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.


The Sticker with an Angel

I am posting this article based on from my personal experiences. This story is a bit unusual. It is  cast in three scenes with a setting in Bangkok.

Its about Champo and Achara. Of course the names have been changed.

Scene 1

I was involved for a year for a project on the industrial estate of Samut  Prakarn in Bangkok. I used to make two weeks mission every three months.

I met Champo and Achara during my project. We became extremely good friends and we still are.

Achara was a pretty office secretary, knew accounts, spoke French – and was a great book lover. Champo was a mechanical engineer by training and worked as  the PR person for the project, doing outreach of Cleaner Production and Industrial Efficiency project to the industries. He was dam good in his job.

Champo’s family came from Myanmar and settled in Bangkok over two generations. The family was rich with considerable political clout in Yangon. In Burmese, Champo means someone who is friendly.

Champo must be around 30 years. A very jovial person. He was a frequent visitor to the Massage parlors in Bangkok. And he was extremely knowledgeable when it came to the gory details of this nightly industry.

I learnt lot from Champo about Bangkok’s notorious massages, especially at the soapy parlors. All soapy massages in Thailand have either a fishbowl or sideline girls and in few parlors the “modelling girls”. A fishbowl is a big room which has a glass wall. You’re on one side of the glass and the “soapy girls” sit on the other side. Every soapy girl has a badge attached to her clothing with a number, this is the number you give the mamasan (manager of the girls) when you select your girl. Being a regular visitor, Champo knew which number to ask from the fishbowl.

A fishbowl in the Massage Parlor 

Sideline girls sit on a chair or sofa. You can approach these girls and talk to them unlike the girls in the Fishbowl. Sideline girls are very much like freelancing Thai hookers, they have no set hours and can come and go as they please. Usually they charge more.

And there are Modeling girls who feature in the fashion magazines and are really expensive to book.

Champo must be spending huge money– as he used to visit the parlors practically thrice a week and go for sideliners and the modelling girls. I guess his rich dad sent him money every month as much as what he got as a salary.

Champo used to talk about his night life only to me and when Achara was not around. I was interested to get from him his interesting stories and experiences in dealing with the massage girls. I used to recommend that he should consider writing a guidebook and make money!

I told Champo that it is the eighth wonder of the world that he is not yet hit by STDs and HIV given the potential risk of being with the sex workers. He used to ignore my warnings and instead give a sweet smile.

Scene 2

I stopped my missions as the Samut Prakarn project got over. Achara had left the job earlier and it seemed that she got into a book publishing company. Champo got a job in managing a chain of supermarkets – the Central. PR was his USP and that came handy while picking up this job.

We however remained in touch via emails and FB. I did make trips in between on other projects but we could never get together.

In 2008, I did a short visit to Bangkok and met Achara. She had joined as a manager at the Dasa Bookstore. That was the kind of job she was craving for.

But before I proceed, I must tell you a bit about this amazing place.

Dasa Bookstore was opened in 2004, It sells and exchanges all types of second-hand books. The store stocks more than 20,000 books and is  known for its high English classics and inspiring biographies.  The ground floor holds the more contemporary and lifestyle orientated books with the likes of general fiction, travel, art, and cookbooks. The second-floor houses mainly novels of all sorts – thriller, tragedies, and westerns. Above all this, stacks upon stacks of English and European literature classics are heaped on the third and final floor.

Dasa Book Store

I saw Achara  on the ground floor in the floor managers cabin on a Monday evening. She asked for a coffee with some chocolate donuts. We had great conversations and remembered all the good times we had together.

“Do you meet Champo?” I asked

“Oh. We are in touch. He comes to the Queen Bee that is just next doors on Tuesdays” Achara said.

“Then let us give him a surprise. I will come to Dasa by 7 pm tomorrow and we will walk up to Queen Bee”

She readily agreed.

Scene 3

Queen Bee is a bar on Sukhumvit Soi 26 and just a 4 min walk from the Dasa Book store. It looks like most of the bars you can find tucked in the soi (lane) in Bangkok. But what makes it different is the music, and in particular, the Open Mic Tuesday night. During Open Mic, anyone could get on the stage, sing or play an instrument. No wonder why Champo visited Queen Bee on a Tuesday.

Queen Bee

I met Achara at the Das. She lifted a box that was neatly packed.

“This box is for Champo“. She explained.

We walked to Queen Bee and I helped Achara to carry the box.

Champo was sitting on a bar stool and listening to the Open Mic performer. He was simply shocked to see me with Achara.

“Oh my dear friend – long time no see”. He got up and hugged me emotionally.

I saw his face had some signs of age that were catching up. There were wrinkles on his face, few stands of white hair were noticeable and there were dark spots under his eyes. The job at the supermarket chain must be taxing, I thought.

We asked for beer Singha. He held my hand and talked a lot about his work life and his family. Champo was not still married and lived alone.

When Achara went to the loo, I winked and asked Champo about his massage parlor visits

“Oh, I haven’t stopped.  I now go to new places. This industry is rapidly changing”. Champo had new information to share.

While he was explaining, I noticed the girl sitting alone at the bar.

These are the kind of girls Champo must be spending time with. I didn’t know what to say.

When Achara returned, Champo asked her

Did you get my box?

Achara showed the box that we had kept under the table.

“Hey Prasad, I have to go. Let us catch up again before you fly out. We will ask Achara to coordinate and fix a nice place, may be over a healthy lunch?”

Champo seemed to be in a hurry and had an appointment. But after listening to him on his continued visit to the massage parlors, I found that I wasn’t particularly interested to meet him again.

He must be going to the Darling Turkish Bath on Soi 12 – I said to myself.

As Champo left Queen Bee, Achara looked at me and spoke

“Prasad, I must share with you a news. Champo and I are getting married. We will have a marriage ceremony just around Christmas. His family will join from Yangon. You must come with your family”

I just couldn’t believe.

Are you crazy Achara?  I couldn’t control my voice.

I then spoke about Champo’s affinity towards girls and the massage parlors, concluding that he is not the man for a decent, innocent and talented person like Achara.

It was hard for me to reveal the truth.

Achara heard me patiently and then said

“Oh, in that case you probably don’t know much about Champo and what he does. For the last several years, Champo has been actively engaged in helping and reforming the sex workers. He pays the charge when he visits a massage parlor but does not ask for a massage or sex from the girl. Instead, he gets into a conversation, helps the girl to open out, relax and help find an alternate profession to live.

Being with Champo has been a relieving experience to these exploited women. Many cry and many just stay rested on his shoulders. He has now formed an association in Bangkok and Chiang Mai to rescue the girls and help them to live a respectable and secured life.This is how he has been spending most of his money and for a good cause”

I was simply amazed to know this hidden or “other side” of Champo. I remembered Nestor Patou (Jack Lemmon)  doing the same for Irma La Douce (Shirley McClean). That was in the movie Irma La Douce.

Achara continued

As a friendly gesture, Champo started gifting the girls a book to read. I choose the books for him from Dasa. I find the most appropriate and easy to read a book that can inspire the girls. I bring him a box of such books to distribute whenever we meet.

The Sticker with an Angle

And, as a gesture to remember, Champo puts a sticker on the book he gifts – the sticker with an angel. A sticker of affection and confidence.

(I understood. In Thai “Achara” means an angel who is very pretty – so no wonder Champo chose such a sticker!)

Achara left the Queen Bee after this explanation. I stayed on – stunned and sitting in daze.

The lonely girl at the bar with a large purse came to pay

While looking for a wad of Thai notes, she took out a book from her purse.

The book had Champo’s sticker with an angel!

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My New Year Resolution


[This is my last post of 2018. A very happy new year to all my readers. Stay well. Stay happy]

This week is going to be of Xmas celebrations and we are going to soon hit the New Year. Despite our difficult and painful lives, we all are looking forward to a positive and  a “feel good” 2019.

I asked my wife what should we plan for the 31st night.

Go out for a dinner with friends? The wife wasn’t excited with this option.

“All good places to eat out are booked and those available will be horrendously expensive” she retorted.

I suggested that instead we stay home, have a quiet dinner and have one of reserve wines at home and do some conversations that we seldom get an opportunity to do. We can then be in the bed watching television channels or a Netflix or Amazon movie that will help us to sleep with nice dreams.

“Too drab an idea” The wife said.

She had a long call with Kavita one of her close friends and the verdict came that we invite few of our friends’ home for dinner and celebrate the 31st night. The friends were to be close one, those who talk sense, i.e. don’t discuss politics, don’t overdrink and are willing to get food along (pot luck style)

I said fine.

“Kavita wanted to know what is going to be your new year resolution? Her husband Pravin has announced that he is giving up smoking. Another friend Vivek has wowed that he will shed 10 kgs in 2019 and stay maintained. His wife Anjali has decided that she will go Vegan. Each one is making a plan and will be talking about it when they will come home for dinner.

All want to know about your New Year resolution. Have you made any plan? I want you to come up with something that is much different from others – and please don’t be conventional like you are always” The wife said in a worrisome tone.

“Don’t worry” I said. I will say something extraordinary. I assured my wife

She however wasn’t convinced with my assurance. She insisted that I speak about it and NOW!. Such a nagging person she is.

“Ok, from January 1, 2019 onwards I will live a sustainable life”

I said this with utmost sincerity and as solemnly as possible.

I saw my wife shocked.

“This is terrible. No one will understand this sustainability jargon. Besides, this will hardly impress anybody. It does sound a bit unconventional though” She reacted in a rather disappointing tone.

She quizzed “Can you explain if someone asks you what is living sustainably? “I thought this sounded like a rehearsal.

I made an attempt.

“Easy, I will get up. Brush my teeth with a datun and not use the plastic toothbrush and the “chemical” toothpaste. Wont shave every day but just once a week and on Sundays. This will reduce water consumption, reduce use of shaving cream and aftershave and the hazard of disposable shaving blades.

I will take shower with cold water. I will not use hot water even if that was heated by a solar panel (as there are serious end of life impacts of exhausted PV cells).

I will dry myself with a towel that is not dyed (reducing thereby manufacturing of nasty chemical dyes) and reuse three times before giving for washing or until it stinks. I will use toilet paper that is not bleached white. These simple steps will improve India’s resource security, reduce Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions by 20 tons/year according to Gabi – a popular and no-nonsense Life Cycle Assessment software.

I saw that my wife was impressed and was listening attentively.

“There will be radical changes in my clothes as well. No full shirts from January 2019. I will wear only half shirts as a policy (like short dhoti by Mahatma Gandhi). This decision will tremendously reduce the environmental overburden as it will cut down 0.6 meters of cloth per shirt, associated consumption of dyes, water used in making and in washing  and of course the amount of detergents. Remember that the cloth I will use will be developed out of the waste fabric and blend plastic found on the oceans. I will thus sport circularity”

“Oh, you will look really unconventional when you will dress up this way” The Wife was now even more impressed. But you must talk about it. She sounded practical.

I thought she was right. Sustainable living must be loudly communicated and bragged about. Otherwise how will people know.

“I will now reach office using a bicycle. This will help reduce air emissions and help improve Mumbai’s Air Quality Index. Besides it will help me to exercise daily, saving fees to the Gym. I will become fit and slim reducing thereby my medications. Sustainable living saves costs.

I am asking driver Ganesh to resign from January 1, 2019.  I will give him an alternate job or a good retirement package so that there is no adverse social impact on his family due to my sustainable living.”  I was sure that these behavioral changes and generosity will impress my friends and make them guilty as most drive the diesel SUV guzzlers.

“Oh, you have to practice using cycle first as you haven’t ridden a cycle for years. And remember you are not in Amsterdam but in Mumbai. Mumbai roads are not designed for cycles. Perhaps, we could think of shifting your office close to our house so that you could simply walk. Of course, walk with a mask. The wife said while pouring ginger tea in my mug.

I was aware that this office shifting decision will cost me a lot but who cares. Afterall, living sustainably is more important. But I should somehow manage to monetize the reduced GHG emissions” I spoke to myself.

I continued

“There will be no plastic water bottles in my office. And there will be no air conditioners. Vegan food will be compulsory for the staff as it reduces global warming. All illumination will be with energy efficient lighting. These measures will reduce our costs and we will become more competitive.

Waste from the office will be minimum and if waste is generated then will be sent for recycling. This  will lead to improvement in the livelihoods of the waste pickers and recyclers of Mumbai. Everybody will be happy as “they and us” will profit from our drive on sustainability”

“Aha, so you mean sustainability can help making profits, I didn’t realize”. My wife was now really excited. “If you save or make money by practicing sustainable living, then I can shop more in the malls ”

I was stunned by her thinking, but I didn’t argue as I saw innocence on her face.

“Talking about shopping, I will visit only those malls who are built as green buildings even if they charge more for all that organic food. I will not buy an imported  strawberry jam from the United States and instead shop the strawberry jam made in Mahabaleshwar. Local shopping is the key in living sustainably”

“Oh, you are now taking like a Messiah. I see your face glowing with the knowledge of the ultimate truth”

My wife offered me a buttered toast to go with the Ginger tea.

I realized that I was getting bit carried away and needed to “slow down” my “marketing” towards sustainability. I should not hurry and talk too much on 31st  night. I said to myself.

But I continued.

“And while others may have wine, I will stay away from wine from 31st night onwards. I will do this not because my diabetes but because the embedded water in a bottle of wine. Do you know that 125 ml of wine in a glass consumes 125 liters in the making? By giving up on wine, I will help in improving the water security of the world”

“Oh, this is so thoughtful of you” The wife offered me some more Ginger Tea. “All this you must explain to your friends on 31st night”. I saw dimples on her face when she smiled.

I slurped the tea that she poured and gave her my last idea.

“Till I get accustomed to use then bicycle or find money to my new office near our house or rehabilitate driver Ganesh, I will work from home on all Tuesdays. Working from home (called telecommuting) for a day every week will reduce the fossil fuel consumption and so the GHG emissions”

The wife was not too happy.

“I don’t think this is a good idea as on all Tuesdays,  we the wives, meet at our place for book reading. All these women will hate your presence. You better work from your office and doesn’t matter if there will be some GHG emissions.”

And please don’t be so unconventional”

I saw my wife’s  face was disturbed.

I retreated. I went to the library room – my usual hiding place.

I realized that to my wife sustainable living was something unconventional to talk about. Something so simple and straightforward an interpretation.

Oh, now I understood how to communicate sustainable living.

Cover image sourced from

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