The Final Take-off

 

While I was studying at the Asian Institute of Technology (AIT) in Bangkok, I received a letter from Capt. Apte of Air India that I should meet him at hotel Rama Tower on Silom Road. He wanted me  to collect a food parcel that my parents had sent. Capt. Apte suggested 11 am Sunday to meet. This was in 1981.

I wasn’t familiar about Bangkok and did not know where hotel Rama Tower was located – so I asked a Thai friend. He told me that it was simple –“take AIT bus and at the last stop; get down to take city bus no 15. After few minutes you will hit on Silom road and you will see a 20 storied hotel on your left – that’s Rama Tower” He said. I decided to leave early so that I reach on time.

I took bus no 15 as instructed but couldn’t see a 20 storied building for a while. After 20 minutes of ride, when a tall building appeared on the left, I got down. But to my horror, that tall building was not Rama Tower but a Hospital! When I inquired, I was told that I was almost right (!)  but was in the opposite direction (!!). My Thai friend had forgotten to tell me to cross the road first and then take Bus 15! So, I crossed over and queued for Bus no 15 , now in the right direction. I reached Rama Tower 60 minutes late wading through Bangkok’s traffic. It was already drizzling.

I used the house phone of the hotel to reach Capt. Apte. He wasn’t in the room and I realized that he must have stepped out after waiting for me for an hour. I sat waiting at the lounge and left a message at the reception. I knew this was going to be quite some wait.

After another hour a short man approached me and asked  “Are you by any chance Prasad Modak? ”and when I nodded, he shook hands with me and said that he was Capt. Apte of Air India. I was expecting a tall person with a handlebar mustache  with a bunch of air hostesses around. I was a bit disappointed to see someone “not Captain like” and instead a simple and friendly man.

I went along with him to collect the food parcel. Just then the cockpit crew entered the room. They were all set to play a game of the bridge with Capt. Apte.

In the meanwhile, the rain had paced up and it was showering rather heavily. We looked outside the window as we heard the thunder. There was a clear sign of flooding.

“Prasad, I suggest you wait in the room– let this rain subside, else you will get stuck” said Capt. Apte. He was right. I decided to stay on and instead of playing bridge we all got into conversations. I noticed that his crew called him “Chotu” because he was barely 5ft 4 inches tall.  So apt, I said to myself.

I left after two hours as we saw that the buses were now moving on the streets.

I returned to AIT rather late. My friend Narendra Shah, who is now a Professor at IIT Bombay, asked me the reason. I explained the mess, the rain and then about Capt. Chotu Apte.

After some pause I said “Naren, I think I am marrying his daughter”. Naren was surprised. He asked me whether I knew that he had a daughter in the first place. I said I don’t know as we never spoke about family, but something tells me that I am going to be close to this man for the rest of his life. I still remember this strange conversation we had in October,

In the summer of 1982, I got engaged to Kiran Apte, Capt. Chotu Apte’s daughter. We got married in December 1982. The mistake in taking the wrong bus no 15 and the torrential rain thereafter was perhaps a providence and for a purpose.  Some things are often pre-decided.

In his suit in Rama Tower (L-R)  Mahesh Athavale, Sayona George, Kiran Modak, Capt Apte and me 

In the family, Capt. Chotu Apte was known as “Daddy” . He became a Daddy to me after I lost my father in the same very year.  He not only supported me financially when most needed but taught me how to live life for others – without saying anything.

I had occasions to fly with Daddy on few sectors of Air India. Sitting in the seat of “check pilot” with he commanding the aircraft was a great experience. I used to think that Captains who fly at 40000 ft must be understanding the “ultimate truth” and hence should live like a sthitapradgyna (detached but yet connected).  I don’t know about other Captains, but Daddy was indeed a case of sthitapradgyna. He used to often talk about the vision of northern lights and the “dim fireworks” in the skies while crossing the Atlantic.” You experience and see God in these visions” He said.

Daddy lived in poverty when young, He used to sleep on a footpath on one of the streets of Shivaji Park that I cross even today. But he painstakingly worked hard to become a pilot in Air India from a position of a radio officer. He joined Air India in one of the early batch of pilots in 1950s and became one of the first Commanders. His Air India colleagues used to say that it always used to be a funny sight to see this “chotu” maneuvering the giant Jumbo Jet.

Daddy was not just a popular pilot, but was well known for his smooth landing of the aircraft. No wonder he was a preferred Air India commander (besides the great Capt. Maharaj Godbole, a 6ft 2 inches captain in contrast! ) by all top personalities and politicians. We have in collections, letters written to him by JRD Tata, Lal Bahadur Shastri, Morarji Desai etc. appreciating his flying skills.

Daddy lived and always wanted to live a simple life as compared to many in Air India. He drove Cortina a 1600 cc automatic Ford car. When he would be on the wheel, the car used to glide like an aircraft. He loved playing bridge and play a game of chess with my son Pranav. But more than anything he enjoyed beer and wine sessions with friends. That was the phase post retirement.

With a glass of wine

Whenever I used to return from my travels abroad we used to have a beer and wine session at his house. He had a great collection of beer glasses made out of Pewter with wooden base that he had shopped in Singapore. I used to tell him my travel stories that were many times entertaining and he loved to listen, especially those from Cairo – a city he had fond memories.

In 1992, Daddy suffered a massive heart attack and had to undergo a bye-pass surgery with Dr Nitu Mandke, one of the top cardiac surgeons of those days. Dr Mandke was an extremely busy surgeon and getting a date of surgery from him was very difficult. But when I approached him, he said “tell me Dr Modak, who is this father in law of yours? – Must be a well-known person as I am getting so many phone calls for him from so many important  people; I will operate on him asap – don’t worry”. At that time, I realized how much daddy was “connected” and was quietly helping people without talking about it. I have yet to learn and practice his style of helping.

On the day of bye-pass surgery, at 5 am in the morning Dr Mandke asked me to meet Daddy and ask him his last wish. He said the probability of success was just about 60% given the precarious condition of his heart. I remember I stood by him, next to his bed, to explain the situation in Hinduja Hospital. He was about to be “towed” to the Operation Theater. “Oh” he said. “Well then this is just like taking off from the Hong Kong airport during a typhoon”. He had no last wish to express.

The operation was successful and Dr Nitu Mandke was extremely happy.  Several years passed by after operation with no major concerns except Daddy’s LV function of the heart gradually reduced and reached close to 22%.

In 2010, I was to fly to Kuala Lumpur for a 3-day meeting and Daddy asked me if we could do a beer session prior my leaving. I was busy in preparation and hence said “well, its just 3 days Daddy; will be back with interesting stories and let us meet the next day I arrive in Mumbai”. “Of course,” he said “Work comes first”

My flight landed from Kuala Lumpur at 1 30 am in the morning. But just as I reached home, we received a frantic call from my mother-in-law  to rush as she had found Daddy lying on the floor in the kitchen. We rushed. His house was just 5 minutes away.

By the time we reached, Dr Hemant Shinde, a neighbor and a well-known anesthetist was standing next to Daddy’s body lying on the floor. He looked at me and he didn’t need to say anything as I understood the situation. Daddy had passed away due to a massive heart attack.

While we all were in deep grief, I realized that for Capt. Chotu Apte, it was a final take off –a bit unusual – as this time there was no landing going to be!

The Family (L-R) Prasad, Meera Apte, Pranav, Daddy, Devika and Kiran

Daddy passed away in 2010. I wrote this blog just to cherish memories of a warm and honest person who influenced my life.


Cover image sourced from https://bn.wikipedia.org/wiki/%E0%A6%9A%E0%A6%BF%E0%A6%A4%E0%A7%8D%E0%A6%B0:VT-ESC_A320-232_Air_India_(5598504534).jpg


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General Eisenhower’s Matrix

Dwight D. Eisenhower was the 34th President of the United States from 1953 until 1961. Before becoming President, he served as a General in the United States Army and as the Allied Forces Supreme Commander during World War II.

Eisenhower had to make tough decisions continuously about which of the many tasks he should focus on each day. This finally led him to invent the world-famous Eisenhower Matrix.

The Eisenhower Matrix, also referred to as Urgent-Important Matrix, helps you decide on and prioritize tasks by urgency and importance, sorting out less urgent and important tasks which you should either delegate or not do at all.

Dwight D. Eisenhower was born on October 14, 1890. To commemorate his contribution, the world community of think tanks decided to promote as well as revisit the Matrix. My Professor friend, who heads TTI (Think Tank India) thought of using a stakeholder approach and consult politicians, select leaders of business houses, academicians  and environmental NGOs to share their own Eisenhower Matrix. Once done and collated, he thought of briefing the outcome to the PM to understand the present situation, priorities and preferences of the “stakeholders” and then plan the strategy for the forthcoming election.  I thought that was very clever of the Professor.

Professor wanted to focus Eisenhower Matrix (EM) on the term sustainability. Sustainability means different to different people – for a politician its political sustainability; for a businessman its financial sustainability and for passionate environmentalist it means environmental sustainability or the sustainability of this planet. I liked the idea. Professor asked me to accompany him as usual whenever EM related meetings were to be held with the stakeholders.

Oh, but let me explain to you more on the Eisenhower Matrix.

The Eisenhower Matrix essentially helps to prioritize the tasks by urgency and importance resulting in four quadrants with different work strategies:

  • Urgent and Important (Quadrant 1)
  • Not Urgent but Important (Quadrant 2)
  • Urgent but Less Important (Quadrant 3)
  • Not Urgent and Less Important (Quadrant 4)

Quadrant 1 is often the “Stressed” quadrant. Here we work on looming deadlines, proposals which need to go out, projects that must be completed etc. This is the fire-fighting and crisis control quadrant where most people spend most of their time. We call the first quadrant as Do first.

Quadrant 2 is the “Strategic” quadrant. Its tasks are important but less urgent. This quadrant includes tasks with a future deadline, long term projects, planning, reviews that need to be done, marketing and client retention related activities. Sadly, little time in spent in this quadrant. Many people have tasks in this quadrant, but do not action them until they become so urgent that they need to be shifted to Quadrant 1 – or to the “Stressed” zone.

Quadrant 3 is the “Delegation” quadrant. Tasks which can be outsourced to someone else, fits into this area. These tasks are urgent, but it’s not important that YOU action it. Admin and filing of paperwork can be done by a Personal Secretary (PS), social media management can be delegated to an expert company etc.

Quadrant 4 is the “Distraction” quadrant. These activities should be avoided at all costs. It is not urgent and certainly not important – so why do it at all? This includes aimless web surfing, meetings without goals etc. The fourth and last quadrant is very important and is also called Don’t Do.

We began our EM capturing exercise. To start with we went to see one of the most powerful politicians of the ruling party. After a half hour conversation, his Eisenhower Matrix looked something like below

Urgent and Important (Do First) Not Urgent but Important (Be Strategic)
Find irregularities in opposition, expose the findings in the media and file legal cases

Create confusion and difference in the proposed Mahagathbandhan (conglomeration of the opposition parties). Use saam, dam, dand, Bhed  and  following Chanakya

 

Build a performance score card for the party by hiring experts who can show the achievements using appropriate statistics without actual achievements

Influence voters using social media, Apply Big Data Analytics for election strategy

 

 

Urgent and Less Important (Delegate) Not Urgent and Less Important (Don’t Do)
strikes, riots, scams, media article for diversion from real developmental issues that were promised Improving equity, reducing poverty and protecting the environment. All these objectives can be addressed after winning the election

I thought this Eisenhower Matrix was very clear and relevant given the coming up mess of the forthcoming elections. Indeed, this political honcho was focusing on the political sustainability by ensuring continuity. I was sure that a similar EM would have emerged if we had interviewed an Opposition party leader. Politicians at the core are no different. Isnt’ it?

Unfortunately, the politician’s Private Secretary (PS) called us immediately saying that the EM we had developed was completely incorrect and should not be used. We had simply misunderstood what he wanted to say. Going a step further, the PS even denied that we ever met with him and had a conversation! And this denial was put immediately on record. What a pity I said to myself. There is simply no freedom of speech even to India’s senior politicians!

The next step was to meet a leader of Indian business. I proposed luminaries like Mr. Ratan Tata, Anand Mahindra and Adi Godrej; but Professor suggested that we rather hold a meeting of 30 top businessmen and use the software mentimeter.  Some of you may already know that this software on some customization can be used to get a collective opinions. Professor tweaked this mentimeter platform to develop an overall Eisenhower Matrix of Indian businessmen focusing on sustainability. We met in one of the rooms of the Taj on the Mansingh road. We projected the matrix on mentimeter driven screen with 30 industry tycoons using the app from their smart phones. Here was the result

Urgent and Important (Do First) Not Urgent but Important (Be Strategic)
Make profits in any way possible but always say people, planet and then profits

 

Publish Sustainability/Integrated reports regularly and in attractive designs no matter what the content can be

 

Bag awards on doing something obvious but; make a big story

Influence politicians to pass bills favorable to the business and in return favor them too

 

Offer lucrative positions to those retired or willing to seek earlier retirement from Indian Administrative Services to help grow business with the Government

 

Finance research and surveys to support products and services that you offer – publish only favorable results.

Urgent and Less Important (Delegate) Not Urgent and Less Important (Don’t Do)
Instigate public interest litigation on competitors using environmental NGOs

Keep off the hazardous, not environmentally acceptable and unethical practices outside the factory in the informal supply chains, You stay clean.

 

Going beyond compliance

I disagreed with the above Eisenhower Matrix rather vehemently. I was confident that this was not the way Indian industry felt  about sustainability. I knew of so many genuine business leaders who followed sustainability in the letter (and the spirit). So, I strongly protested. I suspected that some crafty and nasty minds sitting in the audience led to such a distorted and untrue impression.  But the Professor was quiet and didn’t react to my angry outbursts.

I know when Professor keeps quiet, he means that there is no point further discussing! So I also kept shut.

We ended our last meeting with some of the well-known environmental NGOs, Think tanks and academicians. We used mentimeter again for a collective creation of the Eisenhower Matrix. We met in one of the rooms in the Habitat Center in New Delhi.

This audience was a bit different and critical as they spent quite some time discussing the logic of the Eisenhower Matrix itself  and the relevance of the mentimeter. The discussion led to heated arguments and a serious difference of opinions. Despite moderation by Professor, no agreement could be reached in finalizing the Matrix. The businessmen were perhaps more united and practical.

Finally, the discussion ended by saying we need to research more and meet once gain after some homework was done. Clearly for this audience, there was no clarity or agreement on what is very urgent or important. Professor told me this is so typical of academicians and the activists.

I thought the Professor was right. I spent nearly 17 years teaching at IIT Bombay (in two cycles) and I am sure we had professors who taught the Eisenhower Matrix and its variants like by late Stephen Covey called “time-management matrix” and the modern term the “priority matrix”.

I don’t think however we ever developed a collective Eisenhower matrix for our own departments in planning teaching, conducting research and exploring extensions. We functioned at will, more like a free radical with no thoughts or efforts towards prioritization to benefit everybody – including students.

I thought of sending a large frame of Dwight D. Eisenhower’s picture to my department as an inspiration or a reminder.

Dwight D. Eisenhower

Professor heard me alright.

But like before he chose to remain quiet.

And I thought that I understood the reason behind his silence.

Did you too?


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I would like to thank Paritosh Tyagiji for drawing my attention to the Eisenhower Matrix.

The Story of LOOP, BRANCH and SEWER

 

In 1980, I wrote a letter to Prof Daniel Okun at the University of North Carolina (UNC) at Chapel Hill expressing some of my research ideas on design of water distribution networks. Professor Okun offered me admission to the PhD program. He suggested that I work with Prof Donald Lauria.

Prof Lauria was working as a Consultant to the World Bank to develop software for looped and branched water distribution systems and sewer networks. He and his Ph D student Paul Hebert prepared codes called LOOP, BRANCH and SEWER. These computer programs were written in IBM BASIC and had to be run from a BASIC interpreter. LOOP used Hardy Cross method for “balancing” the flows and BRANCH used basic Simplex algorithm to optimize the costs of gravity fed branched networks.

Prof Donald Lauria (extreme right)

For reasons of my father’s ill health, I did not join Ph D Program at UNC at Chapel Hill. Instead, I took admission for Doctor of Engg at the Asian Institute of Technology (AIT) in Bangkok. I wanted to be closer. (This didnt help anyway. I lost my father due to a massive heart attack while I was studying. I learnt  about his passing two days later as there was a storm in the Bay of Bengal. The storm disrupted the international telephone lines for 48 hours!)

My interest on LOOP, BRANCH and SEWER however continued.  I worked with Prof H M Orth at AIT on these programs and did a publication in American Society of Civil Engineers with my colleague Wasim Rabbani on branched network optimization.

I returned to India in 1984 and started teaching at the Centre for Environmental Science and Engg at IIT Bombay. In 1986, I was invited to Bangkok by the Water and Sanitation Project (WSP) of the World Bank/UNDP, courtesy Shyamal Sarkar. Shyamal had joined the WSP on lien from the Central Public Health and Environmental Engineering Organization (CPHEEO) of the Ministry of Urban Development (MoUD). Terry Hall was the Task Manager at WSP.

Terry Hall wanted to improve LOOP, BRANCH and SEWER. He called for a workshop in Bangkok to discuss with potential developers. I met Dr Paul Hebert at the workshop. I also met Daniel del Puerto of the LUWA in the Philippines. Paul and Dan had come up by then a version of LOOP based on Turbo Pascal 5.0. The code still used Hardy Cross and had no feature of optimization.

I made propositions on how these codes could be redeveloped citing various areas of possible technical improvements. Terry liked my propositions. He asked if I could take this as a project and I was delighted to accept.  I took a 8 months break from IIT Bombay.

The World Bank offered USD 10,000 if my name was to appear on the title screens. An option was also given of USD 20,000 where the name would not be acknowledged. I chose the former option.

The project was essentially a rewrite of the old IBM BASIC codes. I chose Microsoft QuickBasic 4.5 (QB). QB had advantages of structured programming like C/Pascal, a compiler feature for speed and security and an ability to do good graphics and easy “painting” of data entry screens.

In LOOP, I decided to move to Newton-Raphson solver and add a feature of cost optimization. Original LOOP could not handle multiple reservoirs, pumps and valves and so I decided to include these important features in the new code.

At that time, the World Bank had negotiated with Prof A G Fowler of Univ of British Columbia to include his famous FORTRAN code “FLOW” in the package of tools along with LOOP, BRANCH and SEWER. I decided to embed Prof Fowler’s logic of FLOW in the new version of LOOP. It required understanding of the code in its logical sequence and not simply attempt a “translation” of the FORTRAN code into QuickBasic! This was not easy.

In 1970, Prof Fowler had published a paper called  “Efficient Code for Steady-State Flows in Networks” in the Journal of Sanitary Engg Division in the American Society of Civil Engineers.  This paper was coauthored with Robert Epp, an Undergrad. Summer Student at the  Computing Centre. The paper presented logic of FLOW. This paper is perhaps one of the best in the literature on analyses of looped water distribution networks. Its presentation is  complex to understand but most creative in terms of the logic of finding “natural set of loops” and ordering them to construct a positive and banded  Jacobian matrix as required in Newton Raphson method.

Prof A G Fowler

Mirroring FLOW in the new LOOP helped me to address the interest of handling large networks as well while guaranteeing rapid convergence in balancing. The code included multiple reservoirs, pumps and valves following procedure suggested by Jepson in 1976. I could handle networks of 1000 pipes as against 250 pipes in the old version  The next challenge was to include cost optimization.

At that time, there was a considerable research published on optimization of water distribution networks notably by Pitchai, Khanna, Swamee, Uri Shamir, Walski, Bhave and others. Amongst all these researchers, work by Professor P R Bhave of VRCE, Nagpur stood out.

I however realized that the problem of optimization of looped water distribution network was NP-Hard and perhaps a solution using heuristic could be more appropriate rather than using a classical optimization technique.

At that time, Medha Dixit (three years senior to me in my IIT undergraduate days) was researching with Prof B V Rao of Civil Engg Department at IIT Bombay. Her research used “a close form solution” for optimum pipe diameter using Non-Linear Programming. She had got pretty good results and the optimums found were close to solutions from classical optimization techniques and in some cases did even better!  I crafted Medha’s algorithm in my new LOOP with further improvements.

For BRANCH, I could make the data structure used in the Simplex better to allow handling of 125 pipes as against 50 in the old version. This required efficient handling of the arrays. SEWER was entirely re-written following heuristic optimization that I had developed with my master’s student S Venkateswarulu or Venkat. Venkat, post his Masters with me got admission at UNC at Chapel Hill and worked with Prof Don Lauria and Dale Whittington.

I needed a ardent and skilled civil engineer and a programmer par excellence to work with me for the new avatara of LOOP, BRANCH and SEWER. This was Juzer Dhondia, my Masters student from IIT. Juzer worked with me over the 8 months period, coding the programs meticulously, discovering QB’s features and embedding assembler routines that we procured from MicroHelp Inc. These assembler routines performed several “low level functions” e.g. detecting “error” if the floppy drive was open etc.

Juzer Dhondia

All the three programs once developed were thoroughly tested on networks in Pakistan (Quetta was one of the complex systems where we tested LOOP), Nepal (especially to check role of Pressure Reducing Valves in the hilly terrain) and of course in the Philippines where Del Puerto took the lead. User manuals were then written and training was conducted at several institutions in India and South Asia.

I remember Shyamal asked me why did I put Juzer Dhondia’s name on the title screen when the contract was only on my name. “You can always acknowledge him in the manual” he said. But I insisted that his name be placed prominently right next to me. And I am so glad that I did it. I was also grateful that the World Bank agreed to my request and did not bring in the bureaucracy.

The three programs were released in December 1991. It then became a hit! It was cited as one of the most used computer programs for water supply and sewerage across the World – courtesy the World Bank. By 2000, it was estimated that there were more than 5000 users across the world of these three programs.

LOOP, BRANCH and SEWER were programs that ran on the Disk Operating System (DOS). When MS Windows took over, the programs had to be run through a “DOS Shell”. That was not effective. Users wanted the Windows versions.

I did several attempts to revisit the codes and re-write them in Visual BASIC and Visual C. Two Masters students of mine at IIT Bombay (Arun Sharma and Sanjay Lathkar) did conversion to Visual C++ of LOOP and SEWER. I spent quite some money by contracting a software development company that continued building the codes with VC++. Unfortunately, these conversions could not result into a product that could be distributed. The work lacked a rigorous testing. More recently, BRANCH was rewritten in VB with several new features by programmers at AIT. Juzer also assisted. Once again, this effort too did not fructify.

Today, Dr Paul Hebert is a Visiting Professor, Centre for Leadership and Ethics in Virginia and has nothing to do with water distribution networks. Daniel Del Puerto is still with LUWA in the Philippines. Shyamal Sarkar left CPHEEO and joined the World Bank and after more than 25 years of work in the water and sanitation sector, retired. Juzer Dhoondia spent several years in the Netherlands before moving to Alabama in the United States. He now works on water quality modelling.

Dr Paul Hebert

Few months back I was in Bangkok with the Metro Waterworks Authority. During the lunch break, one of the senior water engineers walked up to me and asked, “By any chance are you the same Prasad Modak, who wrote LOOP 4.0 for the World Bank?” When I said Yes, he spoke to his team in Thai with animated gestures. I saw that all were looking at me with some admiration.

I decided not to request for a translation! You feel nice when you are remembered for something good you did in the past – and with a passion and conviction. The only sad part is that till date I could not produce MS Windows versions of the three programs.

Simply a pity – isn’t it!


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Reconnecting with CPCB

 

My first visit to office of Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) in India was in 1980, nearly 40 years ago. The office was on the Shahjahan Road in a kind of barrack. I was then a student doing master’s at the Indian Institute of Technology in Bombay. I went to see Chairman Dr Niloy Chaudhuri. Dr Chaudhuri was earlier a Professor of Civil Engineering at Jadavpur University in Kolkata. I wondered how he gave me an appointment to meet. Perhaps because I was a student of Professor Purushottam Khanna.

I spoke to Dr Choudhury about need for setting “probabilistic effluent standards” in India. I had read a very thought provoking article by Paul Mac Berthouex  titled “Some Historical Statistics Related to Future Standards” that was published in the American Society of Civil Engineers in 1974 .

I built on the basis my argument stating that compliance to effluent standards cannot be on 24×7 basis and the CPCB should be more pragmatic and practical while developing the “future standards”. I argued that a probabilistic standard will demand more collection of data and in the formative years of legislation and enforcement, building such data will matter.

We spent two hours on this subject and Dr Choudhury didn’t refute what I was saying. He listened to me very patiently as he usually did. As he got up to leave office wearing his coat, he said “Mr. Modak, your ideas are good but a bit too early. You have to give me some more time to think”.

In 1983, we met at Asian Institute of Technology in Bangkok. Dr Chaudhuri was there for a meeting organized by the World Health Organization. He was accompanied by several senior officials from the Government, e.g. Dr Dilip Biswas (who later became Chairman of CPCB), Dr K R Ranganathan (who was later appointed as the Member Secretary of CPCB), Dr Subramaniam (who became Advisor at the MoEFCC).

“Mr. Modak, Good to see you again. I know you always want to say something different and exciting. Can you give a talk to all of us after the dinner? Find a nice room where we all can fit in” Dr Choudhury said this in a warm tone and with a smile.

I was 27-year-old kid then and so was extremely happy to get this audience. I spoke on the subject of river water quality management. At that time, Ganga Action Plan was under discussion at the CPCB and so my “discourse” on this subject to this august body generated a lot of discussion. To my every theoretical or analytical bit, Dr Chaudhuri volleyed questions, few questions raising practicalities and few related to the “science” itself and some related to policies. I remember we started discussions at 8 pm and spent 2 hours  – mindful that we must close by 10 to ensure that we get the last round of coffee at the restaurant at the AIT Center.

Within a month, I received a letter from Dr Niloy Chaudhuri. The letter was typed on a butter paper using an electric typewriter (which I later Iearnt was only available for the Chairman). Amongst many nice things (like thanking me for the “discourse”) the letter said “Mr. Modak, on your return to India you are at liberty to associate in any manner you wish as appropriate with the Central Pollution Control Board of India”.  I have still preserved this letter from Dr Chaudhuri.

In May 1984, CPCB appointed me as a Retainer Consultant. I was to spend 4 days every month over 4 years. There were no Terms of Reference. Dr Chaudhari and Dr G D Agarwal, Member Secretary (a legend in the field of Environmental Pollution Control in India) told me that CPCB will decide what to do with me as I land New Delhi. A fund of 1 lakh was transferred in advance to Indian Institute of Technology, Bombay to meet costs of my air travel. Dr Chaudhari said that he did not want me to waste time in filling the forms claiming the expenditures. “Please visit all the offices of CPCB except the office of accounts” he said smilingly.  He was such a gallant personality.

With this arrangement, I worked on practically all the functions of the CPCB. I was a part of the team that was appointed by MoEF on the Ganga Action Plan that was steered by Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi. Mr. T N Seshan was the Secretary. MoEF and K C Sivaramakrishnan was the Project Director of the Ganga Project Directorate (GPD). My retainership was expanded by these two stalwarts to GPD as well, on a special project of Water Quality Modelling.

At CPCB, I started working on establishing a Management Information System (MIS) for the data and created systems for storing, retrieving and analyzing water, air and industrial pollution data. I remember I was present at the Nehru Place office of CPCB when the first computer (It was an IBM PC/AT) was installed. This PC/AT was “inaugurated” by P R Gharekhan, then Member Secretary. For the MIS I worked with Usha Ghosh and Mita Bhattacharya extensively over 3 years and by 1990 we could establish MIS at several State Pollution Control Boards and impart training.

During my travel to Delhi, I used to stay at the Guest House of CPCB at Alaknanda Apartments near Chittaranjan Park. Staying at the Guest house was a great fun as I used to meet several senior staff of CPCB and SPCBs, experts visiting CPCB for meetings etc. This helped me to make new friends, build a huge network and understand the work going on in environmental management across India. Most of the staff of CPCB used to stay at the Alaknanda and hence there used to be dinner invitations and “gupshups” with the families. These dinners will never be forgotten; especially with Ghosh, Chakraborty and Baruah families.

In the early 2000, CPCB shifted to East Arjun Nagar that was quite distant from the city. My retainership moved to the World Bank as Short-Term Consultant. I started visiting CPCB more as a Consultant to the World Bank and worked on several major projects. These included Industrial Pollution Control, Industrial Pollution Prevention, Environmental Management Capacity Building, Capacity Building in Industrial Pollution Management, National Hydrology Project and Water Quality Monitoring. Apart from CPCB, I had to visit several SPCBs, formulate projects with them, guide as well as do an oversight on behalf of the World Bank. My visits to CPCB office thus reduced. I guess the only person I remained in touch, and feel greatly honored to have worked with, is Mr. Paritosh Tyagi, Ex Chairman of CPCB. I just saw him two weeks ago at his residence.

Last month, Dr Prashant Gargava took over as the Member Secretary of CPCB and I paid a visit to CPCB to congratulate him. I took his appointment. The security guard asked me to go to the reception. The lady at the reception asked for my details for preparing a gate pass. “Do you have appointment with MS?” she asked. When I nodded, she said “He is generally very busy and many times he has to be at the Court all of a sudden. So, let me check if he will still be free to see you”. I thought she was kind and considerate, especially to a stranger like me.

When I was with Dr Gargava I realized that I hardly knew anyone at the CPCB. The world seemed so different. Chairman CPCB was busy with other pressing matters and rightly so as I was there just to have a cup of tea for old times sake. I did not have any “business” to look for.

I left CPCB as if I had been to an Income Tax office.

Dr Ajit Vidyarthi of CPCB called me last week and asked if I could become a Retainer Consultant to CPCB. I knew Ajit in my past interactions with CPCB. We met at the Claridges hotel and Ajit told me that CPCB would like to take my advice on water quality data, water quality modelling and pollution management for Ganga.

Ajit’s request and subsequent conversations took me back in time some forty years.

I recalled my sessions with giants like Dr Niloy Chaudhari and Dr G D Agarwal, as a young kid and for a while my eyes were moist with memories.

Indeed, those were the magical days with CPCB  in its golden era –

Moments you just cannot ever forget!

 


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Islands in the Sky

My Friend recently built a new tower on Malabar Hill in Mumbai. As usual, he occupied 104th floor and in addition kept floors  101, 102 and 103 with him just in case. He being a close friend to Donald Trump, he named the Tower as Trump Tower.  I thought that his gesture was very generous. Me and Professor decided to meet him and see his new house on the 104th floor. He invited us for a breakfast.

When we entered the lobby, there were long queues outside each of the 12 high speed elevators. We stood in one of the relatively shorter queues. I saw Niranjan Hiranandani, Vikas Oberoi and Adi Godrej in the same queue but little ahead of us.

“Dr Modak and Professor, how come you are here?” Nirajan beamed. When I explained that we were there to meet our Friend on the 104th floor and have breakfast; all three of them moved close to us leaving their position that was ahead of us in the  queue. We got into a conversation.

We learnt from them the Ministry of Environment and Forests and Climate Change (MoEFCC) had recently proposed relaxation of the Environmental Clearance (EC) conditions for reality industry in the “national interest”. This relaxation was a matter of great rejoice to all the builders and developers. Now no separate EC was required for building plans with a total Built-Up area up to 50,000 sqm for individual buildings. The permissions would be governed by “environmental conditions” like use of water efficient appliances, rainwater harvesting system, proper waste management system, use of energy efficient system, use of renewable power, measures to tackle pollution, green cover etc. MoEFCC made an argument that such a relaxation was necessary to achieve housing for all by 2022 with the objective of making available affordable housing to weaker section in urban areas. I thought they should have added that the idea of relaxation was also to mainstream green in  buildings as a default. They simply missed the point! (May be the Ministry thought that all the green ideas may just remain on paper and not get implemented).

Mr. Godrej handed over to me a brochure that contained a “green builders code” prepared by a consortium of large builders. The brochure provided details on how environmental conditions will be mainstreamed or embedded following schema such as TERI GRIHA, LEED, EDGE etc. Mr. Vikas Oberoi said that builders will do even more than what is expected by the Government and local authorities and do beyond than what is expected in the schema. For example, all the buildings they do, will be meeting the indoor quality standard of Finland – one of the most strict indoor air quality standards in the world. (Why Finland? Well India does not have indoor air quality standard as of today – they said. They were absolutely right). I was really overwhelmed to see their commitment to “green”.

The builders were to meet my Friend on the 104th floor and request him to finance their mega projects.

“I am sure my Friend will help you” I said. “He really has a problem on how to spend his moneys”. All three were happy to know this problem.

When we reached 104th floor, we were ushered in and the three builders were asked to wait in a plush lounge.  They were served with a Columbian coffee in solid silver cups.

My friend invited us  to the dining table for breakfast. He told us that given the relaxation given by the MoEFCC, he was planning to invest around 100 billion Rs in the reality sector and in particular in high-rise buildings. High-rise living offers so many benefits, he said – such as an amazing views, efficient amenities, reserved parking, on-site staff and management that can take care of your needs.

While I supported his idea, Professor had another point of view.

He picked up a few Arabian dates from the bowl, and cited a study published in early 2016 in the Journal of  Canadian Medical Association. The study that involved 7,842 cases of out-of-hospital cardiac arrest,  reported that living in a high-rise building radically decreases one’s chances of surviving. The  survival from cardiac arrests was greater on lower floors than higher floors. It was found that first responders were often stuck on the ground floor waiting for an elevator and could not reach the patient in time.

My friend listened to Professor carefully. He said that he will solve this problem by setting up an Intensive Cardiac Unit (ICU) on the first floor and engage some of the top cardiologists from Hinduja, Leelavati and Bombay hospital. Each flat will be provided with an emergency “chute” (like done for vacuum based solid waste collection)  that will move the patients straight to the receiving bay of the ICU. Of course this will be optional – my Friend wanted to be fair. He added that all these cardiologists will get a flat in the building at only 50% of the cost. So they will be resident.

I thought this was a clever solution. Mumbai Corporation should now insist on an ICU for granting Occupation Certificate (OC) for all the new high-rise buildings.

Professor did not give up. He said that there is now evidence that during the breakout of a highly infectious disease, such as SARS, high-rise dwellers on all floors are at higher risk than people living in single or detached homes. The sheer number of people sharing a single building can also increase the threat from communicable diseases such as influenza, which spread easily when hundreds of people share a building’s hallways, door handles and lift buttons.

My friend said that he will consult doctors from KEM hospital specializing in communicable diseases and set up an isolation bay for infected patients on the 13th floor. These patients will be well looked after by providing them with comfortable beds (on the model of first class seats of Lufthansa), a smart 5th generation TV and they will be serviced by attractive nurses like air hostesses so that the patients will stay longer in the isolation bay.

I thought this was another great innovation to tackle the problem.

Professor lit is cigar and paused. Perhaps, he wanted to make a major observation.

He said that according to studies carried out in Australia, more people living in high-rise buildings means more people living in social and economic silos where the chance encounters of street life are severely compromised. Many feel an absence of “community”, despite living alongside tens or hundreds of other people. Living in high-buildings therefore leads to depression and other mental health problems.

Further, high-rise living evokes unsettling fears – residents could be trapped in a fire, or fall or jump from the tower. (The former being most relevant in Mumbai given the frequent  incidents of fire in the high-rise buildings).  And in earthquake-prone countries, residents of high-rise towers face the possibility that their entire building could collapse. Living with fear every day means that residents of high-rise housing are vulnerable to mental health issues.

In Singapore, between 1960 and 1976, the percentage of people living in high-rise buildings climbed from 9% to 51%. During the same period, the per capita rate of suicides by leaping from tall buildings  increased fourfold, while suicide by other means declined. The overall suicide rate in Singapore increased by 30% over the aforementioned period but the rate by leaping increased many times faster, which suggested that having more tall buildings leads to more suicides. Although suicide rates in Singapore have been stable now for the last five decades but jumping from buildings remains a common method for suicide.

I thought of butting in. I mentioned that perhaps one of the major issues of causing stress is the waiting time for getting in the elevator. If this happens every day, then people will go crazy.

“Oh, here we already have a solution on this “waiting” problem” said my Friend. “We have developed a mobile app for the residents where they will log in the time they would like to leave for the office. This will have to be done before say 12 pm at night. The algorithm on the app will optimize all the requests and match with the availability of elevators; to come with a recommendation which elevator will be available in +/- 2 minutes deviation from the indicated time. (Incidently, this was a result of research carried out by three  PhDs at IIT Bombay). So, there will not be any stress on waiting”

That’s very clever of you I said. I knew that my Friend was really technology savvy.

My Friend continued

“And on the issue of feeling isolated, I plan to recruit liftmen/women who would converse with the occupants in the elevator; wish them; ask them about their health and inquire how the day was and check whether they need any help. The staff doing cleaning and housekeeping work will also be trained by some of the top communicators like S A Anand who would engage in interesting conversations with the occupants. The security guards will also do their bit too by smiling while frisking people and not behave like dumb robots. In addition, the manager of the building will celebrate birthdays of every occupants who is above 60 years.  The celebrations will happen on the 17th floor and the cakes will be supplied by Ovenfresh with low sugar and no eggs. No one will feel left out or isolated.

Professor seemed satisfied. He extinguished his cigar. He advised my Friend that all these ideas should be framed as loan covenant by his Lawyer to builders like Godrej, Hiranandani and Oberoi and the like.

My friend agreed. “But I will personally finance these initiatives if costs are high. A few millions here and there don’t matter to me” He said. He was kind and generous as he has always been.

I told my Friend that he must also mingle with the occupants especially when he takes the elevators or walks in the lobby. This will make a big difference.

“Dr Modak, this is the problem”. My friend confessed. “I get into my house by directly landing on the helipad. I don’t get into the lobby or use elevators to reach 104th floor. Its so unfortunate. I don’t have any contact with my occupants. Many times, I really feel isolated”

I took a close look at my Friend’s face. I noticed a quiver in his voice.

I was worried as he certainly looked depressed. He seemed  in some kind of a mental stress.

I thought for a while. Was it really worth then to live in an island up in the sky?

 


Cover image sourced from https://www.thenational.ae/business/dubai-inflation-hits-six-year-high-amid-sharp-rise-in-housing-and-utility-costs-1.106334


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