Naya Mahagathbandhan

India is in election storm today. The election results of the five Indian States have been just announced. These results have been rather alarming to the ruling party National Democratic Alliance (NDA), led by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). The Congress seems to be coming back.

Prime  Minister (PM) Narendra Modi and the BJP President Amit Shah were not expecting such results. A meeting was convened on emergency basis to take a stock of the situation, identify the threats and refine the strategy for the national election of 2019. All key ministers, strategists and senior party workers were present.  My Professor friend, who is the secret advisor to the PMO got me in as his assistant.

After the PM made opening remarks showing his surprise as well as concerns, Mr Amit Shah presented his analyses assuring all that the results of the State elections should interpreted carefully, and he does not see a swing to the Congress at the national level.

Mr. Amit Shah said that the trend observed in the five States indicates that the regional satraps might play key roles in 2019 general elections. He presented a State-wise statistic that was a complex mix of caste and class equations. He ended showing his  concern about the attempts by non-BJP parties to put a united front against Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s bid for a second term.

A Mahagathbandhan (Grand Alliance) was conceived. The driving force behind the Mahagathbandhan was Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister N Chandrababu Naidu, who was making efforts to put together an anti-BJP front after walking out of the Modi government. Congress president Rahul Gandhi, West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, former Union minister Sharad Yadav, National Conference leader Farooq Abdullah, Samajwadi Party leader Ram Gopal Yadav, Janata Dal-Secular Chief H D Deve Gowda, Nationalist Congress Party’s Sharad Pawar, DMK’s M K Stalin, Samajwadi Party chief Akhilesh Yadav and Bahujan Samaj Party leader Mayawati were to be part of the Mahagathbandhan. In this Mahagathbandhan, the position taken by the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) was going to be critical. The parties in Mahagathbandhan were planning to focus on issues related to farmers, demonetisation and the controversial Rafale deal.

PM asked the senior members of the party to react to Mr. Amit Shah’s presentation and the Mahagathbandhan.

Mr. Suresh Prabhu who was earlier Union Minister of Environment & Forests spoke. He said that his informers have reported that there is a yet another Mahagathbandhan getting formed, something that has been quietly brewing over last five years with a potential to grow across the States, religions and casts, rich and poor. He said that this New Mahagathbandhan should not be neglected and more investigation is required to know who are involved and what will be this Mahagathbandhan’s election manifesto. All he came to know that this New Mahagathbandhan (Green Alliance) is basically pro-environment or green and is led by illustrious people of India, leading the field of environment, pollution and social justice.

Mr. Arun Jaitley, the Finance Minister said “Suresh, you mean a party formed by the environmental activists? In that case simply don’t worry. These activists will never come together, they will fight between themselves and unlike us they will never get united as they supposedly don’t have any financial interest – that’s the bond we all politicians have. This interest keeps us together as we share the common goal of making money”

I whispered to the Professor “ I think Mr. Jaitley is right”. “We” simply keep complaining while we watch our environment and natural resources getting butchered. Some of us try to speak out but we are immediately zipped up, Some protest, write letters and fast for the good cause and but are simply neglected with least sensitivity, some sacrifice their lives in protecting our resources and restoring the damage done, but then spokes are put to stall their efforts if their work affects the financial gains of someone higher up. Sadly, these environmental crusaders and change makers are not connected to form a national network. They often work individually. I am glad that there is now a move to form a Naya (New) Mahagathbandhan. Imagine if this succeeds and we have from April, 2019 a green party to lead India or at least get some seats on the cabinet to voice”

Perhaps, Mr. Jaitley’s response to Mr. Suresh Prabhu was good enough and the members did not discuss further about the threat of the Naya Mahagathbandhan. The meeting focused more on the Naidu led Mahagathbandhan and discussed  how to ensure that this Mahagathbandhan does not happen.

When we were returning, Professor asked me to come to his house for a chat. We sat in his library with a south Indian coffee. He lit his cigar.

“Dr Modak, Suresh Prabhu was right. I know that such a green Mahagathbandhan is indeed getting formed, albeit not with seriousness it deserves. You must know  that earlier effort such as the Uttarakhand Parivartan Party (UKPP) formed in 2009 has failed. The party fielded two candidates in the 2009 parliamentary elections and 15 candidates in the 2012 state assembly elections. UKPP is raising awareness about Green politics among the masses, although yet to win representation in government. More recently, The India Greens – or The Green Party of India was created in 2018. They held their National Convention very recently on 17th November, 2018. The Party is still in the initial stages of creation and is seeking to register with the Election Commission of India”

Any party or politician is labeled “green” if it emphasizes environmental causes. The Global Greens Charter lists six guiding principles which are ecological wisdom, social justice, participatory democracy, nonviolence, sustainability and respect for diversity. Imagine if these principles are listed in the election manifestos of NDA or the Congress! But these principles are so hard to communicate and convince both the rich and poor of India. Of course we all are looking for roti, kapda aur makaan.

The first Green Party to achieve national prominence was the German Green Party, famous for their opposition to nuclear power, as well as an expression of anti-centralist and pacifist values traditional to greens. In Finland, in 1995, the Finnish Green Party was the first European Green party to be part of a national Cabinet. Other Green parties that have participated in government at national level include the Groen! (formerly Agalev) and Ecolo in Belgium, Les Verts in France and the Green Party in Ireland. In the Netherlands GroenLinks (“GreenLeft”) was founded in 1990 from four small left-wing parties and is now a stable faction in the Dutch parliament. More details of green parties in various countries can be found on the web

Imagine, if the Naya Mahagathbandhan of greens gets formed and works in coalition with the ruling Government. Imagine if the greens were  to manage few critical portfolios for protecting, preserving and enhancing India’s assets of natural resources – apart from all the gold and cash reserves the RBI has! Will we see an emergence of greens on India’s political canvas? But again, I was not sure whether the greens will function in a balanced manner considering both economic development of the country and balance with protection of the environment. The experience in India as well as in other countries has been rather uneven.

I stayed silent. I must be dreaming.

“This will never happen Dr Modak, let me be frank with you” Professor broke the silence while looking outside the window.

“Do you know that Vasundhara Raje ordered broadening of roads and beautification of the cities by removing the encroachments. In the process, several temples, many of them makeshift ones, were either demolished or removed. This angered the Hindus who thought the BJP was working against the interests of the majority community. And was one of the factors why BJP lost to congress apart from the promise of the loan waivers that Rahul Gandhi made”.

“Dr Modak, this country does not have today any strong national association of professionals, environmental NGOs and academia on the subject of Environmental Management. There is no towering national body that can take on the Government if there is need to be – in the interest of environment. So, forget your hope for the Naya Mahagathbandhan” Professor gave me a kind smile and extinguished his cigar.

Professor was right. Good initiatives even in the interest of environment do not get recognized or supported as what is green for someone is perhaps brown for someone else!

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Seat No B10 in the NCPA


I wrote this post after we attended the 3rd day of the International Jazz Festival at Mumbai’s NCPA last week. The music was great. We met there some of our old friends like Farida Green. It made me feel rather nostalgic.

Kiran, Farida and me at the Foyer of NCPA

This post depicts lives of old, sensitive and graceful souls of Mumbai who love music. I leave the mystic part the story to your judgement.

Mrs. Farzan Chichgar reached the National Centre for Performing Arts (NCPA) at Nariman Point in Mumbai  half an hour before the program was to begin. She lived in the Venus Apartment at Cuffe Parade that wasn’t too far. Her driver John drove her in old Mercedes-Benz 300 SL (1993 edition). He dropped her at the main gate and as she got down, the security guard reached to fetch her and help walk up the staircase.

Mrs. Farzan was a regular at the concerts at NCPA for years. Who would not remember this kind and graceful personality and the way she dressed and carried herself even at the age of 80? Today she was wearing a dress that was in polka dot white black faux silk satin. Her pair of golden rim spectacles was a trademark. These spectacles were made by Phiroze Dastur of Dadar TT Circle in 1980.

Mrs. Farzan walked up slowly and reached the foyer. Her husband Jehangir always reached in just a nick of time before the show, a habit that Mrs Farzan never liked. “Jehangir has simply no sense of time”, Mrs. Farzan often said.  She always liked to reach early and have a coffee with her friends.

She was happy to see her friend Mrs. Todiwala and reached her. They ordered coffees from the counter. Mrs. Todiwala opened her large purse and brought out a box. The box contained soft “mawa” cakes from the Sassanian – a 105 year old restaurant at Dhobi Talao. This Irani restaurant was founded by Meheraban in partnership with  Sharookh Yezdabadi and serves authentic Parsi food even today. Its famously known for its “mawa” cakes and the “kheema” puffs.

The Sassanian

The “Mawa Cake”

“Oh, it’s a great combination to go with this coffee” Mrs. Farzan said while sampling a slice of the mawa cake and thanking Mrs. Todiwala “. Jehangir never understands that there is something like this in life other than music” she said to herself.

Jehangir was a pianist. He worked as an accountant at Tata Sons in his entire life. After his retirement he took up as a piano tutor and started coaching young Parsi kids.

It was the third day of the international Jazz festival featuring MND FLO  and the Clifford Brown Legacy Band.  MND FLO (Mind Flow) –  a New York-based band, was featuring Simon Moullier on vibraphone, Sharik Hasan on piano, Anthony Toth on drums and Alexander Toth on bass. This session was to be followed by the trumpet wizardry of the late, great Clifford Brown band. This band was brought by his grandson, Clifford Brown III featuring Miles Davis’s one-time saxophone player Bennie Maupin along with Rayford Griffin on drums. This was going to be the first tribute to Clifford Brown anywhere outside the United States.

Jehangir is going to love these sessions, Mrs. Farzan muttered as she went through the flyers kept on the tables placed in the Foyer.

The Foyer was now full with people, mostly coming from Colaba, Cuffe Parade, Malabar Hill and Marine Drive areas – the exclusive crowd of South Mumbai. A large number of the people were NCPA members and probably knew each other. The ambience of NCPA provided a good setting “for saying hi”, “catching up” and to “discuss” a bit of music and more of Indian politics and the scams. Lavender flavor dominated the perfumes.

Mrs. Farzan noticed Mrs. Bharucha in the crowd wearing a necklace of large size south pacific pearls. She always shows off – Mrs. Farzan said. And there was Mr Mistry dressed in a black suit standing with his son Ardeshir. Mistry and Mrs. Farzan attended Xavier’s college at the same time. “He still looks so handsome – doesn’t he?” Mrs. Farzan told Mrs. Todiwala.

But Mrs. Farzan was not a person of the “networking type” as she had passed this phase decades ago. Her life today was more private. She got into the auditorium and was guided by the doorkeeper to her seat in the B row at the aisle. Chichgars always chose seat no’s B9 and B10, and Mrs. Farzan would take seat B9.

Jehangir was already there on seat B10. In fact, he was looking around for her. “Thank God Jehangir, this time you are in time” said Mrs. Farzan.

“How come I didn’t  see you in the Foyer?” She asked, “Sometimes you just appear in the chair as if from nowhere!”. Jehangir smiled and fondly held her hand, his hand was a bit cold. He gave her a light kiss on her cheeks.

After their son, Rustom, migrated to California in the United States, the couple lived a bit lonely life in the Venus Apartments. It was good that their old servant Shankar was still around to take care of all the errands. Jehangir would be out the whole day giving piano lessons and going to Freddie-  his school friend for an afternoon rum and coke. Mrs. Farzan would spend time keeping the house tidy and clean, experiment different recipes, listen to the jazz of 1960s and make long phone calls to friends.

Sometimes in the evenings, the couple would ask John to drive to the Bombay Gymkhana and have an early supper, ending with a parsi pudding. They always chose the foyer that had the wonderful cane furniture made by Biloo Mehta.

The Bombay Gymkhana

On every Sunday morning, when Rustom would give a call, both would dress up for the conversation as Rustom used to insist to use Skype on a video mode. Their neighbor’s little daughter Fatima would help them set the Skype on their desktop and even participate in the conversations.

Clifford Brown Legacy Band

The first session by MND FLO was over. Mrs. Farzan was impressed with Simon Moullier on vibraphone. Jehangir whispered “Did you know that this is the first time a vibraphone is played in the NCPA”. Jehangir always had some interesting information to share.

After a short break, the Clifford Brown Legacy Band began. His grandson Clifford Brown III recounted some of the stories of Clifford playing with the stalwarts of American Jazz music. Mrs. Farzan was deeply impressed while listening to the stories of this legacy.  When she turned to Jehangir showing her appreciation, Jehangir said “All what he is saying is not exactly true, he is making up stories for the crowd”. “Oh, come on Jehangir, you always speak as if you know everything – and now you are talking as if you just met Clifford Brown!” Mrs. Farzan whispered, “You are impossible!”

Although she didn’t mean, she must have spoken a bit loudly. NCPA is very strict when it comes to “so called whispering” and “flashing of the mobile phones”. The doorkeeper promptly moved to row B with his torchlight to “silence” the person.

When he beamed his torchlight, he noticed Mrs. Farzan sitting on B9.

He returned to the door and told his colleague

“Its usual Prakash, its Mrs. Farzan once again. The old Parsi lady who books an extra seat B10 that always remains empty.

The colleague understood.

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A ladder to get out of the well


Designing an activity to raise environmental awareness and enthuse the participants towards action is an art and science. It requires both a passion and dedication.

Many “environmental communicators” (a cadre I wish is recognized in the environmental profession) have experimented and presented several pedagogical techniques and tools to make the activity interesting, meaningful and impacting. There is however relatively less documentation of experience and sharing.

The pedagogy is often a mix or a concoction of tools and techniques and you blend depending on the audience, objectives of the engagement, expected outcomes and the resources you have. The chef or the bartender or the conductor of the orchestra “in you” does the right blending and sequencing!

In India, most of us use tools such as PowerPoints, stickers, posters and video clips for environmental communication. Posters have now matured in the form of Infographics that are often creative. My post on Enfographics will give you some examples. You may also like to access the various communication tools we developed on Climate Change. Visit the site to view and download posters, PowerPoint presentations, fact sheets, stickers, children activity books etc. all free. Painting on the walls in the streets (a graffiti) is a recent technique. See my post on Creative Fusion that talks about the graffiti created by Dr Love on the subject of urban air pollution.  Holding exhibitions that display green products, show case innovative solutions on pollution control and monitoring and educate people on sustainable lifestyles is another powerful way to spread awareness on environment. Mobile vans are also used to move into rural and peri-urban areas carrying exhibits for holding demonstrations.

Video clips are now relayed through internet reaching a global audience. Few years ago, I launched a competition for making videos to communicate good stories on saving the environment under a caption “Anvaya” (means positive in Sanskrit). This resulted into some exciting video clips on the themes of waste and water management created by ordinary citizens – old and young. Visit our YouTube channel to view and download a collection of 11 select videos on the theme of waste management.

Street plays are now getting increasingly popular to communicate environmental issues mainly in schools and colleges. I would recommend you to view Street Play on environment ” Parivartan” by students of DAV Pushpanjali and the Nukkad natak on environment awareness. We should do the street plays more often and on a regular basis in local languages. These plays should address not only the local but global environmental issues and introduce good practices and responsible behavior. There is a lot to learn in scripting the street play, participating in it and handling reactions from the audience.

“We should seriously consider developing a course on environmental communication at postgraduate level and give the students an exposure and experience in this important area”. I said to my Professor friend when I was in his office on Sunday morning.

I saw that Professor was already busy. There were several papers on his desk that were piled and crumpled around with lot of scribbling done. He seemed to be writing some kind of script.

“Well Dr Modak, you are asking this question when I am just finalizing a design of an awareness and action event on the subject of Air Pollution” He said this while lighting his cigar.

I was curious when Professor used the term “design”. “What do you mean by the term design Professor?” I asked

“Well, a lot of thinking needs to be done if you want to organize an awareness event Dr Modak?” Professor now moved to the white board to explain to me the “design”. And in the next 5 minutes, this is what appeared on the white board

It appeared to me that Professor was planning to conduct the event in steps. The structure looked fascinating and so I asked Professor to explain.

“Well Dr Modak, this event is for all those interested and for those who want to know and take action on the challenges of urban air pollution. I plan to restrict the participation to only 40 and not more. Interested participants will have to pre-register giving their short profile and interest. All those who register will be able to see profile of other registrants and thus get e-introduced.  More importantly, I will use this information in forming the work groups.

The hall I have chosen can accommodate around 70 participants in a theatre style and so 40 will be accommodated very comfortably. The room has a separate entrance and a good illumination. Besides it is located in a central place in the city and convenient to reach. We will start the event at 2 30 pm and wrap up by 5 30.

The first step is to begin the event in a theatre style sitting.   Here I propose to introduce the challenge of urban air pollution using only picture slides with not  more than 10 words on each. There will be 20 such slides and I will take only 10 minutes (2 30-2 40). This presentation should do the job of “levelling up” the subject, provide a systems perspective on urban air pollution and its connect with Climate Change, a perspective not generally spoken. Having shown the slides, we will devote not more than 5 minutes for any “burning questions” from the audience.

Next, I plan to show three video clips not exceeding 3 minutes each. I have selected the video clips that are essentially statements made by the politicians (like the Premier of China), directors of key global institutions (e.g. UN Environment and WHO) and by citizens who appeal and showcase their efforts on combating air pollution.

Following the videos,  there will be four questions that will be projected on a slide for discussions. These questions will “force” participants to “think out of box”. Participants will spend 10 minutes to express their views. Example, are electric vehicles solution to the problem of urban air pollution? Are the policies on letting vehicles to ply based odd-even number plates or retiring of old vehicles of more than 15 years of age effective? And how about encouraging telecommuting (working from homes)  (2 40 – 3 00)

At this point I expect that the participants are charged enough to get into some action. We therefore break out of the theatre style sitting and ask participants to move to the walls of the room. We plan to place a number of flip charts in the room with thick tip color pens. Each wall takes on one of the questions raised and elaborates using a network diagram, following the technique of “mind mapping”. This wall session puts all participants in some physical action, provides an opportunity to interact and help in a deeper understanding of the challenge! We need to give good time for such a Wall Session of Mapping. I would give a time between 3 to 3 30 for each group for this exercise.

What follows the Wall Session is the presentation by each group leader elaborating their analyses. We give 5 minutes to each group leader followed by an overall discussion (3 30 – 4 -00).  This concludes Step 3.”

I enjoyed the strategy. I could see that the participants were slowly graduating from awareness to action mode and this was happening rather implicitly.  Moreover, it was also a process of collective learning with guidance by the Professor.

Professor lit the second cigar

“Dr Modak, have you used software tools like Mentimeter?” He asked.

I had not come across this tool and so requested Professor to tell me more.

Mentimeter is an easy-to-use presentation software to create fun and interactive presentations. Each participant downloads on a Mentimeter app (that I do before hand) on his/her smartphone. Based on the real time questions that I would put, all participants respond from their smartphones and the Mentimeter creates a word cloud, histograms, 2×2 matrices etc. instantaneously to show the group opinion. Of course, there are several such products available today.

Mentimeter will be a short session say over 10 minutes where some top end questions will be put for a group opinion. I will basically get the priorities understood e.g. Indoor Air Quality or Outdoor Air Quality or priorities towards action e.g. wetting of roads, introducing higher vehicle tax as the vehicle ages or promoting use of electric vehicles etc.  The session will end with a 5 minute discussion (4 00 – 4 15)

Air quality improvement is often viewed narrowly and hence many of the interventions have not been found to be successful. There is a need to address the urban air pollution problem at a regional level (e.g. pollution traversing into the city from “outside” ; forge collaborations or partnerships, push phase outs e.g. of Volatile Organic Compounds and introduce ecological modernization across the polluting industries. Further an integrated approach to address both indoor and outdoor air pollution is necessary. I plan to give a 30 minute presentation as Step 5  (4 15 – 4 45). We don’t give here any time for discussion.

Step 5 maintains the theatrical style and I propose to end by screening a “transformational” video that shows the participants some success stories when a comprehensive and regional approach is followed. I plan to screen video on how Beijing improved the Air Quality over the last 3 years. This video of 5 minutes will be followed by a 15 minute discussion session facilitated by some of my colleagues questioning why cannot India follow the China model? (4 45 – 5-15)

It’s a good idea now to end the event with a feedback and “pledges” what the participants would like to do post the event and their expectations from us on the follow up and any propositions on “joint projects” of action. The event will be wrapped up by 5-30. The participants continue their interactions on Ekonnect’s collaborative platform.

If you do a day long event, you can include a workgroup session (1 hour) to develop action plans. In the workgroup, participants start developing an air quality action plan for the city by not just listing the actions but identifying who should be responsible. Another possibility is to use the Fish Bowl technique where participants take turns to “enter the fishbowl”, express their views and leave the fishbowl for someone else to get in (1 hour).

There are other possibilities as well such as keeping a dust jar outside the room and weighing the dust fall during the meeting period or putting a computer in the foyer with a GHG emission calculator to give participants an idea of the carbon footprint of their lifestyle”

I liked the overall design, especially the logic and creativity. As I was about to leave, I could not resist asking the Professor, “why is your event design of various Steps is showing up like a ladder? – any special reason?”

Professor extinguished his cigar and said

“Dr Modak, pardon me  but to me the participants to the event are sitting or trapped in a “well” of isolation and some ignorance. They don’t see the outside “world”. They only listen but stay inactive. All I am doing is to provide them with a ladder to step out of the well and get motivated towards taking action with all the excitement and knowledge”

“Oh, understood. So, the event is like a ladder to get out of the well” I exclaimed finishing my coffee.

Cover image sourced from Image

I will be conducting such an event on Urban Air Pollution on Thursday, December 13 in Mumbai between 2 30 to 5 30 pm at the Veer Savarkar Smarak, Shivaji Park, Mumbai as organized by Ekonnect.

An announcement will soon be made on Social Media.

In 2019, Ekonnect proposes to conduct such events on various topics once every month.

Please contact me on if you are interested to know more.

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Growth of the Soil, the Telegraph Road and Sustainability

(This post is for readers who love music and especially the rock stars like Dire Straits. I have made an attempt to discover Mark Knopfler’s famous song the Telegraph Road in the context of sustainability and introduce the book “Growth of the Soil” by Knut Hamsun. Enjoy this post with interesting video clips and read the lyrics of Telegraph Road)

“Telegraph Road” is a song by British rock band Dire Straits, written by Mark Knopfler. It appeared on the band’s 1982 album “Love over Gold”. The song was first played live at the opening concert of the band’s “Making Movies” Australian tour (Perth Entertainment Centre, 22 March 1981) as the final encore. Soon the song became a staple of Dire Straits and Mark Knopfler concerts.

The Telegraph Road is a major north-south 70 mile thoroughfare in Michigan in the United States. Mark Knopfler was inspired by a bus ride along Telegraph Road and by the book “Growth of the Soil” by Norwegian author Knut Hamsun when he wrote this song.

Growth of the Soil is regarded as a historical classic. It has been acclaimed by many and won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1920. First published in 1917, the book has since been translated from Norwegian into languages such as English. The novel was written in the style of Norwegian new realism, a movement dominating the early 20th century. The novel exemplified Hamsun’s aversion to modernity and inclination towards simplicity. In this book, Hamsun brought out relationship between his characters and the nature.

Growth of the Soil is a life story of a man in the wilds and the genesis and gradual development of a homestead that leads finally into sadness and conflicts. Modern man faces nature only by proxy, or as proxy, through others or for others, and the intimacy is lost in the so called economic development. In the wilds, the contact with nature is direct and immediate and the touch of the soil often gives the strength. The  book emphasizes importance of patience, the spiritual contentment with life and a loving alliance that is needed between Man and the Nature.

As Worster says “The story is epic in its magnitude, it is calm and steady in an unhurrying rhythm while addressing the vast and intimate humanity. The author looks upon his characters with a great, all-tolerant sympathy, aloof yet kindly, like a God”.

After reading the Growth of the Soil and while travelling on the Telegraph road, Mark Knopfler began to think and wondered how that road must have been when it started. He wrote lyrics to narrate a tale of changing land development over a span of many decades around the Telegraph Road.

In the song, that clocked 14 minutes and 15 seconds,  Knopfler focuses on one man’s personal struggle with unemployment after the city built around the telegraph road becomes uninhabited and barren, just as it began. The song is a metaphor for the development of America and the ruining of one man’s dreams in the wake of its decline, in particular focusing on unemployment. It is a sad story about America’s terminal decline-Factories that got closed and the love fell apart. Without saying explicitly, Mark talks about the need for a sustainable and inclusive development. Please take a minute to read the Lyrics

Before the song’s main theme starts, a quiet crescendo is rolled out in G minor that lasts almost two minutes. After the first verse, the main theme plays again, followed by the second verse. After a guitar solo, that is a short bridge, the song slows down to a quiet keyboard portion similar to the intro, followed by a slow guitar solo. Next, the final two verses are played with the main theme in between. The main theme is played one more time, followed by a slightly faster and amazing guitar solo lasting about five minutes and eventually fading out. The song thus starts slow, works up, and then goes like a train, fast and faster. This transformation is so addictive and wonderful to listen!

Telegraph Road is perhaps the best rock song ever made and probably one the best songs in the history of humanity. There is so much tempo, so much intensity, so much virtuosity, so much art and beauty in this song. Building up of a town, its subsequent flourishing and then facing the economic downturn with no jobs etc. seems a familiar cycle of our modern life. We observe this pattern over the past 50 years in many parts of world!

Today we are all in a cycle of decay (biophysical and moral) and I’m afraid that we cannot return to where we began. We tried in the 80’s and especially in the 90’s; yet failed – despite efforts and now we are on the path of unsustainable development.  Indeed, we have set up collectively the Sustainable Development Goals but honestly, we can’t even think for ourselves – so forget the rest of the world!

Telegraph Road  tells a story that speaks to my heart. I love the dark, gloomy feel at the end as it sends chills over my spine. Listening to Telegraph Road, you feel that Mark saw the future! And think about it, Mark was a young man at the time – so what would he know? But he probably knew and importantly understood how to say the tragedy of greedy economic development through his music.  Who else could write a song about a road and make it so relevant to everything in our history and current existence? The song resonates well with Hamsun’s book – Growth of the Soil.

You may know that Knopfler is part of the kings of the best guitar players of the world like Jimmy Hendrix, Jimmy Page, Eric Clapton, Santana, BB. King, Keith Richards, – all legends of guitar sounds! In Telegraph Road, Knopfler gets emotions out of one guitar note than most can get out of entire solo. This live version of 1983 (see below) puts to shame every song in the last 30 years whether in Studio or Live for that matter.

But you would notice that this man is not just great guitar player, but much more as he understands music better than just rock & roll. His arrangements are brilliant, and lyrics are amazing.  Telegraph Road is a song that is one of the highest expression of the rock music. You get everything there …the guitars, bass, piano, drums with a lot of creativity.

There is not a single weak point in this song.  Its great to see how all his team members are generous with playing their parts for the good performance. Each individual performance however shines. His team members Terry Williams, Alan Clark, Hal Lindes, John Ilsley, Tommy Mandle have made history through Telegraph Road.

I love the powerful drumming by Terry Williams on this tune. Ilisley, the dancing base guitar player, was later inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2018 as a member of Dire Straits. Alan Clark received piano lessons at his young age and at the age of 13, he began to play Hammond organ in working men’s clubs. Its Alan who plays those charming slow notes in the beginning and that wild piano piece at the end of the song.

See below the video clip of Mark in 2005 focusing only on the last 5 minutes of his amazing guitar work. Indeed, he looks aged, standing in a reclining and a rather composed posture, but his fingers still race on the strings as before and with so much with ease and grace. Kudos to him.

You may see a more recent performance of Telegraph Road at Sevilla in 2015 as below

But in both these video clips, you will not see Alan Clarks wild piece of piano at the end of high tempo. Dire Straits split in 1995.

Sustainability can be best understood when we live with nature. Its hard to imagine how could we “feel” sustainability while living in the cities of concrete jungle, spending time in ventilated conference rooms, being in traffic and queuing at the airports. We can only “talk” about sustainability.

Have you taken a walk recently in a forest with your loved one and with no one around? Listening to the birds perched on trees, and watching a squirrel that stops on the road to take a good look at you – the stranger – may simply enthrall you. Sustainability is often unspoken and it is to be experienced and not argued upon.

You don’t have to get convinced then that this road through the forest should ever become another Telegraph Road. Sure, Mark Knopfler and his band will bless you!

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Fighting for the Blue Sky

Last week I was in Beijing to speak at a two-day workshop on Air Quality Improvement in the Beijing-Tianjin and Hebei (BTH) region. The workshop was supported by the Asian Development Bank (ADB).

After I returned, I called my Professor Friend and we decided to meet at our usual coffee place. I was excited to share my experience.

I narrated to Professor about the major air pollution reduction achieved in the BTH under PRCs Blue Sky War program. Since its launch in March 2017, the PM10 and PM2.5 concentrations in the region have been remarkably reduced.

In addition to the reduction in average PM10 and PM2.5 concentrations, there has been a significant decrease in the number of heavily polluted days, especially in the winter period.

“Oh, big deal, Dr Modak” said the Professor. “We are already on the job. Don’t you know that we have now formulated a National Clean Air Programme (NCAP) and more recently come up with a Graded Response Action Plan (GRAP) for the National Capital Region (NCR). We have automated air quality monitoring networks operating in cities across the country that provide air quality data on 24×7 basis and this data is transmitted to the servers at Central and State Pollution Control Boards. Prediction models are also in place that forecast likely pollutant concentrations and issue warnings. Air Quality Indices (AQI) are regularly reported and broadcasted on TV channels. Everybody who watches NDTV understands what is AQI and the magnitude of air pollution”

“But Professor, we have lots of air quality related action plans e.g. in Maharashtra – but only to talk about. And we have been collecting huge air quality data but that is hardly analyzed and is lying currently in the coffins. On the other hand, the levels of air pollution have been rising all the time like the prices of the petrol and diesel” I protested.

I learnt in the Chinese workshop that there are 3 As of Air Quality Improvement – Ambition, Awareness and Action. I thought that all we have achieved is some improvement in awareness, but we are in poor shape when it comes to ambition and action.

I continued. “Do you know Professor that the President Xi of PRC said that “air quality is direct indicator of happiness” and “air pollution is one the top three national priorities”. I don’t remember whether our PM has made any such statement on India’s plight on air pollution. We lack the political will and push towards a committed and concerted action on reducing air pollution unless it becomes part of the election manifest and I hope it does”

In PRC, the NDRC (equivalent to India’s Niti Aayog) and Ministry of Finance are also involved  apart from Ministry of Ecology and Environment (MEE). In India, Ministry in charge is MoEFCC that is a weak ministry in terms of clout, budget, expertise and experience”

“But we have the Supreme Court of India that promptly takes action” Professor said this while tapping his cigar on the ash tray. I looked at this face. He looked serious, but I could not figure out whether he was serious or sarcastic.

Professor continued.

“Don’t compare situation in India and that in PRC. Much of the emission reduction in BTH region has been achieved by shutting down and relocating highly polluting and economically weak industries, closing obsolete industrial boilers and moving from coal-based heating & cooking to natural gas. In September and October 2017, over 130,000 polluting industries in the BTH were closed. This kind of bulldozing approach is possible only in the regime like in PRC. Just the political will would not work, and a supreme power of enforcement is necessary to bring in the desired change.

In India, do you think such a kind of enforcement is possible? Take the case of the challenge of relocation of polluting industries in Delhi. In 1996, the Delhi State Industrial and Infrastructure Development Corporation (DSIIDC) had, under the relocation scheme for industrial establishments, allotted plots to factory owners running their units from residential areas. And as far back as 2003, the Supreme Court, in its judgment in MC Mehta v Union of India, had directed that all industrial units that had come up in non-conforming areas on or after August 1, 1990 should be closed within a given timeframe. But, even in 2018, as the DSIIDC listing proves, these industrial units continue operations from residential areas.” I thought Professor made an interesting point.

But I did not give up.

I said “Do you know Professor that the problem of air pollution in the cities like BTH is a result of emissions not just from the cities, but due to emissions transported from the neighboring region. The source apportionment studies carried out indicate around 50% of regional contribution. This led to formulation of a regional action plan for BTH with a special department set up in MEE with a mandate, funds and authority. Inter-agency coordination, cooperation and harmonization were the principal pillars. One of the reasons behind the success of BTH region is such an “out of the box” approach”

Professor smiled. “ Dr Modak, We are fully aware of the need to take a regional perspective. In the NCR for example, we know that emissions are also contributed due to burning of stubble in the agricultural fields of the neighboring States of Punjab, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan. Our Supreme Court has already given directions and the State Governments are monitoring and enforcing a ban on stubble burning and providing finance to the farmers to do in-situ management of agricultural residue.”.

I had my doubts on the effectiveness of such a so called “coordinated carrot and stick approach” –but I decided not to question the Professor.

“Talking about agriculture” I said, “Chinese scientists have estimated contribution to the PM2.5 due to release of ammonia from agricultural fields, piggeries and animal husbandries surrounding the cities. The air quality action plan for the BTH therefore includes measures to reduce consumption of fertilizers, make the animal husbandries “green” through environmentally sound operations; restructuring them through closure, agglomeration, modernization and exposing them to better waste segregation and utilization practices”

“I am aware of this work” said the Professor. “The relative contribution of this strategy to PM2.5 reduction is only 10% – so we are going to look at this perspective later and not on priority. As such our farmers are already agitated on the issue of MSP”

I thought of “elevating” our discussions to global issues like climate change. One of the important features of the air quality action plan for BTH region is the inclusion of actions on GHG mitigation. The idea of these integrated action plans was to simultaneously address the objectives of air pollution reduction while achieving climate protection goals.

Researchers in the BTH are already doing economic assessment of air quality improvement actions using a carbon price in the range of USD 3-5/ton (Simulations in the EU use carbon price of USD 20 and ADB uses 37 USD, figures much higher. In India we simply don’t factor GHG mitigation in the formulation of urban air quality action plans nor include carbon pricing)

The action plans in the BTH are in the form of packages of policies and policy driven actions. A policy package consists of several policies and strategies, carefully selected such that  they synergize and avoid conflicts between pollution reduction and GHGs. A cost benefit analyses of various policy packages is then done through simulation to identify  least cost solutions while aligning with the long term goals. Special plans are developed to deal with episodic conditions in the winter period. The bottom line is that all action plans or policy packages should make an economic sense.

In contrast, we follow a checklist approach. Many times we look at actions without supporting policies, institutional framework and financing. We look at actions in isolation and not in packages.

PRC is using air quality improvement as a driver or proxy to “ecological modernization” of its industries. Grants to the region are given based on air pollution reduction achieved and not on the severity of pollution. So, performance on the ground matters.

As regards coal, technologies that reduce coal consumption are innovated, piloted and promoted through “green financing” for higher penetration. Green financing platforms such as BTH Air Quality Improvement Fund are created to lend industries for needed investments. Projects are assessed based on quantification of economic, environmental and social benefits.

ADB provided a loan of 458 million Euro and this line of credit was used to leverage 3.6 billion Euros domestically through commercial financing. This led to mitigation of  8.5 million tons of CO2 apart from benefit of air quality improvement. To accelerate the investments, market mechanisms such as Green Power Trading System were set up apart from emission reduction related regulatory directives.

Most interesting is the establishment of a leap frogging fund (with assistance of ADB), to promote “high end technologies” and innovations. Focus has been the high air polluting industrial sectors like steel, cement, chemicals by doing pilots, followed by commercialization.

The idea is to achieve “deep industry transformation” and apply the directives under the law on circular economy to improve the energy mix through clean fuels and promotion of renewable energy. This transformation gives a competitive advantage to the industries while curbing air emissions. In Delhi NCR for instance, we could build further on the work done on “zig-zag technology for brick making, and topping with technical assistance and financing.

During the workshop, a detailed presentation was made on the application of Tapio Decoupling Model. The results  indicated that there were economic benefits in terms of rise in the GDP over long run after an initial phase of 3 to 4 years of economic disadvantage. This result was comforting to justify investments to curb air emissions.

I could clearly see a much wider perception of air quality improvement infrastructure and investments in PRC. In India, we lack such an approach where innovation, modernization and financing are linked to conventional regulatory control. Our approach is limited or narrow, reactive, rather negative and not opportunistic.

No wonder that the Chinese proverb says that every crisis is an opportunity! In India all we are doing is recommend people to stay indoors, install indoor air purifiers and wear masks when outside. We install dust sucking systems at the traffic junctions to make a noise and show proof of “action”!

As we were about to leave the coffee house, we heard bursting of fire crackers outside. I looked at the Professor quizzically. “Well, Dr Modak, initially the idea was to completely ban the fire crackers; but given the sentiments of the people, our Supreme Court has lifted the ban asking the cops to be more vigilant and examine the results of air pollution monitoring post Diwali.” He said

I told Professor that fire crackers are banned in China and now even during the festive seasons. Idea is to curb emissions of PM2.5 and stop release of toxic and hazardous chemicals.

Fighting for the Blue Sky is the national priority.

“Oh, then what happens to the economic loss of the fire cracker manufacturers in China?” Professor exclaimed.

“I guess the Chinese fire crackers will now get increasingly exported to India” I said this sheepishly while settling the bill.

In response, Professor did not  speak and instead pointed his finger to the grey sky above.

Do view the video clip below on Beijing’s air quality.

You may like to read UNEP’s most recent report on Air Pollution in the Asia and Pacific – Science based Solutions 

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Pebbles in Turquoise – Stories in Blue and Green

Dear Readers,

This new book of collection of my posts is after the first two editions  ‘Sixty Shades of Green: Musings on Sustainability‘ and  ‘Blue, Green and Everything in Between: Musings on Life, Love and Sustainability‘. This third edition  pulls together another 50 of my blog posts.

Pebbles in Turquoise – Stories in Blue and Green is a blend between “Green” and “Blue” and a a collection that is like pebbles scattered on a beach. It attempts to create a place where you can chill, listen to the sound of waves and watch the blue sky.

The Blue carries my anecdotes from my personal experience with people, places and life. The Green is presented in a semi-fictional and satirical style with sustainability as the focus. As before, the book  comes with rich and attractive illustrations (doodles).

Take a look at the Table of Contents – TOC

You can find the book on the website of Amazon, Amazon India and Pothi. The book will soon be available on Flipkart.

Avail the Print on Demand Service.

What do readers have to say about the articles in this Book? 

“Heart-warming and so philosophical. Loved it. ”

“That was a really witty article and hard hitting at the same time. Love to read your blogs always !“

“Amazing imagination. I loved this blog of yours. People often forget that love is what we all need and work is just a part of life. thanks for reminding this. Keep loving and writing”

“Mystery is a different genre.. Enjoyable reading with a twist on the end.”

“You are truly a magician with the words. The last incident seems so unbelievable.”

“You are indeed a fantastic writer Dr Modak – thoughts are coming from within the heart and translated into words …”

“Reading your blog – one becomes aware of the questions one forgets to ask – when a rhetoric dominates thinking !:)”

“Wow, a fantastic morning to start with. Your lovely selective words make us to feel the experience what you had in Vienna.”

“Really aptly said, Dr Modak. Most of the CSR heads are just post filled by the extras, who thinks environment and sustainability is very easy task to handle and anyone can do that. Really enjoyed your blog!”

“Hehehe… forget the technical topics Doctor, keep writing under the heading ‘My experiences’”

“It is hilarious and perhaps best piece of satire I have ever read.”

“Fantastic ! The Missionaries of Segregation and the 3Rs must be smarting in their cocoons !!”

“informative but satirical article .how far Indian people will follow god only knows. Worth publishing in daily news-paper.”

“Richard Feynman Prasad Modak birds of the same feather.carrying knowledge,wisdom lightly ,communicating obtruse subject in lighter vein yet never failing imparting profound material lucidly with telling effect.”

“Left me speechless and with mixed bag of emotions. Guess it’s time for a little drag in the balcony of my hostel and have a recall myself. : ) Thank you for such a nice read.”

“Your today’s blog reads like a suspense movie sitting on the fence between reality & fiction.”

“From profligacy to prudence and parsimony – the journey can begin only with awareness! And your blog shares that awareness even to a lay reader like me!”

Rise of the Demons from Beneath


We often discuss in the environmental circles the problem of indiscriminate pollution, our dwindling resources and global impacts like climate change.

We have framed regulations and standards to control various sources of pollution with monitoring and enforcement bestowed to agencies like the Pollution Control Boards (PCBs) and Urban Local Bodies (ULBs). Despite all these efforts, non-compliance is still an issue; judiciary has now stepped in and staff from PCBs and ULBs spends more time in the courts. I don’t know to what extent we feel safe to live in the environment.

We often miss the issue of soil pollution and land contamination. While we do track the status of our ground water, only recently we have started building our understanding on the extent and severity of groundwater contamination. The findings have been alarming, and many studies have linked the contaminated ground water to the occurrence of cancers.

In December 2015, a report was submitted to the Ministry of Environment & Forests & Climate Change (MoEFCC) captioned Inventory and Mapping of Probably Contaminated Sites in India. This report identified 320 contaminated sites.

Researchers from IIT Delhi published status on more than 60 dump sites contaminated by disposal of municipal solid waste, outlined remediation efforts needed and articulated challenges such as financial support  and lack of standards and guidelines for remediation.

Government of India started a program CBIMP (Capacity Building for Industrial Pollution Management) focusing on contaminated sites management. The program attempted remediation of few contaminated sites as pilot and produced a report on Options and standards for remediation of polluted sites Key output Report Task 3 Development of Methodologies for National Programme for Rehabilitation of Polluted Sites in India

Unfortunately, the CBIMP did not produce results that were expected especially to facilitate the formulation of national standards for remediation of contaminated soils. The funds for remediation that were allocated got swapped to address concerns by State Governments on GST!  Clearly the Government did not have remediation of contaminated lands as a priority. Today, our soil, agriculture and food continue to remain at utmost risks. Uptake of pollutants (especially heavy metals) in the crops that are cultivated on these lands or on lands nearby results into contaminated food.

But the problem of contamination is not just due to industrial wastes and municipal dump sites. It is also due to high consumption of questionable and spurious insecticides and fertilizers in the agriculture. Use of contaminated water for irrigation is yet another contributor.

Pesticides have been linked to a range of health problems, including cancer, developmental problems and lower IQ in children. Organophosphates pesticides – which are potent neurotoxins – can damage children’s intelligence, brain development and nervous systems even in low doses.

The Environmental Working Group (EWG), a non-profit advocacy agency in the United States releases their list of the most contaminated fruits and vegetables – and apples have been ranked as the most contaminated – fifth year in a row. The Dirty Dozen list includes the top 12 fruits and veggies with the highest amount of pesticide residues. It was found that pesticides persisted on fruits and vegetables even when they were washed or peeled.

The FAO report titled ‘Soil Pollution: A Hidden Reality’ was released in 2018 at a two-day global symposium in Rome. This report, which is a synthesis of existing scientific research, identifies six soil-related human health risks and three of them are linked to soil pollution. These are soil contaminated with dangerous elements (for example, arsenic, lead and cadmium), organic chemicals like PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls) and PAHs (polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons) or pharmaceuticals such as antibiotics or endocrine disruptors.

At present 67 pesticides that have been banned in the US, the EU and other nations are still in use in India. Consequently, the concentration of toxic metals in grains and vegetables grown in contaminated soils have increased at alarming rates. This poses a serious threat to humans and the environment because of its toxicity, non-biodegradability and bioaccumulation.

Refer to a comprehensive work reported in Heavy metal polluted Soils in India: status and countermeasures S. Rajindiran, M.L. Dotaniya, M. Vassanda Coumar, N.R. Panwar and  J.K. Saha Division of Environmental Soil Science ICAR-Indian Institute of Soil Science Bhopal 462 038, India

Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) published thresholds for  Crop contaminants in 2011.  Field investigations have shown that there are several instances where these thresholds are violated posing a great risk to the consumers.

But then these “demons lying beneath” do not stop there. There are economic impacts too. India’s exports of grains, fruits and vegetables are now  under international scanner and rejections of wheat and rice consignment due to contamination reasons are increasingly seen.  Examples are cases of pesticides such as carbosulfan, chlorpyriphos, endosulfan, and quinalphos. If the farmers use these pesticides, their produce in fresh or processed form will have traces of such chemicals and will face rejection in countries such as the US, the EU and Japan.

Just to illustrate, the European Commission has recently brought down in basmati rice the maximum residue limit (MRL) level for Tricyclazole, a fungicide used by farmers against a disease, to 0.01 mg per kg from the next year. This was done for all countries. India exports two major aromatic basmati rice varieties — PB1 and 1401 – to the EU. The shipments of these varieties with Tricyclazole MRL at 0.03 mg per kg were accepted so far from India but now a new threshold of  0.01 mg per kg  will have to be met. This can certainly hit the export market with Pakistan getting an advantage as it does not use Tricyclazole.

Decades of intense agricultural production have left China’s soil seriously polluted and its water depleted. Overuse of fertilizers, together with dumping of industrial waste, is a major factor behind soil contamination. About 3.33 million hectares of China’s farmland is too polluted to grow crops. The contaminated area is roughly the size of Belgium. Given this alarming situation on contaminated lands and food, China is set to become more dependent on imported grains, oilseeds and meat, according to a recent report published by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the OECD. This is a huge economic impact unless corrective efforts are orchestrated on priority.

Clearly, the circles of understanding pollution are widening. The environmental risks  (a term that we seldom discuss) –  we are facing today and will continue to face – are beyond our fragmented and limited environmental governance.

We need to connect the dots between pollution, water, agriculture and food for a better understanding and towards developing a strategic approach.  Of course we still need to worry about BOD, COD, PM10 and the like, but we must think beyond – to understand the pathways of pesticide residues and heavy metals.

Remember – what goes to the soil and percolates down, gives only an illusion that the problem is out of sight.

The problem however hides only for a while, metamorphoses and rises from beneath like demons in disguise.

This is rather worrisome.

Are we prepared enough?


Cover image sourced from

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