Eating is an agricultural act - Wendell Berry

Thursday, March 29, 2007

bhoo cheen (land grab)

1951 was when vinoba bhave launched the historic bhoodan movement.

the movement is fascinating. they actually managed to get 1.3 million acres of land redistributed (source here). considering that vinoba's target was 50 million acres, it could be deemed a failure. that would be the half-empty-glass approach.

i remember somewhere reading gandhi's quote "vinoba is more gandhian than me."

in this regard and what we have been reading of late, especially in bengal, is distressing. it is the very anti-thesis of bhoodan.
across the country, land is being sought after with a kind of greed and brutality only seen by the territory-expanding phase of the emperors (alexander, genghis khan etc).

someone writes on the state's role in land reform in bihar here.
earlier posts on this topic are here and here

college kids

i was recently at vesit (engg college) for a panel discussion with mayank shekhar and rajeev paul (of mumbai mirror and nach baliye fames respectively). the topic was the state of education for the less privileged.

not at all planned from my end. one of my colleagues backed out and i had to fill in.

was quite an experience. mayank and rajeev were much more clued-in and solution-oriented than i expected. (that's a stereotype wiped out).

the discussion orbited around 2 points:
1. lack of role models for the youth to take up social causes.
2. ability to take on the road less travelled.

while i tried to downplay, somehow my educational background was out in the open and a lot of ooh and aahs. sometimes it does help to use those tags (will tell you why later).

i was compelled to try to break the boundaries in their minds by getting them to act and probably show them.
1. after the session, i helped the kids arrange the chairs.
2. me and another girl picked up the trash from the grounds where they were serving food.
3. took them on a slum tour right out side the college.
4. one rousing speech right outside their campus.

so this one student asks - "whats the use of an iit education if you are doing this". i said "you guys would not be listening to me if i wasn't. for me, that's a good enough use."

towards the end, a group of kids from the slum also had congregated, wondering what the commotion was all about.
stupendous development. the college kids wanted to work with kids, the kids wanted to get taught.
bingo, dalal master csm.

hope they make it happen.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

cars - oh my god - corrigendum

the calculations though flawless, the final numbers achieved are suspect.

the total number of cars in delhi = 25 million is surely way off target as the total human population is only around 12 million. so it is likely that the number of cars is more likely to be in the 2-3 million range. so that is a 10 times reduction.

so annual fuel consumption is likely to be in the range of 5 million MTs.
that means the usa is 100 times gas-guzzlier than india. woooow.

the numbers still remain scary.

Monday, March 26, 2007

cars - oh my god

swaminathan s anklesaria aiyar writes this interesting article on social costs of cars. this is his website with all his articles.
he quotes reports made by the center for science and environment. these are the folks which did the explosive pesticola story a couple of years ago.
The parking space occupied by cars is estimated by CSE at 11% of Delhi’s area,
as much as all its parks put together. That is a measure of the social cost.

total area of delhi (from wikipedia) is 1483 sq km
11% of that = 163 sq km = 163 million sq mt
average car is 4 mt long by 1.6 m wide (see here for maruti suzuki esteem dimensions) = 6.4 sq mt
total no. of cars = 25 million
see this article from cse again on delhi and pollution and cars.
if this is 17% of all cars in india, then we have 147 million cars in india.
at 1 liter fuel per day, we have an annual car fuel consumption across the country = 54 billion liters = 50 million MTs of fuel consumed at a very conservative estimate.

staggering numbers. this is just india.
the usa is at 10 times india's level at 500 million MTs of fuel per annum (i did the calculations from the numbers quoted there).
i am really scared now.
CSE’s efforts to raise the parking rate to Rs 120/day in Delhi were kayoed by the middle class and politicians.

this is the least that car users should fork out for the enormous burden that they are forcing the others to carry, not even costing the immense degradation they are causing.

scared still.

Friday, March 23, 2007

time zone

2 japanese enter the office at 2 pm.

stutteringly, they say, "we are here for a 3 o'clock meeting".
i want to ask, "japan time or indian" .
i say, "please sit".

devilish intent. will ask next time when i get the chance :-)

my earlier post which talks about japanese and time.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007


this is an interesting topic. it means increasing the size of a meal. associated with mcdonalds. read here from wiki. the golden arches company ran into serious health activists on this campaign and had to withdraw it due to obesity concerns.

there is even a movie on this subject - super size me.

so here goes my story of supersizing in a completely unexpected place.

place - andheri railway station season ticket counter
time - 230 pm

csm - can i get 3 routes done on one ticket?
ticket seller (ts) - which ones?

csm - andheri to churchgate on western railway, andheri to vt on harbour line and vt to mankhurd on harbour line.

ts - no. you will have to make 2 tickets.
csm - um, ok.

ts - one month?
csm - yes.

ts - don't you travel to thane, kalyan, dombivali?
csm - (totally dumbstruck hearing the question) no. this is good enough.

totally hilarious i felt. was smiling through the next hour.
good to see the mac attitude in the ts.

lallu zindabad.

Monday, March 19, 2007

overdose - cricket and more

it is world cup time - needs no reminding. needs no minding either.

it is again the time for overdoses - TV, stress, jingoism, 'national' pride, sachin, mandira, alcohol, drugs, hype, sixers, colas, chips and lists like these as well.

see the results
1. bob woolmer dies
London: An "accidental drug and alcohol overdose"' coupled with stress may have
been the reasons behind Pakistan coach Bob Woolmer's sudden death, a British
newspaper reported today.
According to 'The Mirror', Woolmer was suspected to have died of an "overdose of prescription drugs and alcohol".
The tabloid reported that the police in Jamaica, where the player-turned-coach died under mysterious circumstances on Sunday, were investigating the angle.
The 58-year-old coach was declared brought dead to hospital, little over an hour
after he was found unconscious in his hotel room.

2. indian economy under threat.

3. assortment of effigy burning over india's performances, people dying watching matches and what not!! non-stop madness.

can we all grow up, this is supposed to be just a game. but the economics of it now supercedes everything else.
the vice-like grip that commerce has on modern sport is throttling the spirit of sport.
the converse argument that gets thrown around, is how it is opening up millions of jobs and opportunities.
but at what cost, what are the costs of the overdoses.

i prefer the way it was earlier. that's the escapist in me.

just saw iqbal. a bit of a preferrable type of overdose. but nice, feel-good and watchable movie. toeing the good old sport-for-sport sake line.

i had learnt to play in a different environment, just for the sheer joy of being on the field.
will have to start a team.
soon enough.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

rat killer

last week has been one massive rat/mouse hunt in the office.

and there seems to be a mini invasion of sorts. mouse traps/poison baits etc have being used.
one trapped and released and one died. poisoned. created a huge stench for a couple of days.

suddenly today, i remember a capture scene more than 10 years ago.
we had a rat issue at home. used trap and caught her (or maybe him).
in my 'enlightened' position of power, i killed the rat by drowning it in a bucket of water.
feel like shit now. as i write, i am truly disgusted with my action.
my action with the rat was barbaric.

through these years, i am trying to understand the value of life at all levels.

apologies can't mean much now. sorry brother. my time will come.

Friday, March 16, 2007

surely you're jockin, mr arputham*

meet jockin arputham. he is the head of national slum dwellers federation and sparc.
read his interviews here and here.

he is one backside kicking leader.

as we have been on this resettlement campaign over the last 2 weeks, it was a natural corollary to meet him. due to my court hearing today, my colleagues met him today and reaffirmed my favourable impressions.
this even though, 4 years ago, he had botched up (or did not help unbotch) a resettlement project in goregaon east (from kurla where i was working with a girls' school). and he had reneged on some promises for promoting use of common spaces for schools, etc.

he has made fairly big promises based on our big promises. so lets see if both of us are able to live up to them.

p.s. - the court ruled in our favour today, finally. matter is over now. april 30 granted.

* plagiarised from surely you're joking, mr feynman

Thursday, March 15, 2007


i spent time in the mmrda today. did not get much done, but got an idea of what the plans for mumbai are.
check their official website.
check this guy who writes a lot on mumbai development and stuff.

their key projects are
1. mumbai metro - from versova to ghatkopar overhead. check analysis here.
2. mutp - mumbai urban transport project. quite a massive exercise to expand rail lines as well as improve road infra.
3. muip - mumbai urban infrastructure project. overall city transport infrastructure improvement.
4. mithi river development project.

given our city stats of say 12 million people = 2 million families (6 per family)= 1.1 million slum families (at 55%). so we need 11 lakh low cost housing units.
as per my count in mmrda plans, it is only 35000 families under muip and 20000 as per mutp = 55000 = 0.55 lakh. this is 5% of total. i think just this is costing the government nearabouts Rs 1000 cr. the numbers are just boggling my mind as i write them.

this is not over yet.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007


this was the highlight reel of yesterday. an exchange between the acting chief justice patel and a lawyer.

lawyer - your honour, this is a PIL against the inhumane treatment of undertrials by the arthur road jail authorities. these undertrials are given breakfast at 7 and lunch at 930. then the whole day, they are in court. they reach back in jail at 6 by which time, dinner is over.

cj - so what is the matter?

l - the undertrials have to remain without food through the day. and this is inhumane.

cj - have you been to an orphanage?

l - duh!!

cj - last week, we had a case where we learnt that this orphanage feeds the kids only twice a day and that too very bad quality food.

l - what is going on here !?

cj - the lawyer for the orphanage said that even his own son eats only once a day. i told him that that may be his choice, but orphans need much more care and more nutrition. have you been to an orphanage?

l - no your honour.

cj - you guys (pause), national civil liberty union, no. why don't you visit orphanages and see the state there for yourself. we are here to take care of the prisoners, you guys take care of the children.

l - your honour, but please pass an emergency ruling to ensure that these undertrials are given proper treatment.

cj - there are a host of other litigations against overall jail management and yours could be joined along with the others. please visit an orphanage soon.

l - ?!?!

i was bowled over by his sarcasm and causticity at the lawyer and their priorities. totally hilarious.

p.s. - my case has been pushed further to friday. hopefully by then...

Tuesday, March 13, 2007


this high court thing is much more than i bargained for.
was all around there and the lawyers' whole of yesterday.

the paperwork required is just mind boggling.
1. we had collected 117 personal undertakings and each was 2 pages each. had to make 3 copies of them. add assorted affidavits, serving notices to BMC, etc, total around 750 pages. it is heavy, let me add. the judges always need to get the documents in green colour paper (eco-friendly !!) also called 'ledger' paper.
2. they have to be stitched and bound in a particular fashion etc.
3. stood in a queue for an hour to get it 'affirmed', where a bloke (prothonotary... imagine him introducing himself...i prothonotarise for a living) speed-reads the petition, and signs it along with the petitioner as 'accepted'.
4. once that is done, i ran all over to submit the 'affirmed' copies along with relevant annexures to the 'respondents' in my affidavit, the municipal corporation of greater mumbai.

all this while i was passing through rooms and rooms stuffed to the gills with paper. each desk had piles and piles of files and whatnot.

there should be serious scope for computerisation and efficiency improvements.
save the forests, your honour.

Saturday, March 10, 2007

depression and resurrection

this is the new area where the families are being resettled. (courtesy wikimapia)
quite a place. see here right in the middle. the triangle, the square and the rectangles that smack in the middle of the image. look around this space and you see the sprawl of slums. staggering image, even more staggering in reality.
i was for an entire day.

the place is really nice and the rooms and the buildings and the common spaces. but that's now, when there is hardly anyone. wait for people to move in and destroy it all before you can say 'resettlement'.
deja vu as well. same story, 4 years ago, location was goregaon east. place is a dump now. this is a disaster waiting to happen.

was letting all negative emotions take control. was angry at the system for being so callous. for the record, the largest garbage dumping ground in mumbai is just a kilometer north of this place. ironic, i felt.

strangely on the way back, a simple text exchange made me see light and got me to focus on action items.
this is a good method to follow. to make a list of simple things to do sort of rebuilds perspective and sets the mind going on way forwards. resurrection indeed.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

chale chalo

now that the community has earned a reprieve to stay on till mid april, there is a easing of the tension.

while the people are getting back to their regular lives, there are more battles to be fought.
1. earlier visits have shown that the other buildings where people have been resettled are already showing signs of decay.
2. lack of leadership in the community means that they could become ripe for exploitation by politicians and power brokers.
3. simple economics work against this community. the new location will involve each family to pay around rs 800 per month for utilities and common expenses (called maintenance).

having seen the worse end of resettlements, i was wondering how to go about the task of ensuring that the new place would not become a vertical slum.
and to put all other timings to shame, indiatogether carried this inspirational article.

i had already seeded a plan revolving around the youth. creating 'youth fauj' for the area as well as individual buildings. why?
1. the men are out most of the time and they are too mired in politics.
2. women will invariably tend to become prisoners, especially when they are middle aged and are in the higher floors of the building, due to their health and mobility.
3. we have a track record of working with these group of children.

so we started last evening with a 'testing the waters' meeting. went overall positively. that's a fair start, but it is just that. the boys will be boys and will prefer to hang out and boss around, while the girls have to overcome a lot of prejudice and family pressures.

the concept which the article nails is 'ownership'. this would be the critical challenge.

koi kithna bhi behakawe, chale chalo,
koi hum se jeet na paave, chale chalo.

justice is happening

i am now an active reader of court news. and Hind Times seems to have a reporter in every courtroom. this is today's front page/headline news.
1. SRA (slum rehabilitation agency) under high court scanner.
2. Govt hospitals are places to last place to go when you are about to die.

two telling judgements on the same day.
by the same division bench which i castigated last friday and was revisiting day before on tuesday, and now am loving them.

the causticity of the remarks passed (please do try to read the entire article) are really right up my alley and made my day.

viva la patel/dharmadhikari.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

post-cursor to 'mi lord'

this is the sequential notes on the entire high court/slum rehab story
part 1
part 2

at the end of part 2, i had mentioned that we have been summoned before the chief justice on monday. this happened in the meanwhile, which spannered us for a bit.

so we got a fresh appearance on tuesday (today) in front of the same bench which we met in part 2.
was really not very hopeful (see comments to part 2 post for some insights into that). even our lawyer did not expect too much sympathy. he made a point which i felt was very interesting. you can appeal to reason and logic but not to prejudices.

nevertheless, we devoutly assembled at the given time. before our case, there were many urgent matters to be discussed. the following ones came up:
1. multiplex vs single screen theaters
2. caste certificate case
3. illegal felling of trees
4. student vs college over attendance and exams
5. another mumble-jumble one which i could barely understand.

the range of the issues was huge and the judges are expected to have legal insights into all these matters with memory of earlier judgements and rulings. tats is quite an ask for anyone. so suddenly, i started revisting my earlier opinion stated in part 2.

our hearing came up and the corporation had lined up their veteran. but surprise surprise, it went of smoothly. with little to nil protests and knuckle rapping, the judges agreed to our petition to let the residents continue till the academic year end.
yippee, hooray, yesss...felt nothing like that!
just sat simply with actually no emotion. for sure i knew that this would be an incredible relief for the residents as it takes off a huge tension load off their minds. my ambivalence surprised me, as i had lost some sleep over 2 nights.

in the meanwhile i read this today - related and unrelated:
Q: How can we surrender the ego, when this wanting to surrender is itself an
expression of the ego?
Nithyananda: How are you going to surrender the ego, when it does not exist? Suppose you are sitting in a dark room. You want the darkness to disappear. But can you push it out? Can you fight darkness and force it to leave the room? No! No matter how long you keep trying, you are ultimately going to be defeated -- and that too by something which does not exist!
The ego is like darkness, it has no positive existence. Just like darkness is simply
the absence of light, the ego is nothing but the absence of awareness. To struggle to kill the ego is like struggling to push the darkness out of the room. To really expel the darkness, what you need to do is to forget all about dealing with the darkness. Focus your energy on Light instead. Just bring a small lamp into the room, and you will find that the darkness has fled on its own! So, I tell you to forget all about the ego. Instead, focus on bringing a lamp of awareness into your being. When your entire consciousness has become a flame, you will find that the ego is no more.
The ego is an illusion. You cannot surrender it when you are unaware -- because you don't know how. Of course, you cannot surrender it when you become aware either -- because then you realize that there is nothing left to surrender! What you have heard, read, been taught -- 'Surrender the ego in order to attain Self-realization' -- this is an
utterly nonsensical idea. It can happen only the other way around. Self-realization dawns, and suddenly you cannot find the ego anymore. The surrender has already happened, just like that.
However, I am glad that the question has arisen in your being. The ego is the root cause for all your anxieties, sorrows, tensions. [...] To actively feel that you want to drop the
ego, to feel the need to be rid of this burden is itself a step towards awareness. It shows that you are stirring from your sleep!
--Swami Nithyananda
so onwards we move.

half century

the last post was the 50th in this series of ramblings.

csm still has a lot to write about.

watch out.

Monday, March 05, 2007

pre-cursor to 'mi lord'

one stretch of street community we work with was issued a 48 hour clear-out notice on feb 28th.
on mar 1st, the BMC (bombay municipal corporation) held a public lottery to issue the tenants their new houses in a location which is 20+ kms from their current location.

the issue was timing. since it was so close to the end of the academic year, we felt that it would make sense to defer till mid april.
the key to this was that every resident was keen on relocating and no one wanted to continue their miserable lives on the streets.

so we spent 28th feb evening to night in garnering the support through a signature campaign. it was really a special effort with the team from work bonding with the locals. a lot of our older children too were instrumental in collecting these signatures.

so here i was, like a general at the battle scene, rallying the troops. making calls, assigning roles, wedging out the stubborn, handling the money, motivating folks, playing out multiple scenarios in my mind, walking up and down surveying.
that is exactly how i felt. massive ego feeling. guess the moment was so huge and so new, that it is predictable. just a little bit ashamed.
made me also feel about how eager people are for leadership.

click here to see news report.

Sunday, March 04, 2007


the airports of mumbai and delhi are privatised.
read here and here.

protests have been documented here and here.

this matter is just under 2 years old. so why do i bring this out here...

was picking a friend from the airport last evening and in the taxi queue there were these private guards shepherding waiting passengers into most may have experienced in stations and airports, the autos and taxis grumble endlessly at short haul same thing here as well, the taxi wallah refused to take us. i would not take this anymore. asked for his badge number and one solid ego battle was brewing.thankfully a cop walks in and defuses the situation. we get in and i ease it up by wishing him happy holi and apologising for losing it. he was angry at the security guards (private ones appointed by the GVK group). he had a lot of claims. very interesting and thought provoking

1. entire airport area manned by private guards who have no training and authority run the queues and are already corrupted.
2. cop presence at bare minimum. no one to enforce the law.
3. typical wait times are 8-10 hours for a taxi guy to get a passenger.
4. GVK has already decreased the taxi parking slot from 500 to 160. the plan is to convert the balance place to pay and park which is certainly much more revenue.
5. he said most of them have no problem with the journey distance as in net net state, they balance out (classic coin toss probability stuff). he says they get the short straw because of points 1 to 4.

general data points - around 55000-60000 taxis in mumbai. 4 or 5 difference taxi unions. this, in my estimate would be the livelihood for around 75000 families (as many taxis are on double shifts). that's over 4 lakh people whose lives depend on taxi travel.

while there are some taxiwallahs who do pure scum things (like in most other trades), the usual issues around privatisation are into play here as well in a totally different manner.

watch this space.

Saturday, March 03, 2007

mi lord

first time.
i appeared in court. mumbai high court.
i filed a petition. a writ petition.
against the corporation. mumbai municipal corporation.
crazy. crazy snake man vs crazy commissioners.
human rights violation. a mistimed slum rehabilitation plan.

totally not what i had imagined. too much bollywood images. courts are ruled by multiple judges (that's why it is called a bench). in the mumbai high court division bench (where i appeared) the senior judge sat on a new age wheels-enabled, push-back chair and the junior judge sat on a fancy british-era, queen-elizabeth type throne. asked why, but no one before me seemed to have even noticed.

they have computers, microphones, totally fancy.

i would have liked to throw something at the judges. something heavy and sharp.
not because they made a mess of my petition. they said stuff which stunned me in its senselessness.
am on schedule to appear before the main dude. the chief justice. after the weekend.

bring them on.