Circle of Cleaner Production


It was 1987. Stephen Paulus who worked at the New Delhi office of Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung (FES) had commissioned a project to me and Professor P Khanna at IIT Bombay. The project was to investigate Innovative Strength of Indian Industry – Case of Low or Non Waste Technologies (LNWT). This project was my first exposure to LNWT, and it gave me an opportunity to outreach a huge cross section of Indian industry. In 1988, we brought out a report that was released by FES. The report was sent across to several institutions in India as well as overseas.

[Stephen lived in Jorbagh in Delhi in an apartment and used to play box guitar. I remember spending with him late nights savoring chicken tikka with German beer, listening to his music and soft voice and taking a late night taxi to IIT Delhi Guest House. Today, Dr Stephen Paulus heads the Department Environment and Climate Change, GIZ, Germany]

Perhaps our publication with FES reached the office of UNEP DTIE (Division of Technology, Industry and Economics) in Paris. Dr Fritz Balkau who was then Senior Programme Officer visited me at IIT Bombay while he was at the Hindustan Organic Chemicals Ltd (HOCL) for a project. At that time, UNEP DTIE was actively considering to develop a program on the basis of win-win between industry and environment. Perhaps in this context, my work became of interest to DTIE. Fritz invited me for a two day workshop that was to take place in Paris. I remember that I received a two page long telex invitation from Jacqueline Aloisi de Larderel, Director UNEP DTIE. An express Visa was granted to me based on this telex invitation by the French Consulate in Mumbai. Getting a French Visa was otherwise not easy in a short time.

Dr Fritz Balkau

This meeting at DTIE was a turning point for my career. Everyone needs one such turning point. And I will thank both Stephen and Fritz for opening the doors.

In this workshop, the term Cleaner Production was coined after a marathon discussion. Later I got involved and spent next 20 years working with UNEP DTIE as a consultant. I got opportunity to work in several countries advising and implementing Cleaner Production. Cleaner Production in many ways is the “grandfather” of the term “Circular Economy” – a buzz word we use today.

[Fritz retired as Deputy Director and is still active organizing schools on Life Cycle Thinking and Management in Europe connecting with the concept of Circular Economy. We are in touch]

The lesson I learnt was that in your young age work on projects that make an impact not necessarily money. Produce good quality outputs and Publish. If you do a good job, people will find you!

In the Paris workshop, I met Donald Huisingh, an American Professor who was teaching at the Lund University. Later, Don became the founder editor of the well-known Journal of Cleaner Production. When he relinquished his position few years ago as the Chief Editor, a World Conference on Cleaner Production was held in Sitges near Barcelona. Don invited me to speak reminiscing Cleaner Production.

Prof Donald Huisingh

I met several other stalwarts like Thomas Lindquist (perhaps one of the first researchers on the subject of Extended Producer Responsibility), Prof Sam El Kholy, VC of Cairo University and Robert Glaser who was Queens Inspector at the Ministry of Environment and Physical Planning in the Netherlands. I also met interesting personalities such as Olav Nedenes from Norway, Prof Novak who was passionate about the NIF/NOT program on capacity building in Poland and Czech republic, David Pounder from Department of Environment, UK, Dr Ralph (Skip) Lueken, UNIDO, Jim Gallup of US AID and of course Director Jacqueline Aloisi de Larderel.

I became a frequent visitor to Paris and used to be at DTIE once in four months for a week for several years. I used to stay nearby at Hotel Alize Grennel and walk to Tour Mirabeau where UNEP DTIE’s office was located. Norah, girl at the registration desk of Alize Grennel took liking for me (and perhaps for my loyalty) and introduced me to some of the street musicians who played at subways of Gare Montparnasse metro station. The deal was that she learns conversational English from me and I pick up some basic French. But I could never learn any French. Who would learn, if you are walking with a beautiful French girl on the street of Montparnasse?

Hotel Alize Grennel

A Street Musician in a Subway

The office of UNEP DTIE was located on a higher floor in a tall building overlooking river Seine. It was a wonderful office with a great view and sporting a sunshine in the summer. Later, the office was shifted to cut down the costs, but it lost its original charm and inspiration.   





Montparnasse Tower 

Jaqueline was a visionary. To promote Cleaner Production, she partnered with several Governments to hold bi-annual High Level meetings. The first such event was held in Canterbury, UK followed by Paris, Warsaw, Melbourne etc. There were also side events in places such as Lisbon and Mauritius. I used to be a speaker in all these events. This enriched my learning, experience and networking.

Jacqueline Aloisi de Larderel

I did several publications and developed products for UNEP DTIE and UNIDO. This included Global Status Report on Cleaner Production, Web version of the International Cleaner Production Information Clearinghouse, A multimedia CD-ROM – called Cleaner Production Companion and Guidance Manuals for National Cleaner Production Centers. Working with the team at DTIE was always a pleasure. We often exceeded the agreed Terms of Reference! Today, most of the team members on Cleaner Production (now called as division of Sustainable Consumption and Production) have left and the only person I know there is Garrette Clark. A wonderful person to work with.

Garrette Clark

During my stay in Paris, I never missed to spend an evening on the Avenue des Champs-Élysées. Our Cleaner Production “gang” used to assemble there for some cool beers with chips and a baguette ham sandwich. On this crowded but still romantic and mesmerizing avenue, the discussions used to be so  lively ending late in the evening.

Restaurent on Avenue des Champs-Élysées

But a must was to go to the Jazz at Duc Lombards located on 42 Rue des Lombards. This Jazz club is not big but is designed for very premium sound quality effect and stage and ceilings that make audience feel like sitting in small opera house. You sit so close to the stage in a cosy atmosphere watching the artists performing. The club has a great menu and a friendly service – and of course all at a price! I have been to Duc Lombards more than a dozen times and each visit has been an unforgettable experience.

Duc Lombards

Jacqueline after her retirement moved to Italy where she runs with her husband Corso, a Hotel resort called Villa Le Barone. Villa Le Barone lies in the heart of the Chianti hills, thought by many as the loveliest countryside in Italy.  I have been in touch with Jacqueline and visiting Villa Le Barone is on my bucket list! May be that will be a turning point in my life once again!!

Villa Le Barone

In my email communications, I once wrote to Jacqueline about Jazz at Duc Lombards. “Oh Prasad, I did not know that you love Jazz so much” she responded.

And then She wrote. “You may not know but I hold some stake there”.

Wow, I said to myself. What a  great place to invest. I wish I had the money to do so.

Everything then fell in place and connected the dots.

I thought with connect to Duc Lombards I completed my Circle of Cleaner Production in Paris.

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Arrhythmia, Professor and Me

I have been suffering from a heart disorder called arrhythmia over the last two years. An arrhythmia is a problem with the rate or rhythm of your heartbeat. It means that your heart beats too quickly, too slowly, or with an irregular pattern. Over a year, my problem of arrhythmia worsened. Last month I suffered dizziness and had even a fall couple of times.

While cardiologists were examining me to address the root cause of the problem, I thought of meeting my Professor friend and take his advice. Professor has been always helpful to me when in crisis.

We met at our usual coffee shop. We occupied a round table in the foyer with a marble top and an ash tray. We ordered some Ethiopian coffee with ginger biscuits.

“Dr Modak, the real reason for your arrhythmia is not the imbalance in the electric field, but your nature of getting excited in every bit you see or do in your life”. Professor lit his cigar.

He saw me surprised so he continued to elaborate.

“ I have seen you now over 30 years. Your heart seems to be racing up when you deliver a talk, especially to the students. or when you attend a musical concert or meet a beautiful and intelligent lady – I know that latter has always been your weakness” (I couldn’t disagree)

Probably, your heart beats slow down when you get depressed to see inaction and apathy towards environment, poverty and injustice.  And then after a while you become angry and your heart beats start racing up. These ups and downs of heart beats over several years have disturbed the rhythm of the heart.

Your doctors may change your medication, but nothing will change until you learn to live life like most of us do – i.e. stay calm, not emotional and remain indifferent”. He sounded like Lord Krishna in Bhagavad-Gita.

“But how can I Professor?” I protested.

I told him that in my school days, our teacher used to write on the blackboard names of the first ranking student in the late evening, one week after the examination. All of us used to flock around the blackboard, be tensed and wait for the “disclosure” of the top ranker’s name.

There were occasions that I got the first rank. And when I saw my name being written on the blackboard by our teacher Shri Dabholkar, as the top ranker, my heart raced up with all the excitement. My heart must be beating at that time well above 120 beats per minute (BPM).

“Oh, so silly of you. Top ranks in school days have no great significance. Topping in the class has nothing to do with your later career. I have seen so many school toppers doing badly in college and subsequent studies. You should have understood this truth and remained quiet. Your heart should have been rock steady at the standard beat of 70 BPM”. Professor said calmly. He sounded indifferent.

“But what about this memory Professor?” I did not give up

“While at IIT Powai, me and a group of my friends climbed the hill behind Hostel 4 to get to the top. Not a tall climb at all, but getting on the top of that 1500 ft hill mattered to us. We reached the top of the hill that had a small Shiva temple with no pujari. We were aghast to see spread of Powai and Vihar lakes on both sides of the hill. Vihar lake with islands at the center looked mystic as the sun was about to set. The breeze was strong. An eagle took off from the overhanging rock noticing we the strangers. Wow, my heart had raced then as I stood near the rock with my friends. I breathed deep, smelling the grass and enjoying natures glory. We climbed down without saying a word”

Professor took a deep puff.

“Well Dr Modak, you are exaggerating too much from this mundane experience. Hill and the lakes is a commonly seen setting. Nothing unusual or exciting” He paused and said sarcastically “You don’t have to climb now anymore as most of the hills in and around cities have been mined by the builders or are denuded. Watching a lake is no more a pleasure as the lakes have been polluted, infested by weeds and mosquitoes and in some cases even full of foams”

I realized that Professor was indifferent to my exciting story. I imagined him standing on the top of the hill watching Powai and Vihar lakes with heart rate rock steady at 70 BPM.

May be he was right. You don’t have to actually visit the places – there are now good documentaries on Netflix that show the Great China Wall, Grand Canyon and the Whales in Alaska. You can watch these documentaries your bedroom at rock steady heart beat of 70 BPM. But standing on the top of the Alpes at Mont Blanc, clad in snow, with your heart racing at 120 BPM is an altogether different experience. I now thought that Professor could be wrong.

I started remembering occasions when me and my father visited some of the poor families in the villages that were hit by a famine. We camped there to provide food and water to people and working to find solutions that could help them to combat the repeated spells of the famine. My father spent his personal money to help. He wasn’t rich enough to afford such spending, but it was the spirit and the compassion that led him to be generous while he was disadvantaged. I probably returned with considerably irregular heartbeats – especially when I saw the people suffer, my father’s gesture to help and the tears of gratitude I saw in the eyes of the people.

I did not narrate this experience to the Professor as I knew what he would say. “handling famines is governments job. What difference can one individual make? So be practical, stay calm and wait for the government to take action. Now a days corporates under CSR also contribute and help. One doesn’t have to be so personal.”

I asked him – doesn’t he get agitated to listen to speeches made by politicians and bureaucrats at the environmental conferences? Same rhetoric, same play of words, false promises and manipulated data! I stopped attending the inaugural speeches of such meetings to avoid getting irregular heartbeats.

Professor replied that I was perhaps expecting too much from these meetings. “You have to understand that after all holding conferences is a type of business or a networking game that most play.  Content of the speech is irrelevant, just the conduct matters” Professor extinguished his cigar.

“You may like to join me next Sunday at the Sea lounge of Taj Gateway for an evening snack. A friend you know will be joining. But let us chat on a topic other than your arrythmia. Be there at sharp 6 pm” Professor got up after settling the bill.

“And in this week, don’t attend the Buddy Guy’s concert at the NCPA. You will unnecessarily race up your heart” With this practical advice, Professor left with these parting words of wisdom.

I reached ten minutes earlier and Oscar the head waiter escorted me to the table Professor had booked. As usual,  the table was on window side where you can watch the ships sail – a truly romantic place.

Window side table at the Sea Lounge, the Taj Gateway of India 

A lady with a familiar face was already at the table. “Oh Elma, how come you?” I exclaimed.

Elma was Professors old friend from his college days. Her father was Indian and mother Swedish. She had lovely blond hair, a sweet face, an Swenglish accent. Elma lived in Budapest and was visiting Mumbai for work.  I had met her several times before with Professor.

“Oh Prasad, great to see you – what a surprise? ” said Elma. “Your Professor friend is delayed as usual. He will reach in next 15 minutes”

My heart beats were already racing after seeing Elma. I asked for one plate of dahi batata puri and one plate of (not so spicy) special bhel, the signature dishes at the Sea Lounge. Elma suggested a pitcher of Kingfisher Draft to go along. Good choice! I said to myself.

Since there was some time, I told Elma about my problem of Arrythmia. I ended telling her Professor’s solution – that is stay calm and indifferent at a rock steady heart rate of 70 BPM. I praised Professor saying that he has a great control on his mind and the heart beats.

Elma had a good laugh.

“Prasad, do you really believe in what your friend said?. I still remember feeling  his racing heart beats (must be at 120 BPM) when I first hugged him and kissed as a surprise”

I could understand as I had myself gone through such an experience.

When she saw my stunned face, she said

“Well well, perhaps things have changed now after he implanted a pacemaker some 10 years ago. His heart now beats at a rock steady rate of 70 BPM, despite what he sees, listens or does”

I wanted to ask more on this to Elma, but I had to cut the conversation on this delicate topic as I saw Oscar ushering the Professor to our table.

While driving home I was wondering. Perhaps Professor did this pacemaker implant when there was a massive pacemaker program launched by the Government for all senior advisers, administrators and politicians (existing and “potential”). It was contended that with pacemakers installed the Government machinery will run with no emotions, always stay calm (i.e. stay passive), indifferent and at a rock steady heart rate of 70 BPM.

No wonder the state of India’s Governance we have seen over years!

I thought of calling my cardiologist to recommend a pacemaker – but then I wondered whether this was the way to live life?

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How do you write a Curriculum Vitae?

Most of us make a Curriculum Vitae or CV. We need a CV when we apply for a job or when we apply for a competition or award. Some use the terms “Resume” or “Bio-Data”. But all these terms essentially mean the same.

In a CV,  you tell who you are and what have you been doing in brief. Brevity is important. Today most prefer to prepare a one page version of the CV. A two page CV is perhaps the limit! People don’t have time.

There are exceptions, however. I came across a CV of a Researcher/Professor that had 60 pages! Most of the pages of the CV were used to list major publications, reports, books etc. Unless people read my list of publications, they wont know about my research contributions, he explained.

There are now several smart templates available for writing a CV. Some CVs sport a photograph. When I receive such CVs, I attempt to “read” the face. But there are surprises when you meet the applicant in person. Some prefer not to mention the gender because they don’t want any bias. Some don’t mention the date of birth in the CV as they are often uncomfortable and feel that this information is rather personal to share. Its some work then to “estimate” the age of the applicant based on qualifications and experience.

The first thing I like to read in the CV is section on “other interests” or “hobbies” or “extracurricular activities”. This information tells me about the other part of person’s life that is equally important. You generally find “standard” stuff like reading, listening to music, painting, swimming, trekking, cooking, dancing etc. I get excited when I see something more elaborated and a bit unusual stuff like watching owls  in the night, paragliding in the hills, doing upcycling (i.e. making products out of waste) etc. CV that list Spanish and Chinese in the languages known also impresses me. Interest and ability to learn these languages tell so much about the personality.

My Professor friend does not accept typed or printed CVs. He insists that CVs submitted to him must be handwritten. According to him, handwriting tells a lot about the person. He may be absolutely right.

Of course, CVs glitter when they state qualifications from Ivy League universities and institutes of IIT type. When stated with GPA’s above 3.8 or Honors or with a top Rank or medal, the story becomes outstanding and compelling. I however get worried when I receive CVs that shine – as I question whether this person will gel well with my team and whether this person will stay long enough with my organization? And whether he or she will be affordable to us?

Most in the early age and looking for job or for a better change, make significant efforts to “dress up” the CV. Apart from technical details such as qualifications and experience, they list voluntary work (e.g. teaching children in the slums) and work done in honorary capacities (e.g. member of the sustainability committee of a chamber of commerce). It is often difficult to know however how much of this voluntary and honorary work is done in seriousness or is it only a “fluff”.

Apparently, CVs are now scanned using Artificial Intelligence and these algorithms look for the right “keywords”. Some buzz words like sustainability, circular economy, resource efficiency thus get into many “environmental CVs”. There are consultants who provide services on charge to make your CV – customize your CV  for the job you are looking for.

Some people don’t need to make a CV at all. People owning family businesses for generations and those involved in politics don’t need a CV. Do you think Mukesh Ambani or Rahul Gandhi ever made a “standard” CV? I will be curious to read if there was one.

When I was around 17 years of age, my father asked me to get his CV typed. There were no PCs, laser printers and Microsoft Word then! I remember I went to a shop near our house that had a board “Typing Services”. I sat down next to the Typist who typed my father’s CV in the format he was used to – on a Remington Typewriter. As my father wanted 20 copies, he typed the CV on a cyclostyling stencil sheet – fixing the errors encountered in typing with a red colored correction fluid. The cyclostyling stencil sheet was then processed in a cyclostyling machine to make copies.  Most of you today may not know this amazing duplicating machine.

A Cyclostyling Machine

I think what was exciting for me was to know who my father was and what he did in his life while getting his CV typed. He had never told me or discussed several of the details of his life and career that were listed in his CV. I don’t think my elder sisters know about his work and achievements in detail even today as much I know.

Have my children read my CV in detail? May be they have but I wonder.

Generally, number of pages of the CV increases as you grow older because you have perhaps a lot to say. How can a person with 30 years’ experience compress every achievement of his/her life in just two pages! Quite understandable. But then there are exceptions again.

During my doctoral research, I did a course with Professor Fude at the Asian Institute of Technology, Bangkok. In his last lecture of the course, Professor Fude distributed his 2 page CV to all of us. “You should know little bit about the Teacher who taught you”. He said in his characteristic Chinese-American accent.

When I looked at his CV, it was very different from the CVs I had earlier seen. Of course, the CV had his name and contact detail but below qualifications that listed only his Ph D from University of Iowa in Water Resources  in 1939, there were just two columns. The first column listed the year and second column described the “achievement” or “highlights”. Only years with achievements or highlights were listed  such as

Year   Achievement/Highlight

1953  Received Cloud and Banner Award

1960  Founded Computer Society in Taiwan

1970  Established School on Flood Control to serve Mekong region

And so on so forth

I found this style of writing CV was both intriguing and challenging. Summing up your life in only key milestones of achievements required both maturity and an honest self-assessment.

Last week, I looked at my 20 page CV with all the gibberish – that gave details of my qualifications, experience, memberships and publications and ofcourse the blah-blah. I remembered Professor Fude’s “simple CV” and realized the huge clutter and fluff that my CV was carrying. Whom was I fooling?

I applied my mind to list only those years where there was “some achievement”.

I found that it was really easy then to bring my 20 page CV into a CV of just 2 pages !

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Is it worth to get angry?


[This is a satire – as usual]

I am generally a quiet person. My Professor friend on the other hand is a rather volatile personality. Often, he gets angry, raises his voice and that elevates his blood pressure. There have been occasions when I have to request him to calm down. But Professor is not convinced. But does anger help?

Last week, we were together in Delhi. While landing at the New Delhi airport, we realized that our aircraft was descending into a grey chamber – full of dust. We felt chocked. On landing, we looked into  the screens of our mobile phones. The app showed dangerous levels of the air quality index.

When we were navigating through the messy Delhi traffic; Professor turned to me and said “Dr Modak, look at the poor state of India’s capital. With all the mighty politicians and administrators living there the situation on air quality is not improving and perhaps getting worse. The air quality outdoors and indoors continues to be alarming and people are facing a slow death. No one seems to be serious. Don’t you feel angry?” His voice was quivering.

I looked outside and saw people with masks like doctors in the operation theater or like astronauts on the moon. I realized that by the time we reach Chanakya Puri, Professor was going to lose his temper.

I spoke quietly “Professor, there is no need to get angry. You can wear a mask and protect yourself; or  install air purifiers at home. Delhi government is already implementing outdoor air purifiers in several places. Soon there will be a network of sensors reporting status on air quality on the cloud and information on air quality will be available on the fly”

“But that’s not the solution to the problem Dr Modak!” Professor raised his voice. Sure, he was getting angry. I tried to calm him down.  There was no use to get angry when you know that nothing was going to change.

Back in Mumbai, we went for a dinner with an American friend at the Sea Lounge of Taj. Chief at the Lounge greeted us and politely asked “Regular or bottled water sir?”. I said “bottled” as I didn’t want to risk the health of my American friend. When we were returning from the Taj, Professor asked me “Dr Modak, I saw that you asked for bottled water and not the “regular” one. What a shame. We can’t guarantee safe drinking water to our people. May be we treat water well at the Bhandup Water Treatment Works, but then when the water is transported to our taps, it gets contaminated because of leakages and sewers crossing the water pipes – something not unacceptable”

I realized that Professor was getting angry.

I spoke quietly “Professor, there is no reason to get angry. You can always install a water purifier at home. There are so many options available, just filtration, filtration with UV light, filtration, UV light and activated carbon etc. Once you fix the purifier, the regular water becomes as good as a bottled water. We all must do our bit and can’t put all the responsibilities to the local government. We  must do cost sharing to pay for the inaction”

Professor lost his temper after listening to my justification. “Dr Modak, if you continue like this, then the situation is not going to improve. People like you have to question and put pressure to get a “solution: and not work on the “symptoms” . Pity that you don’t get angry”

“But Professor, think about the business we are supporting in this process – the water purification industry is growing rapidly, generating employment and supporting livelihoods of so many people . And I am not considering the increased business of doctors and hospitals. These benefits are enormous. There is no need to be angry” I responded – rather in a lighter tone and in some humor. But the Professor was in no mood to calm down. He left in a huff.

Last Sunday, I invited Professor for lunch at home. Knowing his weakness for freshly prepared vegetables, my wife was preparing a nice concoction of Jaal frazie (simmered mixed vegetables) While she was in the kitchen, Professor asked me whether I had read a recent report published by Centre for Science and Environment on the contaminated vegetables and fruits in India.

“Its simply horrendous Dr Modak, today the vegetables we eat are mostly contaminated. They carry heavy metals, carcinogenic compounds and bacteria like E Coli. You think that eating leafy vegetables is healthy, but it is actually contrary. And remember, mere washing does not help”

He read out some worrisome statistics from the report. His voice was raising. I could sense that he was getting angry.

I said “Don’t you worry Professor. I have installed a vegetable purifier in the kitchen that generates ozone to treat the vegetables and gets rid of the contamination. Why don’t you take a look? There is always a solution to the problem”

Professor did not give up. He screamed  “That’s not the solution Dr Modak. You have to address the source of contamination. People like you are responsible as you don’t protest – you keep shut and never get angry”

But the Professor did relish the Jaal frazie along with pudina paratha during lunch that my wife served. He couldn’t resist. While going home, he took the flyer I had on the ozone based vegetable purifier. He was going to show to his wife. I was happy that Professor was learning how not to get angry and accept the solutions of Type II.

Many of us know now how we should live life if you don’t want to waste your energies in getting frustrated, becoming angry and losing in the process your peace of mind. By simply becoming angry you are not going to solve the mess around that we live in.

After all, as many of our sages say, what we see, breath, eat and drink is not real – its all “mithya” – something untrue, imaginary or spurious. We should not attach ourselves and get emotional to the problems of pollution, poverty and injustice that we see.

Indeed, there is no point to get angry.

The world around is not going to change.

Or will it?

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A World Without Money


Lord Kubera (God of Wealth) was reading an article published on the failed demonetization in India. He was amused to learn that Mr Modi, the Prime Minister shook India’s economy by cancelling 500 Rs currency notes, overnight.

Quite a bold step. Lord Kubera said.

But when he spoke about the demonetization to Lord Mahadeva (The supreme God of destruction), Lord Mahadeva smiled.

“Well the real bold step could have been to scrap money all over the world.  Imagine the world with no money. But that’s not easy for the humans. Even if Modi, Putin and Trump were to agree and work  together, they wont be able to make money vanish from this world.  But I can simply make the money disappear by opening my third eye”

[Lord Mahadeva is usually known for His third eye. The eye which emits flames and burns things to ashes. Shiva’s third eye is also sometimes known as the eye of wisdom. The right and left eye represent His activities in the physical world while the third eye symbolises His spiritual wisdom and power].

Kubera pleaded Lord Mahadeva that this bold step be taken only as a pilot. The world may be restored with money once again if the pilot was found to be unsustainable. Lord Mahadeva agreed and opened his third eye. And money across the world disappeared!

I walked to a coffee shop. The girl at the counter gave a warm smile while offering me a hot cup of cappuccino. But when I pulled out my wallet, she said that I did not have to pay any money as concept of money did not exist now. She gave me two options.

One – I could work as a waiter every day for 1 hour in the café and enjoy two cups of free coffee. Option two was to help in the kitchen for three hours on a Saturday when there was a peak of customers. I agreed for the second option.

When I finished my coffee, the girl said “have a nice day Sir. But don’t forget to come to the kitchen this Saturday. There will be three more “volunteers” like you. Coffee lovers in our neighborhood are very kind and helpful to us”. I was convinced that going to the coffee shop on the Saturday was going to be fun in my otherwise dull life.

For a long time, I wanted to buy a bigger house. So I called my estate agent to check if there was any good deal. “Oh Dr Modak” he said, “there are no financial deals now as the money has disappeared. But why don’t you try your luck at the heritage bungalow of Mr Fernandes in Bandra? Its free to live as Mr and Mrs Fernandes want that in exchange they get a decent tenant to take care of them and make their life warm and lovely. That’s not too much to ask isn’t it? Their son John left them some 20 years ago by migrating to the United States and they terribly miss his company. The old couple is taking interviews and if they like you, which they most probably would, they will let you stay in the bungalow with no rent to pay!”

Oh if the money vanishes and if we remain nice to people, then the homelessness in this world will end. I mused to myself.

My wife told me that now there will be no theft crimes. You won’t have to lock your house as no one may be interested to steal your stuff. You can have as many or as few of the things you want. You will consume only when you need – and perhaps just the everyday things of your life. You will live a sustainable life – good for this planet – I thought.

The wife continued while pouring a wine in my glass.

You won’t need money to travel, eat or acquire things. Just go and get them. They aren’t only for the rich or elite anymore. We’re all rich now.

I saw that she was wearing an expensive top from Dior that she picked up for free from a mall down south Mumbai. She always wanted to get this top  but couldn’t decide whether to spend money. I didn’t want to ask her what she agreed to do in the bargain.

In the world with no money, I realized that if you run out what you have, then all will gladly share what everyone has. Essentially, we all will help each other. Today, the idea of sharing is fast disappearing – everybody wants to “own” and perhaps that’s the reason of our stressed life!

I could see that in the absence of money, people would have to barter. Bartering is a method to obtain goods or services with the exchange of other goods or services. Today currency (or money) is the physical representation of the concept “Value”. As population increased and the trade grew more complicated, money was “invented” to become a proxy to assign the value to the products and services. But money often failed to arrive at the just or fair value. We all know that money does not reflect the true value.

Bartering brings in waste exchange, extends useful life of the products and connects people. I remember my mother used to barter utensils in the exchange of old clothes from a lady who hailed from Rajasthan. Both used to argue on the “value” of the goods to be exchanged.  But all this “fight” used to end happily with my mother enquiring about Lady’s grandchildren after closing the “deal” and giving two Cadbury chocolates. Bartering had that touch of “friendly” conversations.  World  with no money may have more of such conversations and promote collaborative consumption. Essentially we will have a shared economy.

Indeed, in the world with no money you will now be valued by the resources you hold in quantity and quality and the services you can offer. But every resource or service may not be measurable. We may value a person by the richness in kindness and love or value the time the person will give sitting next to the bed of an ailing patient in the hospital. We don’t do that today. Shouldn’t  we?

This was the vision of Gene Roddenberry (creator of Star Trek.) He envisioned a future where everybody worked cooperatively, and the core drive of society was not to accumulate wealth or material objects, but to accumulate knowledge. This was also the future envisioned by such pioneers as Karl Marx, Buckminster Fuller, Albert Einstein, Jaque Fresco, John Lennon, and Carl Sagan. This research continues amongst hundreds of thousands of Zeitgeist Movement Members & Resource Based Economy Advocates worldwide.

The big questions however are: Is human society operating in a manner that benefits all of the humans? Is human society operating in a manner that is ultimately sustainable for both humans and all other life? There are no easy answers as we live today just for money. I realized that we will have to virtually rewrite all of human interactions in the world with no money.

When I went to see Professor, he lit his cigar.

He was rather negative and pessimistic. He cautioned that such a system will remain in theory and will be impossible to implement. He wasn’t sure about my wife’s argument on “no money – less consumption” as humans are so competitive in nature and will hoard the resources. Currency and money are very nuanced concepts that are remarkably hard to divorce from the human spirit.

He expressed his concern about the hoarding of resources. Controlling hoarding could certainly be a challenge. There will emergence of “strong” and “weak” communities depending on the resources they hold to bargain. There will be water wars and land grabbing. Nothing will be fair and only the mighty will win. And what about the unemployment we are creating across the financial sector? What will the bankers and investors do? He extinguished his cigar and looked outside the window.

I thought Professor made valid points.

I started to come out of my dream of a “sustainable world with dignity and security”

Lord Mahadeva smiled as if he heard our conversation. On the request of Kubera, he restored the world back to where it was.

I walked to a shop to buy some coffee. The girl at the counter gave me a warm smile while offering me a hot cup of cappuccino. When I pulled out my wallet, she gave me two options. Option one was to pay in cash and option two was to pay using credit card.

When I chose the option of credit card, she asked “Do you have American Express Sir? You will get Rs 10 off”

I felt familiar. I was back to the world with money.

You may like to watch video below by Danny Hyde


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Do you have a Family Project?

When was the last occasion you and your family spent time together?

Don’t tell me that you watched a movie at the PVR Cinemas and shared popcorns, only last week.

Or you had a gala dinner at the Barbeque Nation, a month ago on a Friday night.

Hold on. I am asking whether you did something together like a project. A family project I mean.

The project could be trivial and simple but with a cause. The idea is to be together and enjoy – and cherish the moments that you will remember later.

Given the machine life in the cities we live, we as a family seldom spend time together. We don’t think about or aspire to do something meaningful, exiting, creative and demonstrative for a cause. Life we live does not have a family fizz.

Today each member of the family is busy with something – everybody is stressed out and lives a siloed life.

And that’s the problem.

We don’t have that family bond anymore that was perhaps there a generation before. Is this one of the reasons why we see growing frustration, leading to depression and disorders like schizophrenia?

Few of my friends have recognized the need of a “family project”.

I know a friend who takes his family to the mountains around Karjat. They spend two weeks in the tribal villages twice a year. His wife is a gynecologist, son is studying agriculture engineering and daughter is into development work at the TISS.  Over the past five years, the family has supported a school, provided medical advice,  improved farming practices and helped in building a market for the honey and handicrafts. When I visit their place and the topic comes about Karjat, everyone gets excited to talk and tell me their experience, the challenges they faced and how they resolved them collectively. And when there is a slide show in the drawing room, showing me the “project”, on every slide there is fight who would tell the “story” first. I see there a resonance of emotions with all the enthusiasm.

But as I said before, the “family project” can be even short and sweet.

I remember when our children were young, we decided to spend an afternoon at a hobby pottery shop at the Atria Mall in Worli. We four (my wife Kiran, daughter Devika and son Pranav) walked into the pottery shop in the mall in the afternoon and decided to make a house with clay.

We were given clay, the “tools” and some glazing materials with bright colors. It took for us neat 3 hours to visualize and make a toy house with a roof that could be lifted to store the “secrets”. We discussed, shared the tasks, added value to each other’s work. Finally, the clay house was taken to the oven to bake. And when done, we were so thrilled to see that we could create something together – a lovely toy house (actually a storage box) with bright colors!

We have preserved this work even today as a mark of us working together reminding us of all the joy and happiness. I think I understood my wife, son and daughter that afternoon much better.

I spoke about the house that we “built”, and this reminds me of the wonderful visit me and my colleagues recently made to the Eco House of Dr Anjali Parasnis.

Dr Anjali is Associate Director at TERI Western Zone office in New Mumbai.

Few years ago, Anjali, her two sons and parents took up a “Family project” of building a Eco House near Khalapur, at the foothills of the mountains of Khandala near Mumbai. The family worked with all the passion, creativity and all the perseverance on this project. We were simply amazed to witness sustainability put into practice.

Dr Anjali Parasnis’s Eco House

The Eco House is a framed structure and for portion of the walls, it makes use of abandoned  PET and beer bottles. The Jambha stone (laterite) is otherwise used that is porous.  The foyer has lovely tile work made out of broken tiles what would have been otherwise thrown as waste. The kitchen has two sinks and a dual plumbing system is used that takes the sullage through a root zone treatment and then to a recharge pit to replenish the groundwater aquifer. Rainwater is tapped and channeled through to percolation area to charge the aquifer. Broken chassis of the vehicles are used for the lintels after cutting. Natural ducts through hollow walls are provided with options of forced circulation for cooling, cutting down the air conditioning requirements. I was impressed with the garden and the “healthy” vegetables that were grown. Watering in the garden was done with drip irrigation.

But obtaining a loan for such an unconventional house was not easy. Anjali faced major difficulties. The Bank wanted not an Eco House, but a house built with concrete and the “usual” stuff.

Anjali told us that the house was built such that it would produce least amount of the waste, in the event the house was to be demolished and rebuilt! I was amazed that so much thought was given considering the life cycle.

Everybody in the family spoke about the house and had something interesting to tell. I was impressed to experience this “family project”. We had a good fortune to meet the construction contractor and two young architects from Khalapur. I could see that building Anjali’s house had transformed them – they not only could visualize the importance of sustainability but learnt how to implement the elements into a form with functionality by making a wise choice of materials. I was happy to know that Anjali and her architect friends are now documenting the project’s story.

Anjali’s parents live in this Eco House. Indeed, they were practicing science with traditions, using less resources and making least waste possible with all the humility and simplicity that nature wants one to be.  The silence around told us that this was sustainable living. I felt envious. Anjali’s mother read out a few poems in Marathi that expressed her love towards nature and her deep understanding of sustainability.

When I returned home, I took out the toy clay house from the chest of drawers. This was the toy house that we made as an afternoon family project years ago.

Our clay house showing storage

“Wish we build a real house together one day” I sighed. I was inspired by Anjali’s family project of the Eco House.

I decided to call for a Skype session for this Family project.

As usual, I thought I will advise – because I knew that was the only thing I could possibly do!

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Sustainability Flash Mob and the Magic of Bolero

[Dear Readers. This post shows some interesting videos. And you must find time to watch these videos to get best out of this post. Hope you enjoy the concept of Sustainability flash mob and the magic of Bolero]

A flash mob is a group of people who assemble suddenly in a public place, perform an unusual and seemingly pointless act for a brief time, then quickly disperse, often for the purposes of entertainment, satire, and artistic expression. Flash mobs may appear spontaneous. And ideally, they should, but in reality, they are not. Flash mobs are generally pre-planned and organized via telecommunications, social media, or viral emails.

View video below in case you are not familiar with the flash mobs

To some, flash mobs are not welcomed. The city of Brunswick, Germany has stopped flash mobs by strictly enforcing the already existing law of requiring a permit to use any public space for an event. In the United Kingdom, a number of flash mobs have been stopped over concerns for public health and safety. The British Transport Police have urged flash mob organizers to “refrain from holding such events at railway stations.

Flash mobs have become immensely popular in India, especially on the university campuses, railway stations and the malls. Flash mobs are also organized in the offices – perhaps to destress. Most of the Indian flash mobs focus on dancing on the Bollywood music. Flash mobs that end up with a surprise marriage proposals are also getting common.

Flash mobs in Europe are more sober so to say and appear more natural and spontaneous. They build gradually, involving the people who are watching.   See the video below dancing Zorba the Greek. The flash mob begins with only one dancer and then grows into a large crowd participating spontaneously. Perhaps, the beat and simplicity of Zorba makes the difference.

Several flash mobs in Europe are driven by orchestras where music is played by the  artists, sometimes accompanied with folk or traditional dances. These flash mobs are rather soothing, and make the occasion as a family get-together with children standing by and enjoying.

Professor wanted to develop a flash mob on sustainability.

“Flash mobs for Sustainability! Is there such an interest Professor?” I asked as he was driving with me to see the Mayor of Mumbai City. I wasn’t sure.

“Oh Yes, Dr Modak, there are flash mobs that address issues related sustainability. Yale Divinity School Sustainability organized a surprise flash mob to promote its event “It’s the End of the World As We Know It” and introduced more reusable mugs to the community, significantly reducing the daily waste created by disposable cups.

UWS Comm Arts Students and A-Live Entertainment presented a flash mob for Climate Change. Hundreds of young people took part on the steps of the Sydney Opera House, dancing as a creative protest at the Power Shift 2009 youth climate summit. Three demands were made: Green Jobs for generation, a Power Shift from fossil fuels to renewable energy, and 50% by 2020 carbon pollution reduction targets for Australia.

A huge Eco-Flash Mob gathered at a shopping mall in Quebec to promote recycling. Part of the performance was to plant an empty bottle near a bin while people were waiting for a good recycler.

With a mission to make sustainability sexy, the fashion czar Modavanti teamed up with Aushim Raswant of 3vNYC to create New York’s first flash mob fashion show. Bystanders eating lunch or taking a break in each park were delightfully confused when Modavanti’s posse took over each space, bringing a giant green carpet, fashion friendly music, and a crew of twelve models to each site. Like any fashion show, the models walked the make shift runway, smiling and posing, and giving the public a taste of sexy sustainable fashion.

I was impressed.

“It’s a good idea Professor that we encourage India’s youth to hold flash mobs to sensitize people and communicate sustainability instead of just limiting to dancing on Bollywood music” I said.

“Oh,  don’t get me wrong. We have had some interesting flash mobs in India that are socially oriented too. But we need more, and we need to be creative” said the Professor as we parked the car in the porch of Mumbai Mayors bungalow.

When we reached Mayors office, we were asked to wait for a while as the Mayor was busy with someone.

“So, what’s your plan Professor?”

Professor didn’t speak and instead gazed outside the window.

Later he explained his plan to the Mayor. He wanted to launch a campaign of flash mobs in Mumbai that would play a soothing and warm music and inspire the Mumbaikars. While the music will be played with a gradual increase in the tempo and building of the orchestra, images/silent video clips of the sustainability heroes of Mumbai will scroll on a large screen. People will watch these images/videos to see these heroes doing waste recycling, conserving and reusing water, using solar energy and protecting biodiversity. People will learn and get inspired while the orchestra is playing the music. Some of the sustainability heroes may well be present in the mob and they will walk to the center as the orchestra plays the climax or the closing piece.

Large screen showcasing Cities Sustainability Heroes

The mayor was simply impressed with this “design” of the “sustainability flash mob” and extended full support to get necessary permissions.  Mayor liked the idea of campaign and suggested that we hold flash mobs over a month and at different locations of the city.

“The music that the Orchestra will play an important role” Professor said this while lighting his cigar when we returned and reached his study.

Professor said that he will speak to A R Rehman to come up with something Indian and blended. But since Rehman was busy and travelling, he will use Bolero to start with.

What is Bolero? I asked.

Bolero is a one-movement orchestral piece by the French composer Maurice Ravel (1875–1937). Originally composed as a ballet commissioned by Russian actress and dancer Ida Rubinstein, the piece, which premiered in 1928, is Ravel’s most famous musical composition.

Apparently, while on vacation at St Jean-de-Luz, Ravel went to the piano and played a melody with one finger to his friend Gustave Samazeuilh, saying “Don’t you think this theme has an insistent quality? I’m going to try and repeat it a number of times without any development, gradually increasing the orchestra as best I can.”

Maurice Ravel

And Bolero became Ravel’s most famous composition, much to the surprise of the composer, who had predicted that most orchestras would refuse to play it. Bolero is now played in flash mobs. According to a possibly apocryphal story from the premiere performance, a woman was heard shouting that Ravel was mad. When told about this, Ravel is said to have remarked that she had understood the piece.

The melody of Bolero is passed among different instruments. After an opening rhythm on the snare drum (a rhythm that continues unabated throughout the work), the piece opens with a solo flute followed by solo clarinet, solo bassoon (high in its range), solo E-flat clarinet, solo oboe d’amore, muted trumpet and flute, solo tenor saxophone (an unusual inclusion in an orchestra, that brought flavor of jazz), solo soprano saxophone, French horn and celesta, quartet composed of clarinet and three double-reeds, solo trombone and finally  high woodwinds (growing more strident in tone) as the climax. The sequence almost emulates how crowd joins to watch the flash mob.

The first piece of flute is going to be very important Professor said. And I have found out that the great flutist Jeanne Baxtresser is passing through Mumbai. He said with pride.

“Wow” I knew about Jeanne. Noted for her “absolute perfection, refined style…and a ravishing sonority” this remarkable flutist has held the position of principal flute with the New York Philharmonic for 15 years. She also continues to pursue a career as concert soloist, chamber player, recording artist, author, and teacher.

Jeanne Baxtresser

The first flash mob was planned at the VT station featuring Jeanne. Professor invited some of Mumbai’s  sustainability heroes to attend. Video clips and images were collated to make a screen show of their good work.

We were at the VT station at 4 pm. I saw that Professor was a bit tense. He was  making a few phone calls.

The Bolero started with snail drumming and just like the video you see below (and I will urge you to please view this clip), a woman appeared from behind the pillars.

Oh, but she wasn’t Jeanne Baxtresser

What happened? Some last moment glitch? No wonder I saw Professor tensed.

This strange woman was however right on the spot and played the flute with all the emotions immaculately. And she had all the grace and maturity needed to “drive” the Bolero as other instruments and artists followed.

The flash mob with combination of Bolero and exposition of the sustainability heroes made the desired impact. The crowd surged towards the sustainability heroes after the last piece of climax was played. They all wanted to be like them, emulate them and live life sensibly and sustainably.

We came out of the VT station.

As a token of appreciation, Professor was buying large sized dark chocolates with almonds for the musicians of the Bolero orchestra.

“Give me 19 chocolates”, He told the shopkeeper

“How come 19 Professor? We are twenty; eighteen  musicians and two of us” I said

Professor smiled “You know Jeanne got sick and couldn’t make it today. But the Gods were kind, and on my request sent an Angel to fill in her place”

I just couldn’t believe in what he was saying.

“Didn’t you notice that strange and wonderful woman who played the opening piece of flute of Bolero, flew away in the sky- right after the concert”  He said this so casually.

I looked at the sky and saw someone in the cloud, Was she the angel he was referring to?

I thought that Professors design of the sustainability flash mob was so tempting, reflecting his sincerity and creativity, that even the Angle from the sky couldn’t resist coming down.

Or was it the magic of Maurice Ravel’s Bolero?

I leave it to you to decide.