India who were not part of his original plan.

Mr Fogg’s Route across the World

I was unhappy however that I did not follow the precision and perfection of Philias Fogg nor the adaptive targets approach of the Sri Lankan lady.  I talked about my frustration to my Professor friend.

Professor had another view. He said that planning is certainly needed but the extent to which you stress about the targets must be controlled – else there could be frustration.

(I remembered that while the SriLankan lady looked happy about her accomplishments, she was stressed due to “continuous self-assessment” against the targets she had set.)

Professor elaborated and following “bullet points” emerged from his discourse

  • Make a plan but its ok to deviate from your plans from time to time
  • Change the targets if they are no longer serving you
  • It’s not so much about planning every detail of your life but learning to enjoy the process
  • Each new experience (whether it was part of the plan or not) helps you grow as a person and teach you what it is that you want out of life

“So, Dr Modak, there is absolutely nothing wrong with planning your life! What can go wrong is your strong attachment to a plan” Professor lit his cigar and continued to explain citing his example.

“I am kind of addicted to plan my day before I start my work. I do this in the form of a checklist of “to do things” with a colleague and plan what is to be done in the right sequence or priority on that day. Many actions need to be delegated and that needs to be done upfront with some guidance given to the colleagues. Then at the end of the day, I sit with my colleague once again to take a stock and understand the status of “to do’s; find reasons why? especially for important things if they could not be done. A strategy to remedy the situation is then prepared and all this rolls into the next day’s checklist of “to do”.”

“So its “micro-planning” that I would recommend you to follow. Certainly, you need to prepare a broad long term plan – but let it not intimidate you or suppress the opportunities of oddities”.

I liked the idea.

Professor extinguished his cigar and said

“A person who plans meticulously does not deviate. But this person will never be creative”

He left the room with these deep words.

You all may know that due to all the mess and surprises, Fogg finally reaches one day late to London. The following day Fogg apologizes to Aouda for bringing her with him, since he now has to live in poverty and cannot support her. Aouda confesses that she loves him and asks him to marry her.

As Passepartout notifies a minister, he learns that he is mistaken in the date – it is not 22 December, but instead 21 December. Because the party had travelled eastward, they had gained one day upon crossing the International Date Line. Passepartout informs Fogg of his mistake, and Fogg hurries to the Reform Club just in time to meet his deadline and win the wager of £20,000.

I realized that Mr. Perfect Phileas Fogg couldn’t execute his meticulous plan to the perfection he would have loved to; but his handling of the situations “creatively” led to winning the wager and even better a deal as he got Ms. Aouda as partner to his life.

Remember what Author Michael Gellert said: “Striving for perfection is often confused with the quest for fulfillment: we think that if we can become perfect or create perfect things or situations, we will be happy.”

So happiness need not be linked to perfection.

Mr.  Phileas Fogg was a man of precision and perfection but finally the imperfections in the journey around the world made him a happy and a successful man.

I thought of letting my wife know.

 


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Parivartan through Parivesh (A New Transformation in India’s Environmental Clearance System)

India’s PM launched PARIVESH (Pro-Active and Responsive facilitation by Interactive, Virtuous and Environmental Single-window Hub) on the occasion of World Biofuel Day. PARIVESH is a Single-Window Integrated Environmental Management System, developed in pursuance of the spirit of ‘Digital India’ initiated by the Prime Minister and capturing the essence of Minimum Government and Maximum Governance and Ease of Doing Responsible Business.

With PARIVESH, Ministry of Environment and Forests and Climate Change (MoEFCC) has become more of a facilitator than a regulator.  “PARIVESH” is a workflow-based application and has been rolled out for online submission, monitoring and management of proposals submitted by Project Proponents. It will help to seek various types of clearances (e.g. Environment, Forest, Wildlife and Coastal Regulation Zone Clearances) from Central, State and district-level authorities.  It has been designed, developed and hosted by the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change, with technical support from National Informatics Centre, (NIC), New Delhi.

Highlighting that PARIVESH offers a framework to generate economic growth and strengthens Sustainable Development through E Governance, Union Environment Minister stated that with automatic highlighting of non-compliance by the system, PARIVESH will help in improving the overall performance and efficiency of the whole appraisal process.

PARIVESH accepts online submission and monitoring of compliance reports including geo-tagged images of the site by regulatory body / inspecting officers through website as well as  Mobile App for enhanced compliance monitoring.  Further a Geographic Information System (GIS) interface is available for the Appraisal Committee to help them in analyzing the proposal efficiently, automatic alerts (via SMS and emails) at important stages to the concerned officers, committee members and higher authorities to check the delays, if any.  “PARIVESH” enables project proponents, citizens to view, track and interact with scrutiny officers, generates online clearance letters, online mailers and alerts to state functionaries in case of delays beyond stipulated time for processing of applications.

Immediately after the release of the PARIVESH website, an emergency meeting was held in Diwane I Khas of Taj Mahal at Mansingh Road in Delhi. Several “stakeholders” were present at this secret get-together. Even Times Now and Republic TV channels did not know that such a meeting was being held. Rumor was that team NDTV was however present there disguised as the waiters.

 

Diwane I Khas at Taj Mahal Hotel

The stakeholders included consultants offering services of Environmental Clearance (EC) and those involved in accelerating the work flow of EC by greasing the officials. The former looked like foxes and the latter looked like hyenas.  Then there were Ex-EC committee members and the Ex-chairmen of the EC committees who do the business of giving “strategic advice” to the project proponents. They occupied separate roundtables to show their different stature and position.  And there were many representatives of environmental monitoring agencies who “generate” the base line data (mostly unreal) but for helping a speedy EC. They looked more like a herd of sheep.

My Professor friend found about this “secret” meeting and asked me to accompany.

“How will we introduce ourselves Professor” I asked this question.

“Oh, don’t worry Dr Modak”, Professor said while lighting his cigar “We will say that we are from the headquarters of International Association of Impact Assessment (IAIA). We will need to dress up a bit, wear a suit and a tie and sport a lapel of IAIA. I am a Member but have a spare one that I will give to you”

Very clever I thought. I knew that IAIA has no India chapter and hardly anything is known about their work. Some had told me that  the only thing known is that IAIA holds annual conferences in exotic places across the world striving to make money. This may not be true of course.

When we entered the room, we saw that one roundtable was occupied by representative of the World Bank Group and the Asian Development Bank. These representatives were the “safeguard” people and had constipated faces as they were doing nothing except keep finding faults in the Environmental and Social Impact Assessment (ESIA) documents submitted by the clients (actually by consultants). They used Microsoft Word only in track change mode. On the same table, I saw some familiar faces from the BIG 4. These folks were sitting like proud cocks and hens, distinguishing from the “normal” ESIA consultants, sporting a “buddha” face that indicated “we know the truth”.

The last to enter the room were a few corporate honchos. They had ensured that media was not present and that there presence wont get “recorded”. I heard them whispering that this level of transparency in EC was a bit too much! Now we will not have any “play” to influence and tweak the workflow any more – especially  when most needed. They said.

One Chief Sustainability Officer (CSO) said that “well today the e-governance is set for EC, but I wont be surprised if this gets extended to the Business Responsibility Reporting (BRR) and CSR Reporting. This will make rather difficult to bluff – that we usually do – while making tall claims about the social development and environmental improvements that we are supposed to do. I could understand their fear and discomfort.

Finally, we saw a table of “corporate” environmental NGOs. They looked a bit skeptical about PARIVESH as the present system allowed them to make allegations and write stories.  But they looked a bit supportive to the idea of PARIVESH  – as they were interested to find out how to “exploit” the new system to their advantage. That’s most of the NGOs of this kind do. Don’t they?

The main point of discussion was to assess the impact of PARIVESH on the “ecosystem” of stakeholders to EC. Everybody wanted a solution and a counter-strategy. After some initial chaos, several observations and suggestions were made.

The consultants engaged in the EC facilitation felt that PARIVESH will lead to a big loss to their income. The strategic advisers said that they would soon lose their clout and may become redundant. As PARIVESH will pool national environmental data across 135+ “layers” on a GIS platform, the business of generating (fake) baseline data will suffer. The environmental NGOs felt that now that citizens will get information on the entire work-flow of the EC online, their function of “representing the people” and “feeding breaking news”  may get a bit compromised.

When one of the Corporate NGOs saw lapel of IAIA on Professors coat asked why can’t IAIA undertake a study on the Impact Assessment of PARIVESH. Professor behaved as if he was hard of hearing, but I thought it was a great idea.

As expected, the meeting ended with no clear direction on the next steps. Perhaps, the fact that PARIVESH became actually operational was a shock to many. Not many knew  that this “typhoon” was coming. PARIVESH looked like a secret operation carried out as in  nuclear blast at Pokharan!

While exiting Diwane I Khas, I overheard the conversation at the table of the World Bank et al and the BIG 4.

One of the BIG 4 was asking the World Bank safeguards specialist “Will PARIVESH make your work in the World Bank redundant? Given the “equivalence” between your safeguard system and India’s EC procedure, you may not now need to conduct ESIA in your style and do all the supervision”

The man from the World Bank answered “In a way, you are right. But after listening to the discussions of today, we are thinking of supporting a program on Rehabilitation of PARIVESH affected stakeholders (PAPs in Bank parlance) and come up with an alternate Income Generation Scheme (IGS)”

“Oh, very clever!” l I said to myself

I then realized how smart the World Bank is.


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You may like to read some of my related posts

How to get Speedy Environmental Clearance?

https://prasadmodakblog.wordpress.com/2015/02/20/how-to-get-speedy-environmental-clearance/

Indian Weddings now require Environmental Clearance

https://prasadmodakblog.wordpress.com/2016/06/23/indian-weddings-now-require-environmental-clearance/

Impact Assessment of Environmental Impact Assessment

https://prasadmodakblog.wordpress.com/2014/07/30/impact-assessment-of-environmental-impact-assessment/

Photos in Blue Halo

Most people hate the occasion of saying a good bye. Saying good-bye can be heart-wrecking – whether your separation is temporary or over a long time. We as people are so wired to each other –– that any separation from someone you love or adore is painful.

While saying good-bye, people often hug, kiss and resist parting. Some are formal and do a handshake but the palms – moist or firm as they can be – communicate their feelings.

There is also a feeling whether you will see your friend once again – concerns on safety in travel and health risks due to our lifestyles have been some of the reasons. So we return from the airports, railway stations and bus stands with a heavy heart. We feel relieved when we receive the message that “all is well” or “reached alright” from your friend or the beloved after reaching the destination.

Some people carry gifts as a surprise when saying good bye. This makes the event of departure memorable. Some present flowers and take a photo as a memory to post on the Facebook.

Many suggest that instead of saying good bye say, “so long”. This expression hints a “promise sentence” such as “So long, I’ll see you later or we’ll meet again…”, indicating that this is only a temporary separation. You feel a bit positive when someone says “So long pal” to you. And I prefer this expression.

I often do a trick when I see off my children at the airport. Both my kids live in the United States. While saying “So long”, I tell them that it is very likely there could be a visit from me in the next three months.  My  fib just comforts them, calms down and takes away the pain of separation. But its strange that sometimes my travel to the US actually does happen!

But saying goodbye happens not just when you see someone off. You also say a goodbye when you leave school, university or your job. We call this event as farewell. Farewell is a fancy or a grand way to say goodbye. A farewell is also an expression of good wishes at the parting. Farewell is more for a longer separation like going overseas or leaving an institution. Generally, people give speeches during the farewell. I have attended farewells where I had an opportunity and the honor to listen to some of the memorable speeches.

Some speeches made at farewell make you think differently and understand hidden dimensions of the personality not earlier known. Farewell speeches are also opportunities to express the gratitude. Speech by Steve Jobs is one such example.

I went to meet my Professor on Sunday for coffee and conversations. His wife ushered me to his study where he was flipping an album of photographs and smoking a cigar.

He handed over the album to me – “Take a look Dr Modak, I will just do a quick shave and come back in five minutes”.

I browsed the photo album. It had photographs taken at the departure area of the Mumbai International Airport. Some of the photos were featuring Professors colleagues and friends. Oddly, he was not in any of the pictures. I wondered why the Professor maintained a separate album just for the occasions of good bye! Could there be any special reason? I was a bit puzzled.

As Professor was taking more time than expected, I decided to spend more time on the photos as I browsed the Album.

And I noticed a strange thing. In almost each photo, there was someone in a “blue halo”. The halo was not very explicit around the person in spot, but a closer look at the photo showed its presence. I decided to ask Professor about the halo as I saw him stepping in.

“Good question Dr Modak, And you being a man of detail,  I was expecting this question”

Professor continued and spoke to me in a rather low voice

“I don’t know whether you realized that all persons you see in Blue Halo are no more today. The photographer I use for these Goodbye occasions has a mystic camera that brings a blue halo to the person who will be the first one to die after the shot is taken”

I just couldn’t believe this! Now I understood why Professor didn’t want to be in these photos!

I looked at the photos once again where I knew some people.

Oh – This is Professor Raghavan in the photo taken on April 5, 2002. I remembered that Prof Raghavan expired on June 27 in the same year due to a heart disease that was not earlier detected. And this is Ms. Jose Felicia, Head of UN convention on biodiversity for Africa waving a good bye to Professor. She visited Mumbai in October 2004; I remembered that she met with a fatal accident in the outskirts of Nairobi during Christmas in the same year. This was really an unfortunate event and was shocking to all of us.

I couldn’t resist but ask “Very strange and simply unbelievable Professor. Who is this Photographer? And is he still around?

Professor smiled and said “I generally don’t show this Album to people. Many would then ask me about the Photographer and his mystic camera. But Dr Modak, he is still around. He is pretty old now. I am sorry I cannot share with you his details”

I understood that this information was going to remain as a secret. Professor appeared rather firm.

Next week, I was hosting a delegation from EU on Business and Sustainability that was headed by my good friend Olivia from Spain. We had conferences and field visits over a week. Professor joined us for the farewell dinner that I hosted at Bungalow No 9 in Bandra. There were scintillating speeches by the participants, all appreciating the visit and opportunities for experience sharing. Olivia was exceptional, and her farewell speech expressed her passion on the subject of sustainability. She articulated her future plans of cooperation. I presented her a silk scarf as a token of appreciation that she gladly accepted.

As I escorted Olivia to Uber, she paused before entering the taxi. In a soft voice she said “Prasad, I am not too sure whether I will see you again. Just a month ago, I was diagnosed for a throat cancer. It’s in an advanced stage. The doctors have told me that I have a little time left to live – may be another 3 months”

I was shocked to hear these parting words. Olivia hugged and kissed on my cheeks “Thanks for the scarf Prasad. I will cherish these memories”. She said while closing the door. She had wrapped the scarf around her neck – like ring-fencing her throat cancer.

She then lowered the glass window of the car and said “Nobody knows. Not even Professor”. Uber drove out of the Bungalow No 9.

I didn’t know what to say. My heart was heavy. And I was in tears.

On the day of departure, Professor volunteered to come to the airport to see everybody off. I was delighted.

We all met at the airport and assembled outside the departure gates. It was a Sunday and 9 pm at night. Flight to London was at 1 am and so we decided to take couple of photographs as a memory. But Professor was  not around although he had promised. Shortly I received a call that he cannot make it due to an urgent call from PMO. Typical of Professor I said to myself.

As we were taking group photographs, we decided to request someone to handle one of our smartphones and take a good quality picture – we didn’t want to rely on the clumsy Selfies!

One oldish man was standing around. He volunteered to help us. He said he will use his own camera and not charge us for taking picture as it was his hobby. We agreed.

He had a pretty old styled conventional looking camera. He took good many pictures of the group. He then walked to me and said “Your Professor friend asked me to attend today”

I was surprised that he recognized us. Oh, so this was that mysterious photographer then.

I asked for his visiting card.

The man said he does not keep any visiting cards.

“Don’t worry. I will send the pictures to the Professor. Please collect from him – all my complements Sir”. He seemed to be in a hurry and disappeared in the crowd.

Two days later, I called Professor and told him how I met “his” photographer at the airport and asked when can I pick up the photographs.

I knew that the photos will show a blue halo around Olivia. Oh, I will miss her I said to myself.

Professor wasn’t very enthusiastic. “I am a bit busy Dr Modak” he said, “Let me check – I probably misplaced the photos”.

“Well Professor, please don’t lose these precious photos.  I won’t be surprised if I see a blue halo across Olivia’s face” I told him.

I didn’t want to tell the reason as it was a secret not shared by Olivia with anybody.

There was however a stoned silence.

“I don’t think so” Professor said – “As far as I recall, there is no halo around Olivia’s face”

He sounded a bit stiff and abrupt.

I started wondering. Who could it be then? I thought about others and ruled out almost everyone.

And then a strange thought occurred in my mind.

Was it me? and was that the reason why Professor did not want to share with me the photos?


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